By Sheikh Hasina/Financial Times
October 18, 2021: The inconvenient truth of our times is that while action on climate change has never been more urgent and achievable, governments are not cutting emissions fast enough to keep nations such as mine safe.
In the north of Bangladesh, millions of people depend on fresh water stored every year in the Himalayan ice fields, which warming air is now destabilising. In the south, sea level rise is exacerbating the threat from coastal flooding. Falling crop yields are another destructive change we can anticipate.
Only a tiny fraction of global warming can be attributed to Bangladesh’s carbon emissions. Even so, we are committed to leading the path to a solution. This is not only because we wish to avert the worst of climate change; it also makes economic sense. Investing in zero-carbon growth is the best way to create jobs across the economy and ensure that our nation becomes more prosperous.
Earlier this year my government cancelled plans for 10 coal-fired power plants. But that was a relatively small step. Subsequently, with COP26 in view, we developed the world’s first national “climate prosperity plan” — a vision under which we will enhance resilience, grow our economy, create jobs and expand opportunities for our citizens, using action on climate change as the catalyst.
Under the plan, we will obtain 30 per cent of our energy from renewables by the end of the decade. We believe that developing wind farms along the coast will revitalise the mangrove forests that help stabilise our shifting shores, protecting against storms and flooding. We will empower banks to offer favourable terms to fossil fuel-free infrastructure projects, and pursue cooperation with developed nations in areas such as green hydrogen.
By investing in resilience and zero-carbon development we will create about 4.1m more jobs this decade than under business-as-usual. The plan will simultaneously prevent up to 6.8 per cent of the economic damage that would otherwise come not only from climate change but also increasingly uneconomic fossil fuel infrastructure. We calculate the benefit to our GDP at over $850bn. I believe more developing nations will adopt such plans in the coming months and years, led by members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum.
Bangladesh can implement this plan independent of other countries, although international climate finance would speed things along. But what the world needs if we are to meet the Paris Agreement goal to keep warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, is a global version of our climate prosperity plan. This year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow is the best opportunity we will ever have to make one.
But as things stand, failure is a distinct possibility. Having pledged three decades ago at the Rio Earth Summit to lead the world out of the climate and nature crises, developed nations have cut their combined greenhouse gas emissions by less than one-seventh. That is not leadership.
Nor is their repeated refusal to take seriously the needs of those nations most immediately affected. Agreement to support the poorest in dealing with the losses and damages caused by climate change is far removed from implementation. Although recent net zero pledges from the EU, US and others are welcome, they are largely not accompanied by policies that give confidence that they will be delivered. The $100bn per year finance pledge made 12 years ago remains unfulfilled.
This $100bn is tiny compared with what developing nations will need in order to build a zero-carbon future. Both governments and private institutions want to invest but we face the stark burden of a high cost of capital, exacerbated now by Covid-related debt.
If developed nations wish to help they must address this. Cutting the cost of capital will substantially accelerate decarbonisation across the global south, yielding worldwide benefits. If western leaders cannot see the logic of this, perhaps recent events in their own backyards will help — for what were the extreme forest fires seen in North America and Australia or Germany’s recent lethal floods, if not alarm bells clanging in regions of the world most responsible for climate change?
Bangladesh was born 50 years ago this year, a birth shrouded in blood and pain. My father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, inspired and led our independence struggle. It is in his memory that we have named our climate prosperity plan the Mujib Plan. Climate change is a very different foe from those he faced, but dealing with it requires a great deal of fortitude, imagination, hope and leadership. If western leaders listen, engage and act decisively on what science demands of them, there is still time to make COP26 the success it desperately needs to be.