Print Edition - 2017-09-10  |  Free the Words

Taking responsibility

  • Curbing GHG emissions should be a moral obligation for countries the world over
- Khagendra N Sharma

Sep 10, 2017-

Impacts of global warming on a poor country like Nepal are manifold. The obvious impact of global warming is the diminution of snow fall in the Himalayas. Our snow clad Himalayan mountains are no longer white. The Himalayas present to Nepal a three-fold bounty: first, they have made ours the most beautiful country in the world; second, mountain climbing is the most prominent attraction for tourism; and third, the snow is a perennial source of water. But a sharp reduction in snow fall has resulted in a steady disappearance of this bounty. Naturally, this has had a negative impact on our economy. 

A simple question in the minds of those who are concerned with this kind of negative development is: How is Nepal responsible for global warming? To a generalist like me, global warming is caused by the excess greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by large factories and refineries and limitless vehicles and other agencies. This GHG compromises the strength of the ozone layer and creates a direct route for the sun’s rays to hit the earth’s atmosphere. The world’s temperature is gradually rising. That might have caused several other less discernible impacts on the ecology of Nepal, but the darkening of the Himalayas is the most damaging effect as of now. The direct question is: What percentage of such GHGs may have been emitted by Nepal? Nepal’s emission is near zero. So on what account do we have to bear such a great environmental loss? 

Let me draw another parallel. Australia has the largest coastal population all around the large island country because the hinterland is less suitable for human habitation. But there is a prediction that in less than half a century most coastal cities will be inundated by the growing level of water in the surrounding oceans. This is because the snow deposits in and outside the earth’s poles are melting,  causing a rise in the level of ocean water. The population along the coastal cities will have to be evacuated. Australia is a developed country and contributes a significant share of excess GHGs, but Australia also has to suffer a proportionately larger share of the negative impact. 

Who is to blame

Who is responsible for the increase in global warming? Obviously, developed countries that are heavily industrialised contribute a level of GHGs that is proportional to their level of industries and other emitting agents. The United States is a major contributor, along with other industrially developed countries in Europe and 

elsewhere. In Asia, Japan has had the longest race in development, but other powers are fast emerging. China has been the greatest contributor to GHG emission, with India following closely behind. Other smaller countries have also jumped into the race recently. 

There is a growing awareness about GHG emission around the world and the developed countries have taken steps to curb or control it from time to time, the latest being what is known as the Paris Accord. Preventive or corrective measures were being taken by each country. Although there was no visible reduction in global warming, a process of correction was in place. But the sudden and unilateral decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Accord has not only degraded the already weak process, it has further weakened 

the process of intervention through international conventions. This raises a question of legitimacy as to whether such international conventions are valid if they can be discretionally disregarded. Can heads of state decline to fulfil the obligations of such conventions? Or is there a way for international forums to make the members accountable? Is anybody liable to face the international court of justice for failure to fulfil a given obligation?  

Need for restraint

The United Nations is the highest international forum to deliberate transnational issues. But it is also constrained by the concept of the national sovereignty of individual member states. That means that there are no legal sanctions against member states. Other subject-focused international forums are even less equipped with sanctions of any kind and function solely on the basis of the individual commitments of member states. So the world essentially has very little power to restrain member states if the need arises. For example, there is no constraint against the arbitrary eccentricity of Donald Trump in the name of making America great again. But, as the most developed nation in the world, doesn’t America have an obligation towards the rest of the world? 

America has made significant gains due to a live world economy, and so it has obligations that it should fulfil. America has caused the greatest damage to the world’s environment and has contributed greatly to the depletion of the ozone layer because its industries, vehicles and other accessories that use gas emit larger amounts of  GHG than other countries in the world. In that respect, its responsibility for the restoration of the environmental condition is at least proportionately larger than other countries. That is why its contribution to the world forums including the UN has remained larger than other member states. Trump’s predecessors have followed that sense of justice in almost all transnational dealings. 

In terms of Nepal’s role, our emission of GHGs may be the lowest because we are at the initial stage of industrialisation. The garbage that accumulates in the streets of Kathmandu and other towns does not emit GHGs that are capable of reaching the ozone. Our vehicles and brick factories emit GHGs to a relatively minor degree in comparison to other industrial countries. However, our richest resource, the Himalayas, has been most negatively impacted by environmental warming caused by the excessive emission from industrialised countries. That gives us the moral right to demand that the contributors to global warming must compensate us by helping us deal with the damage already done, and by preventing further damage in the future. We want our Himalayas restored and our water power rejuvenated. That is our greatest resource for survival. 

- Sharma is a political analyst

Published: 10-09-2017 08:23

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