Contingency planFor Nepal, it will be double trouble: Global climatic changes and regional environmental challenges
Two significant scientific reports came out this month that should worry Nepal even if it is so besieged by the fuel and political crises. The first was about the impact of humans on the earth that has made the planet enter into a new epoch from the Holocene that began during the end of last ice age. Following the report that the earth had entered the Anthropocene epoch because of human activities, another study on what mankind had done to the natural cycle came out. It said global warming had postponed the beginning of the ice age by at least 100,000 years.
The second report was more widely reported because it had a rare angle that the rise in global temperature actually had something positive to offer. Scientists say the shape of the earth’s orbit around the sun presently is just right for the come-back of the ice age that ended some 12,000 years ago. But the massive amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, after the industrial age began, has warmed the earth significantly, postponing the recurrence of the ice age. That may come as a respite for the global population because invasion of ice could also become survival issue for many, especially the poor.
Things to consider
On the flip side, if global warming could push away the natural cycle of ice age what it may have already done to climatic systems can be anybody’s guess. This is where both the scientific studies become so important for poor and vulnerable societies. They may not be able to engage so much with the academic aspects of those reports but they indeed need to deal with them practically as it is them who will have to bear the brunt of climate change. So, the question is if they are planning and preparing for it.
The climate plan each member countries of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) are required to prepare can be one key part of such planning and preparation. The document known as the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) was submitted by most member countries of the UNFCCC before the Paris summit last December. Nepal, however, was not one of them and it is now preparing for the submission. Better late than never. But the main objective of the INDC is to make countries commit to carbon cuts so that in totality it helps slow down climate change by keeping the average global temperature rise below two degree Celsius. Nepal’s contribution to the global greenhouse emissions is less than 0.1 percent. According to Climate Action Tracker, an independent assessment that tracks nations’ emission commitments and actions, the country’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase by 62 percent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. Still that would be a very negligible contribution to the global total figure.
That means Nepal should be more worried about how to deal with the climatic changes. This is the same story with many poor and vulnerable countries that have been made to submit their INDC, while what matters more to them is whether they have the right climate adaptation plans and the money.
Focus and prepare
This has been a gigantic gap both in the run up to and after the Paris summit. The whole focus, at least in theory, has been on carbon cuts while scientists have been warning that even if all emissions were to stop today, climatic changes to certain extent are inevitable given that so much of carbon has already been dumped into the atmosphere.
But one can argue that there have been many adaptation plans: The National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), Local Adaptation Programme of Action and now the National Action Plans on climate change. And one can also point at the provision of Least Developed Countries Fund poor countries were able to secure in the Paris Agreement. And if all these are not enough, wait and watch how many schemes and projects will be rolled out under the freshly announced Sustainable Development Goals of the UN.
But what are these projects’ track records? An investigation I did for the BBC in 2014 showed that only around 50 of the over 500 projects under NAPA for least developed countries including Nepal were genuinely implemented. Meantime, several other donor-funded climate projects were often duplicating themselves in Nepal. What happened to them? Did they reach the grassroots communities they were supposedly targeting? Has there been any review of such projects? All these questions are crucial because these donors, including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Global Environment Facility, among others, have announced new climate related programmes. They are all welcome but please tell us what happened to the past projects first.
If the donors fail to explain, Parliament needs to step in and start interrogating government officials many of whom are never tired of singing hosannas for such projects and their donors.
Some quarters have tried to blur the line arguing that many of these projects were meant to be dovetailed with development projects and that is happening.
‘Climate proofing’ development projects may be one of the components of these
projects but nothing can be more important than the urgent needs of vulnerable
The two scientific reports we started this piece with are directly related to these populations. Worse yet, Nepal’s location between two top global emitters China and India means it needs to prepare for even more environmental consequences.
“Widespread misreporting of harmful gas emissions by Chinese electricity firms is threatening the country’s attempts to rein in pollution,” Reuters reported this week.
The news came just when Beijing was being applauded for stopping approval of new coal mines for the next three years.
China gets nearly 75 percent of its electricity from coal fired power plants that are a major source of its notorious smog that led the country to issue a red alert last month.
India’s alarming air pollution levels and the stress of its rapid infrastructure development on the region’s natural and biodiversity resources are equally worrying.
For Nepal, it will be double trouble: global climatic changes and regional environmental challenges.
Khadka is a BBC journalist based in London