‘The US has to take stronger targets’

Dr Saleemul Huq, director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development spoke to Saad Hammadi during his visit to Dhaka in November and explained how the Copenhagen conference on climate change will define the future of earth’s climate

Dr Saleemul Huq photographed by Al-Emrun Garjon

The Kyoto Protocol set a timeline for every signatory nation to mitigate the emission of greenhouse gas by certain levels within 2012. What significance does the Copenhagen conference on climate change hold this year when most countries are yet to reach their targets?

Most of the countries are on track to meet their targets. Fifteen nations of the European Union took a target of reaching minus eight per cent of the 1990 level. We use the year 1990 as a baseline for the emissions.

There are two important issues to look forward to at the Copenhagen conference. The first is the commitment under the Kyoto Protocol which ends in 2012 and what the commitment for the second round would be.

The Copenhagen conference subsumes the Kyoto Protocol. Through the conference, the United States will have to be accommodated. Secondly, the implementation that we did not have in the Kyoto is adaptation. Adaptation will be a big component of the Copenhagen conference.

One of the largest emitters of fossil fuel, the United States withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol during the Bush regime. Does Obama’s administration influence a change in the country’s position?

Absolutely! The Obama administration has already taken a 180 degree turn from the government of Bush. The turnaround in US position is welcome but it has to take stronger targets and accomplish them fast.

President Obama wants the US to be a leader in dealing with climate change. So far, it has not shown much leadership. He has to convince the congress that it must take on much stronger targets to take on the leadership role.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified Bangladesh as the most vulnerable country to greenhouse effects. What are the impacts of climate change in the country and why is it so prone to the effects?

The IPCC has identified a number of climatic impacts that will occur across the globe. These include increasing severe floods in rivers, droughts in the dry lands, cyclones in the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, sea level rise and melting of Polar caps and glaciers. Except for the last impact, all the others will affect Bangladesh significantly. Which is why Bangladesh is often termed the most vulnerable country.

The reason Bangladesh is so vulnerable is that it is an extremely low-lying river delta of two of the world’s major rivers, the Ganges and Brahmaputra. It has a very large low-lying coastal area susceptible to sea-level rise and salinity intrusion and faces regular cyclones coming from the Bay of Bengal.

It is the peculiarity of our geographic location that makes Bangladesh vulnerable.

How is the rest of the world confronting climate change?

The rest of the world has realised that climate change is a global problem that requires global action. It has agreed to the global treaty under the United Nations to deal with the problem. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, certain action to control climate change has already started but much more is needed. That is why the meeting in Copenhagen is important as it will agree on the future global actions that need to be taken.

Each country will have to act in different ways. Countries that commit significant emission of greenhouse gases will have to take action to mitigate those emissions. Other countries like Bangladesh that do not commit large emissions but are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change must take action to prepare themselves through adaptations.

In economic terms, how feasible is switching to the cleaner energy sources in terms of the cost of living?

The problem with clean technology is that it is expensive compared to fossil fuels. So the cost of the cleaner technology has to be brought down through mass production and deployment.

The current high cost of renewable technology like solar and wind are due to the high cost for producing small number of units. Once they start mass production, the cost will come down drastically.

The funding for adaptation is one of the demands at the Copenhagen conference. What should be our strategy for utilising the fund?

Bangladesh is ahead of many other developing countries in having a climate change strategy and action plan to utilise funding from outside sources. It can be expected that international funding for climate change purposes after 2012 will be significantly large in the order of a hundred billion dollar a year globally. Countries that are better prepared with climate change strategy and action plan will be able to access those international resources earlier and better.

The immediate investment of the resources needs to be of massive capabilities to enable practically every person in the country to understand the problem of climate change and also their role in tackling the problem i.e. training for government officials for all departments and ministries, private sector, education sector and health.

While the world has progressed in the last 200 years using fossil fuel, the adversities of those developments are only becoming apparent now. Have the scientists observed the pros and cons of exhausting the greener energies?

Every new technology has some associated negative impacts. The new green technology will also undoubtedly have some such negative aspects. However, they have not been deployed at a scale to manifest those impacts as yet. So we can confidently scale up green technology very significantly while keeping an eye on possible negative side effects.

The European Union has agreed to reduce greenhouse emission by an additional 10 per cent within 2020 provided other states also take initiatives. How political is the issue?

The climate change is highly political which is why the heads of states are engaged in the issue. Every time there is a heads of states-level meeting, climate change is now on the agenda. The countries have to agree on coordinated global action that requires economy-wide change from all fossil fuel based economies to a new post fossil fuel economy. That represents a major political and economic shift in the global economy.


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