Spotlight on Dhaka: City convenes international leaders on climate change

The City of Dhaka has advanced international dialogue on climate change by recently hosting two significant events: the Climate Vulnerable Forum and an International Seminar on Climate Change and the Role of Local Government.

As the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka is home to 15 million people and the major economic and cultural center of the country. Situated on a low-lying delta, Dhaka understands the threat of climate change first-hand -- even as it absorbs increasing numbers of “climate refugees” from rural areas fleeing flooding due to erratic rainfall and river erosion.

Yet Dhaka calls itself “the city of hope.” It is fitting, then, for the city to have taken the lead in convening both national and local governments on climate issues in advance of the Durban COP 17 talks that wrapped up last week.

Climate Vulnerable Forum

On November 13-14, Dhaka hosted the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a ministerial meeting of 19 countries that are vulnerable to climate change and united in calling for greater access to resources and technology for climate adaptation. At the event, participants adopted The Dhaka Declaration, which pledged a commitment to low carbon development, while also demanding greater support from developed nations in funding and financing climate-related actions.

Mesbah ul Alam, Bangladesh's environment secretary told the AFP:

"The aim of this conference is to get the nations who are disproportionately affected by climate change, the most vulnerable nations, to come together and speak with one voice. Climate change is real and it is affecting us now -- we live with floods, with climate refugees, with rising salinity in our coastal areas and with the impact of rising sea levels."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who attended the Forum’s inaugural event in Dhaka, argued that the commitment of countries most affected by climate change is inspiring. In a piece on disaster risk management published in the Financial Times, he said:

“I listened to the voices of experience while in Bangladesh recently for the Climate Vulnerable Forum. I heard from leaders whose countries are on the front lines of climate impacts. I came away convinced that some of the countries hardest hit by human-induced climate change have much to teach the rest of us. They know from experience about reducing risks and forging a safer, cleaner, greener path to prosperity. Consider Bangladesh, the host of this year’s forum. Through painful experience, the country has now become a world leader in disaster preparedness.”

International Seminar on Climate Change and the Role of Local Government

As a C40 City, Dhaka also recognizes the important role of local and city governments in confronting and addressing climate change. One week after the CVF event, together with Asia-Pacific network Citynet, Dhaka hosted the International Seminar on Climate Change and the Role of Local Government. There, local leaders from Asian member countries shared information on how to prepare for their future, assess vulnerabilities and engage higher levels of government and international entities in the interest of long-term sustainability.

C40 Cities Bangkok, Jakarta and Seoul attended the seminar alongside representatives from other cities, including Chittagong, Yokohama, San Fernando, Makati (Metro-Manila), Incheon, Kathmandu, Ahmedabad, Surabaya, Lyon, as well as Sri Lankan cities Colombo, Eravur and Balangoda.

Discussions largely focused on the vulnerabilities of the urban poor who are living in high numbers in many rapidly growing Asian cities – many of them rural-urban migrants following severe weather events. As such, participants addressed the importance of linking climate adaptation programs with those that improve sanitation, i.e. water and waste management systems.

C40’s own Amanda Ikert, City Director in Jakarta, attended the event, serving on a panel that addressed how local governments can work together with international and development agencies. The panel discussants -also from JICA, UNDP and Water Aid- urged cities to take leadership in forging partnerships with international organizations, as well as with their own national governments, and other local private sector and NGO actors. Dhaka itself can provide two inspiring examples of the positive outcomes of such partnerships: leveraging guarantees from local banks to attract financing to expand water service delivery to poor neighborhoods; and coordinating between the private sector and development banks to aggregate projects for carbon off-set investment.

Many cities in Asia are working with the same cast of partner agencies toward combatting climate change. There was agreement among panellists that these partnerships could best be optimized, however, if there were better coordination among the agencies -- and cities themselves can play a key role here.

Amanda Ikert sat down with the C40 News Team; here is what she had to say:

“Most cities need to engage partners to help develop effective climate solutions. Partners can provide funding and financing for projects and/or technical and policy expertise. Many cities in Asia have a wide array of local, national and international players with whom they can work. The key challenge is for cities to identify the best combination of partners to achieve their climate resiliency goals and ensure that they are in the driver’s seat during this process.

Another important set of partnerships need to be identified to align urban with rural climate planning approaches. Such urban-rural integration is necessary to address management of larger infrastructure and environmental systems -such as sub or periurban commuter transportation, or a shared oversight of a regional watershed - and prevent future climate-disaster migration to unprepared cities. Bilateral development assistance, larger NGOs, and development banks can assist by serving as a bridge between municipal government and national government to align urban –rural climate planning approaches. All of this is very exciting progress for cities’ efforts to combat climate change – and improve overall sustainability.”

Click here to find out more about the climate change mitigation, risk assessment and management efforts of C40 Cities, including Dhaka.