Lessons for poor nations as extreme weather events afflict rich countriesExperts say the developed world, whose affluence is enabled by what has caused global warming, must pay attention to help others to deal with the climate crisis.
After the end of the US climate summit in April, poorer nations condemned the rich countries for failing to provide financial assistance to the developing world to cut greenhouse gas emissions and tackle the impacts of climate change.
US President Joe Biden had brought together 40 world leaders from across the globe, including those from rich and developed countries, for a two-day virtual meeting on the climate crisis.
About three months later, some of the richest countries, including the United States, that participated in the summit were battered by extreme weather disasters. In Europe, raging rivers burst their banks in Germany and Belgium and submerged towns. In the northwestern United States, a region famed for its cool and foggy weather, hundreds died of heat, according to the New York Times. Northeastern Siberia in Russia, which is used to extreme cold, is facing extreme heat. In Canada, an entire village was burned to the cinders.
These extreme weather events bring to the fore one major fact—and an irony—that even rich nations, not just the poorer ones, are vulnerable and that nature has struck these wealthy countries, for their over a century of burning coal, oil and gas and activities that cause greenhouse gases which are warming the world.
Experts say it has now become even more apparent that the whole world is unprepared to slow down climate change. The recent extreme weather disasters are a wake-up call for the wealthy nations and they should do more to make the planet safer, instead of being nonchalant about poorer nations, according to them.
“The recent devastating floods in Germany have clearly demonstrated that the world has already been severely affected by human-induced climate change as the global temperature has increased over 1 degree Celsius because of emissions of greenhouse gases,” Saleemul Huq, a Bangladesh-based expert on climate change adaptation, told the Post in an email. “This means that every country, both developed as well as developing, has to adapt to and also prepare for loss and damage from climate change impacts.”
Bangladesh is frequently cited as one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world for its low elevation, high population density and inadequate infrastructures. Impacts of climate change are expected to be severe also because of the country’s high reliance on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and fisheries.
A 2019 UNICEF report estimated that devastating floods, cyclones and other environmental disasters linked to climate change threaten the lives and futures of more than 19 million children in Bangladesh.
However, over the years Bangladesh has heavily invested to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities through innovative programmes and succeeded largely in minimising losses. And that can be a lesson for countries like Nepal.
“The effects of climate change have actually come barging in. Such incidents were predicted, but at the speed they have come and devastation they have caused were beyond anyone’s imagination,” said Madhukar Upadhya, a climate change expert and watershed management practitioner. “This is something unprecedented. It’s only going to increase. It is not going to decrease; nor will it remain stable in the future.”
Upadhya, who was born and brought up at Gyaneshwar of Kathmandu and later worked in the field of climate issues, says he started feeling the impacts of climate change in the Capital and across Nepal in the 1980s.
Things have drastically changed from the 1960s when he was growing up to present times, he said.
In 1981, exceptionally heavy rainfall caused many landslides in the Lele area of Lalitpur. There were similar extreme weather events in different parts of the country. The government’s historical data show that Nepal witnessed major floods in the Tinau Basin (1978), Koshi River (1980), Tadi River Basin (1985), Sunkoshi Basin (1987) and devastating cloudburst in the Kulekhani area (1993), which alone claimed more than 1,500 lives.
On July 19-20 of 1993, a high-intensity rainstorm (540 mm in 24 hours) hit the Kulekhani watershed and triggered many debris flows and landslides in the area. More than 300 landslides of various sizes, associated with extreme rainfall, most of which changed into debris flows over two days, caused flooding in the lower watershed of the river system.
Two hydropower stations and the Kulekhani reservoir were also seriously affected and other infrastructures like roads and bridges were also damaged.
“The slow change had started since the 1980s and in the next 10 years, there were many instances, including the Kulekhani cloudburst,” said Upadhya. “By the early 1990s people had started talking about natural springs not bursting out during monsoon which was common in the past.”
Rainfall patterns, cold and hot conditions and cloudbursts among others are completely different from the early days, according to experts.
The monsoon mayhem has already started taking a heavy toll.
In the first month of the ongoing monsoon, more than five dozen people have already lost their lives and scores have gone missing. Besides the human casualties, property and infrastructure losses have been massive. As many as 25 hydropower projects, 25 paved bridges and as many suspension bridges have been damaged so far. Public buildings like government offices, community schools and private houses have been washed away, displacing over 900 families across the country.
The devastating flood in Melamchi, which is believed to have occurred due to massive rains upstream, has caused unprecedented damage to private and public properties, including the Melamchi Water Supply Project.
“The Melamchi disaster showed that rainfall is getting more concentrated in small areas and moving to higher altitudes. However, no one knows what exactly happened or even cared to know,” said Upadhya. “Rainfall has been witnessed in the high mountain regions due to rising wind temperatures. The monsoon rain is taking unusual breaks. A few days back, rainfall was predicted and clouds came, but the rain did not occur. We are heading into uncertainties with our delicate natural system.”
Experts like Upadhya point out that frequent droughts in winter, unusual ones in eastern Nepal during the monsoon season, more concentrated rainfall, as seen in 2017 across the Tarai, and raging wildfires are some of the recurring indicators of changing climate in the country.
Studies have shown that the country has been witnessing a constant temperature rise. A government study, “Observed Climate Trend Analysis of Nepal (1971-2014)”, based on the hydro-meteorological data of four decades from the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, has shown that the gap between dry and rainy days has gone up although the total annual rainfall has been constant.
According to the report, which clearly projected signs of climate change impact in the country, extreme rainfall has significantly increased in northwestern and northeastern districts of the country. The report also projects that the number of rainy days with more than 1mm of rainfall has increased, which was more significant in 12 districts. The number of wet days has, however, decreased considerably, mainly in the northern mountain districts.
Another study in 2018 predicted that Nepal’s climate is likely to get warmer and wetter in the future, indicating an increase in intense precipitation events, but rainy days will slump down—meaning intense rainfall in a short span of time.
“It rains heavily for a few hours and then completely stops. Studies have predicted that extreme weather incidents can go up in the future, which obviously lead to floods and landslides,” said Indira Kadel, a senior meteorologist with the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology. “Besides, the rise in temperatures will accelerate the melting of glaciers and formation of glacial lakes, which can lead to glacial lakes outburst floods, threatening downstream communities. Likewise, with excessive melting of snow, our snow-fed rivers may run dry and cause water scarcity or disturb water availability the year round.”
Kadel, who also leads the Climate Analysis Section of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, says the country needs to amp up its preparation against unknown and unprecedented events.
Developed countries also need to understand that the poorer nations are more at risk of climate change impacts, and how the two worlds can work in tandem to adapt to adverse impacts of climate change and mitigate the risks is imperative, according to experts.
Poor nations are already reeling from the impacts of climate change, and hence it is incumbent upon the developed world to come forward and provide financial and technological assistance to climate-vulnerable countries like Nepal, they say.
“The main lesson is for the people in every country to be made aware of the climate hazards they may be facing and be better prepared by adapting as well as recovering from the inevitable loss and damage they will cause,” said Huq, who is also director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, one of the leading research and capacity building organisations working on climate change and development in Bangladesh.
“Every country has to do this whether poor or rich, but rich countries have an added obligation to help the poorer countries with funding.”
During the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in 2009, developed countries committed to providing $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020. The 2015 Paris Agreement also required countries to scale up financial resources to hard-hit countries—evenly split between climate change mitigation and adaptation purposes. Rich nations pledged to mobilise $50 billion in annual adaptation finance by 2020.
In reality, the support has fallen far short.
Instead, the developed countries and multilateral agencies have hugely exaggerated climate adaptation finance meant for poor and climate-vulnerable countries, which count on international support in the fight against the climate crisis, and over-reported their climate finance, leaving climate adaptation finance short by over $20 billion.
In the run-up to the COP26 to be held in Glasgow in the United Kingdom, Nepal, as a climate-vulnerable country, is gearing up to raise loss and damage and mountain issues at the UN climate summit.
Huq, the Bangladeshi climate scientist, in his latest opinion article on Reuters, also pointed out that the funding of loss and damage for the victims of human-induced climate change in the most vulnerable developing countries is likely to be a major expectation from the upcoming UN COP26 climate negotiations scheduled for 1-12 November.
“Poorer nations have already been facing the adverse impacts of human-induced climate change for a number of years with very little help from the richer countries. This should change now,” said Huq. “Developed countries have to adapt as well as prepare for loss and damage from climate change and help the poorer countries as well.”