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“If we get it right here we get it right for the rest of the world”

Mountains are the canary in the coalmine, says Bangladesh Minister for Environment, Forests, and Climate Change Saber Hossain Chowdhury. The help we need from G20 economies is for leaders to decarbonize. For that we need people to demand they change course.
Published: 23 May, 2024
⏲ 7 minutes Read

An edited transcript of the remarks delivered given at the International Experts Dialogue on Mountains, People, and Climate, Kathmandu on 22 May 2024

This is ground zero for climate change.  

If you want to understand what will happen to the world, mountains are the canary in the coalmine.  

This is where the discourse must start.  

We don’t need experts to tell us what is happening. These are facts we already know. Why are things not changing when the science is so clear the science is so conclusive?  

If you only talk about the effects, we become part of the problem. Where does the solution lie? Unless we decarbonise whatever we do in terms of adaption and resilience will never be enough.  

There are limits to resilience and adaptation. We are asked to formulate adaptation plans, but all the while our carbon emissions rise. How can you solve a problem by making the problem worst?  

This discourse needs to change. It doesn’t matter if Bangladesh and Nepal achieve net zero tomorrow, [when] G20 countries account for 81% of global emissions.  

We have the moral voice. I want to talk about three elements of climate justice:  

  1. those that have least caused problem are the most impacted.  
  1. those with least capacity to adapt and being asked to adapt beyond their capacity.  
  1. Governments are having to choose between fighting climate change and fighting poverty. No country should have to choose between fulfilling development aspirations and climate change. Between 25 ministers in our government in Bangladesh we have allocated $3.5bn yearly to adaptation. This is money that could have been spent building roads, schools, hospitals, empowering youth and women.  

Why is there a lack of political will? Why do countries commit time and again and not deliver? We’re talking about raising trillions of dollars to fund adaptation under the new finance goal. But still, billions have not been delivered.  

We can subsidize fossil fuels to the extent of $7 trillion a year. But not adaptation funds. This double standard has to stop. 

What will you do when all the glacier goes? When all melts? For us in Bangladesh it’s existential. How will we survive? Bangladesh is squeezed: between sea level rise and the disappearance of ice sheets, of the snow, of the permafrost.  

And how do we globalise the mountain agenda? We’re not just talking about Bangladesh and rising sea levels. The eastern seaboard of the US from Boston to Miami to Louisiana: these places will be underwater if seas continue to rise.  

We appreciate development partners’ help but the biggest help you can do is to stop the emissions. That is the help we need. That may sound uncomfortable but that’s the reality.  

We’re on a path to 2.6º celsius based on current pledges. If 100% of pledges are met. What will be left of Himalayas at that level of temperature rise?  

Even at 1.1ºC look at the damage and destruction and heat waves. Even one tenth of a degree makes a difference. We are double where we should be. It’s all very well us being supported but the support we need is decarbonisation.  

Some damage is irreversible. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that. But what we can do now is to limit the future damage.  

Still at 1.5ºC, 30% of ice will be lost in Himalayas. And it will take thousands of years if at all for it to come back.  

Time is running out. Action needs to be delivered now. Tomorrow will be too late.  

This is not just a problem for the mountains it’s a problem for the world. And if we get it right here we get it right for the rest of the world.  

The political will to act is something we cannot generate here it must be generated in the capitals of the world.  

Bangladesh stands in strong solidarity with other nations.  

We will lose 18% of our land area. Millions will be displaced. Salinity intrusion is impacting food security. We have drought. Even in just one country we have this full spectrum of climate change impacts. It is happening now.  

So yes: we must have a strong voice.  

Also, the world is now waking up to the imperatives of adaption they’ll want to know how Nepal and Bangladesh have coped. Let’s not look to others to fix this, but look to how much we can fix by our own initiatives and creativity.  

Look at what is happening today in the world, and yet we’re talking about 1.5 and calling it an ambition: even when the science tells us that 1.5ºC is the absolute upper limit we can afford.  

The best available science says [warming] is happening much faster than we expected: the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already at 428. We’re in uncharted waters.  

It is absolutely imperative that we cap temperatures. We need global leadership.  

But is it a majority of countries whose leadership which need, or that of a few countries that control the UN process?  

If for some reason, if by accident it was the Alliance of Small Island States, the Least Developed Countries, the Small Island Developing States, that were responsible for climate change today, you would have an avalanche of sanctions, you’d see visa restrictions. These countries would not be able to do any business.  

But the leadership will not change because of people like us. It will change when the people want change.  

When an event happens on climate change in other countries, like wildfires and floods, we feel empathy because climate change is a lived reality for us every day.  

But it’s also true that it is only when people of those countries realise that their governments have to take action that change will happen.  

Because while it is the responsibility of leadership to take people along with them, in fact most leaders operate on 4 to 5 years election cycles, what determines their actions is what will get them elected in the next session, not what will be the state of the country in 15 or 20 years time.  

So while politicians may not understand many things, one thing they do understand is their own self-interest. They want to continue to remain relevant. If they realize that people want change they will be the first to make change. What’s missing is not solidarity among government but solidarity among people. That’s what we need to do. 

What is happening in Nepal today will happen in all other countries of the world. It's at the local level and in our youth that there is a voice for change and it is that that will allow politicians to take action at global level. 




Minister for Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, Bangladesh ,


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