What new global climate report that paints a bleak picture means for NepalWhile poor nations should press rich countries to scale up aid, they should also try to be part of the solution, experts say.
On Monday, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the world’s leading authority on climate science—released its report, it clearly spelt out a harsher future for humanity.
The report, which is said to be the most comprehensive climate report ever released, has explicitly warned that climate change is likely to cause global temperature to increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, unleashing more serious and frequent extreme weather across the world.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the new report as a ‘code red for humanity’.
“The alarm bells are deafening and the evidence is irrefutable: Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk,” said Guterres. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”
The latest report, which is the first part of the Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, has highlighted that earth’s temperature could rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within the next two decades.
In 2015, countries agreed to keep global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, ideally limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius, by the end of this century as part of the landmark Paris Agreement by amping up required efforts.
But the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has warned that global temperatures are likely to rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, breaching the threshold set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, and inviting fury of extreme weather and even more serious and frequent fires, droughts, floods and cyclones that are expected to wreak havoc on humanity.
According to the findings, prepared by hundreds of scientists from around the world, the global temperature has already increased by about 1.1 degrees Celsius since industrialisation (1850-1900).
Rising temperatures, which could lead to more devastation for people around the world, will also ring similar warning bells for countries like Nepal, considered one of the most vulnerable in the world to climate change impacts.
According to climate change experts, the latest IPCC report is one more scientific document, providing more evidence of effects of climate change and a harsher future, also strongly backing up previous understandings on climate change.
“The report has clearly stated that the global temperatures will surpass the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius in about two decades. The report came out when North America witnessed its worst forest fire season and Europe was devastated by unprecedented floods along with China, Turkey and even Nepal,” said Raju Pandit Chhetri, an expert on climate change.
“As the earth’s temperature has already risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius, the world and countries like Nepal are heading towards more extreme climate events in the future.”
The report said it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land as widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.
Scientists have pointed out that the scale of recent changes across the climate system are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years. The report further highlighted that human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.
The report has mentioned that evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has strengthened since the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) which was released in 2014.
The impacts of climate change, as pointed out by the latest report, are also visible in countries like Nepal where temperatures have gone up and there have been changes in rainfall patterns in recent years just while the country has also experienced extreme weather events such as massive floods, forest fires, droughts and extreme-rainfall-triggered landslides.
“As the temperature, the major factor in triggering global warming, is likely to continue to increase, incidents of extreme events will obviously go up around the world,” said Chhetri, also the executive director of Prakriti Resources Centre, an NGO working for sustainable development and environmental justice.
“The report also talks about climate change impacts in South Asia where it is projected that extreme precipitation and river floods across the region will intensify. There will also be recurring floods and landslides in the eastern Himalayan region, which is already experiencing a high snowmelt pattern.”
A landmark ICIMOD study on the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, which covers 3,500 kilometres across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan, has projected an alarming future for mountainous countries like Nepal. The study concludes that even the most ambitious Paris Agreement goal—of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—by the end of the century would lead to a temperature spike by 2.1 degrees Celsius and the melting of one-third of the region’s glaciers.
The 2019 ICIMOD study also warned that a two-degree temperature rise could melt half of glaciers in Hindu Kush Himalaya region.
“The new IPCC report has sent out a clear message that global warming is happening at a faster rate. But if countries come up with stronger targets and efforts, the temperature rise could still be controlled,” said Manjeet Dhakal, another climate change expert.
“The ongoing narrative that Nepal is impacted by climate change and has suffered loss and the country needs financial support would not be enough now. We won’t be able to deal with the impacts of climate change if emissions levels are not reduced.”
Dhakal, who also advises the board of Green Climate Fund that supports the efforts of developing countries to respond to the challenges of climate change, said climate change is a “survival issue” now.
“Heavy precipitation is projected to increase in the future. In a country like Nepal which is heavily dependent on hydropower projects for energy needs and where agriculture depends on rainfall, changes in rainfall pattern can have devastating impacts,” said Dhakal. “Warning of accelerated glacier melts and rapid loss of ice are already there. Melting of ice is also linked to the rise in sea level which impacts small-island nations. Studies have projected that ice melt contributes 42 percent to the sea level rise.”
Melting of glaciers due to rising temperatures can also lead to flooding in downstream communities, keeping their lives, livelihoods and public and private properties at risk.
A 2019 study, which assessed the world’s 78 mountain glacier-based water systems for the first time and ranked their significance to the downstream communities and their vulnerabilities in terms of various factors, including future changes, concluded that over 1.9 billion people could face water shortage in future.
“Rapid melting of glaciers can impact water availability and livelihoods, causing significant effects on communities that are dependent on mountains. There can be scenarios where we will either have too much or too little water, disturbing food security in both cases,” said Chhetri.
“Distortion in monsoon rainfall pattern—extreme rainfall in a short period of time—can also cause similar cases of too much water or too little water, which can lead to flooding or inundation or prolonged droughts. Such conditions can impact not only life and livelihood, which are visible, but also public health, local culture, and biodiversity, which are not often taken into account.”
Although changing climate will have a cumulative effect, the country is ill-prepared, says Chhetri.
“In recent years, we have borne the wrath of many extreme weather events. Unfortunately, Nepal is not prepared to deal with any weather extremes. We do not have localised climatic and scientific information,” said Chhetri.
“Whatever we have is not localised and not available in the language understood by the general public. What we have seen in Melamchi, for example, can happen anywhere in the near future. Floods are no longer a concern for Tarai only, as they are occurring in high hills and mountains now. There will be more concentrated rainfalls in smaller areas.”
Although scientists have warned that global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century, they have also mentioned that deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occurring in the coming decades can delay the global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius during the 21st century.
Climate experts say for that to happen, all countries, including Nepal, which have negligible emissions contribution to global warming, need to take concerted actions to heavily cut down the emissions
“Countries like Nepal, which looks to international support, also need to raise the issue of reducing emissions on international platforms. Besides lobbying for international support as less-developed countries, countries like Nepal should also be part of the solution, which is reducing emissions on their level,” said Dhakal.
“Developed countries should take the lead in this matter, but developing countries which are also significant contributors should be equally responsible, rather than simply transferring the responsibilities on historical emitters as all of us are on the same planet. Although work on loss and damage and adaptation should be done, there have to be emission cuts ultimately, without which nothing much can happen.”
As a climate-vulnerable country and a member of least developed nations, Nepal, together with countries in similar situations, should take initiatives advocating reduction in emission levels without which the real wound of climate change would not be treated, said Dhakal.
Despite being climate-vulnerable, climate change has not gathered adequate political attention in the country, experts like Chhetri argue.
“We are so bogged down in the national political agenda that climate change is hardly a political issue here. How often do we see our parliamentarians raising the issue of climate change? Every time a disaster strikes, they are rather focused on rescue and relief issues, but not on the root cause of the disasters,” said Chhetri.
“Hydropower projects have been built or are in the process but climatic conditions are hardly considered. We need to embed climatic and scientific knowledge in the development planning process and start from a new perspective.”