The cost of inaction

  • SDG 13
  • Nepal’s priority at this stage should be adaptation measures to deal with climate change impacts
- DINESH RAJ BHUJU, Kathmandu
The case of climate change and its impact on Nepal is ironic; Nepal’s contribution to global warming through carbon emission is negligible but its population and ecosystems will be affected disproportionately

Jul 25, 2017-Climate change is affecting countries all over the world. It is disrupting national economies and has had negative impacts on people, communities and countries. This trend will only grow in the future. People are experiencing significant impacts of climate change, which include changing weather patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events. The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities are driving climate change and it continues to rise. Levels of GHG emissions now are the highest in history. 

Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is projected to rise by over 3 degrees Celsius in the 21st century, with some areas of the world expected to warm even more. The poorest and most vulnerable people are being affected the most. For each 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature, grain yields decline by about 5 percent. At the global level, maize, wheat and other major crops have experienced significant yield reductions of 40 mega-tons per year between 1981 and 2002 due to a warmer climate. This is hardly good news for food security. 

Irony facing Nepal

Affordable and scalable solutions are now available to enable countries to leapfrog to cleaner, more resilient economies. The pace of change is quickening as more people are turning to renewable energy and a range of other measures that will reduce emissions and increase adaptation efforts. Many business leaders around the world have realised that climate change and environmental degradation introduce severe new risks, but also provide opportunities for their companies’ competitiveness, growth and development. Businesses are providing climate solutions through innovation and long-term investment in energy efficiency and low-carbon development. 

But climate change is a global challenge that does not respect national borders. Emissions anywhere affect people everywhere. It is an issue that requires solutions that need to be coordinated at the international level.  It is still possible, using a wide array of technological measures and changes in behaviour, to limit the increase in global mean temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The case of climate change and its impacts in Nepal is ironic. Nepal’s contribution to global warming through carbon emission is negligible. It only houses 0.4 percent of the total global population and is responsible for only 0.025 percent of total GHG emissions in the world. However, its population and ecosystems will be affected disproportionately, especially from rising atmospheric temperature. It is evident that Nepal’s mountains are already facing a rapid and higher rise in temperature than the world average. 

There is an expression in the Nepali vernacular, Nakhayeko Bikh Lagnu, which means “punishing the innocent”. Our key concerns are: i) occurrence of climate induced disasters which will further push the economically weak sections of society towards a vicious cycle of poverty and degraded environment ii) bio-physiological shift (in the flowering of plants and seasonal calendar of crops, and upward mobility of vectors, invasive species, etc) that will result in the rapid loss of habitat and extinction of biodiversity and iii) overall development setbacks as the economic support and hard earned productivity would be wasted by unpredictable impacts of climate change.

Nepal’s incompetence

At this stage, adaptation measures should be Nepal’s priority. A national policy addressing the issues of climate change impacts including disasters has been formulated. For effective implementation, however, we require robust structural arrangements with competent human resources in government machinery, a strong academia that generates knowledge and invent alternative solutions, and very active civil or non-governmental functionaries for advocacy and watchdog purposes. As climate change not only affects human society but also the entire ecosystem, it will be wise to adopt ecosystem-based adaptation measures wherever applicable. Action to build knowledge, awareness and common understanding is required first, followed by an investment in innovation for mitigation measures. Compared to adaptation measures, mitigation technology also opens doors for financial income. 

Nepal can benefit from global investments in climate issues. However, our lack of competence and commitment has prevented us from deriving such benefits. In many  cases, Nepal still depends on the offers made by development partners or donors. There are only a few cases put forth from a demand-driven perspective. Nepal’s incompetence stems from a paucity of knowledge. The gap in planning and policy also shows the lack of commitment. 

Policies should aim to improve livelihoods by mitigating and adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change, adopting a low-carbon emission socio-economic development path and supporting our country’s commitment to national and international agreements on climate change. When a particular policy has been put in place in a society, a proper planning system should also be developed so that goals can be achieved within a set time frame—in this case, the SDGs by 2030. 

It has been over two decades since Nepal has been participating in the Conferences of the Parties (COP) on climate change, but what organisational structure have we created in our country? For instance, how many of our academic courses address climate change issues? Have we established permanent plots for time-series evidence yet? Even establishing a climate change centre has been a distant dream. Opportunities are open for all, but they do not come straight to your door. 

Bhuju is an academician at the NAST and an independent researcher, trainer and campaigner on reducing climate change impacts; this article is part of the weekly series on SDGs

Published: 25-07-2017 09:00

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