By: Kairos Dela Cruz
Savar is not that far from Dhaka, but with constant traffic gridlocks it can easily feel like a very long and tiring ride. Fifteen miles have never felt so long. Even in the Philippines, traveling such a distance has never taken hours but Bangladesh is a bit different.
Nearing our destination, we took a sharp left from the highway. Counter-flowing traffic is everywhere and I caught a glimpse of what the Exodus might have looked like. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people streaming out of garment factories and brick fields — a river of humanity, in Biblical proportions.
I was scheduled to deliver a talk that day to a large group consisting of Bangladeshi government officials, civil society, and academic institutions. I remember mostly that I was nervous, and that after the talk — which led to a huge number of talks later, since my first presentation was received really warmly — it felt silly to feel so anxious. Despite the vast differences in local circumstances between the Philippines and Bangladesh, it was so obvious that we were tackling — we continue to tackle — common climate change governance challenges. There was and still is just so much to share.
During the main talk, and in the many unplanned, unscheduled speaking activities that I was invited to after, it was clear that the work I
do in the Philippines has resonance beyond our country’s boundaries.
My first talk went beyond the enhanced access modality of the PSF and the data intensive Adaptracker program that iCSC has developed to make adaptation finance more participatory and transparent. My talk was mostly about people — individuals whose circumstances, such as poverty, make them even more vulnerable to climatic impacts. I also spoke about the need to move different actors, such as policy makers, civil society groups, and climate experts. Initial feedback about the insights and messages I delivered showed that Bangladesh colleagues and government friends identified with the topics I had chosen and that they saw value in the points I had made in terms of improving processes and programs that they already had. Obviously, I also learned a lot from them. Their vulnerability is, in a great sense, often more acute than ours, and how they’ve coped with the scale of the problem is pretty impressive, considering the economic and political challenges Bangladesh is currently facing.
From my first talk, I remember being given 45 minutes for my presentation and another 30 minutes to take questions from the audience. Happily, what took place was a reverse of the time slots. I talked for 30 minutes and answered or responded to comments for almost an hour. I connected and it felt great.
Looking back, my initial nervousness in presenting to a foreign audience now seems silly. I was fortunate to have responsive people as my audience. It was quite clear that a good discussion in Bangladesh is almost second nature among its citizens. I dont have all the answers, and maybe I don’t have any at all, but I do have contributions that can help develop both answers and questions to and about the climate challenge that we are all facing today.
We can drown in a sea of facts, or we can understand the problem easier and come closer to solutions by learning to approach challenges from a variety of angles. At iCSC, we often like to say that we approach things sideways, and many times that’s what it takes to figure out the ways to resolve climate policy dilemmas.
In my presentation I showed a series of snapshots depicting the Earths grim future, only for the audience to realize a few slides later that they were only looking at the backside of various frying pans. The point? Few things need to be invented — or reinvented — when it comes to local financing and transparency. Often, all that’s required is a re-orientation and refocusing of what we already have. In the case of adaptation finance and transparency, policies that local and national governments already have, but adjusted, or elevated in importance and use, to take into account the peculiar conditions brought about by climate change.
When finally my first presentation ended, the chief of the Dhaka-based International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), internationally esteemed adaptation icon Dr. Saleemul Huq, approached me and said that a partnership between iCSC, ICCCAD, Transparency International Bangladesh, and ActionAid seems inevitable. I smiled and nodded in agreement. Our work plan, in broad strokes, is to bring AFAI to Bangladesh. We also discussed steps we can jointly take to develop an international resource center that can help other countries develop their very own agenda on climate change and climate finance.
The day ended with more questions than answers, which to me was a terrific sign. More action than plans to me means more action soon than just plans. We are creating a whole new conversation about cooperation across cultures, across 2,100 kilometers, and it’s nothing short of great. My trip to Bangladesh, the exchanges I’ve had? They’ve given me something that any advocate will recognize right away and embrace.