ERD must act in nation’s interest on climate change

Editorial, NewAge, July 24, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

THE tensions over climate change funding between the environment ministry and the Economic Relations Division under the finance ministry have developed as a predictable low-intensity conflict for a while now. New Age reported on Wednesday that the two are now at loggerheads over the division’s willingness to accept climate adaptation funds from foreign governments in the form of loans and the environment ministry’s insistence that much of this funding should come as non-repayable grants. 
   

Over the past two years, as the science and the global politics of climate change have risen in profile, it no longer remains an issue for the scientists and environment bureaucrats; so, in theory, the Economic Relations Division’s involvement is important. In Bangladesh, in the coming decades, climate change is expected to cause a rising intensity and frequency of cyclones and floods, public health crises, agricultural cataclysms and displacement of communities. So, it is the entire spectrum of government agencies and ministries that now need to start understanding climate change and mainstreaming adaptations measures into their relevant policies and decisions. In a similar vein, the Economic Relations Division cannot think itself inherently competent to deal with foreign funds on climate change, just because it has traditionally handled and negotiated the country’s foreign loans and grants. Instead it should look to the government’s position on climate change funding, best known by the environment ministry, for cues on how it should approach foreign donors on this issue. Its failure to do so is sheer incompetence and could also severely damage some of the politically relevant points Bangladesh is making at global climate change negotiations, thus running contrary to national interest.
   

At present Bangladesh’s profile as one of the worst victims of climate change is ascendant. As a past chair, and one of the leaders, of the least developed countries group at UN negotiations, Bangladesh is in a unique position to drive home the point that the countries of the prosperous North, largely responsible for climate change, must compensate the impoverished millions in the third world who are suffering its fallout. At various public forums, Bangladesh has already taken the official position that it is seeking non-repayable grants from the developed world to finance climate change adaptations – be they for building embankments or rehabilitating climate refugees. It is against this backdrop that the Economic Relations Division insists that the country is open to accept loans from the multi-donor climate change trust fund. On this issue, we cannot but question the division’s allegiances, since it is also in the interest of a consortium of multilateral lenders, led by the World Bank, that poor countries avail loans to tackle climate change. In 2007, Bangladesh spent 18 per cent of its total government expenditure on external debt servicing, as opposed to 16.5 per cent on education and 7.4 per cent in health. Surely, the Economic Relations Division understands the implications of further miring the country in such debt. 
   

We urge the Economic Relations Division, therefore, to develop skills and understanding for a more nuanced approach to climate change – one that is in the interests of the country – and till it has done so, to look to the environment ministry, for cues on how to handle this issue. It will be unacceptable if it so happens that the incompetence and lack of awareness of a set of bureaucrats undermines the legitimate claims for compensatory climate change funding that Bangladesh is leading.

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