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Will the IPCC Special Report inspire action?

  • Published at 06:01 pm October 23rd, 2018
Climate Finance
Climate finance is crucial for developing nations like Bangladesh REUTERS

For our growing economy, there is tremendous scope for ‘green’ modes of production

Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the Special Report (SR1.5) which paints a dire picture -- reminding us that global warming is taking place at a rapid rate and its environmental impacts are already being felt by fragile eco-systems.

The report warns us that the world is at risk of losing its coral reefs if the temperature rise continues unabated. It is also a call to arms -- if we do not start reversing the trend by 2030, it may be too late. Can this report inspire action?

Globally, climate change and environmental protection policies remain mired in politics. Rich countries are not pulling their weight. The US is determined to exit the Paris Agreement, and President Donald Trump has continued to inspire a band of climate change deniers and sceptics who are working to sabotage global frameworks, and have the US back out of the financing commitments it has made to the developing world -- most notably, the contributions promised to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). 

Global climate summits have not given us much to cheer in recent years. The spectacular failure of the Rio +20 summit to come up with a global agenda for action was hardly surprising, and there have been more deadlocks in the years that followed. 

In most places, due to the lack of consensus over action points, and due to dogged positions taken by groups of countries, path-breaking proposals were either dropped or massively diluted in the summit’s final declaration document.

As the powers fight it out, and terms for negotiations keep changing, it is undeniable that our climate, a global common property resource, continues to worsen by the day. 

Bangladesh has been identified as one of the most vulnerable countries, with impending disasters in the form of erratic weather patterns, cyclones, heavy floods, salinity, and sea level rise. 

If this sounds like cause for pure despair, it would be instructive to remember Prof Elinor Ostrom. She was noted for her seminal work on management of common property resources, had pointed out the futility of relying on a single over-arching global policy to mitigate the environmental problems that face us is bound to fail. 

Through decades of untiring field work, Prof Ostrom illustrated that collective action by communities was critical, if not absolutely necessary to make a dent in favour of the restorative work our eco-system requires. She argued against the notion that “tragedy of commons” was an inevitable consequence of any common property resource. 

She urged policy-makers to realize that big problems do not necessarily call for big solutions -- that a multiplicity of small solutions has the potential to overpower the big problems we face today.  

While it is valid to wonder if the effects of climate change have gone beyond the point where localized action might make a difference, one certainly should resolve to do what one can, through domestic economic policy, to take action. At Paris in 2015, Bangladesh made certain sovereign commitments, conditional and unconditional, to reduce carbon emissions from key domestic sectors -- power, transport, and industries -- with a mix of domestic policy and international assistance. 

The commitments made to reduce carbon emissions, while laudable, require us to make conscious policy choices which may impose high costs of the Bangladeshi economy in the short to medium term. The current policies regarding power generation and the existing fuel subsidies go contrary to Bangladesh’s own global commitments. 

The use of solar power and wind power, while higher than before, has not grown at a significant pace. The early successes in household solar energy use run the risk of being thwarted as people express a clear preference for grid electricity that can provide them enough power to run household appliances and engage in productive economic activity after sunset.  

Electricity generation is one of the key indicators of a growing economy. Research carried out by the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh points out that, as the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation has grown, and the demand for electricity has grown rapidly, carbon emissions have from power has grown at 8.8% annually between 1970 and 2016. 

As a result, the share of power sector in the total carbon emissions of Bangladesh has increased from 22% to 42% over the same timeframe. The fact that the energy-mix has continued to remain lopsided in favour of fossil fuels also shows that technological advancements in renewable energy have not kept up, and developing countries like Bangladesh have not been able to make a meaningful departure from their reliance on coal. 

Talk of climate finance and technology transfer might sound like references to hurdles that appear insurmountable due to the lack of a global consensus. But this is where prudent domestic policy and regional alliances (for example, in the South Asia region) can make a difference. 

In this growing economy, with rapid infrastructure development, there is tremendous scope for the adoption of “green” modes of production, energy use, and water conservation. This is also the time to focus on the potential that “south-south” cooperation offers in knowledge sharing, agreements on extraction and use of natural resources, and development of locally suitable technology, that can be harnessed by Bangladesh. 

Developing countries like Bangladesh must evaluate their policy choices to preserve their own environment, and the millions of people perched precariously on habitations vulnerable to the disastrous effects of climate change. We had always known that the scenarios were dire. The IPCC report not only reinforces this message, but also demands concrete action. 

Suvojit Chattopadhyay is Country Manager, Adam Smith International Bangladesh, and leads the Economic Dialogue on Green Growth (EDGG), a UK Aid-funded policy advocacy program. 

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