Cut the carbonNepal should raise concerns about climate change, and also take action domestically
Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Only 16 other nations in the world are considered to be more vulnerable. In many aspects, this is unfair to Nepal as it contributes little to the warming of the planet. This is a problem created by the developed countries. However, this does not mean that Nepal can’t be part of the solution. The government has made commendable plans, but more needs to be done.
There should be no doubts about the scale of the climate change challenge. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has reported that since 1970, the global surface temperature has risen by an average of about 0.17 degree Celsius per decade surpassing the average increase of 0.07 degree Celsius from 1880 to 2017. There is enough scientific evidence to back up the fact that a 1 degree Celsius increase in global temperature has exacerbated the effect of natural disasters such as rising sea levels, incessant rain, floods, hurricanes, heat waves, droughts and wildfires.
The effects of rising temperature
The rising temperature is affecting all kinds of ecosystems across Nepal. The mountain eco-region is the primary source of rivers that flow across the country. The receding glaciers—retreating by an average of 38 square kilometres per year—may lead to a loss of drinking water in the downstream region. This is supported by evidence that a decreasing river water volume during the winter months and an increasing number of glacial lakes in the region are due to rapidly thawing snow. The risk of floods caused by water bursting out of glacial lakes in the Himalaya is also increasing.
The intensity and frequency of floods in the monsoon season has increased drastically in Nepal in recent years. One reason is rapidly melting snow in the Himalaya, while the other could be a rise in temperature which creates more room for water vapour in the atmosphere. In other regions, particularly in far west Nepal, deforestation, excessive extraction of ground water, increased precipitation and increasing evaporation and transpiration deforestation have subsequently led to chances of partial or severe drought conditions.
People who understand the issues related to climate change, environmental degradation and disaster are limited to a few academicians, politicians, bureaucrats, students and entrepreneurs. The general public has no idea whatsoever about the looming threat climate change poses as they are more focused on meeting the basic necessities of life. A majority of the people are not aware of the magnitude of the problems that global warming can create for them in the days to come in terms of livelihood, agriculture and food security, health and biodiversity.
To respond to climate change, the government of Nepal established the Climate Change Management Division at the then Ministry of Environment in 2010. Since then, multiple national and international policy level interventions have joined hands to address the issue. Some of the important ones are the National Adaptation Programme of Action, Local Adaptation Plans of Action and Community-Based Adaptation Planning of Action.
These policies need to be effectively implemented to reduce vulnerability and deal with the challenges posed by climate change. However, gaps exist. Political instability, lack of climate change education and awareness, poor coordination among ministries, unavailability of consolidated hydro-meteorological data, geographical hindrances and deeply rooted socio-cultural stereotypes are the biggest challenges.
Civil society and community-based organisations have been supporting the government to address these gaps. These organisations have been working in a wide range of sectors to help develop appropriate practices to mitigate climate change impacts. Their work ranges from drawing on from traditional knowledge, to rooftop vegetable farming. And from enhancing urban food systems to introducing clean energy to replace fossil fuel use.
Studying traditional knowledge holds particular potential: Indigenous irrigation systems, wooden bridges and water mills could produce understanding about people adapting to the changing climate. The government can come up with a system where such efforts can be identified and documented in an online digital library so that various entities–institutions, individuals and organisations–can have easy access to them.
The way forward
Updating the school curriculum with climate change education should be the major step towards fighting climate change. Science courses could contain information about the physical processes behind climate change. Social studies and health, population and environment courses could, for example, include a focus on climate change impacts and impact mitigation and management. For higher education, engineering courses can be designed with tools and techniques to replace the internal combustion engine with all-electric motor components.
It’s impossible for Nepal to tackle climate change on its own. We must continue to implore world leaders to take action against rising CO2 levels and global warming. Even though it may take time for our voices to be heard, we must continuously and proactively raise concerns in the international arena about climate change and its effects with conviction and consistency. At the same time, we can make greater efforts ourselves here in Nepal. We should make a case for international action, and also practice what we preach at home.
Lohani is a Research Associate at the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition