UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Gwyn Lewis has said loss and damages, and adaptation need to be on the table at COP27 and urgent steps need to be taken to provide financial and technological support to most impacted countries like Bangladesh.
"Climate action is obviously on top of the agenda," she said, touching on some of the areas of UN's focus to support Bangladesh.
Speaking at "DCAB Talk", held at Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka on November 8, Lewis said climate change is also impacting Bangladesh's economy.
DCAB President Rezaul Karim Lotus and General Secretary AKM Moinuddin also spoke at the event.
The UNRC said COP27 comes at a time when South Asia is "impacted in unprecedented ways" by climate change, whether it is the floods in Sylhet and Sunamganj, Bangladesh or in Pakistan and repeated cyclones in India and Bangladesh in recent years.
"Unfortunately, climate talks have been bogged down with politics and economic pressures, so we need to see more citizen action and listen to the voices of people living in Bangladesh, particularly young people and women who are often excluded," she said.
One of the recommendations following the recent visit of the Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights to Bangladesh was to focus on inclusion and making sure the voices of the most marginalised were included in decision-making, said the UN official.
"UN plans to further work on supporting the government to implement the national adaptation plan and the other policy frameworks such as the Delta Plan and the Mujib Climate Prosperity action plan," she said, adding that the UN with their NGO and Red Crescent partners are also supporting disaster risk management and humanitarian efforts led by the ministry.
Lewis said there are also ongoing programmes to support migrants and displaced people who are forced to leave their homes due to the impact of climate change.
By one estimate, up to 50% of those now living in Bangladesh's urban slums may be there because they were forced to flee their rural homes as a result of riverbank erosion or flooding, she said.
The data shows that from 2000 to 2019, Bangladesh suffered economic losses worth over $3.72 billion due to extreme weather events linked to climate change, said the UN official.
This leads to another area of work that the UN is supporting in Bangladesh - economic growth and LDC graduation, she said.
"The growth of Bangladesh's economy over the past 20 years has been extraordinary, as has been the reduction in poverty," Lewis said.
Before coronavirus hit the country, Bangladesh had been advancing fairly well to qualify for graduation.
"Although the pandemic has been disruptive, the economy remained on a positive track. However, the current food and fuel crisis generated by the war is also creating pressures and uncertainty, including for the markets for Bangladeshi goods overseas," Lewis said.
In this global climate, she said, although there are benefits to LDC graduation, there are also risks.
The UN official said graduation will enhance the confidence of the country in dealing with the international financial bodies, improve Bangladesh's credit rating and attract higher foreign direct investment flow.
However, she said, graduation will also affect certain preferential treatments in trade, subsidies to agriculture and access to some LDC-specific funds.
"The risks need to be mitigated and this is where I hope that the UN's technical support can be useful," Lewis said, adding that further diversification and greater efforts are needed to attract foreign direct investment and meet the requirements for trade agreements when Bangladesh reaches middle income status.
She said the UN is working to support the government in the development of a smooth transition strategy. Training of young people in IT and new technologies to make them better equipped for the future is one area where effort could be expanded.
Another is the creation of new industries and continuing to make Digital Bangladesh a reality, said the UN official.
"I would also like to emphasize however, as important as LDC graduation is, middle income status is only a stepping stone," Lewis said, adding that ultimately the objective is to achieve sustainable development goals and leave no one behind.
The UN official said achieving the SDGs goes beyond economic growth and focuses on improving health, education, social protection and good governance.
Bangladesh's social indicators, such as gender equity, women's empowerment, mortality rate, life expectancy, immunisation and access to water and sanitation have improved dramatically over the past 50 years, she said.
Investments in social services, however, need to continue to grow with the growing population, and with the growing expectations of people who are living in a middle-income country, UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Gwyn Lewis said.
Political violence 'obviously a concern'
UNRC Lewis has made it clear that it is not for her or the UN to take decisions or engage in the election process of Bangladesh and laid emphasis on peaceful exercise of political activities.
She said people have been injured and killed over the past months which is "obviously a concern" and called for "calm" and to find avenues for discussion.
"It's not for me or the UN to really decide and engage in election," Lewis said, adding that there is no mandate for the UN to engage in election here unless they get a specific request from the Security Council or General Assembly or the country.
The UNRC said she is talking with the ministry of home affairs and also talking with various security forces to try and protect lives and find ways on how things can be done in a safe way.
Lewis said despite other major developing crises in the world, the United Nations continues to focus on the Rohingya issue, and has been trying to find a political solution.
"It's incredibly challenging. The focus is there," she said, adding that they are working on the ground for the safe and dignified return of the displaced Rohingyas - currently in Bangladesh - to Myanmar.
Lewis said the UN does maintain and continues to keep the focus on the Rohingya crisis in terms of trying to reach a political solution to the crisis.
She, however, said it is very frustrating as they have not been able to make more headway but they continue to work towards conditions that are conducive for return to Myanmar and the Rohingya must be able to go back home, in safety and dignity.
"This is the largest refugee crisis in the world. It continues to be our top priority and we are hopeful that we will be able to increase the financing though everything on the ground is expensive," she said.
Lewis said the last five years have also been a testament to the solidarity and humanity of the people of Bangladesh for the Rohingya refugees. "The people I have met in the camps in Cox Bazaar and Bhasan Char are extremely grateful for that support, and hospitality."
She said there is no way of determining how long repatriation might take, but safe and voluntary repatriation will continue to be a priority.
In the meantime, Lewis said, the UN and other partners are committed to continuing to provide humanitarian support to the Rohingyas.
She said the challenges facing the world are many and the UN will continue to strive to support the people of Bangladesh in achieving the SDGs. "There is no choice but to succeed."
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