David Lewis, a Professor of Social Policy and Development at the London School of Economics, says the Bangladeshi government has also ‘taken the lead’ on climate change adaptation, becoming the first nation to create a National Adaptation Program of Action, part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in 2005. In October last year, the national parliament approved the Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, which maps out key strategies for adapting to the effects of global warming, including infrastructure development, the strengthening of disaster management systems, measures to improve food security and health and the bolstering of climate research. A Climate Change Trust Fund has also been established as a repository for donor money, to which it has contributed $100 million of its own funds.
Even on the mitigation front, Bangladesh has taken steps that seem drastic considering its modest emissions levels. Plastic bags are completely banned throughout the country and Dhaka is free from cars running on petrol or diesel (the use of compressed natural gas is mandated by law). ‘There are some bottlenecks, but climate change is on top of the agenda of the Bangladeshi government,’ the IOM’s Ragno said.
Of course, Lewis notes bad governance and the country’s endemic levels of corruption—Transparency International rated Bangladesh 139th out of 180 countries in its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index—pose daunting challenges to the creation of a fully effective policy framework. ‘It’s too early to say whether these [measures] are yet having an impact,’ he said of the country’s adaptation plans.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
But even Bangladesh’s notoriously quarrelsome politicians appear to be preserving the bipartisan character of climate change policy. When power changed hands at the 2008 election, instead of reversing the previous government’s policies (the usual pattern in its fractious political system) Dr. Huq said the new Awami League government actually redoubled its commitment to the issue. Lewis adds that with government coordination and proper international support, there was certainly the potential for Bangladesh to break new ground and export its lessons abroad.
While many daunting challenges remain, Huq says the widespread foreign perception of Bangladesh as a ‘basket case’—compounded by its extreme vulnerability to climate change—underestimated the adaptive resources of the country’s people. And whether or not Bangladesh succeeds, its experience will pave the way for future actions by other nations.
‘It’ll be a struggle, but we’ll get better and better at it, and the rest of the world can come and learn from us,’ he says. ‘Bangladesh has always lived on the edge of an apocalypse, but somehow it doesn’t ever fall over the edge.’