Bangladeshi youth voices: From grassroots to COP28 climate talks

The 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), hosted in Dubai last November, was a landmark event in the global battle against climate change. Against the backdrop of Dubai's iconic skyline, a diverse array of stakeholders, including activists, delegates, and world leaders, gathered to confront the pressing need for decisive action. As a member of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung delegation, I had the honour of experiencing first-hand the fervour and determination that defined this pivotal conference.

By Sohanur Rahman, Executive Coordinator, YouthNet for Climate Justice

Immersed in action: exploring solutions at COP28

At COP28 I was fully immersed in action, actively engaged in diverse activities, from attending enlightening side events, following negotiations, and engaging in climate justice mobilization to participating in impactful bilateral meetings. Each interaction served to deepen our comprehension of the intricate challenges posed by the climate crisis. These experiences fuelled our determination to enact tangible and meaningful change, underscoring the urgent need for collaborative efforts in addressing this pressing global issue. Witnessing initiatives such as the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund was truly inspiring; this agreement signals the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era by laying the ground for a swift, just, and equitable transition, underpinned by deep emissions cuts and scaled-up finance.

Shaping the agenda: driving climate action

My bilateral meetings with Prime Ministers, diplomats, and parliamentarians during COP28 provided a valuable opportunity for interaction, advancing climate justice, and advocating for the youth agenda. Discussions focused on key themes such as inclusivity, youth empowerment, just transition, and the crucial need to uphold existing international agreements. Notably, Bangladesh's case as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change was emphasized, urging global leaders to prioritize support for adaptation and resilience-building efforts in such nations.

Empowering local communities: key focus at COP28

Empowering local communities emerged as a central theme in the global effort to combat climate change at the COP28. With a focus on just transition and locally led adaptation, participants underscored the significance of grassroots efforts in driving effective climate action. Bangladesh's innovative approaches towards community-based adaptation strategies were highlighted as exemplary models for other nations to follow, stressing the importance of replicating and scaling up such initiatives worldwide.

Operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund: a milestone at COP28

At COP28, the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund emerged as a significant achievement. However, the conference's outcome fell short of expectations, with pledges amounting to a mere $792 million from 19 countries. The fund is designed to offer financial assistance to vulnerable countries grappling with the irreversible impacts of climate breakdown. Discussions centred on the imperative of ensuring the fund's effective implementation and the equitable distribution of resources to those most in need. The World Bank will serve as the trustee and host of the Fund's secretariat for an interim period of four years. From the perspective of Bangladesh, a nation highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as sea-level rise, cyclones, heatwaves and flooding, substantial support from the Loss and Damage Fund is crucial.

Rallying for climate justice & Human Rights: reflections on COP28

Reflecting on COP28, it becomes evident that despite the challenges, the conference served as a powerful rallying cry for climate justice, human rights, and urgency in combating the climate crisis. Throughout the event, resounding calls for immediate action underlined the collective determination to confront the harsh realities of climate change head-on. Notably, activists at COP28 emphasized the inseparable link between climate justice and human rights, highlighting the urgent need for a ceasefire in Gaza. This served as a poignant reminder that environmental degradation exacerbates existing conflicts and disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities, underlining the essential connection between climate justice and human rights. Delegates and observers, myself included, echoed these sentiments, stressing the imperative for bold and ambitious measures to tackle this urgent global challenge.

Inclusion and human rights, gender, Indigenous People, children and youth, and people with disabilities, workers had wins and losses at COP28, with some recognition across various strands of the negotiations. However, there was only one very weak reference to human rights in the core text, signaling a need for further progress in this area. The Just Transition Work Programme adopted at COP28 incorporated references to labour rights and social protection, acknowledging the ongoing efforts of trade unions worldwide in tackling climate change. It emphasized the importance of ensuring a just transition for the workforce, promoting decent work and quality jobs aligned with national development priorities. Despite this, their absence from the COP28 "Global Stocktake" highlights the need for future inclusion.

On Gender Equality Day at COP28, the Presidency introduced the Gender-Responsive Just Transitions & Climate Action Partnership, garnering endorsement from 68 Parties. This partnership encompasses a comprehensive set of commitments on finance, data, and equal opportunities. It aims to further advance the strides made through the enhanced UN Climate Change Lima Work Programme and its Gender Action Plan, emphasizing the full, equal, and meaningful participation and leadership of women and girls. The first dialogue of the United Arab Emirates Just Transition Work Programme is scheduled for 2 - 3 June 2024 in Bonn, Germany. It will address the crucial need for urgent support from developed countries to facilitate just transition pathways. Additionally, developing countries require increased assistance, particularly in areas such as reskilling and economic diversification.


Hope amid concerns: mixed reactions to COP28 outcome

The conclusion of COP28 in Dubai prompted diverse reactions from climate activists worldwide. While there was acknowledgment of the agreement's commitment to transitioning away from fossil fuels, concerns were raised about its effectiveness in delivering climate justice and equity, especially for vulnerable communities. However, COP28 pledged to triple the world’s installed renewable energy generation capacity to 11,000 GW by 2030, there’s a resolute commitment to a just energy transition and environmental sustainability. Despite glimpses of hope offered by initiatives like the Loss and Damage Fund, disappointment lingered due to insufficient detail and funding for climate-vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh. As the world confronts the urgent realities of climate change, the outcomes of COP28 highlight the critical need for stronger and more inclusive climate action moving forward including Global Goal on Adaptation.

Bangladesh, a global leader in climate adaptation, faces severe underfunding despite its proactive measures and National Adaptation Plan. The Adaptation Gap report of 2023 starkly illustrates this, showing that vulnerable nations like Bangladesh require 10-18 times more adaptation funding than what is currently provided. However, pledges at COP28 fell short of closing the adaptation finance gap for developing nations. Only $188 million was committed to climate adaptation efforts, despite an annual need estimated at $194-366 billion per year. The Bangladesh government is dedicating $3.5 billion annually to climate adaptation efforts, but the actual requirement is much higher at $9 billion, according to the Environment, Forest, and Climate Change Minister Saber Hossain Chadhury. During the NAP Expo 2024 held in the last week of April in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Minister said, Bangladesh needs $534 billion, highlighting the critical need for international financial support to implement climate plans to address climate change by 2050.

Overall, The inclusion of transitioning away from all fossil fuels in the UAE Consensus marks a significant turning point in global climate action. It sets the stage for a fast, fair, and inclusive transition towards reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, in keeping with the science. Moreover, it emphasizes increased financial support for those most affected by climate change, and by the measures taken to address its impacts.


Beyond COP28: continuing the journey towards a sustainable and equitable future

As COP28 draws to a close, its impact resonates far beyond the conference halls. Each step forward, including my own, brings us closer to achieving our collective vision of a sustainable and equitable world for all. As we anticipate future climate conferences, it is paramount for world leaders to listen attentively to the voices of activists including youths and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Decisive action is needed to address this urgent global challenge through the urgent phasing-out of fossil fuel, switching to renewable energy, and paving the way for a more sustainable and equitable future. Upcoming COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan, holds significant importance. It is here that the new collective quantified goal (NCQG), replacing the $100 billion climate finance commitment, will be determined. This decision is pivotal, as it will determine whether the aspirations discussed at COP28 can be translated into tangible reality.


Sohanur Rahman (28) is a passionate climate justice advocate from Bangladesh, coordinating the nation's largest youth network for climate justice, YouthNet. A founding member of Bangladesh's Fridays for Future chapter, he is one of the key figures in the country's climate activism. Sohanur founded YouthNet for Climate Justice in 2016, which is now active in 50 districts, focusing on community outreach, government collaboration, and youth empowerment. He was a member of the Bangladesh delegation at COP27, served on the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network, and received awards for his contributions to climate action and women's empowerment. As a member of MenEngage Alliance and the SUN Civil Society Network, as well as an alumnus of the Women Deliver's young leader programme, Sohanur mobilizes youth for climate justice and nutrition advocacy.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of FES.

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