In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune's Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan, British High Commissioner in Dhaka Robert Chatterton Dickson discusses different aspects of COP26 to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, including the benefits Bangladesh might have
What is COP26, with the UK as president, expected to achieve?
COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference, is our best and possibly final opportunity to turn the tide on climate change and secure a brighter future for our children and the generations coming after us. As countries begin to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, we must all take this historic opportunity to tackle climate change: to build back better, greener, and restore our planet.
To seize this opportunity together, the UK Presidency has set four goals for COP26 summit.
First, all countries need to agree to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with ambitious interim emissions reductions targets, as set out in each country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), by 2030. This is the only way we can keep global warming of not more than 1.5°C within reach. To deliver on these targets, we are working to accelerate the phase out of coal, encourage investment in renewables, curtail deforestation and speed up the switch to electric vehicles.
Second, improve the way in which countries adapt to the climate crisis, so that both communities and natural habitats are protected. The climate is already changing, with devastating effects. As COP26 President, we are helping and encouraging countries affected by climate change to protect and restore ecosystems, build defences, put warning systems in place and make infrastructure and agriculture more resilient to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and lives.
Thirdly, mobilize finance, including both the $100 billion annually promised by developed countries to help developing countries, and helping unleash the trillions of dollars in the private and public sector to secure global net zero carbon emissions.
And, fourth, working together to turn our climate ambition into action by accelerating collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.
How is this different from COP25?
COP25 was held in Madrid in 2019. Big issues like offsetting carbon - that is, reducing emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere - and financial aid for developing nations were unresolved at COP25, but there was an agreement on cutting carbon dioxide, with each nation agreeing to devise a plan to cut their carbon emissions by COP26. That’s why one of the big four goals is the focus on targets for 2030 and 2050.
COP26 will be the most significant climate event since the 2015 COP in Paris. The Paris COP delivered the agreement that each country will reduce the amount of harmful greenhouse gases produced, increase renewable energy, keep global temperature increase "well below" 2°C, spend $100 billion a year in climate finance to help poorer countries by 2020, and review progress made on the agreement every five years.
The UK has a lot to be proud of when it comes to acting on climate change. We have shown that climate action can go hand-in-hand with economic growth. In fact, around 70% of the world’s economy is now committed to reaching net zero emissions, up from 30% when the UK took over as incoming COP Presidency.
What benefits might the event bring for the climate vulnerable countries, including Bangladesh?
There will be multiple benefits, with all four goals being directly related to Bangladesh.
Keeping global warming to not more than 1.5°C is vital for Bangladesh because every fraction of a degree makes a difference for the country. In the last few years we have seen how natural disasters like cyclones are becoming more catastrophic due to sea surface temperatures in the Bay of Bengal. We also see sea levels rise in the low-lying delta, drought in the north, and changing rainfall patterns across the country which are forcing people into overcrowded urban areas. For better mitigation of such challenges, Bangladesh needs a consistent and concerted effort by all countries to reduce emissions. At the same time, Bangladesh needs to make its own transition from coal to clean and renewable energy to complement the global effort to reduce emissions without sacrificing economic growth. COP26 is critical for Bangladesh. The UK Presidency has a clear plan to deliver.
Bangladesh has so much experience to share with other countries at COP26. Although Bangladesh is vulnerable to climate change, it has done a great job in building resilience to tackle the negative impacts. As chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), Bangladesh is leading in this area, from early warning and evacuation systems saving lives to climate-resilient crops ensuring food sources are protected.
There are areas for improvement in Bangladesh’s environmental performance, especially air and water pollution and ending deforestation, both of which contribute to emissions and threaten resilience. Destroying mangroves, for example, increases coastal vulnerability.
To help with this Bangladesh needs additional financing – from development partners, from international and national investment, and from governments to tackle the crisis. COP26 can play a significant role in building that support.
Are the industrialized countries doing enough to mitigate the challenges posed by climate change?
The answer to that is “not yet.” However, all countries are now much more alive to the challenge, and there is progress on both mitigation and adaptation at all levels: local communities, cities and municipalities, and nationally.
We in the UK, for example, have decarbonized our economy faster than any other G20 economy since 2000, and are the first major economy to put into law that we will reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We are doubling our international climate finance to help developing nations, with £11.6 billion over the next five years up to 2025/2026, and we are ending direct government support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas.
However, globally, progress needs to accelerate. As the great British naturalist and commentator Sir David Attenborough reminded leaders of the G7 on 13th June, humans could be "on the verge of destabilising the entire planet,” with the natural world being greatly diminished. Two key issues now are how we can emerge from this immediate crisis arising from Covid-19 pandemic in a way that is meaningfully clean and green, and how industrialized countries can help poorer countries to tackle the climate crisis. We are working urgently on them.
What are the challenges Bangladesh faces with respect to climate change? How is the UK assisting Bangladesh to address the challenges?
The big challenges for Bangladesh include continuing to adapt to climate change, and continuing to grow into a developed economy, whilst also lowering emissions, pollution, and environmental damage.
We in the UK are a longstanding partner to Bangladesh on disaster management and resilience building. Since 2008, the UK and Bangladesh have jointly helped over 27 million people gain access to early warning systems for floods and cyclones, and provided emergency assistance and recovery support after disasters.
In January 2020, the UK and Bangladesh launched a new partnership, which has helped to share expertise on practical solutions to the challenges of adaptation and mitigation. We have hosted a series of multi-stakeholder virtual events on the COP26 themes, have held an exchange between the UK and Bangladesh Parliamentary Committees on climate, and plan further events to engage young voices ahead of COP26.
We are about to submit to UK Ministers for approval a new flagship bilateral program with Bangladesh, tackling adaptation, clean energy, nature-based solutions, and environmental management. This will add significant finance to the technical partnership and political dialogue already underway.
Is the existing climate financing mechanism working perfectly? Are the vulnerable countries, including Bangladesh, getting adequate funds to tackle the adverse effects of climate change?
There is still room for improvement in the climate finance mechanism, and this will be discussed at COP26, as will the level of finance for developing countries. Finance alone is not the answer to everything; Bangladesh does need to address its environment problems, so as to make its adaptation and mitigation efforts even more effective.
But there is progress. The COP26 President Designate, Mr Alok Sharma MP, held excellent discussions with the honourable prime minister, senior ministers and civil society during his visit to Bangladesh in June. They outlined commitments on mitigation, adaptation and low carbon growth. Our cities are working together to tackle urban environmental problems. And everywhere I go in Bangladesh I’m impressed by people’s understanding of the problem and commitment to tackling it. I look forward to that energy playing a role in delivering the agreement we all need at COP26 in November.