UN chief puts a spotlight on Nepal’s climate crisisThe points raised by Antonio Guterres amplify the climate concerns of the country that has little contribution to global warming.
Last week, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who was on a four-day visit to Nepal, travelled to the Everest and Annapurna regions, which have been highly affected by the impacts of climate change.
Guterres not only witnessed first hand the impacts of climate change on Nepal’s mountainous region but also took stock of the ground reality from local residents, who have been bearing the brunt of the crisis, for which they are not responsible.
Upon returning from the Annapurna Base Camp, the visiting UN secretary general appealed to the global community to take urgent action to protect the mountains and glaciers.
“It’s time to stop the looting and generating climate change because we must preserve these wonderful mountains and these wonderful glaciers,” Guterres told media persons at Pokhara Airport. “And it’s essential to support Nepal and … other countries that do not contribute to climate change but suffer the consequences.”
Guterres, who addressed the joint sitting of Nepal’s federal parliament the next day, said the country was facing catastrophic consequences of climate change despite its negligible contribution to global emissions.
He highlighted how monsoons, storms and landslides are growing in force and ferocity—sweeping away crops, livestock and entire villages—decimating economies and ruining lives. Guterres urged the global community to come to Nepal to see the catastrophic effects of climate change.
The UN chief’s tour of Nepal’s regions vulnerable to the changing climate and his plea to the global community to “stop this madness” have potential significance also particularly for the 2023 UN climate change conference set to kick off in the United Arab Emirates on November 30.
Here is all you need to know about Nepal’s climate crisis and the significance of the UN secretary-general's remarks.
Dire consequences of the climate crisis
Nepal has been bearing the brunt of climate change for the past several years. Mountains are melting, and glacial lakes have burst and vanished at record rates, leading to a loss of one third of them in just three decades.
Monsoons, storms and landslides are growing in force and ferocity—sweeping away crops, livestock and entire villages—decimating economies and ruining lives.
Swift changes driven by a changing climate bring a new set of problems that directly affect lives and livelihoods. Over the years, mountain springs, which were the only source of water for the village, have started drying up and disappearing. Studies show close to 15 percent of the springs have dried up in some places and water flow has fallen as low as 70 percent elsewhere in the country.
The lack of water has not only affected the local supply but also hit farming and animal husbandry. There was no option left for the villagers than to migrate.
Multiple effects of climate change
Nepal is extremely vulnerable to climate change and has been warned by experts for a long time. Climate change has impacted multiple sectors—environment, agriculture, animal husbandry, drinking water, health, food security, hydropower, education, and women's empowerment.
Drying up of the streams and decreased flow of water caused by climate change threaten local communities who depend on spring water for their lives and livelihoods. Water-related stress—low production of staple crops and fruits, dried-up green pastures and low adaptive capacity—have forced locals to contemplate migration.
Mountainous areas like Manang and Mustang, where rainfall is always low, have been witnessing unusual rainfall for the last several years, which has directly affected the locals.
Districts such as Mustang, Manang, Sindhupalchok and Solukhumbu have witnessed catastrophic landslides and floods like never before in recent years.
Vector-borne diseases like dengue have started to emerge in the areas considered non-endemic in the past. Mental health problems have significantly risen in recent years, reportedly due to a rise in the stress level caused by the climate crisis.
Along with roads, bridges, and public properties, hydel projects (both in operation and under construction) sustained massive damage from floods and landslides. Hydropower is not only the main source of energy for the domestic market but is also a commodity with a huge export potential.
The changing climate’s impact on education has not yet been studied but due to the rise in labour migration, the workload on women has increased and affected their health issues overall.
Vulnerable populations hit disproportionately
People residing in the remote mountainous areas of Nepal and those involved in agriculture, animal husbandry, and women and children have been affected much by the adverse impacts of climate change.
The United Nations report titled “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” also stated that people living in deprivation and indigenous people have been disproportionately affected by climate change. They often rely on rain-fed agriculture in marginal areas with high exposure, increased vulnerability to water-related stress and low adaptive capacity.
Significance of Guterres’ speech
Visiting UN Secretary-General Guterres, in his address to a joint sitting of Nepal’s federal parliament, emphasised the same message that Nepali officials and climate experts have been raising in international forums over the years.
However, the UN chief's recognition of Nepal’s issue as ‘serious’ has a special meaning, multiple climate experts the Post talked to said.
“The UN secretary general drew the attention of world communities to the problems encountered by Nepal due to the climate crisis caused by emissions, to which the country is a negligible contributor,” said Bhusan Tuladhar, an environmentalist. “This helped us to make the issue global. I hope our policymakers and government will be serious about implementing various plans made to deal with adverse impacts of climate change.”
Guterres, in his speech, emphasised the significance of the Climate Adaptation Fund and its effective utilisation in mitigating the consequences of climate change and the need for international collaboration to address this shared global challenge.
He proposed an SDG Stimulus that would release at least $500 billion a year in affordable long-term finance for sustainable development and climate action.
“Developed countries must honour the promise of $100 billion a year and double adaptation finance, as a first step to devoting half of the climate finance to adaptation. The most vulnerable must be at the centre of efforts to build climate resilience.”
Through Nepal’s Parliament, he also urged leaders to act on climate without delay—with the biggest emitters leading from the front, saying all countries must put the Acceleration Agenda he has proposed into effect, to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
He appreciated Nepal’s role in climate action, claiming it was on target to net zero emissions by 2045 and carrying out extraordinary reforestation efforts. Nepal has made remarkable progress in increasing the forest cover with its successful community forestry programme.
Climate experts in Nepal said there is an urgent need to pay attention to the scale and omnipresence of the problems caused by climate change.
Nepal has made both short- and long-term strategies and policies to deal with the adverse impacts of climate change, which the UN chief lauded. But when it comes to implementing them, the approach has been lackadaisical. The impacts of climate change have affected multiple sectors and the daily lives of many people.
“Whatever the policies on mitigation and adaptation we made, their implementation is poor,” said Madhukar Upadhya, a climate expert. “People affected by floods and landslides years ago have not yet received the compensation.”
According to experts, authorities should make sincere efforts to implement strategies to address the climate impacts. Due to the apathy of the authorities concerned for mitigating adverse impacts and helping people to adapt, people from the affected areas have been migrating at an alarming pace.
Even if the UN chief had promised a climate adaptation fund, it would be for all the affected countries, with the fund allocated for selected programmes applied by individual countries, said Upadhya.
“And we all know the limitations of UN-funded programmes. Nepal itself has to deal with the impacts, and for that, the government and concerned agencies have to make plans and sincere efforts for their implementation,” Upadhya said. “All relevant agencies should collaborate and coordinate to deal with the effects of climate change.”