Oped

Reshaping the dialogue

  • Climate change is not a subject on its own. It needs to be considered by all sectors
- MADHUKAR UPADHYA

Mar 20, 2019-

No other statement would summarise the confusion engulfing the ongoing climate debate and the resulting shortcomings in the handling of the entire issue of climate change more succinctly than what the head of the Nepali delegation, Suman Dahal, the joint secretary to the Ministry of Finance, said after listening to two days’ worth of discussions during a Regional Dialogue on the Role of Climate Proofing Growth and Development to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals earlier this month in Thailand. Using a coriander metaphor, he said, “Dhaniya sabai tarakari maa halnu parne maa, haami dhaniyakai tarakari pakai rakhyaachhau.” The best possible translation of which would be something along the lines of, “Instead of garnishing all the vegetables with coriander to elevate the taste, it is currently being treated like the main course.”

Perhaps no more words are required to articulate so plainly where the problem lies in addressing climate change. Had we realised that climate change is not a subject on its own, rather an issue that needs to be considered by all sectors—from trade to commerce and agriculture to health and energy—the state of our development plans would have been much different. Unfortunately, this revelation hasn’t come to light.

Climate finance network

At the end of the Regional Dialogue, a regional Climate Finance Network was established to facilitate and scale up climate finance innovations among the member countries in the Asia-Pacific region that include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Tonga, and Vanuatu. These countries have already begun to experience the impacts of climate change— from sea level rise, melting of snow reserves and retreating glaciers to increased instances of extended drought, heavy floods and deadly cyclones. The economic costs of these impacts to the respective economies are escalating as well.

It is not surprising that many of them, including Nepal, are among the top 20 countries most affected by extreme

weather events and are at the highest risk of falling into deeper poverty and economic turmoil, if climate change action is not effectively implemented. It is crucial to reiterate that there are less than 11 years left before climate change

is addressed effectively to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by the 2030 deadline.

It has become clearer that, unlike epidemics, which are generally high-impact, short-duration in nature, climate change is encompassing and lasting. No ad-hocism will work, nor is there a one-size-fits-all formula. Addressing climate change, therefore, requires prudently crafted policies that facilitate the formulation of rolling plans backed by institutions with expertise as well as sustained finance to support climate actions. Furthermore, climate change is as much a responsibility of the government as it is of the private sector, non-government agencies, and communities because they are all impacted in some way. Bringing all of them to work together might sound like a daunting task, but that is what will safeguard our future against climate impacts.

There are lessons that countries can learn from others in the region to make the best use of available knowledge and resources; the Network can be quite instrumental in this endeavour. Most importantly, the Network can be helpful in leveraging greater financial flows for the implementation of a climate change response that enables the countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The degrees to and ways by which countries in the region are impacted by climate change are different. Therefore, many innovative ways, including some notable ones, of addressing climate change in the longer run have emerged

in the region. Indonesia, for example, has established an ingenious method of climate financing by establishing Sukuk, an Islamic financial certificate, similar to a bond that supports climate projects, whereas India has gained experience in making long-term climate action plans at the state level. Bangladesh has emerged as a leader in promoting adaptation measures and a knowledge centre for training and running academic courses on climate change. Pakistan has demonstrated how members of Parliament can work with the executive in prioritising budgets for climate actions.

Nepal, for its part, has championed climate budget tagging, and has provided leadership in developing a method of budget tagging. It has taken the lead in preparing a citizen climate budget, which primarily informs civilians of the priority placed by the government on allocating a budget to climate actions. Nepal has also demonstrated how gender can be integrated practically while planning climate investments through its initiative. The Network, with its potential to share cutting-edge knowledge from on-going reforms that are taking place at the country level in the region, can help member countries, including Nepal, to address climate change and enable the achievement of key Sustainable Development Goals.

Urgency at home

The ambitious double-digit growth goal in the next five-year plan proposed by the government is just unattainable without adequate safeguards against climate threats in key economic sectors such as water, energy, agriculture and infrastructure. Despite emerging evidences generated by several studies indicating that the gravity of climate threats to our key economic sectors and vital natural resources is rising, development planners seem to remain unconvinced to consider climate change with the required level of urgency.

The real impact of climate change on our economic growth and overall development is poorly understood. Amid the existing level of understanding of the impacts and against rapidly emerging climate threats, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals forces us to focus our attention on multiple cross-cutting issues. The most important of them is addressing gender and social inclusion to take account of the most vulnerable while addressing climate change. Transparency and accountability of climate investment must meet the required standards to access external sources, which eventually require reforms in the domestic budgetary systems. This calls for a shift in institutional focus. It has become vital for the Ministry of Finance to take the lead in coordinating integration of climate change through budgetary processes for all sector ministries and help accessing and managing climate finance.

The coriander metaphor, perhaps, has the quintessential cultural touch needed to convey this message undistorted to policymakers across sectors who need to unpack the climate story and begin focusing on the institutions, plans, and programmes that will bring forth climate change to the hub, before planning for sectoral goals in support of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Upadhya writes on issues relating to watershed, climate change, disasters and their intersections with society.

Published: 20-03-2019 08:03

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