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OPINION: The Bangladesh Climate Vulnerable Forum – time to level with the most vulnerable

José María Figueres, Trustee of DARA, Former President of Costa Rica (1994-1998), looks forward to the meeting of the Climate Vulnerable Forum in Dhaka, Bangladesh this month

Senior representatives of a number of countries most vulnerable to the harmful effects of climate change are set to gather from around the world in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 13-14 November – just before the upcoming Durban UN climate talks of COP17. Hosted by the government of Bangladesh, it is the first full meeting of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) since the initiative was inaugurated in the Maldives in November 2009, ahead of the COP15 climate summit in Copenhagen.

So what is the CVF exactly? The CVF has provided a group of developing countries with a platform to call for global targets such as a maximum 1.5 C global temperature rise (above pre-industrial levels) and a carbon dioxide concentration in the air of 350 ppm, (parts per million), later picked up by the Alliance of Small Island States and others. It has sought and succeeded in gaining a higher degree of attention to the special needs of vulnerable countries in Copenhagen, where CVF leaders, such as President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives went tête à tête with leaders from the US, China, and other G8 countries.

But what makes CVF unique is the determination of its members in “leading the world into the low-carbon and ultimately carbon-neutral economy”, as spelled out in its first declaration signed by 11 nations back in November 2009. The Maldives had itself just committed to a 2020 target for attaining national carbon neutrality. Since then, Antigua and Barbuda, Ethiopia, Marshall Islands, Samoa, and my own country – Costa Rica – have all made similar commitments.

Copenhagen and subsequent global developments on climate change have of course continued to fall short on the expectations and ambitions of the CVF. As momentum has been building in the run-up to the Dhaka meeting, with CVF events and briefings having taken place in New York, Madrid, Geneva, and at the recent Panama climate talks, I see three key areas of particular concern for the group.

First, with today’s 0.8 degrees Celsius of warming, many vulnerable countries are facing the weight of multiple climate stresses – witness the recent drought in the Horn of Africa and emergency water aid being delivered to Tuvalu. Indeed, only last year DARA and the CVF published the Climate Vulnerability Monitor, which estimated that climate change is already linked to approximately 350,000 deaths each year – mainly among children in developing countries. The current global target of 2 degrees Celsius will put many of the most vulnerable nations at grave risk, and simply must be revised.

Second, with only a fraction of the “fast-start” climate finance or technology having been made available, vulnerable populations still stand fully exposed to these dangers. The low-carbon leaders of developing countries moreover, are being left high and dry. Compounding the situation, access to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) outside of the largest emerging economies is microscopic. Africa as a continent has less than 3% of all CDM projects now on the horizon. This is all incredibly short-sighted, in particular because a wider uptake of green development would help reduce the marginal costs of the transition to a low-carbon economy.

It is also disheartening to see Japan, Canada, and Russia now following the United States in shirking their responsibilities to continue the Kyoto Protocol, otherwise set to expire in December of next year. Allowing Kyoto to end without an agreed instrument to fill its void is truly irresponsible. It will send the worst possible signal to the global investment community, just when we need to be accelerating green growth around the world.

This is why the work of the CVF remains so crucial. That a growing number of developing countries are pursuing green development, and continue to press for climate justice, is a message that should also give pause to the slowest moving industrialised countries. For our part, DARA with support from CDKN and other development partners will continue to assist Bangladesh and the CVF as it steps up and pushes forward its efforts in all these respects.


Image: polluted floodwater, Bangladesh. Courtesy DFID.


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