As Bangladesh celebrated 50 years as an independent country this year, it also reached the 50th year of British-Bangladesh relations. This was marked last week by statements from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth of England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles. There were also many celebrations in the United Kingdom to mark the occasion, such as the lighting up of the iconic London Eye ferris wheel in the green and red colours of the Bangladesh flag.
As a proud Bangladeshi citizen who has spent many years in London, first as a student and later as a professor and scientist, I hold both the UK as well as Bangladesh close to my heart. As such, I will suggest some ways in taking forward the relationship between our two countries to the next level in the coming years.
I will do so in the context of the greatest global emergency of climate change, which will have to be faced by every country from now on. In this context, it is noteworthy that the UK will be hosting the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Glasgow, Scotland in November this year, while Bangladesh will be the chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) group of countries at COP26.
Hence, there are a number of issues on which the leaders of the two countries can bring forward ideas to tackle climate change at the level that it deserves to be dealt with. A British-Bangladesh climate change accord could be agreed upon between the two countries, which could set out ways forward for all the other countries to emulate and follow to make COP26 a success.
However, there are also many other opportunities for the two countries to continue to collaborate to tackle climate change in a mutually beneficial manner, rather than with the UK providing aid to Bangladesh, which was the main feature of our relationship in the past.
Over the last two months, I had the privilege of co-moderating a series of eight webinars on UK-Bangladesh collaboration to tackle climate change, where we had presentations from experts from both Bangladesh as well as the UK talking about adaptation and resilience, nature based solutions, renewable energy and finally, climate finance.
This excellent series of webinars identified a number of ways in which the two countries could collaborate to tackle the common global emergency of climate change. The following are only a few of the ideas that came up in those discussions.
The first session on adaptation and resilience highlighted the fact that Bangladesh has become globally recognised as a world leader in adaptation to climate change, and there were tremendous opportunities for a two-way learning exercise between the two countries in research, learning and capacity building on adaptation to climate change. This could be built on the longstanding relationship between universities in the two countries.
The second major area of collaboration identified was for promotion of nature-based solutions for future infrastructure in both countries, with plenty of opportunities for learning from each other, particularly on wetlands management.
The third area of opportunity identified was mainly for the private sector companies in both countries to invest in renewable energy, which would include both solar and wind energy. In particular, the potential of using the latest technology for large-scale offshore wind energy generation in the Bay of Bengal, which is currently being deployed in the North Sea, would be a potential game-changer for Bangladesh’s future energy pathway.
Finally, the strong social and family ties between the British citizens of Bangladeshi descent and their relations in Bangladesh is another excellent foundation upon which future relationship between citizens of the two countries can be taken to the next level in years to come.
In my many years of living in London, I had the opportunity to meet many young British citizens of Bangladeshi origin who were particularly interested in the topic of climate change and how it might affect both the UK as well as Bangladesh. That is why I strongly believe that using the framework of tackling climate change can become the basis of the relationship between the two countries for the next 50 years.
Dr Saleemul Huq is Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh.