Stepping up to the climate challengeNepal punches above its weight on climate action—and it is clear why.
Landing in Kathmandu, a buzzing city surrounded by the towering Himalayas, I defy anyone not to be awestruck by the wonder of our planet and by humanity’s relationship with it. The mountain range is a critical water source for the 250 million people in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya mountains and a further 1.65 billion people downstream.
So, it is sobering to think that Nepal is the country fourth most-at-risk from the damaging effects of climate change. Glaciers are retreating by up to 60 metres per year, leading to the creation of glacial lakes and the risk of catastrophic outburst floods looms large. This vulnerability does not always dominate headlines around the world as it should. So that’s why I visited last week, in my role as COP26 President, to better understand the pressures facing this great country.
In November, the UK will welcome 197 countries to Glasgow for vital United Nations climate change talks. These are the most important talks since the gathering in Paris in 2015, where action was agreed to limit global temperature rises to well below two degrees on pre-industrial levels.
At COP26, we must take action to stop the effects of climate change on smaller countries. Higher temperatures and more frequent and intense climate-induced disasters are predicted as the Himalayas warm at twice the global average. If these impacts aren’t tackled, they will disproportionately threaten the lives and livelihoods of people who have the fewest resources—also often those that have done least to cause climate change. Indeed, Nepal is one of the lowest per capita carbon emitters in the world.
Globally, 80 percent of people displaced by climate change are women; here in Nepal, women are disproportionately at risk, whether from floods, in which more women drown than men, or through working in agriculture, where women shoulder most of the additional labour required to cope with lack of water and the new diseases that climate change will bring.
Frustratingly, women’s voices around the world often go unheard, despite them being essential in the fight against climate change. I am delighted that this is not the case here, having had the pleasure of meeting impressive women climate leaders from Joint Secretary Radha Wagle to the Nepal women’s K2 expedition leaders. President Bhandari is one of a growing group of women leaders committed to delivering tangible progress at COP26, and this clear leadership from the top will serve us well.
Through the UK COP26 presidency, we want to help amplify women’s voices—and that of Nepal. We also want to help provide practical support to protect communities and the wonderfully unique landscape.
I am proud that International Climate Finance funding from the UK is helping to protect vulnerable communities in the Churia Region, through climate-resilient land-use practices which will avoid 11.5 million tonnes of emissions equivalent to taking 2.5 million cars off the road for a year and protect 3.2 million people. In the Gandaki River Basin, UK funds will help 1.9 million people cope better with the extreme climate-related events that are becoming more common.
As we know, these climate shocks are both becoming more intense and more frequent so we want to do more to help communities across Nepal. Strong international collaboration will be key to this, and we will continue to press our international partners on the road to Glasgow to partner with us on practical projects like our new Adaptation Action Coalition. And of course, we need to ensure that finance flows to countries like Nepal that are facing the harshest effects of climate change.
Indeed, we are already coordinating a $7.4 billion Green Recovery Support package with other development partners to help Nepal ‘bounce back greener’ from Covid-19 and create up to 1 million jobs. The package will help Nepal recover sustainably from the immediate impacts of the pandemic, by investing in clean energy, water and projects such as flood prevention, and tree planting, whilst mobilising support for sustainable job creation in agriculture, forestry, and tourism.
I hope that this news will embolden Nepal to go further. Because Nepal is already showing strong climate credentials, as determined as those Nepalis that recently returned from the first winter ascent of K2. Where they proudly declared that climate action is possible.
I warmly welcome Nepal's commitment at the UK's Climate Ambition Summit in December last year to reach Net Zero emissions by 2050. Additionally, I look forward to the publication of their Long-Term Strategy later this year on how to get there, and also for Nepal to consider increasing climate ambition further ahead of COP26. Equally, Nepal is leading the way on adaptation with initiatives such as Local Adaptation Plans of Action, through which Nepal’s local governments are identifying the best ways to adapt to the local impacts of climate change.
Through these, local communities can respond to very varied impacts of climate change from melting glaciers in the mountains to new diseases in the hills, or floods and high temperatures in the plains. This country is also uniquely placed to take advantage of the green revolution, through hydro and solar power generation.
Having avoided dependence on fossil-fuelled power, Nepal is ready to leapfrog the ‘dirty development’ that fuelled growth throughout the 20th century. By investing in sustainable tourism and infrastructure, Nepal has a real opportunity to build a low carbon, climate-resilient economy and create inclusive green employment.
Nepal can seize this opportunity and demonstrate regional leadership—and shout from the mountaintops about the work that it is doing to fight the effects of climate change. The world, and particularly the UK, will be listening.
I am determined to ensure that Nepal’s voice, and that of its mountain neighbours in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are heard in the inclusive climate negotiations we will host at COP26. This matters not only for the people of Nepal but also for the continent of Asia. In South Asia alone, 40 million people could sink into poverty because of the impacts of climate change.
Nepal offers attractive investment prospects too. I have had the pleasure of hearing from business and investment leaders here in Kathmandu and the potential for the green economy seems promising. I hope that this in turn will help to mobilise the private sector around climate action. Through our planned Green Growth Nepal Programme, the UK is working with the Investment Board of Nepal on projects that will deliver clean energy, smart urbanisation and forestry work to support Nepal’s Covid-19 recovery.
The UK recently launched the Race to Resilience campaign to mobilise business, cities, civil society and others around projects that help protect people from the worst impacts of climate change. We did so because we know that the challenge of protecting our planet demands action beyond governments.
I saw the harsh reality of climate change first hand, when I observed the effects of the melting Himalayan glaciers this week, and heard of the devastating effects that our changing climate can have on people living in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. So, I call on people throughout Nepal to step up to the challenge. I assure you, the people I have met and the very real effects of climate change that I have seen here will stay with me as I continue my conversations with leaders around the world to press for strong climate action ahead of COP26.