Hello there! My name is Shehab Choudhury and I’m public sector specialist based in the UK. For the last few years, I have been delivering a range of climate change and Net Zero policies including industrial decarbonisation, digitalising the UK’s electricity grid, and now working to create a circular economy in the UK.
That’s my “day job”. My “night job” is being one of the co-founders of the Bangladeshi Diaspora Climate Action (BDCA) group – a network of cross-sector British Bangladeshi professionals united in their aim to deliver action-based solutions that mitigate the impacts of climate change in Bangladesh. BDCA has leaders from the public, private, and third sectors, as well as academia, and boasts a breadth of expertise spanning green finance, law, psychology, sustainable land use, waste management, renewable energy, and decarbonisation.
So why does BDCA exist? Before we get into that, it might be worth dissecting what we mean by “diaspora”. It’s one of those funny words that can easily be used but not easily understood. There’s no set definition; IOM (2019) describes diasporas as “migrants or descendants of migrants, whose identity and sense of belonging have been shaped by their migration experience and background”. For me, diaspora refers to peoples that have a tangible or intangible link to a “country of heritage”, but they tend to spend most of their time in a “country of residence” – that means a lot of us can identify as being part of the “global diaspora”.
Diaspora members have a unique perspective on transnational issues, such as climate action.
This perspective vital to achieve effective climate action; diaspora perspectives on climate change must be heard and diasporas should be part of key global conversations, such as those happening every year at COP.
My lived experience of being part of the Bangladeshi diaspora has often been through the financial lens – my immediate and extended family investing in the “bari” (home) or giving back to the “graam” (village).
Did you know that the UK-based Bangladeshi diaspora contribute over US$2 billion in remittances to Bangladesh every year? Like many diasporas, we love to give. And that includes at times of calamity, like when climate change increases the frequency of catastrophic floods, as we saw in my home district, Sylhet, in 2022, for instance.
When these devastating events happen, it’s often diaspora communities who are the first responders. They are the bridge – those who understand local culture and needs, and can channel resources through focused, local agencies and hold these agencies to account.
This is where I – and the BDCA – strongly believe we can do more when it comes to climate resilience. Our message is simple: the global diaspora is a significantly untapped resource in the fight against climate change. We must be seen as doing more than just reacting to climate-related disasters and should not just be treated as cash cows that pump money in AFTER disaster strikes. Rather, we deserve a legitimate seat at the “climate discourse table” and must work with local agencies and national governments in our countries of origin – and they must work with us.
This is exactly why BDCA exists. As a group, we wish to go beyond just having a financial relationship with our country of heritage; rather we aim to leverage our collective skills, expertise, and networks to progress solutions (utilising local stakeholders and pathways) and deliver actions that mitigate the impacts of climate change in Bangladesh and develop the country’s climate resilience. We’re also passionate about facilitating mutual learning between the UK and Bangladesh, given Bangladesh is a world leader in climate adaptation – more on that later!
Despite being at a nascent stage (we formally established in August 2022), we’ve developed a membership of 35+ working professionals, have a clear vision statement, convened three quarterly meetings, held a retreat at the University of Cambridge, engaged with organisations such as the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the British High Commission in Dhaka, and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Bangladesh. We’ve also had two of our members represent us at COP27 to champion the role of diaspora in climate action – not too shabby for the first 10 months!
BDCA have also been working closely with the IOM on the Diaspora for Climate Action (D4C) project since its inception. D4C is a brilliant and pioneering programme that brings together UK diaspora communities from four countries – Albania, Bangladesh, Ghana, and Jamaica – and focuses on climate action. Through the D4C project, IOM will develop diaspora-specific case-studies to map diaspora climate actions in the UK and the national climate frameworks and priorities in their countries of heritage, and produce separate country analysis on how diaspora can feed into national plans. The overall findings will be presented at COP28.
The IOM are also facilitating national dialogues between diaspora communities and their country of heritage governments. For example, in April 2023, IOM worked with BDCA to bring together the Bangladeshi Government (represented by national consultants) and several British Bangladeshi diaspora groups for a consultation on the development of the Bangladesh Government Diaspora Policy. This Policy looks at how the Government of Bangladesh can better engage the diaspora, with climate change being a key theme of engagement. Overall, it was interesting to hear similar questions and concerns from the group, including to what extent this policy can address wider issues of democracy.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the D4C project has fostered a great environment of peer-to-peer learning on climate action between the four diaspora groups. For me, this has been one of the most positive early outcomes of the programme; not only has BDCA learnt valuable lessons from the other diaspora climate action groups, but we’ve been able to forge incredibly strong personal bonds with our Albanian, Ghanaian, and Jamaican colleagues.
What can the UK learn from Bangladesh?
I wanted to mention something very important: what the UK can learn from Bangladesh. The BDCA group are very keen to ensure the relationship we have with our country of heritage is that of peers – a two-way relationship of mutual learning.
At our recent retreat at the University of Cambridge, our keynote speaker was none other than Professor Saleemul Huq – one of the world’s most prominent climate scientists, Director of ICCCAD, and friend of BDCA! Professor Huq reiterated how Bangladesh is a world leader on climate adaptation – not only through publishing regular climate strategies and action plans, but through the focus on Locally-Led Adaptation (LLA) techniques. Bangladesh has prioritised bottom-up capacity building on adaptation in different climate-vulnerable ecosystems, using nature-based solutions. The Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA) chose their regional office in Dhaka for the Global Hub for LLA in recognition of Bangladesh as a global leader in LLA and to enable the other countries in the Global South to learn from Bangladesh. I argue the UK can also learn from Bangladesh in this regard.
And finally, before you go, if you had to take away one thing from this blog it should be that diaspora groups have lots to offer when it comes to climate resilience, both financial and social capital. Perhaps most importantly, they have a strong emotional tie to their country of heritage – let’s not underestimate how powerful this is.
Through its Diaspora for Climate Action project, IOM supports diaspora members and groups from Bangladesh, Jamaica, Ghana and Albania to build connections and engage with key stakeholders in countries of heritage and residence, and to be part of key global conversations on climate action. D4C is funded by IOM Development Fund and aims to create a model for other countries to promote the unique role diasporas can play in achieving more effective and coordinated climate action, and longer-lasting impacts on climate-vulnerable populations. To find out more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org .