Climate change: A matter of political willDespite alarming reports on Nepal’s vulnerability to the climate crisis, the lack of political commitment is deeply concerning, according to experts.
In February 2021, Nepal government signed a multi-million dollar agreement with the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), through which Nepal can potentially access up to $45 million by 2025 to mitigate its emissions.
“We signed the Emission Reductions Payment Agreement (ERPA) in 2018, under which seven activities of forest conservation are being carried out,” said Deepak Kumar Kharal, a joint-secretary and chief of REDD Implementation Centre. “We aim to receive our first payment this year.”
To secure the funds, Nepal, however, has to reduce 9 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions in the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) through a combination of seven activities, such as the establishment of community forests and private sector forests, improvement in integrated land use planning to reduce forest conversion for infrastructure development and promote better management of existing protected areas in the country.
“The Ministry of Forest and Environment is currently conducting an audit in the TAL region, following which the World Bank will verify our reports and then provide us with the funding,” said Kharal.
The emission reduction programme in the TAL region has been implemented since 2001. It includes over 75 percent of the remaining forests of the Churia range of hills and the Tarai in south-western Nepal. The protected areas are an important ecological corridor. It is a foothold for many large mammals like tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and sloth bears, and grasslands, forests, small lakes, and several wide and shallow rivers.
But despite two decades of commitment to the conservation of forest and biodiversity in the region, the government has often initiated controversial projects and policies with dire environmental consequences.
From the proposed excavations in the Chure region to building a mega Nijgadh International Airport – all within the protected areas of TAL, the lack of political will and commitment towards climate change in the government is appalling, according to climate experts and advocates.
The illegal excavation of riverbed materials in the Chure region has led to extreme environmental consequences. River courses have been modified and many villages are flooded annually during the monsoon. These human-induced climate disasters impact soil health, soil-forming process and directly affect agricultural lands.
Another such contested proposal is the Nijgadh International Airport which has been embroiled in a storm over its environmental impact. According to an environmental and social impact assessment carried out by the Tourism and Civil Aviation Ministry in February 2017, more than 2.4 million small and large trees need to be felled to build the airport. Environmentalists say the results could be catastrophic for many animals that call the Nijgadh forests home.
It is conspicuous that these actions taken by the government are at odds with the various global commitments, including sustainable development goals, which climate advocates attribute to the lack of political will.
“What should have been a political agenda is only a weapon for the political leaders to play with. Their narratives of development are in direct contradiction to the years of conservation efforts that have taken place,” said Tanuja Pandey, a climate activist and a third-year law student at the National Law College.
“While on the one hand politicians fiercely advocate for Nijgadh airport, our Prime Minister vows to increase forest coverage. Such inconsistency indicates that we do not have sufficient policies to avert the impending crisis.”
And time is running out to adapt to the climate crisis, according to scientists who warn that a harrowing future awaits and is unfolding faster than anticipated.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its damning report released last month, clearly warns of the swift and compounding effects of climate change – on the economy, migration, health, energy systems, food, and water securities – across the globe, and in Nepal without aggressive climate financing.
Ecosystem collapse, species extinction, deadly heat waves, floods, glacial lake outburst floods, diseases, mental stress, low agricultural productivity, and environmental displacement are among the "dangerous and widespread disruptions” the world will face over the next two decades due to global warming, the report predicts.
“The report reinforces what has already been known before. But it emphasises that all the predictions are happening faster than expected,” said Madhukar Upadhya, a climate change and climate finance expert.
Climate experts, thus, say the new IPCC report urges the world to act quickly as the predicted changes in the environment are happening sooner than expected.
“The situation is getting worse, and we know that. The report corroborates that we are nowhere close to limiting the temperature to 1.5°C,” according to Manjeet Dhakal, Head of Least Developed Country (LDC) Support Team at Climate Analytics. “We have to prepare for the worst.”
According to the report, preparing for the worst and limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C calls for feasible, integrated mitigation and adaptation solutions that need to be backed by climate finance.
“This report highlights the need for climate financing. The funds mobilised by the international community to tackle climate change are insufficient. It doesn’t match the needs of developing countries,” says Dhakal. “Alongside, we need to empower our local, provincial, and federal levels to deal with climate change within Nepal.”
Should 1.5°C temperature exceed, available evidence on projected climate risks indicates adaptation measures will likely become constrained, reduced in effectiveness, and increased in costs.
Nepal can’t solve the crisis on its own, says Bindu Bhandari, climate ambassador at Climate Interactive. However, she says that immediate steps should be taken to build resilient infrastructures. She says it is crucial to invest in solutions that can multi-solve by ensuring health and well-being, equity, and justice while protecting the climate and economy.
For this, climate finance is imperative and central to achieving low-carbon and climate-resilient development, according to Raju Pandit Chhetri, director of Prakriti Resources Centre (PRC) that advocates for environment-friendly policies and development practices.
However, Nepal’s access and implementation of climate finance are concerning because climate change has failed to become a political agenda. Developed nations and multilateral agencies, meanwhile, have been found to exaggerate their financial contributions to countries like Nepal.
One striking example is the Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project launched by the World Bank after the 2015 earthquakes. A whopping 86 percent of the total committed budget of the project, which was primarily related to a response to a geohazard and unrelated to climate change, was reported as finance for climate change adaptation.
Researchers at Prakriti Resource Center found that the project over-reported $328 million as funding for adaptation and climate-resilient development in Nepal. Climate experts say such over-reporting of climate financing in Nepal is possible because there is no mechanism in place to assess whether the project truly has the component of climate action or not.
“Nepal receives development aid, which donors voluntarily give, and funds for climate action, as part of donors’ global commitment. And often, countries report their development aids as part of their global climate commitments, which we have no mechanism to check, and it ultimately disadvantages us,” according to Chhetri.
“Such over-reporting of climate finance means that we don't get the fundings we need to deal with these climate issues.”
While climate finance is difficult to navigate, there is also a lack of comprehensive data on the funds spent on climate action in Nepal.
“Since 2012, Nepal has received about $2 billion as development aid. However, there is no data to specify the amount that has been specifically dedicated for climate finance,” explains Chhetri. “We lack disintegrated data, and that raises the question whether the funds have been sufficient or effective in helping adapt to climate change.”
Politicians’ lack of ownership of the climate issue as a political one has impacted the number of funds we get and kept us from holding emitter countries responsible for their contributions to climate change that impacts Nepal disproportionately.
“Such lack of data on climate finance limits us in holding the donors – who are also the global emitters – accountable for their global climate actions,” adds Chhetri.