Reporting back from the One Voice One Goal Conference

Last month I was privileged to represent the Scottish Parliament at a conference on climate change in Dhaka Bangladesh.

There were 22 Members of Parliament representing 18 different Parliaments from across the globe. The event was seen as an important event in Bangladesh with extensive coverage on television and was attended by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina MP who spoke in the opening session of the event.  This high level interest was sustained throughout the event and culminated in closing speeches being delivered by the leader of the Bangladesh Opposition Party as well.

The aim of the conference was to create a platform for Parliamentarians representing the countries most vulnerable to climate change in order to give them a collective voice on mitigation and adaptation.

The low lying nature of Bangladesh and the frequency of cyclones mean that the country is already no stranger to climate related disaster.

Bangladesh has made significant progress in poverty reduction. In 1991 it was estimated that 56.6% of the population lived in poverty, reducing to 40% in 2005 and 32% in 2011. However that progress could be destroyed by climate change with the expected impact of more frequent cyclones and droughts; tidal surges, sea level rises and salinity intrusions; unwise land management such as deforestation; and the impact of rising temperature, erratic rainfall and flash floods.  These impacts destroy both eco systems and the livelihoods which are supported through farming and fishing which are now under threat. As I saw last year issues with water sanitation, exacerbated by these extreme conditions, has contributed to widespread disease undermining people’s quality of life and capacity to generate income.

So for people in Bangladesh and the other countries represented at the conference which are vulnerable to climate change our discussions were not theoretical – but needed to be focused on action.

We heard presentations from countries such as the Maldives, Ethiopia, South Africa, Nepal and Uganda both about work within these countries to tackle climate change and to adapt to the impacts which are already being felt. All of the countries that presented had very different experiences and approaches politically.

I was given the chance to share the work we’ve done in Scotland through the 2009 Climate Change Act and the involvement of civic Scotland in influencing the actions of the Parliament – notably through the work of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition. I received very good feedback and certainly enjoyed the opportunity to set out what the Scottish experience has been so far.

One of the most powerful sessions at the conference was on the gender implications of tackling climate change. This chimed with my volunteering experience with VSO last year in Bangladesh where the lack of effective sanitation and water supplies impacts on women in terms of childbirth and the fact that women spend a huge amount of time carrying water to their villages removing the opportunity to be more productive economically. There were also discussions about the overlap onto the Millennium Development Goals and Trade Policy.

There is a real need to make more progress internationally if the target of limiting global warming to an increase of 2 degrees which scientists have recommended can be achieved.

I was strongly in support of the final conference declaration. It focused on the reality of the science, and the need to act to support those countries on the front line who will suffer economically and socially. 

We agreed to form a network of Parliamentarians for Climate Justice – to share best practice, and to enable action on climate change using legislation, policies and the spending power of governments in both developed and vulnerable countries to maximise our efforts. 

The CPA, ASEAN states, the EU and the East African Parliament offer examples of good networking and some good action – but we needed a sharper focus to try and build alliances to make sure that there is an effective replacement to the Kyoto Protocol which links with the Millennium Development Goals.

In addition to attending the formal sessions of the event I was able to meet with Bangladesh VSO staff who I’d worked with last year on the project I carried out on the Impact of Climate Change on Water and Sanitation in the CHT region of Bangladesh. It was interesting to hear about the discussions that the youth club members I’d worked with had now had with Bangladesh Parliamentarians. There’s also been progress due to the efforts of youth club members who have set up five local libraries in their villages.

If you are interested in the work of VSO you can find out more from their website.