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Discussion on Climate Adaptation and Climate Change in Developing Countries

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Interviewer: Antoine Rondelet, Founder @ Ganddee

Guest: Prof. Saleemul Huq, Director @ ICCCAD


The International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), based at the Independent University Bangladesh, is a world-class institution focused on climate change, particularly adaptation. It aims to generate and distribute knowledge on climate change to aid adaptation, specifically in the global south. ICCCAD's goals include training leaders, conducting research, building capacity for Less Developed Countries, and leading a network of partners primarily based in the Southern Hemisphere. Its vision is to be a global Centre of Excellence on Climate Change and Development research. (More info here). Saleemul Huq is the Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Professor at the Independent University Bangladesh (IUB), and Associate of the International Institute on Environment and Development (IIED). He is also the Chair of the Expert Advisory Group for the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) and Senior Adviser on Locally Led Adaptation with Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA). Saleemul is an expert in adaptation to climate change in the most Vulnerable developing countries and has been a lead author of the 3rd, 4th and 5th assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He also advises the Least Developed Countries group in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and is affiliated with the UN Food System Summit for 2021 as co-chair of the Action Track 5 on Building Resilience to Vulnerabilities, Shocks & Stress. (More info here).


Antoine Rondelet: In simple terms, could you illustrate how developing countries are currently affected by climate change? Saleemul Huq: The impacts of climate change are now quite visible globally. Let me give you an example from just a few days ago. In Bangladesh, where I live, we experienced a cyclone. Now, the cyclone isn't caused by climate change, but its intensity—rising to category 4, then category 5—while still offshore, can certainly be attributed to global atmospheric temperature increases. Sea surface temperature, the factor that amplifies a cyclone's intensity, was well above 2°C more than the norm. Therefore, the heightened intensity of the cyclone, causing significantly more damage than usual, is due to human-induced climate change. The cyclone itself is not, but the increased intensity is. Fortunately for Bangladesh, we have an excellent cyclone warning system. Hundreds of thousands of people took shelter, prepared for the worst. Although we were ready for it, the cyclone veered to the east, causing minimal damage in Bangladesh but hitting Rakhine state in Myanmar hard. This region, a Muslim-majority part of Myanmar, was unprepared, resulting in hundreds of fatalities, and humanitarian workers were not permitted entry by the Myanmar government due to an ongoing civil war.

This is a clear illustration of good preparation and adaptation in Bangladesh, minimizing the losses. Poor adaptation in Myanmar, on the other hand, led to a significant impact, particularly in terms of loss of life. The metric of loss of life is one in which Bangladesh, with its cyclone preparedness program, leads the world—we don't lose lives to cyclones anymore. In contrast, Myanmar just lost over 200 lives—a tragedy that could have been avoided with better preparation.

We are now in what I call the era of losses and damages from climate change. Every day, week, month, and year from now on, things are going to get worse everywhere. This isn't just a "developing-country-only story" anymore. It's a worldwide story. Every country will be hit, and every country is unprepared to some extent. Yet, no country is better prepared than Bangladesh—we lead the world in this regard.

It's fascinating to hear about Bangladesh's preparedness to adapt to our changing climate. It's not a well-known story. It goes against the paradigm of developed, Northern countries always knowing best and having nothing to learn from the Global South. But that assumption is incorrect. That’s why I appreciate talking to a wide variety of people. There's too much bias in the climate discussion, often portraying it as a white male story. But it's everyone's story, which is why I seek to learn from these lesser-known narratives. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Considering the challenge climate change poses worldwide, specifically in developing countries, how can we adapt to changing climates without fueling the vicious cycle of climate crisis? For instance, the heat crisis in countries like India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh might push wealthy individuals to install air conditioning, which itself exacerbates the issue. So, how can we adapt without fueling this vicious cycle? Indeed, it's a big conundrum. The initial reaction is self-preservation, without considering the collective impact. We're going to have to shift this mindset—we must consider everyone, not just ourselves. Short-term fixes, like air conditioning, won't work, especially considering frequent power cuts. We need to approach this new problem with new thinking. Traditional thinking won't suffice, but this transition is going to be tough. The G7, for instance, is still stuck in old paradigms—they don't fully comprehend what's about to impact their own countries. They still believe a bit of adjustment here and there will suffice, but business-as-usual won't continue. Climate change is a global issue. How can we leverage local communities' knowledge and wisdom to tackle this problem? We often focus on the global picture, which is important, but we also have indigenous people safeguarding our ecosystems. How can we expand their adaptation measures worldwide? That's a great and timely question. I've just spent the last five days here in Bangkok at the 17th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation. Hundreds of people, including indigenous and local community members, are actively doing things. However, their efforts often fly under the radar of the global press. Look up “CBA 17” on Google and see the rich discussions we had—a lot of knowledge sharing and learning from each other. It's a vibrant community of practice doing locally-led adaptation everywhere. And it's not just developing countries; everyone will have to learn to adapt to the impacts of climate change, from Italy and Canada to America and Germany. If they learn to adapt, they'll minimize the losses and damages; if they don't, they'll maximize them. But the losses and damages will come—that's for sure. Everyone on the planet will suffer. The unfortunate message is that we haven't grasped this yet. Right now, the only options are minimizing the losses and damages. From my experience talking to academics and the "average person," it seems that a major part of addressing this issue is solving a communication problem. Many people who aren't well-educated on this topic feel the weight of the blame and don't know how to act. They're caught in a cycle of doom and gloom. We need to foster optimism while also being realistic about what's coming, to encourage broader engagement. This, I believe, is a big challenge in itself. Indeed, it's going to be challenging, and unfortunately, it's not a level playing field. Those earning significant money from activities causing damage are well aware of the harm they're causing. They're quite skilled at spreading misinformation and influencing politicians. The G7 leaders are all beholden to the fossil fuel industry. They can speak but, they're unable to act against their own fossil fuel industries. So, we're up against powerful and harmful forces. These entities knowingly cause harm and appear indifferent to the human cost, so long as they're profiting. It's a battle we must fight. On another note, you mentioned earlier about Bangladesh's preparedness for cyclones, which sparked another question: do you see the changing climate, and countries like Bangladesh leading in preparedness, as an opportunity for countries from the Global South to take the lead in this shifting paradigm with the changing climate? Absolutely. That's exactly what I advocate. If you want to learn how to deal with the climate change impacts that are coming your way, no matter where you are, even if you're in a wealthy country thinking you won't be affected, come to Bangladesh to learn. It's not about high-tech solutions. It's about people knowing what to do and working together to do it. When the cyclone was approaching, 500,000 people heeded the warnings, took shelter, and were prepared. That's the essence of preparedness—knowing what to do and acting when necessary to minimize impacts. You can't eliminate impacts completely, but you can reduce them. For instance, people living in earthquake-prone Tokyo have regular drills and know what to do in an earthquake. The same goes for people in Bangladesh's coastal zone when a cyclone is approaching. Everyone knows what to do—that's the real essence of preparedness. How would you explain to someone from a “developed country”, why they should care about the impact of climate change on developing countries? Why should this be a concern for wealthier individuals and communities? There are two main reasons. Firstly, there's a moral imperative. If they have any moral standing, they should recognize that it's wrong for poor people to suffer from the problems caused by the rich. This is an evident injustice.

I also believe that engaging with the younger generation in developed countries is particularly fruitful. Older people are generally set in their ways, and our leaders, who are mostly older, are unlikely to change. Yet, young people are more receptive to new ideas and ready for change. I tell them that their planetary citizenship is now far more important than their national citizenship. Planet Earth is under attack from climate change, and this is a global issue that requires a global response. While we lack a global government, we can work together as global citizens. So connect with your peers in developed and developing countries alike, and join forces to tackle this shared problem. This can be done by connecting via the Internet etc. The youth in Europe and the US doesn’t need to fly to meet and connect with the Bangladeshi youth. We can organize, together, to change the situation, and in fact, this is already happening. Take Fridays For Future, for example. Today, as we speak, young people are organizing and protesting around the world, following this movement started by Greta Thunberg in Stockholm. I do a lot of things with them, and I have a lot of faith in them. I have more faith in them than I have in the leaders. Is there a way to emphasize that supporting developing countries in their climate change efforts and transition to sustainable systems is not just a noble act, but also beneficial for developed countries, as a way to incentivize action? Yes, a common concern is the prospect of millions of climate refugees from Asia and Africa. The one thing that tends to get people’s attention is the fact that there will be millions of refugees coming to their country.

But let me give another example. When the World Meteorological Organization recently announced that we'll inevitably cross the 1.5°C degrees threshold within a few years, I was asked by the BBC, on their Radio 4 program, what it meant for Bangladesh. I told them not to worry about Bangladesh, we're finding ways to cope. But the UK should worry—they're not ready for this and could face devastating consequences. I told them to think about their own children, the world they'll inherit. If that doesn't make them think, they might be beyond repair.

I'm curious about the current discussions about the Loss and Damage Fund. Can you update us on its status, and what steps need to be taken before COP 28 later this year? At the moment, there's no fund in place. We only agreed to establish a fund at COP 27. Right now, there's a transitional committee meeting in Bonn, their second meeting following an initial meeting in Egypt. They will have two more meetings before COP 28, with the goal of bringing recommendations to the conference in Dubai in December on how to structure the fund, who would receive funding, and where the funds would come from. These meetings can actually be followed live on YouTube, as we speak. However, I must say that the historical record doesn't inspire confidence. When the transitional committee first formed, I wrote a piece advising them to work in "reality time" instead of "UNFCCC time". In my experience attending all 27 COPs, I've observed that the UNFCCC often takes years to act on decisions. For instance, it took five years from establishing the Green Climate Fund to its actual operation. I urged the committee not to delay, but to deliver something concrete at COP 28, even if it's not perfect. Whether or not they can meet this challenge remains to be seen. Thank you for your time Saleemul.

For further reading on Prof. Huq's contributions, check out the ICCCAD Publications, or read his weekly Op-Ed Column in The Daily Star. You might also be interested in the Climate Tribune, a monthly magazine published by ICCCAD, as well as Dhaka Tribune, the ICCCAD Policy Briefs, and the Voices from the Frontline blog series.


Further reading



  • The Green Climate Fund





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