Low-emission countries like Bangladesh suffer the most each year and, paradoxically, pay the greatest price for losses and damage from climate change. The communities most at risk are those facing the reality that the COP27 climate summit in Sharm-El-Shaikh is trying to avert. According to the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Bangladesh is expected to suffer an average loss of US$2.2 billion a year, equivalent to 1.5 percent of its GDP, due to flooding. While the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) estimates that climate change has cost Bangladesh US$12 billion in the last 40 years alone. This results in an annual GDP contraction of 0.5 to 1 percent, which is projected to reach 2 percent by 2050.
From melting glaciers to a “monsoon monsoon,” record-breaking floods have left a third of Pakistan currently submerged, and the climate catastrophe is changing monsoon patterns in South Asia, increasing the likelihood of deadly floods. The region as a whole emits a tiny amount of carbon emissions, with Pakistan and Bangladesh generating less than 1 percent, but it is a “climate crisis hotspot,” as recently noted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, as well as in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC ). Therefore, it seems only fair that the rich polluting nations should pay climate reparations to vulnerable countries for their historical injustices.
Last year I spent two weeks in Glasgow for COP26 hoping to bring positive news to the hardest hit communities. But unfortunately it was a disappointment for all marginalized people as their voices were ignored during the summit. After all, the youngsters were recognized at the COP for the first time. And yet, after COP26, we young people felt helpless and betrayed. Known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, the empty pledges will not protect our people from the global climate crisis. However, COP26 prioritized adaptation and established a comprehensive two-year work program between Glasgow and Sharm el-Sheikh on the global goal of adaptation. It includes an unprecedented target for developed countries to increase adaptation support to underdeveloped countries by 2025.
Lack of accessibility and accountability
The adaptation community made a significant contribution, but mostly online and outside of the negotiation rooms. The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the inaccessibility of climate discussions for individuals in the Global South along with systemic barriers. The disadvantaged and most affected must be able to participate in the COP process.
This global catastrophe is the result of a flawed economic paradigm fueled by capitalism, European colonialism and the increasing dominance of powerful men.
Above all, because solutions must not only come from the conference rooms full of experts, big companies and heads of government, but also have to come from the grassroots. The world’s poorest have the greatest resilience and indigenous knowledge to deal with crises. It’s a way of learning by doing. We don’t know what will work, but we have to try to adapt. Only those from vulnerable communities can teach the rest of the world about climate resilience.
This global catastrophe is the result of a flawed economic paradigm fueled by capitalism, European colonialism and the increasing dominance of powerful men. While acknowledging the harmful consequences and viable remedies, the global community is not acting fast enough to address the climate crisis. We are experiencing the same global catastrophe, but we are not in the same boat. It’s like we’re on the Titanic and the Global North is on lifeboats. Millions of people are drowning in freezing water because the rich, knowing the consequences, refuse to share. They cannot carry on as usual while greenwashing with empty climate summits.
An untapped resource: youth
The unprecedented mobilization of young people around the world like the global climate strike shows the tremendous power they have to hold the world’s climate decision makers to account. Youth groups have shown in the past their ability to take climate issues from the front lines to the headlines and take action. As youth leaders from Bangladesh, we spoke onstage during COP26 to emphasize the need to make COP accessible to young people and the need for transformative action for a resilient future.
The commitment of children and young people to climate protection measures is very limited in our country. Young people on the frontlines of disaster relief and adaptation provide humanitarian assistance and lead adaptation initiatives as first responders. Bangladesh has just completed its second term as President of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF). While Ghana appointed a youth ambassador before assuming the presidency, Bangladesh missed the opportunity to involve young people in the CVF. After all, by signing the Children and Youth Declaration on Climate Action, she committed to guaranteeing youth participation at COP25.
Involving young people in climate action is an undeniable element of inclusion.
Bangladesh has already called the Delta Long-Term Plan (BDP 2100) – a holistic plan to integrate the activities of delta-related sectors nationwide – as a gift and protection for future generations. But unfortunately it ignores the youth in the implementation process. Bangladesh has emphasized youth participation in the National Youth Policy and National Adaptation Plan. However, successful measures to involve children and young people at local, national and global levels are still lacking. The government has not allowed young people to participate in the country’s delegation and negotiation processes.
Involving young people in climate action is an undeniable element of inclusion. Young people need to be involved in the decision-making processes and even in the implementation of climate policies, plans and projects where young people work together at all levels. Youth are already doing their part, often convening discussions and lobbying, and working closely with key ministries and parliamentary platforms such as the Bangladesh Climate Parliament to engage young people in the climate change mitigation force. The government and other development partners must retaliate.
The need for more inclusion
The upcoming COP27 must be more inclusive. A good place to start is the annual Pre-COP, which will include a Youth COP as well as a #AccountabilityCOP. But in the run-up to the conference, more young people need to be represented in national delegations and engage meaningfully in sub-national, national and regional discussions. It must expand access to badges and funding for youth, particularly from the Global South, and allow observers to actively participate in negotiation sessions.
At the moment we are concerned that COP27 will be worse than COP26. There have already been requests to move the venue from Egypt due to concerns about human rights abuses stemming from the country’s restrictions on public space and lack of rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as persecution of gender-segregated groups. Human Rights Watch already called Egypt’s presidency a “blatantly bad choice” at COP27.
As we head towards COP27, we will present our agenda to young people and remain committed to effective results. If global leaders play less hypocrisy and invest more, COP27 can be a breakthrough in climate justice for vulnerable peoples. In addressing this catastrophe, we stand up for climate justice for all people everywhere, which is a new frontier of human rights.