Leading MP calls for international community to help developing countries.
By Rushanara Ali, member of parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow and shadow minister for International Development.
Last October I returned to Bangladesh, where I was born, for the first time since I was elected as MP for Bethnal Green and Bow and appointed Shadow Minister for International Development. I was invited to attend a climate change tribunal hosted by Oxfam to raise awareness about the impact of rising sea levels on Bangladesh and its people. At the tribunal I heard the testimonies of people whose lives had been directly affected by the impacts of climate change including Barek Majhi, a fisherman of 22 years whose livelihood was ruined after rough seas sunk his three fishing trawlers.
A year later, I visited Bangladesh, to see for myself the impact that climate change is already having on communities there. Bangladesh has been identified as the second most vulnerable country (after Haiti) to suffer the impacts of climate change. The potential impact on Bangladesh is enormous, with millions of men, women and children at ever greater risk from increased flooding, cyclones and rising sea levels. A one-metre rise in sea levels will devastate the lives of some 15- 20 million people over the next few decades.
I had the opportunity to see first-hand how climate change is affecting people’s lives and the way in which they are coping, preparing for further threats and building their own resilience to cope. During my visit, I travelled to the Haor region in Kishergonj where I met villagers whose traditional agricultural livelihoods have been ruined by rising sea levels and crop failure. The villagers I met told me how they used to grow a rice crop but now that the paddy fields are submerged in water for 8 months of the year, they are turning to other livelihoods such as fishing and duck rearing to survive. Community based adaptation is vital to people in Bangladesh who are suffering the effects of climate change on their homes and livelihoods. This means the focus is on empowering communities to take action based on their own decision-making processes. The villagers on the islands are amongst the ultra poor of Bangladesh. These people have not contributed to climate change but are some of its first victims.
On Friday (16), Bangladesh will make its 40th anniversary as an independent nation following a civil war that cost some 3million lives. Growth rates are at about 7 per cent a year and it is now one of the countries identified by Goldman Sachs investment bank as ‘The Next Eleven’ countries which have the potential, along with the BRICS, to become the world’s largest economies in the 21st century. And yet with the threat posed by climate change, there will be a catastrophic effect to millions more lives which could jeopardise the potential for growth and prosperity, not to mention instability and humanitarian disaster in the region due to the loss of land and millions of climate refugees needing help.
Despite being one of the lowest carbon emitters in the world, at 2 per cent, Bangladesh is taking swift action to lower their own carbon emissions and to ensure they are prepared for future disasters. It is vital that the international community works together to ensure that developing countries are not left to deal with the impacts of climate change on their own. Richer, long-industrialised countries are overwhelmingly responsible for the impacts of human caused climate change. We all have a responsibility to work in together to ensure that steps are taken now to mitigate the effects of climate change both for our own sakes and for the sake of those living in places that bear the biggest brunt and of the impact of climate change.
At the UN climate change conference (COP-17) in Durban, world leaders have an important opportunity to help poorer countries by agreeing to reduce emissions and help them cope with climate change. Last year in Cancun a new Green Climate Fund was established to channel climate finance to poor countries and the Copenhagen commitments to raising $100bn (£64bn) per year by 2020 were reiterated but no decision or next steps were identified on where this money would come from.
To ensure the fund is not left as an empty shell, sources of money to fill it must be agreed as a matter of urgency. But with the world in economical turmoil it is essential that new innovative sources which do not rely on cash strapped government treasuries or tax-payers’ pockets must be agreed upon. One realistic option that is currently on the table is a Financial Transaction Tax which could across the EU raise about £50bn a year.
Politicians around the world are beginning to consider a Financial Transactions Tax - 'or Robin Hood Tax' a serious possibility. At the G20 in Cannes (Nov 2011) France, Germany, Spain, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil agreed to press ahead with plans for FTTs and explore using revenues for both development and climate change. It is disappointing that the UK government did not back this proposal.
Vulnerable communities in developing countries desperately need substantial, new reliable flows of money to help them adapt to the damaging impacts of a changing climate and to embark on a low carbon development pathway. The UK Government must use the climate change summit in Durban as an opportunity to provide positive international leadership on climate change and to ensure that the negotiations result in meaningful action not just more well-intentioned platitudes.
For more information go to www.oxfam.org.uk/grow
Picture: Rushanara Ali
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