Turning Bangladesh into a knowledge-based economy
Bangladesh is set to graduate out of the Least Developed Country (LDC) category in the next few years, and then become a developed country by 2041 while achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. We have even developed the Delta Plan 2100. This will require us to transition as quickly as possible from a labour-based economy to a knowledge-based one within the next generation by investing in our most valuable asset – our young girls and boys.
We must first identify the economic sectors of the future, such as artificial intelligence (AI), information technology (IT), robotics, and environmental problems (including climate change), among others. In order to tackle the impacts of human-induced climate change, turning Bangladesh into a knowledge-based economy will enable us to better adapt to and mitigate said impacts as well as dealing with climate losses and damages.
Let me start with mitigation, which is essentially transitioning from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy.
When it comes to installing solar home systems (SHS), Bangladesh is already a world leader, with over six million households having solar panels and batteries delivered by large and medium-sized private companies, who are generating green jobs for millions of young people. The challenge for solar energy expansion going forward will be going beyond the small SHS units to bigger units that can supply electricity at the commercial scale. While there is a constraint of land availability, the newer technologies should be able to overcome this impediment. At the same time, development of battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs), which has already expanded in rural areas, requires solar stations around the country. This will create more green jobs and will be a major investment opportunity for private sector investors.
As for wind energy, efforts to harness onshore wind energy in a few locations of the coastal zone of Bangladesh have not proven very successful, but the latest technology of offshore wind turbines, which can float and also withstand cyclonic storms, may make it feasible to invest in them. This is envisaged in the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan (MCPP), with plans to explore feasibility over the next few years.
Another climate change solution that Bangladesh is already becoming an acknowledged global leader in is adaptation, with a special emphasis on Locally Led Adaptation (LLA). This is a knowledge sector for which there is a growing demand globally, as all countries will need this knowledge in the coming years. Here, Bangladesh can become a knowledge exporter on LLA.
However, in order to become a knowledge exporter, we will first have to invest in our own knowledge production capacities, such as our universities, research institutions and younger researchers, who will have to be trained and upskilled appropriately. This may not necessarily require much additional finance, but will require new ways of teaching and learning for our youth.
An important aspect of tackling climate change is addressing and minimising loss and damage, which is a growing problem in every country. Bangladesh can develop its own loss and damage mechanism (LDM), with the government, private sector and research sector coming together to build on our own experience of disaster preparedness for cyclones and floods. This will be a world-leading knowledge-generating sector and will require a new generation of experts in many different fields – from climate to finance.
The opportunity to make all this happen lies within the development of the ninth Five-Year Plan as well as the next iteration of the Delta Plan 2100, which will take place over the next two years. This is a tremendous opportunity to lay the foundation for the transformation of Bangladesh's economy within a generation.
In a nutshell, Bangladesh has an opportunity to leapfrog our development pathway into a knowledge-based economy if we invest wisely and expeditiously in training our young girls and boys to become the knowledge workers of the future.
Dr Saleemul Huq is director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).