Staff Correspondent : Saber Hossain Chowdhury is the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ministry of the current government. Prior to this he was the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Ministry of Planning in the 11th National Parliament. At various times, he played an important role in the national parliament, government, political parties and sports administration. After the completion of graduation with honors in politics and economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Saber started family business. In 2014, he was elected as the 28th President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union for a three-year term. He talked to media about Bangladesh’s environmental protection, COP-28, development plans and other issues.
Question: What is Bangladesh’s achievement from the COP-28 conference?
Saber Hossain Chowdhury: The World Climate Conference COP-28 has ended recently. After every climate conference, everyone is interested to know what Bangladesh got from the conference. But the COP conference cannot be judged only by what Bangladesh got. Climate change is a global problem. This problem is created globally and its solution should be globally. What Bangladesh has achieved as a single country is more important than what the whole world has achieved. Because if the world gets something good from the climate conference, Bangladesh will also be a part of that good.
What we negotiate, discuss or speak at the COP is not as a single country. There are several groups within the UN Environment Mechanism. Among those groups we are positioned in the LDC group. LDCs are a large group consisting of the G-77 and China. Our first task before any conference is to ensure that the needs and priorities of Bangladesh are among the priorities of the LDC Group. We were able to do this in the last environment conference.
One of our proposals was to set up a Loss and Damage Fund. Bangladesh was the first to propose the formation of this fund. Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina presented this proposal. Then politically it was decided to form this fund and within a year we started getting money from that fund. So far, we have received $700 million from the Loss and Damage Fund. Although this amount is very less than the demand, it is still a great recognition that the process has started.
The Prime Minister had another proposal, to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This proposal has now been established as one of the demands of the climate conference. The Paris Agreement called for keeping global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius or below. There we proposed keeping it within 1.5 degrees Celsius. Our proposal is accepted.
Our biggest demand is adaptation fund. We need 8 to 9 billion dollars per year just for adaptation. The government is trying its best. Last fiscal year, $3.5 billion was allocated from our national budget for adaptation. In other words, Tk 40 thousand crore have been allocated under 25 ministries to deal with the challenge of climate change. Even then we are not able to meet the full demand. So, we’ve discussed how we’re going to compensate for the damage we’re doing to climate change.
The CUP conference consists of two subjects. The first issue is consensus-based decision-making and the next issue is implementation of commitments. We have always noticed a shortcoming in the implementation of promises. Developed countries do not keep the promises they make. A long time ago, they said they would give $100 billion to the climate fund. Of that $100 billion, $50 billion will go to the Adaptation Fund and $50 billion will go to the Mitigation Fund. But almost all of the funds remain unrealized. It was said that the adaptation money would come as a grant but that did not happen either. Adaptation money is coming as debt. There are many other things beyond these. All in all, we are talking about a new path in Cop-28.
This year’s climate conference i.e. COP-28, the issue of fossil fuels has come up for the first time. We will switch to renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. Apart from this, there are several other important policy decisions. The challenge in front of us is how much we can implement these decisions.
Question: What about the climate fund?
Saber Hossain Chowdhury: Many countries and many financial institutions are coming forward with their own climate funds. Such as ADB, World Bank, UK Government Fund, France Fund. Whether these funds can be brought on a single platform is under consideration. Consolidation of small climate funds will ensure maximum utilization of these funds. Our target is that if we can bring in $3 billion to $5 billion every year through such an initiative in the next five years, we will be able to cover our current adaptation deficit. I hope the current government will consider this as one of the priorities.
Question: Is it possible to deal with the disaster situation caused by climate change in Bangladesh with the money of climate fund?
Saber Hossain Chowdhury: The impact of climate change we are seeing so far in Bangladesh is only the result of a 1.1 degree Celsius increase in global temperature. If we are in such a crisis as a result of a 1.1 degree rise in temperature, it is difficult to imagine what kind of situation we will be in if the temperature rise is 1.5 degrees Celsius. If the world continues to reduce its carbon emissions at present, global temperatures will increase by 2.8 degrees Celsius by 2050. Our proposed 1.5 degree temperature rise is not pleasant either. Here too we will face massive losses. And if the temperature rise is more than this then everything will go under loss and damage.
Not only in Bangladesh, the temperature is increasing all over the world, unusual floods are happening in different areas. The effects of climate change are being seen in many countries of the world like Bangladesh and will be seen more. We are trying to convince the developed world that if the temperature rises, not only us, but they too will suffer. That’s why we need to focus on lowering the temperature first to save the environment from disaster.
Question: In some cases we ourselves are responsible for the crisis…
Saber Hossain Chowdhury: In many cases we ourselves have a lot to do. There is no room for double standards in environmental protection. The words we say internationally, the actions we blame the developed world for, we cannot do the same in Bangladesh. It will be sad if we do the same. Internationally, we say that whoever is polluting must take responsibility for pollution. We have to confirm what is said internationally in Bangladesh as well. Not only the issue of shrimp farming in the south, but there are many other environmental pollution issues. We have leather industry in Savar, which we shifted from Hazaribagh. Still the problem is not solved. So, we have to be more careful and more conscious in protecting the environment in our own country.
What Bangladesh will look like in the next 50 years depends a lot on how we maintain the sustainable trend in development. Not just development, it should be sustainable development. If we want to develop, we must first care about the environment, protect biodiversity and forests. Forests cannot be destroyed in the name of development. A railway line or road cannot be constructed through a reserved forest.
Question: We have the Department of Environment. Are they able to perform their duties properly?
Saber Hossain Chowdhury: Our Environment Department tries their best. There is a shortage of manpower. We are trying to come up with new organograms there. The Prime Minister is determined to protect the environment. However, sometimes it is seen that government institutions break the law. If we can’t make government institutions aware of the law, we can’t take action against the general public for violating environmental laws. I mentioned the leather industry which is under the government agency BCIC. Government agencies must first comply with the law. Sundarbans and reserved forest areas are also under some government agencies.
Question: Is there any effective plan for the transition from the critical situation that Bangladesh is facing as a result of the global environmental disaster?
Saber Hossain Chowdhury: We have plans and now our job is to implement those plans. When we plan it is very interesting, the presentations are also good. For example, we have the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan, which is a fantastic initiative. We want to face the challenge of climate change and move forward on the road to prosperity. We want to move from vulnerability to resilience, from resilience to prosperity. If we can implement such a plan, we can address many problems.
Second, there must be some sort of coordination between the plans we have. We have NBC, we have Nap, we have Delta plans. These plans include many interventions. There are 113 interventions in NAP alone. Among these we have to prioritize which one we will do first. This combination is a big challenge for us. We need to increase our capacity. The money we spend should not be limited to the amount allocated and the amount spent.
We have to check what kind of results we got by spending money. We don’t care about quality when we work. While taking the plan we must be clear that this is the result we want to ensure. That is, the plan must have specific goals. Only by verifying specific goals and outcomes will the goal become effective.
Question: You have taken charge of the government for the fourth time in a row. What will you prioritize now?
Saber Hossain Chowdhury: The manifesto we had in the election is our commitment. Article 18 A of the Constitution deals with conservation of environment and biodiversity. Environment and biodiversity should be preserved for present and future generations. This clause is among the principles of governance. That is, whatever policies we adopt in Bangladesh, whatever allocations we give, everything must be seen through the glasses of this 18-A.
Bangabandhu talked about some basic rights for the people of Bangladesh. They are recognized as fundamental human rights in our constitution. We have to ensure these basic rights. I don’t just mean mega projects by development. Mega projects are needed to make the country’s economy dynamic and prosperous. But we have to think about such initiatives, which have a positive impact on the daily lives of common people. We need to think of such projects, which make the life of ordinary people a little more acceptable. We have to care about the needs of the common people. Apart from mega projects, attention should also be given at the grass root level. The most important thing is to ensure good governance.
Corruption, drugs must be eradicated. Even if it cannot be eliminated, it should be reduced as much as possible. We need to increase employment, create new jobs. Two million new youth are entering the job market every year. Do whatever it takes to make them optimistic about the future. We talk about Digital Bangladesh. There we mainly want to accelerate the progress of Bangladesh by capitalizing on modern technology. We want everyone to benefit from this progress. This is our main goal.
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