Why Bangladesh needs to be more pro-active about reducing air pollution
The world is facing a climate emergency. 2021 is a crucial year for climate change negotiations. November will see the COP26 summit. A virtual climate summit will also be held on Earth Day.
As the US Special Presidential Envoy on Climate Change visits Dhaka, the Bangladeshi parliament should enact strong legislation to improve air quality. According to the World Air Quality Report 2020, pollution levels in South Asia are among worst in the world. The report found that India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have a majority of the world’s most polluted cities.
While Bangladesh is still an insignificant industrial contributor to global warming in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, its fast growing economy is driving pollution levels up. 29 coal-fired power plants are in the pipeline, including one planned in the world’s largest mangrove forest. Industrial and urban growth are expected to increase pollution levels greatly in the future.
Bangladesh should prepare for a greener economy in line with its commitments under the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement promotes a market-based approach. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement promotes incentives for companies to reduce GHG emissions.
The Clean Air Act of the United States can be a model for air quality legislation. Currently, there are several bills pending in the US Congress to promote emissions reductions, such as a bill proposed by the Republican whip in the Senate to speed up biofuel registration.
A key aspect of the market-based approach is emissions trading. There are two categories of emissions trading schemes, including allowance units and offset units. Allowance units are based on allocated quotas set by regulators and which can be traded between companies. Offset units are independent and voluntary schemes aimed at permanent reduction of GHG emissions.
In Bangladesh, the brick industry is already implementing a type of offset scheme. 3% of brick plants in Bangladesh are now using green technology to manufacture bricks while emitting lower GHG. This marks a step in the right direction to reduce toxic black smoke in the brick industry.
In 2017, the emissions trading market was valued at $52 billion by the World Bank. Emissions trading schemes exist in at least 111 countries. Schemes have been introduced by national, subnational, and municipal governments.
For example, the metropolitan area of Tokyo operates its own scheme covering buildings and factories. Cross-border emissions trading takes place in North America between businesses in Quebec and California.
In the developing world, China launched an emissions trading scheme in its thermal power sector in 2021. The world’s second largest economy plans to introduce a nationwide scheme in the future.
A continental emissions trading scheme exists in the European Union, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland. The EU scheme covers over 10,000 heavy industries and 40% of GHG emissions in Europe.
Emissions trading has been a mainstay of climate change mitigation policies. It also results in improved air quality which benefits the health of the population. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): “Air pollution and its environmental effects have decreased dramatically in the last 30 years” due to the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.
Emissions trading can be conducted through the stock market or a commodity exchange. In some jurisdictions, carbon units are recognized as part of property ownership.
But the overall goal of reducing GHG emissions implies a role for regulators to set targets. Compliance with those targets has to be scrutinized. False and misleading information can result in penalties. Research has looked into whether emissions trading is covered by investment treaties or can be subject to trade disputes between countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO)
South Asia has a pollution emergency. 42 of the 50 most polluted cities surveyed by the World Air Quality Report 2020 were located in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. All South Asian countries are also highly vulnerable to climate change. The situation presents a unique opportunity for regional cooperation which has been paralyzed for years.
An emissions trading framework can be introduced under Saarc and Bimstec. Cross-border emissions trading can be introduced. This can help South Asian countries meet their goals under Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement.
A regional treaty on air quality can be adopted.
The role of parliament
Given the high levels of pollution and the global climate emergency, parliamentarians in Bangladesh should be more pro-active to deal with these issues.
Private members’ bills should be introduced on air quality and climate change. Parliament should adopt resolutions calling on Saarc and Bimstec to take action for improving air quality and mitigating climate change.
Umran Chowdhury works in the legal field.