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A letter to the prime minister on climate change

  • Published at 07:08 pm October 3rd, 2015
A letter to the prime minister on climate change

Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,

I would like to congratulate you on receiving the Champions of the Earth award at the UN this week.

Bangladesh has long been the poster-child for climate impact. But as you highlighted when you accepted the prestigious award, this is only one side of the story. Bangladesh also firmly stands as a story of people’s resilience and strength in the face of great injustice and (un)natural devastation.

The UNEP has rightly celebrated your various policy leadership -- such as the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, earmarking domestic funding for climate adaptation efforts, and solar expansion through the likes of IDCOL. This should be welcomed by anyone who understands the importance of policy support in furthering progressive change.

Yet, honourable prime minister, you have yourself spoken about the incredible scale and urgency of addressing climate change. Let us not mince words -- what is required of us is a revolutionary transformation of our energy systems to a fully renewable energy-powered world, by the time that I, a young citizen now, can expect to become a senior citizen.

The latest science says nothing less will save us from our own destructive ways, as I’m certain you are well aware.

As an internationally recognised leader, the remarkably difficult task of leading this transition falls upon you and others who have been calling attention to climate change for a long time.

And this difficult task will require bold leadership and tough choices. There are two dimensions to this -- international and domestic.

On the international front, we are now only two months from the Paris climate summit, where a new global treaty will be signed. This moment represents a rare and valuable opportunity to set a foundation and the architecture to manage this transition in a way that causes the least amount of disruption and shock to the global economic system.

To do that, Paris needs to set a guiding star for the entire world -- a progressive, visionary goal of a 100% clean energy future for everyone by 2050, and a mechanism to get there by increasing concrete country commitments towards achieving this goal every five years as political and technological circumstances unfold.

I hope Bangladesh will be pushing hard for this outcome, in addition to much-needed financial aid and support to the poorest and most vulnerable countries. We first need to ensure we stay afloat as a nation to be able to use that financial aid.

Bangladesh’s voice in the climate negotiations has long been well-respected, so our stance matters greatly. However, recent controversial comments made by the minister of environment have been unfortunate and threaten our reputation and credibility in the international arena.

In the last round of UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, where I was privileged to attend, I was excited to meet with several attending ministers from our government, but I was disheartened when I failed to engage them in constructive conversation. Rather, many of them even left the conference venue to experience what shopping and sightseeing opportunities Lima had to offer, while many civil society leaders in Bangladesh who are respected veterans of the negotiations were not included in the delegation.

Honourable prime minister, I hope that you will ensure the strongest possible Bangladeshi delegation for Paris -- there is far too much at stake.

The second dimension is domestic. Despite your substantial policy leadership that resulted in the prestigious UNEP award, the reality of climate change is simply too grave to justify many of the policies we are currently pursuing as a nation.

I welcome the voluntary commitments that the Bangladesh government has submitted at the Paris agreement. However, while we are a small country with negligible emissions in the context of the entire world, we should strive for much more ambition to set a bright example, and lead the way for others towards a cleaner energy world.

For example, our commitment lists a mere 1.4 gigawatt target for solar and wind power by 2030, while India -- traditionally a laggard on climate action -- is going for 350 gigawatts in the same time-frame. In the investment figures listed for the energy sector, the coal industry is set to receive almost four times more support than that for solar and wind combined.

A coal-focused energy strategy at this time is anachronistic and a grave mistake, not only environmentally, but also economically. It ignores all the facts -- that, for every coal plant built around the world in the last five years, two have been shelved or cancelled. The value of listed coal companies monitored by Citigroup has shrunk from $50bn in 2012 to $18bn in 2015, a trend Citi believes will continue. The drumbeat is building up to leave two-thirds of all fossil fuel reserves on the ground as pure necessity, if we are to succeed in addressing climate change -- and coal, as the dirtiest fuel, will be the first to be set aside.

And solar and wind energy are already at price parity with fossil fuels in many parts of the world, with prices still falling fast, so the choice for the future couldn’t be clearer.

We are at a critical juncture, when we must decide what kind of development pathway to follow. Our energy investments of today will determine whether we are locked into the old mistakes of the West, choking our cities and people in the process, or whether we embrace and lead the clean energy transition for the world, and at the same time, position ourselves well economically by developing that vital knowledge and industry in our country the same way China is doing.

Researchers like Professor Sajed Kamal have long said that Bangladesh has been blessed with solar and wind potential -- it is only a matter of embracing it, and the time is now.

Honourable prime minister, I urge you to start this transition by canceling the Rampal coal plant that many experts and activists have been calling for years to abolish. Your title, “Champion of the Earth,” is simply not compatible with being a supporter of this project.

I again congratulate you for this award, and I appreciate your efforts to champion the causes of the poor and vulnerable at the international stage. At this critical time, all of us are called to do more -- especially those in positions of power such as yourself.

An ally in our fight for climate justice -- President Tong of the small Pacific island nation Kiribati facing existential risk from sea level rise -- just called for a moratorium on all new coal mining. The world’s prominent Muslim leaders signed the Islamic Declaration on Climate calling for 100% clean energy. Such bold moral stances are now necessary to preserve our one and only home, and I trust that you will take inspiration from this UNEP award and rise to the challenge facing all of humanity with visionary leadership.

I look forward to fighting alongside you for climate justice in Paris and onwards, for the betterment of our country and our world.

Respectful regards,

A young, concerned, and active citizen of Bangladesh and the world. 

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