A dry spell

  • Politically, climate change has not advanced beyond rhetoric

Jan 16, 2019-

In most climate debates, two schools of thought seem to prevail. One postulates that even if we cut down all greenhouse gas emissions to zero today, the carbon already locked up in the atmosphere will continue to affect weather systems, as it has already done, for several decades to come. So, we will continue to face unusual disaster events such as that of the Tarai floods of 2017, landslides in Bajura or drought in Terhathum and Panchthar in 2018—all of which caused extensive damage. Thus, this view advocates that adaptation should be a priority while addressing climate change.

The other argues that the gap between the need for adaptation and our ability to adapt, which will be constrained by a resource crunch, is going to increase exponentially in the future due to increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the years. Even the best of the best measures may fall short of the need to match the extent to which adaptation must be done. Moreover, the need for adaptation is likely to grow bigger with the rise in populations, extension of infrastructures, growing economic activities, and so on. Therefore, the lasting solution to climate change lies in mitigation: that is, limiting greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fossil fuel with cleaner sources of energy to meet the energy needs.

Somewhat different than these is what we see among policy makers who say that we need to be compensated for the damage caused by climate change; we are highly affected by climate change even though our contributions to the greenhouse gas emissions are nominal. On the surface, it appears to be logical because ‘why should we suffer when our contribution to the global greenhouse gas emissions, a major cause of global warming and subsequent climate change, is only nominal?’ This view is further reinforced by the fact that the Least Developing Countries that are more vulnerable to impacts of climate change have been trying to include the issue of loss and damage in the climate negotiations and associate it with liability and compensation.

Dismal progress

In fact, a similar argument a decade ago led to the development of the National Adaptation Programme of Action, which helped countries, including Nepal, identify projects to address urgent and immediate needs of adaptation in the short-term. Some international funds were made available to implement the identified projects. For the longer term, however, countries need to develop their National Adaptation Plans, which, unlike dedicated climate projects of adaptation programme, integrates climate change objectives into regular development plans. In other words, National Adaptation Plans will layout medium—and long-term plans to make major development sectors climate resilient and adapt to the changes. Global funds such as the Green Climate Fund have been established to help developing countries to implement climate projects. However, because of the complexities involved in the issue, coupled with our complacent way of thinking, we haven’t been able to make any significant progress on the climate front. 

Climate change is a global issue with local impacts, and hence, we have a dual responsibility: First, contributing to mitigation as part of our global commitments, even though it will be only nominal because our greenhouse gas emissions are low, and second, promoting adaptation as our national duty to help vulnerable communities to adapt to the climate threats at home. As such, mitigation is mostly about reducing carbon emissions and, hence, usually urban-centric. It is of the interest of those whose energy needs are met by fossil fuel and who can influence the policy makers. The import of electric buses and the plan to import 300 more is a good example of how policy decisions for mitigation are made quickly. 

Adaptation, on the other hand, is mostly about managing water—which is too heavy in the monsoon causing floods, landslides, and erosion; and too scarce in the winter causing widespread drought and water scarcity. Adaptation, therefore, becomes a concern for a large section of the population living across geographical boundaries, whose daily lives are affected by climate impacts but do not have the capacity to deal with it, and seldom can influence policy. Since adaptation is polymorphic in nature, we haven’t been able to prepare any long-term adaptation plans even after nearly a decade of formulating National Adaptation Programme of Action.

Advance beyond rhetoric

On the issue of compensation, the group of Least Developed Countries has been demanding it for any losses and damages incurred due to climate change. However, before any progress is made on the losses and damages, and since global negotiations involve cumbersome and, often, time-consuming processes, we will have faced a number of disaster events with increasingly greater consequences. The floods of 2017 and drought in the middle of 2018’s monsoon must be taken as prelude to what lies ahead. Thus, the priority for us should be to begin tackling what has already been observed. However, neither our knowledge of the impacts affecting people, nor the existing institutional landscape to deliver adaptation solutions are adequate enough to tackle observed problems, let alone those that might occur in the future.

Politically, climate change has not advanced beyond rhetoric. A good example of this is the Sindhulachok summit. People applauded the political commitments shown by the recently elected chair and vice-chairpersons of the district coordination committees in the climate summit held in Sindhupalchok. The truth is that the institution they represented—the district coordination committees—has neither executive nor legislative authority to influence policy at the sub-national level. Provincial and the local level governments that have the executive and legislative power have yet to prioritise climate change over building infrastructure.

Financing adaptation projects is perhaps the most contentious issue. Nepal is implementing a few climate-related projects as part of regular development works in agriculture, forestry, flood protection, water supply and non-conventional irrigation funded largely by domestic sources. However, many such projects in key sectors need to be implemented in the coming years, which cannot be done without international support.

Accessing global funds requires a very strong national capacity in terms of policies, institutions, financial management systems, legal frames, and so on. National systems must be convincing enough to meet the standards required to secure global funds. The good news is that Nepal has begun to take some steps in building national capacity by integrating climate change in its planning and budgeting, but much more needs to be done. Without a national system meeting the required standards, we will not be able to access global funds that might be needed to implement multiple projects in the long-term. This is true regardless of how hard we try to illuminate the fact that we suffer badly from (and despite our nominal contribution to) climate change. 

Upadhya tweets at @madhukaru


Published: 16-01-2019 07:24

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