Nepal mocks green pledges by approving new oil pipelinesThe project is not only a waste of money, but also a glaring example of a fractured and unstable politics, experts say.
Nepal has proposed to switch from petrol-powered automobiles to electric vehicles by 2031, and pursuant to this policy, the 2020-21 budget unveiled by the then KP Sharma Oli administration contained a strategic plan to lower oil imports, and with it, the resulting air pollution.
On November 1, 2021, speaking at the World Leaders Summit of the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba proclaimed that Nepal aimed to reach net zero emission by 2045.
But then the government did something that flew in the face of this declaration. A few months ago, it approved a plan to build two more oil pipelines costing nearly Rs20 billion—Siliguri, India-Charali, Jhapa and Amlekhgunj-Chitwan.
A 69-km cross-border pipeline which brings petrol from Motihari in India to Amlekhgunj became operational in April 2020. The government says it plans to eventually extend this pipeline to Kathmandu.
Experts say the project is not only a waste of money, but also a glaring example of a fractured and unstable political situation caused by frequent changes in government.
According to them, there is an immediate need to decarbonise the transport sector, and most countries, including Nepal’s two immediate neighbours, are already moving in that direction. But Nepal is going backwards.
Urmila KC, under-secretary at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, said Nepal had already written to India to extend financial and technical support to build the two pipelines.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent the proposal to the Indian Embassy a month ago. We are yet to get a reply,” she said.
On April 26, the Cabinet gave an approval ‘in principle’ to construct the pipeline and terminals through a government-to-government agreement.
“We then made a draft memorandum of understanding requesting technical and financial assistance from India,” said KC.
As per the report, the proposed Amlekhgunj-Lothar, Chitwan pipeline will be 62-km-long and cost Rs4.5 billion. The entire project, which includes building associated infrastructure, is estimated to be worth Rs14 billion.
An initial survey has shown that the 50-km Siliguri-Jhapa cross-border pipeline will cost Rs2 billion.
Of the total length of the pipeline, 35 km will be laid in Indian territory and 15 km will lie on the Nepal side.
“This is a totally wrong move,” said Ram Prasad Dhital, an energy expert. “If the government passes the project, it will be a reflection of a totally flawed policy," he said.
“Instead, Nepal Oil Corporation and the Nepal Electricity Authority should join hands to build infrastructure necessary for electric vehicles along the highways,” he said.
“There should be a policy to convert the existing petrol pumps into charging stations in the long run,” said Dhital, former chief of the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre. “The government should provide soft loans to refuelling stations who want to switch to EV charging centres.”
Constructing additional oil pipelines is against Nepal’s commitment.
On November 1, Prime Minister Deuba announced a commitment to transition the country into a net zero carbon emitter by 2045.
Despite having abundant hydropower potential which is a clean energy, Nepal is still burning fossil fuels with the result that transportation and industrial combustion have become major sources of emissions.
Nepal’s fuel consumption has doubled in the past five years. Petroleum products are the largest single imported commodity in terms of value every year.
The country’s demand for petroleum products has been increasing by a robust 10 percent annually despite the regular supply of electricity since 2017, said Nepal Oil Corporation.
“Time has come to review whether Nepal needs more pipelines. The investment made to build new pipelines should be diverted to constructing charging stations,” said Dhital. “It’s time to invest in clean energy sources. That’s sustainable for the economy and human health.”
According to Nepal Rastra Bank, Nepal's fuel import bill reached a record Rs334.34 billion in the past fiscal year ending mid-July, almost doubling year-on-year after the world reopened following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bhushan Tuladhar, an environmental expert, suggested that instead of building oil pipelines, the government should invest in electric mobility and cooking.
“We need lines to transport electricity rather than a pipeline to transport oil,” he said.
“There is a need to invest in a mass electric transport system. Though the initial costs are high, it is sustainable and economically viable in the long run,” he said.
Dhital said that the country needed to reduce the import of petroleum products to narrow the trade deficit.
Experts say the government has been backing away from its commitments in many areas. “There is a vast difference in our work and the commitments we make,” said Dhital. “That’s ridiculous. We need to look for long-term energy security.”
In 2015, a fuel crisis created by India's unofficial blockade launched a discourse on Nepal’s energy security.
As Nepal is completely dependent on India for petroleum products, a halt in fuel shipments led to an acute shortage, forcing the government to ration fossil fuel, implement an odd-even system for vehicular movement, and stop providing fuel to private automobiles altogether for months.
In 1989, India, which surrounds Nepal on the east, west and south, imposed an embargo against Nepal that lasted a year and a half. Being a landlocked country, Nepal’s options are limited with regard to its fuel needs, and has a hard time when its sole supplier turns off the supply.
Experts say Nepal still has not learnt the lesson that we should increase our capacity and diversify our sources of energy supply.
“Obviously, the government has a vision for clean energy. But the plans and programmes seem missing all the time,” said Tuladhar. “Nepal has announced net-zero emission by 2045, but where is the investment plan?”
At COP26 in Glasgow, at least 13 countries had signed memorandums of understanding to end sales of fossil fuel-powered heavy-duty vehicles by 2040.
China last year promised that 50 percent of all new cars sold would be battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen fuel cell-powered by 2035.