Opinion: Double trouble for Nepal

By Navin Singh Khadka, for the Kathmandu post

Two significant scientific reports were released in January that should worry Nepal, even if it is already besieged by the fuel and political crises.  The first was about the impact of humans on the earth that has entered the planet into a new epoch, the Anthropocene, because of human activities.  The second study was about how humankind has changed the natural cycle, saying that global warming has postponed the beginning of the ice age by at least 100,000 years.

The second study was more widely reported because it had the rare angle that the rise in global temperature actually had something positive to offer.  Scientists say the shape of the earth’s orbit around the sun puts it in just the right place for the next ice age.  The last one ended some 12,000 years ago.  But the massive amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by human activities since the industrial era began, has warmed the earth significantly, postponing the recurrence of the ice age.  This may come as a respite for the global population because invasion of cold is also a survival issue, especially the poor.

But there are some things to consider.

If global warming could upset the natural cycles of ice and warm ages, what it may have already done to climatic systems could be more scary than we can imagine.  This is where both these scientific studies become so important for poor and vulnerable societies.  They may not be able to engage so much with the academic aspects of those reports but they indeed need to deal with the practical implications of what the reports reveal as it is them who will bear the brunt of any form climate change.  So the question is around whether there is adequate planning and preparation for change.

The climate plan that member every country of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is required to prepare can be one key part of such planning and preparation.  The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) were submitted by most member countries before the Paris summit last December, with heavy focus on mitigation.  Nepal, however, was not one of those countries, and is only now preparing its submission.  Better late than never.  But the main objective of the INDC seems to be to ensure that countries commit to emissions cuts.  Nepal’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is less than 0,1 per cent.  According to Climate Action Tracker, an independent assessment that tracks nations’ emission commitments and actions, Nepal’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase by 62 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels.  Still, that would be a very negligible contribution to the global total figure.

This means that Nepal should be less concerned about reducing its contribution to climate change and more worried about how to deal with the impacts of climatic change.  This is the same story with many poor and vulnerable countries that have been required to submit mitigation INDCs, while what matters more to them is whether they have the right adaptation plans and the funds to implement those plans.

This has been a gigantic gap in the run up to the Paris summit and subsequently.  The whole focus, at least in theory, has been on emission cuts, while scientists have been warning that even if all emissions were to stop today, climatic changes to a certain extent are inevitable, given that so much carbon has already been dumped into the atmosphere and absorbed by the oceans.

But one can argue that there have been many adaptation plans: The National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs), Local Adaptation Programmes of Action, and now the National Adaptation Plans.  And one can also point at the provision of the Least Developed Countries Fund that poor countries were able to secure in the Paris Agreement.  And if all these are not enough, wait and watch how many schemes and projects will be rolled out under the freshly unveiled Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

But what are these projects’ track records?  An investigation for the BBC in 2014 showed that only around 50 of the over 500 projects under NAPAs for least developed countries, including Nepal, were genuinely implemented.  In the meantime, several other donor-funded climate projects were found to be duplicating themselves in Nepal.  What happened to them? Did they reach the grassroots communities they were supposedly targeting? Has there been any review of such projects? All these questions are crucial because donors such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and Global Environment Facility, among others, have announced new climate related programmes.  They are all welcome, but please first tell us what happened to the past projects.

If the donors fail to explain, Parliament needs to step in and start interrogating government officials, many of whom never tire of singing hosannahs for such projects and their donors.  Some quarters have tried to blur the lines, arguing that many of these projects were meant to be dovetailed with development projects, and that is what is happening.

“Climate proofing” development projects may be open for the components of these projects but nothing can be more important than the urgent needs of vulnerable communities. The two scientific reports we started this piece referring to are directly related to these populations. In addition, Nepal’s location between two top global emitters, China and India, means it needs to prepare for even higher environmental consequences.

For Nepal, it will be double trouble: global climatic changes and regional environmental challenges.

Article first published in Kathmandu Post