New Internationalist

UN climate talks: a view from Bangladesh

I'm with the pumpkins: Practical Action's Nazmul Chowdhury is looking forward to getting back to helping Bangladeshi villagers to adapt to global warming after a disappointing  climate round at Doha.

I understand the need for adaptation better than most. The people I work with are living on the poverty line and the front line of global warming.

As a field worker, I help men, women and children out of long-term extreme poverty – 60,000 people to date – with projects like floating gardens, planting pumpkins on sandbars (see picture above) and building simple cages to farm fish, through the NGO Practical Action. All these income sources will be needed ever more acutely in the years to come.

For millions in Bangladesh – where life-threatening cyclones hit, on average, five times a year – their very existence is on a knife-edge. They know, better than anyone else, that climate change is already happening. And if they fail to adapt to withstand the effects of rising seas and flood waters, they and their families will die.

My overriding fear is that adaptation is still a side show at Doha. Some 40 participants from six countries came to my presentation. Other adaptation meetings have appeared sleepy. The vigorous debate I hoped to see – from countries suffering most from climate change – was sorely absent.

Leaders must set meaningful reduction targets at these UN talks. But it’s equally important that world governments commit to adaptation for the poorest. A failure to progress in these areas, endangers the lives of millions of poor people, including the people I work with every day.

It wasn’t all bad at Doha; there was lots of behind-the-scenes work being done to push climate change adaptation up the agenda. I got the chance to put forward the case for climate change adaptation to the head of the UN’s development programme Helen Clark. ‘We don’t need to wait for a global climate agreement to invest in adaptation and resilience,’ she agreed. ‘That needs to be very high on development partners’ agendas. Now.’

I was also pleased that the British government has promised to spend £1.8bn over the next 2 years on climate finance, half for adaptation projects. And, as talks wrap, up it is starting to look as if the UN has kept the Kyoto protocol alive, by agreeing a second track.

But so few countries have signed up that the Kyoto process is really on a life support machine. And at the present rate of progress it seems highly unlikely that we can keep within a 2 degree temperature rise, which will be devastating for poor countries like Bangladesh.

And while adaptation has made some progress, with programmes endorsed and texts adopted, still there’s no agreed mechanism for assessing loss and damage – a highly contested area. This failure to act is a great loss for humanity. Rich countries have yet again let down millions of my people, whose fate, with rising water levels and more frequent flooding, now seems more uncertain than ever.

I will be relieved to get back to productive climate adaptation work back in Bangladesh.

Practical Action has been attending the COP 18 talks in Doha, arguing adaptation to climate change should be higher up the UN agenda, and rich countries should fund the poorest communities to help them cope with the effects of climate change.

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