In conversation... with Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow at IIED

In conversation... with Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow at IIED

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Date: 3rd September 2010
Type: Feature
Country: Bangladesh
Tags: capacity-building, climate finance, floods, green growth


Simon Maxwell, CDKN Chair: Saleem thank you so much for coming in. It’s a great pleasure to see you. Bangladesh has stood on the edge of the precipice if you like because it has the history and it is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world and that gives impetus to the political project and to the consensus building nationally, do you think that is going to be a typical situation that developing countries face?

Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow in the Climate Change Group, IIED: Over the last few years I’ve been spending a lot of time in the least developed countries mainly in sub Saharan Africa but also in Asia as well. I think we have reached a tipping point and particularly before and after Copenhagen, for one reason is that so many heads of state went to Copenhagen they may not have done much there while they were there, but they all came back totally taken with the issue of climate change and realising that it was a big issue, they had to do something about it and, and getting their own bureaucracies and Governments asking the right questions and moving forward. What I’m finding is that there’s a growing demand now for capacity building, because the first thing they do is they say alright now we’re convinced now tell us what to do, and, and we really don’t have good answers for all of them, except to say you know build up your own national capabilities to be able to answer the questions at the national level,

Simon: This is a very interesting challenge for those of us who work on north south relations and on networking across the south. What kind of intermediation is needed to make technological developments in developing countries available on a south, south basis?

Saleem: Well I think that’s a bit of a challenge because we don’t have good structures for south, south cooperation, particularly across the three continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America, most of us who come from those parts of the world network in the west or in the north. Having said that I think that we’re getting better and we can do that much more effectively in future, and in a sense the new centre I’m setting up in Bangladesh is trying to do that, not so much on the new mitigation technologies, but more on the adaptation to deal with the impacts of climate change, using the example of Bangladesh to share that with other developing countries both in Asia as well as in African and Latin America, so that it, because that is going to be much more relevant for them, than coming to London and find out how the Thames barrier is going to protect London from the floods.

Simon: We are quite clear that our programme is not just about climate it’s about climate and development and we call that climate compatible development which has both mitigation and an adaptation element. We say that we’re not just about research, we’re about research which is useful and used by policy makers, and then we say that we have a particular niche around this idea of constructing a national strategy say for 2030 and then building backwards and working with leadership groups in order to deliver that.

Saleem: Well I, I would say that’s an excellent way forward and again in the next say five year time frame you’re not going to be able to do 100 countries you’re going to have to pick and choose. I would say choose the ones that are already leading in these areas, and then help them to do that and then have that learning of how they did it and the example of that that others can then follow. And they need to be from a variety of countries - some vulnerable countries dealing with the impacts, some of the more fast developing countries dealing with both the combination of impacts as well as low carbon development and maybe even have some developed countries in the mix as well so that they can share their experiences and I think a genuine north south and a south, south learning exercise with a handful of leaders as it were, countries as leading the way would be a very good example and something doable within the next five years.

Simon: We’re interested in, in the question of what Bangladesh might look like by 2030, say if there were no climate change and what changes we have to make if there is climate change,

Saleem: Well let me say, let me look back a generation, since Bangladesh became independent in 1971. I think over that period there’s been several major achievements in Bangladesh: the population growth rate has come down very considerably, from something in the region of 3% a year to less than 2% a year in a predominantly Muslim country without cohesion and that’s the major break through

Simon: Now if we take that picture which is an optimistic picture for Bangladesh, how does climate change threaten the trajectory?

Saleem: Well climate change threatens the trajectory quite significantly; I mean Bangladesh in the climate change world has become the iconic vulnerable country. We have floods which are going to get worse, we have cyclones which are going to get more frequent or more intense, we have droughts in part of the country during part of the year as well, so most of the climatic impacts, other than very dry conditions, are going to affect the country, and it will affect agriculture, it will affect livelihoods of people, but these are not unknowns, these are things that we, as I’ve mentioned we have coped with in the past, they’ll just get worse, so we need to be much, much better prepared than, than we used to be.

Simon: How necessary is it for Bangladesh that there be an international climate accord to replace Kyoto and how necessary is it to have the level of international funding the $100 billion a year that’s been talked about to support the poor and vulnerable countries?

Saleem: Well on the first point I think it’s absolutely essential; they’re putting $100 million in themselves, their own cost estimate is in the region of 3 to 5 billion, so they are very far short of reaching that. They have set up something the climate change resilience fund, where they’ve invited international donors to provide some assistance; the UK’s put in money, Denmark, Japan and a few other countries. They’ve already raised over 100 million in that trust fund as well. So in a sense there is a good example of a country a, being proactive, and b, the donors and the supporters also being proactive in terms of not competing with each other, but working together to help the country.

Simon: Let me ask you a final question Saleem before we finish - let’s look ahead say five years or seven years - what will you be really pleased looking back to 2010 that has changed by say 2015?

Saleem: I had great hopes of Copenhagen making a big break through, that didn’t happen, I don’t think we’ll have the break through again in Cancun or in South Africa within the next couple of years, but I think over the next five to seven years we will get another opportunity. These things don’t happen every year, they happen every half a decade maybe, so the next half decade will give us another opportunity to heighten the awareness about the issue and get these kinds of very transformational decisions at the global level which can then be implemented at the national level and some countries implementing them already at the national level within that timeframe, so that we’re all tipping over into this new era of a low carbon climate resilient growth pathway.

Simon: Saleemul Huq you’ve been a leader in the past you’re going to be a leader in the future in your new job thank you very much for joining me.

Saleem: Thank you.

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