Actions speak louder than wordsNations convened in Marrakech, Morocco last month to maintain momentum on the global deal signed in Paris last December with an aim to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times.
Nations convened in Marrakech, Morocco last month to maintain momentum on the global deal signed in Paris last December with an aim to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times. Nepal ratified the Paris agreement recently vowing to take action against acts that contribute to climate change. Although Nepal calls for immediate reduction in global emissions and claims to be one of the most vulnerable countries in climate negotiations, it has failed to take significant steps to reduce its carbon footprints and make its communities climate resilient. The Low-carbon Economic Development Strategy, which was initiated a couple of years ago is completely stalled, and no further efforts are being made to implement the strategy. So ratifying the Paris Agreement just for the sake of ratifying it will not do any good to the world or the country. It is mere hypocrisy.
Not committed enough
The Ministry of Population and Environment (MoPE) prepared and communicated its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to UNFCCC committing to reduce its emission through low-carbon economic development, bring down dependency on fossil fuel by 50 percent, achieve 80 percent electrification through renewable energy sources by 2050 and maintain a 40 percent forest cover, among others. It is good that Nepal prepared and communicated its INDC, but many of these commitments are not ambitious enough and are simply drawn from already existing sectorial policies and plans.
These international commitments have not reflected in the country’s national development agendas. In fact, annual programmes and activities on the ground are in conflict with its own policies and commitments. For example, transportation is highly responsible for fossil fuel-based carbon emissions, but the concerned ministry, the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, has neither realised the importance of mitigation nor offers any specific strategies to reduce the nation’s dependency on fossil fuel. The ministry is largely focused on expanding roads and building highways than on investing in sustainable and low-carbon transportation. After the road expansion drive in Kathmandu Valley, annual car registration has jumped from 8 to 21 percent. The government of Nepal has further signed a deal with India to construct over 40km long Amlekhgunj-Raxaul oil pipeline. Such misplaced priorities undermine its own commitment and policies and further pushes the nation towards carbon-intensive development.
In April this year, NASA reported that as many as 1.3 million hectares of forest cover in Nepal have been destroyed by wildfire in about two weeks. The whole country was covered in a haze of smoke for several days from forest fires both in India and Nepal. Large forest fires have become annual occurrences for several years now, but the government of Nepal has not put in significant efforts to implement its Forest Fire Management Strategy.
Take the high road
The climate community in Nepal tends to look at low-carbon development from a narrow angle: its share in global emission mitigation. Our national emissions may be negligible in the context of global emissions, but reducing carbon emission nationally should be viewed through a lens of a wide array of socio-economic and environmental benefits. Strategies to reduce emissions in the transport sector will control air pollution, improve public health, reduce traffic congestion, enhance accessibility, support inclusive cities or communities, and provide large economic benefits such as from reduced fossil fuel imports, expenses on health, etc. There has been appreciable work on renewable energy, but Nepal has a long way to go to achieve its goal—to make all households smoke free and achieve an 80 percent share of renewable energy in electrification. It also needs to move away from a hydropower-centric energy policy to a mixed one. Promotion of improved cooking stoves, biogas and other renewable sources reduces indoor air pollution, which will have positive health impacts, especially on women and children. Strategies to control forest fires will not only reduce the carbon stock of the atmosphere, but also save our biodiversity and livelihood, cut haze and lower impacts on glaciers through black carbon deposition.
Many experts in Nepal’s climate community perceive that Nepal’s priority is adaptation and the country requires no immediate action on mitigation. But Nepal will have immense economic and environmental gains if low-carbon strategies are adopted. Unlike many developed countries whose economy is based primarily on fossil fuel, it is much easier and quicker for Nepal to move towards a carbon-neutral economy.
Climate change agenda should not be limited to one or two ministries, but should be mainstreamed in all ministries and sectors. Unfortunately, many of the climate activities and discussions of the Ministry of Population and Environment (MoPE) are predominantly driven by foreign funded projects. Instead of relying solely on donor funding, Nepal should mobilise its own public and private funding to reduce emissions and make communities more resilient. While waiting to access international climate fund, we should ensure that our pollution tax, which has remained unspent for almost a decade, is utilised. Our climate community ought to put their effort in pushing the government to set a more ambitious target, live up to its commitments made in the international arena and implement existing policies. Our actions, more than our words, will exert moral pressure on the global community to deal with climate change.
Khanal is an avid cycle user and works on urban transport issues