Climate change adaptation: Grants, not loans


22 November 2016

World Bank (WB) President Jim Yong Kim, during his Dhaka trip on October 16-17, 2016 announced a major investment to help Bangladesh adapt to climate change. Under the plan, the bank would invest US$ 2 billion in the next three years in climate change projects. The WB pledge by was made in the run-up to the COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco during November 7-18, 2016. Heads of state and government from 80 countries and senior ministers from 115 countries participated in the event. Sea level rise, salinity, and extreme weather events have pushed the issue of climate change to the top of the agenda of most countries. As the Paris climate agreement enters into force, now is the time for actual action on the ground, as stressed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at COP22. Bangladesh is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world where climate change will affect a large section of the population. 

According to the Climate Risk Index 2015, Bangladesh was among the top six countries most affected by climate change during 1994-2013. Climate change is estimated to reduce the agricultural GDP of Bangladesh by more than 3 per cent during 2005-2050. The country is seeing an influx of climate refugees in the already overstretched capital city Dhaka. For countries like Bangladesh, adaptation rather than mitigation is the core issue.

As prescribed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), many countries have made national adaptation action plans and strategies to fight climate change. For its part, the Bangladesh government has taken climate change issue seriously. The country was among the first signatories in international protocols. Bangladesh made many rules, laws, plans, and policies to tackle climate change with support from international organisations like the UNFCCC and the World Bank. A National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) was developed in 2005 focusing on immediate and urgent adaptation issues. The NAPA was further updated in 2009 and it identified 45 adaptation measures with 18 immediate and medium-term adaptation measures. In 2008, the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) was developed and was updated in 2009. Many committees and units within the government and trust fund were created to take the issue seriously. Bangladesh mobilises its efforts to implement the BCCSAP through the twin funds: the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF) and the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF). The former has a few hundred million US dollars from countries like  the UK, Sweden, Australia, Denmark and others, while the latter has a few hundred million from own resources. Bangladesh is the first country to set up Climate Change Trust Fund of $400 million from its own resources. As of June 2016, 440 projects have been undertaken by the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund.

A core problem with mainstream adaptation thinking and action is that adaptation is often seen as a 'technical fix' to be embedded onto on-going development plans. Inderberg et al (2015) shows in book 'Climate Change Adaptation and Development' that the lens of community participation is often condoned in climate adaptation projects rolled out within the existing framework of top-down development planning and implementation. As of now, Bangladesh is generally perceived as a pioneer in the emerging developing field of Community-Based Adaptation (CBA). The tenth International CBA gathering was held in Bangladesh in April 2016 which highlighted the increasingly important issue of urban community adaptation. Bangladesh showcases success in disaster management programme including early warning system, construction of cyclone shelters and river weeds cultivation etc. As World Bank President Kim said, "Bangladesh has been a forerunner in adaptation and stronger disaster-coping mechanisms and these have reduced the impact of recent storms, cyclones, and floods." It needs to be stressed here that a core factor behind this success is the fact that the technical and infrastructural components of disaster management were complemented by a focus on community-based disaster response system.

Although the BCCSAP time and again highlights the success of Bangladesh in community-based approach, the document itself focuses more on the technical and infrastructural aspects than the social and political aspects of community-based adaptation. Research and knowledge management envisioned in the BCCSAP does not clarify whether and how the advanced knowledge and know-how of the experts will blend with the local-level knowledge and know-how of ordinary community members. Creating, fostering and disseminating knowledge on climate change adaptation needs to be based on a trans-disciplinary and participatory approach. A salutary aspect of the strategy is the inclusion of gender lens in framing the adaptation programmes. The BCCSAP programme for awareness raising and public education as well as the programme for strengthening human capital may be expanded to ensure local capacity-building, stronger participation and two-way knowledge exchange for fruitful cooperation across international, national, and local scales on adaptation. For food security programme, the local coping strategies of most fragile groups need to be integrated with the adaptation strategy proffered by experts and stakeholders.

In the same vein, the NAPA's priority list of 38 measures focuses more on the immediate, pressing issues. The immediate interventions need to synthesize with longer-term issues, such as submergence of the coastal area by 2050. Introduction of drought or flood-resistant crops and salinity-proof crops is an important step forward, but such steps need to be aligned with local realities such as shrimp and crab-firming, the landholding patterns, and local power relations. Climate change adaptation needs as much hardware (infrastructure and technology), software (knowledge and know-how), as it needs orgware (organisational and institutional aspects, networks, and so on).

A core issue with the climate change adaptation strategy in Bangladesh is policy harmonisation. Different thematic, multi-sectoral and sectoral policies, plans and strategies often lack synchrony and coordination. Sectoral policies rather than national climate change strategies drive the preparation process. The Power Sector Master Plan 2010 of Bangladesh was planned after NAPA and BCCSAP. But reflection of these policies in making this master plan was inadequate. According to this plan, fuel composition ratio in electricity generation as of 2030 would be 50 per cent to coal. Coal-based power plant is anticipated to increase the amount of CO2 emission. The BCCSAP merely mentions that there would be clean coal technologies. Developed countries are shelving off coal-based power plants and replacing them by renewable energy. The Bangladesh government should also follow their footsteps and make plans and policies in transiting towards a more climate-friendly growth path.

The world is closely keeping tabs on how Bangladesh as an adaptation pioneer goes forward handling environmental change. The pledge of the World Bank is certainly an important step in strengthening international financial support to help the South Asian country adapt to the all-too-real hazards of climate change. However, a number of analysts point out that Bangladesh should seek grant rather than loan as its legitimate claim from polluters. The message is: Bangladesh needs to secure its due share of support that the international community is bound to extend. Within itself, Bangladesh needs to ensure across-the-board commitment towards continuity of policy and strategies for climate change adaptation so that the future of our progeny are not held hostage to political vicissitudes.