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What’s on young people’s minds in Bangladesh? How to get a job, how to find a scholarship…the climate crisis?
There’s a lot on the minds of young people in Bangladesh. For International Youth Day, we speak to one young person whose mind is on the climate. Imran Hossain’s father was killed by the climate crisis when he was just seven years old. It was during Cyclone Aila, and his father was swept away by a completely unexpected tidal surge. Bangladesh is already one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, and global warming is making those disasters more severe and more frequent. A decade and a half on from Cyclone Aila, Imran now represents Bangladesh at global climate meetings, using his father’s story to call for climate action.
How do you view the climate crisis now, compared to when you were growing up?
Imran: Even a few years ago I didn’t understand the impact that global warming was having on Bangladesh. When we had to migrate to a new area after a deadly storm, I didn’t know this was climate migration. I saw floods destroying crops, swelling rivers destroying houses and killing livestock, and I could see patterns – but I had no idea it was global warming. Elders would tell me these sufferings were atonement for our sins. We also have a lot of folklore that follows similar lines. I was never satisfied with these answers, though.
I started joining youth networks working for climate justice, and volunteering for climate-related activities. One particular event changed my perspective – the National Youth Conference. Asif (Saleh) from BRAC was a speaker there, and he spoke about ‘Amra Notun (We are the new) Network’, a network for young people where we all could make a difference. That conference ignited something in me.
I noticed that only people at senior levels were negotiating at global forums for Bangladesh, which made no sense, because the effects of global warming will be felt the most by younger generations. 64% of Bangladesh’s population is under 34. I couldn’t take a backseat while others fought my battle, and my father was always in my mind. I formed a team to raise awareness among people, moving from one climate-vulnerable area to the next
What challenges do you face, and how do you cope with them?
Imran: The people most vulnerable to global warming live in remote areas, mostly in villages. They are focusing on what’s happening in the next day, or the next week, and harvesting just enough for their families to get by. Talking about climate in an abstract way rarely has an impact on their lives. So, we took a different approach – we started with our own bodies as an example for planet earth. We talked about climate-born diseases, and related them to climate change. We talked about plastic pollution and how microplastics enter our bodies just through eating fish from the sea or rivers. When they started to understand, we would explain why temperatures were increasing every year. Slowly, they would get interested. We have changed the mindset of a lot of villagers now, and they understand that it is not their fate to suffer – but a human-made problem that can be solved.
The impact we can make by reducing carbon emissions in Bangladesh is negligible compared to what the top carbon-emitting countries are doing. Still, we choose to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible. It gives us hope to believe that our actions can create a difference. Baker bhai from the village started carrying jute bags to markets to reduce plastic waste and avoid polythene bags. Now, I see handicraft shops making jute bags popping up. That means new jobs are being created, while reducing carbon emissions and pollution. It’s small things like this that inspire others to do the same. A little change in our regular lives can have deep impacts in the long run.
What is the government doing to help young climate activists in Bangladesh?
Imran: The government is putting more young people in global forums to voice issues. There used to be a large communication gap between young people and the government, but that gap has been reduced thanks to the efforts of young climate activists and supportive government officials. Now, we are getting funds and badges to represent Bangladesh at international platforms and discuss ways forward that include lower-income countries, rather than just catering to rich ones.
Back in 2004, the government passed a law on the use of plastic. It enabled agencies and activists to take actions on plastic polluters around the country. Big shifts started taking place, and were becoming mainstream. Sustainability, the health of the planet and people, environment and nature were hot topics. These kinds of big policy shifts create opportunities for synergy amongst government, young activists and civil society.
What can be done to improve and scale up climate action?
We must advocate for climate action. We need more people to join the climate movement and start talking about lifestyles, our rights, the cause and effect of carbon emissions. Educating people will scale that process up. We need more avenues and access for activism. Currently, it’s often difficult to get funds or permission to carry out certain activities regarding climate, and to stage protests. We must have more open dialogues to understand where we stand when it comes to climate. There are no short-cuts or one-stop solutions. In order to attain scalability, we must unite everyone in this cause.
When it comes to climate action, what’s your wish for Bangladesh?
I wish for Bangladesh to invest further in green energy. We’re already doing great things, but we can do more – in solar, harnessing wind energy, and utilising renewable resources. As of now, we are still destroying the world for future generations. Bangladesh has not developed to a stage where everything is set in concrete, there is still time for us to make that transition to purely renewable energy. This will create green jobs, increase local employment opportunities, reduce carbon emissions, restore biodiversity and help the environment.
For the moment, my focus is on raising awareness and getting more people involved in climate action.
It’s easy to feel hopeless about the climate crisis. It’s particularly easy in Bangladesh, where we feel the impacts of it every day – and they’re getting worse every day. Yet, speaking to someone like Imran, I walk away feeling like there is hope – it’s just going to take a lot of action, from all of us. To any young people reading this – and anyone in general, I hope you’ll take action too. This will take all of us.
Kazuki Kunimoto is a Manager at Communications Department, BRAC.