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Killing climate change

  • Published at 06:19 pm June 13th, 2015
Killing climate change

 “I think it's important that we give a confirmation of this $100bn [climate] fund.” “We are talking about the environment now, why? Because foreigners give us money. They don’t give it to you, they give it to me.”

Both of the above are quotes from prominent public representatives, made in the last few days. Can you guess who said what?

Let’s start with the easier one. As you must have noted, it has to have been one of the entertaining ministers who have the privilege of sitting in our country’s parliament today, making critical decisions on our behalf.

I’m speaking, of course, of our honourable Minister of Environment and Forests Anwar Hossain Manju, who also said, in the same discussion event where he presented us with the above gem: “There may be some 400 tigers in the Sundarbans. But who cares? They gave money so I wrote down 440 tigers.”

No further comments, your honour.

The first quote at the beginning of this article came from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who recently achieved something truly remarkable.

Through bold leadership, she held the fence against climate-villains like Japan and Canada, and announced at the Germany G7 Summit -- made up of the seven richest nations -- that we as a world are getting off carbon pollution.

There is no overstating how significant this moment is. After well over two decades of tedious climate negotiations, the powerful industrialised countries, where the Big Money of the fossil fuel industry has a stranglehold on democracy, have actually gone out on a limb and said that there is no future for fossil fuels.

My Germany-based colleagues at the global campaigning group Avaaz followed the chancellor around for the last three weeks in green superhero costumes, urging her to be a climate hero. She smiled and waved when she passed the colourful demonstrations, and ultimately listened.

The G7 victory is a testament to the passion, persistence, and power of the people who have prevailed through the thankless job of pushing the politics year in and year out, for a very long time.

Make no mistake, we’re still far from the ultimate goal of preventing catastrophic climate change. Regardless, today is a day we can, and indeed should, celebrate. It is only through appreciating these milestones along the way that we can persist in the long run and create the future we deserve.

Another landmark moment occurred last September, when the People’s Climate March brought 700,000 people to the streets worldwide, including Dhaka, for the largest such mobilisation on climate change. It injected much-needed adrenaline to the climate talks in Lima, Peru the following December.

At Lima, I was excited to engage with the Bangladeshi delegation of ministers on matters relating to the fast-evolving negotiations, including said minister above, only to realise that most of them were more interested in checking out what shopping or sight-seeing opportunities Lima had to offer.

In the months since then, much more has happened in the world. 2015 is incredibly crucial, with two vital, long-reaching agreements to be decided upon based on the Sustainable Development Goals later in the year, and work towards preparing them is moving fast.

The fine-print of those unassuming texts will essentially determine the life trajectories of millions, indeed hundreds of millions of mostly poor people, across the globe, for generations. Many of those millions will be in Bangladesh -- in coastlines, chars, and urban slums. It is our great misfortune and pain that we are subjected to such farce from high levels of political leadership at this critical juncture. And it goes as high as they come.

This weekend, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi jointly “expressed satisfaction at the pace of work” on the Rampal coal-fired power plant next to the Sundarbans, and marked mutual interest in further pushing coal energy -- threatening to lock in decades of more pollution and harm the health of millions more still.

And just to remind you, the Rampal project is the one ecologists, experts, and environmentalists have been losing their voice over for years, imploring the PM to not shoot the country in its southern foot and cripple the nation by destroying the majestic Sundarbans.

But dedicated study, passionate articulation of carefully-considered arguments, and marching hundreds of kilometres to protect the Sundarbans have failed to secure from the government a responsible exchange based on facts and data, instead garnering accusations of treason.

But wielding political power as a stick never stops people driven by conscience. Collaborative work between national and international activist groups around this issue is yielding real results.

In the last month alone, three giant French international banks -- Société Générale, Crédit Agricole and BNP Paribas -- have ruled out financing the Rampal project.

As happened with the proposed Great Barrier Reef coal mega-complex last year, many more banks can be expected to follow. The two honourable PMs’ optimism “that the plant will be operational by the target date” may, fortunately, be misguided.

So, today, let us strive hard to divert our attention away from the afflictions we are stuck in with respect to our current democracy against the people, and enjoy this gift of people-powered victories.

And let us hold on for dear life to the belief that the only way to win is to act -- even if those wins are few and far between. It is the only chance we have. 

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