There is growing apprehension across the world about attaining the consensus and commitment needed to take an action call to position climate change in a broader foreign policy context. Addressing the climate change challenge requires new thinking in foreign policy—thinking that considers engagement not only in the sphere of environment, but also outside the environment box.
In an attempt to address the fundamental concerns, negotiation across levels has emerged as an impending and worthwhile force for Bangladesh. The country’s role in the UN led Conference of Parties (COP) held in Poland has been commended. The country pursues a moderate foreign policy that places heavy reliance on multilateral diplomacy, especially at the United Nations.
Scientific evidence suggests the survival of people in Bangladesh will be under serious threat from climate change over the coming decades. Being associated with various climate change induced natural hazards, Bangladesh has been among the worst victims in the world. Since independence in 1971, the country has endured almost 200 disastrous events like cyclones, storms, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, droughts and other calamities causing more than 500,000 deaths and devastating damage to the quality of life, livelihoods and the economy.
The Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has a major role to play in global climate negotiations. MoFA is mandated to carry out such responsibility at the international level in bilateral or multilateral forums and has played an effective role in this area. The ministerial level meeting of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) held in 2011 in Bangladesh, jointly organized by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and the MoFA, was an excellent example of the country’s success in climate negotiations.
The Bangladesh government deliberately presents itself “as a worst victim, peace loving and responsible actor and as a poor developing country.” Both discourses are designed to accomplish broader diplomatic agendas. Bangladesh found itself making a positive effort to play a leading role in the last COP 21 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which ended with all the 195 member countries agreeing to the “Paris Accord” at Le Bourget in Paris.
Similar to CoP21, Bangladesh had a team led by the Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in CoP23, with a large number of scientists, think tanks, civil society organisations, NGOs, private sector and media in attendance. The recent COP 24 held in Katowice, Poland, was critical for the Bangladesh government to ensure the country’s interests in securing technology cooperation, capacity building, and financial support. Bangladesh delegates displayed able negotiating skills while strongly articulating their need for easier and effective access to support mechanisms for implementation of the Paris agreement.
Bangladesh should think about appointing high level climate change envoys. The subject will remain central for many years and investing in such a special envoy, who has the trust of the government and requisite diplomatic (rather than technical) background and skills, along with a team from the relevant ministries, is essential now. Bangladesh has a strong stake in guiding global negotiations because it produces the least greenhouse gas emissions, yet remains the most vulnerable to climate change. Dhaka needs to persuade the rich and the BASIC countries that they have the right to develop, but they do not have any right to pollute. Bangladesh must persuade them that there is technology for development while keeping levels of emission low.
To achieve the vision of becoming a middle income country by 2021 and a rich country by 2041, it is crucial that Bangladesh is capable of integrating all aspects of climate change into its planning and delivery of services to citizens and their ecosystems. There has been a long discussion within government, civil society and planning sectors to set up a Ministry of Climate Change in Bangladesh. For this to be efficient, there is an absolute need to strengthen the MoEF with appropriate expertise to address the challenges of climate change.
A number of experienced negotiators from Bangladesh have been selected by the LDC (Least Developed Countries) group, due to their expertise on different topics, to represent LDCs on those topics. Moreover, in paving the way for an ambitious national climate change adaptation policy, Bangladesh has become a model to follow for other vulnerable countries.
It has thus gained a first-mover advantage in the international climate change arena in the form of greater international visibility and authority. To consolidate this gain, the government must leverage its efforts to overcome challenges it faces while making its case in the international climate change decision-making arena.
Given the subjects are of crucial importance to the country, Bangladesh should consider appointing a special climate-change envoy/adviser to ensure the country’s effective representation at important international meetings. Several developed and developing countries have appointed such special envoys/advisers. Meanwhile, Bangladesh should maintain its favorable image as a cooperative partner of the international community. In particular, the MoFA must be applauded for making effective diplomatic headway for Bangladesh.
(The author is Assistant Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh and Visiting Research Fellow, University of Oxford. He can be contacted at email@example.com )