Dedicated ministry needed to tackle climate change: Experts

Published On: November 27, 2023 03:30 PM NPT By: SHREE RAM SUBEDI

KATHMANDU, Nov 27: Our shared home, Earth, is in crisis due to climate change. The rising temperatures are disrupting the natural systems of our planet. This crisis extends beyond the challenges faced by human existence, affecting animals that depend on Earth as well.

Nepal stands at the forefront of the global climate crisis in terms of severity and risk. The Himalayas, integral to our nation, are losing their snow cover, leading to an increase in avalanches. Glaciers are teetering on the edge of exploding, highlighting the urgent need for action to address and mitigate these environmental challenges.

In this context, Nepal Republic Media organized ‘Nagarik Sambad’ (citizen dialogue) with Development Management Expert on environment and climate change to PM of Nepal Dr Popular Gentle, Climate Expert Raju Pandit Chhetri and Climate Justice Activist Shreya KC, regarding the upcoming United Nations Climate Conference and the challenges and future of climate change in Nepal. Here is an edited version of what they said:  

Raju Pandit Chhetri-Climate Expert

Several studies have shown that Nepal is extremely vulnerable to climate change. This vulnerability becomes evident when we examine the challenges the country is currently facing. There is no doubt that climate-related disasters are on the rise in Nepal. Geographically, the country is divided into three regions: mountains, hills, and plains, which further amplifies the risks.

Issues stemming from the melting of snow in the mountains, glacier explosions, and resulting floods, landslides, and wildfires are prevalent. Nepal must now focus on climate adaptation to minimize these effects. Simultaneously, efforts should be made to minimize carbon emissions, though Nepal emits very low amounts of carbon.

Nepal allocates substantial funds to import petroleum products, spending over Rs 200 billion annually for this purpose alone. From the perspective of sustainable development, while this expenditure depletes resources, curbing it could contribute significantly to sustainability for the long run.

Despite efforts in both mitigation and adaptation, climate change has done both economic and non-economic loss and damage to the communities. This has led to the displacement of many people, loss of property, forced evacuations, and the destruction of cultural heritage—issues that demand urgent attention.

Overall, Nepal's vulnerability is compounded by factors such as poverty, geography, and social structure. Climate change exacerbates these risks. While the country has formulated a climate policy, submitted a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the United Nations, and developed a National Adaptation Plan, the weak link lies in implementation. Formulating policies alone does not ensure effective implementation. Attention must be directed towards acquiring resources, establishing institutional structures, and securing human resources for these plans.

Considering Nepal's role in climate diplomacy, it is not confined to national, geographic, or political boundaries. Its roots extend back to before the Industrial Revolution.

The global approach to addressing climate change is more crucial than singling out high carbon emitters like China and India. In discussions about justice, an examination of the primary contributors to the problem, their role in its resolution, and the responsibilities they have assumed is imperative. Similarly, equally important is understanding the support extended by other countries once responsibility is acknowledged.

For instance, China ranks as the top carbon emitter, India as the third, and the US as the second. With this in mind, if the US does not assume its responsibility, it is challenging to argue that others should bear such responsibilities, especially in terms of justice. The challenge of climate change transcends geographical boundaries, requiring a collective effort to find solutions. Nepal has committed to achieving zero carbon emissions by 2045. In the same proactive spirit demonstrated by Nepal, global powers such as India and China should step forward and shoulder responsibilities according to their respective capacities. Everyone's cooperation is essential to safeguard the mountains and prevent climate-related disasters.

The establishment of a separate entity to oversee climate change issues has become imperative. While our policies show progress in addressing climate change, relying solely on the Ministry of Forests and Environment to implement policies and programs with defined objectives is insufficient. This issue is interconnected with other ministries and structures.

Nepal operates on three levels of government: federal, provincial, and local. The existing policies should be integrated into all cross-cutting issues at these three levels. Given the complexity of this matter, it appears inevitable to address it through a different structure.

Historically, when there was a dedicated Ministry of Forest and Environment, there were many debates, and programs moved forward. However, in recent times, the Ministry of Forest and Environment emphasizes that this matter is not theirs alone; they coordinate, and the implementation of these programs should involve all. Therefore, we must approach this matter seriously, considering the gravity of the problem and the arrangements made by neighboring countries.

Countries like Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh have established separate ministries to address climate change. They have progressed by creating a ministry dedicated to dealing with the problem, and we should follow suit.

While concerns exist about whether COP 28 will be merely a symbolic event or have meaningful outcomes, global participation in this annual conference continues to increase each year. This year is expected to see further growth, with expanded fields and diverse participants from the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and universities.

As the Dubai meeting is a conference of parties, it is crucial to assess our progress in implementing the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement and chart the way forward. It serves as a significant forum for multilateralism. The 'Global Stocktake' this time should not only highlight the problem but also emphasize the future path. While efforts may be insufficient, there is no alternative but to move in the right direction.

As climate change has evolved into a political issue, finding a solution has become a complex challenge. Addressing this shared problem requires countries to take action commensurate with their capabilities. Failure to do so will disproportionately impact countries like ours, resulting in greater suffering.

Shreya KC-Climate Justice Activist

While discussing climate change, three dimensions of justice come to mind. Firstly, there's social justice, where countries emitting less carbon are often the most vulnerable. Nepal, in particular, has witnessed this vulnerability, with the backward and economically disadvantaged populations being disproportionately affected. The second dimension is environmental impact, and the third is generational justice, where the youth, despite being blameless for climate change, bear its consequences.

There's a saying, "The youth walk faster, but the elderly know the road." While many expect the younger generation to bring solutions to climate change, achieving this requires resources, means, and support. Hence, collaboration between both generations is crucial, especially in the context of Nepal.

Nepal's youth have actively advocated policy changes, participating even in protests such as those against the World Bank's climate loan. The Prime Minister has rightly emphasized that climate finance is a matter of rights and climate justice.

Understanding the political dynamics at play is crucial in this advocacy. Although it is a challenging process, awareness aids in effective climate justice advocacy, which is occurring not only in Nepal but also in South Asia as a whole and globally.

In Nepal's context, the national climate policy stipulates that 80 percent of the budget should go to the local level, but we clearly see that the guideline is not followed. Advocacy is necessary to rectify this and ensure the voices of women and disadvantaged communities, who are most affected by the climate crisis. Decisions and policies should be made on this basis.

Only a few days ago, at the National Climate Conference attended by the Prime Minister, all speakers were men. This highlights the need for diverse representation. We must not forget that climate change affects women, youth, and children the most.

I am from Solukhumbu. When glaciers melt, it results in challenges like flooding in low-lying areas. When it rains in Kathmandu, I think, 'Oh, what happened there!' Therefore, climate change is not isolated, it is interconnected.

Another issue is, if we talk about the youth, they have climate anxiety. I am worried about what the future will be like. Earlier, there used to be traditional goals to earn money, build a house, and start a family, but in our era, rather than earning money and building a house, there is concern about where to erect the structure when the earth itself is not safe.

It is asserted that the climate has undergone a change, a crisis has emerged, and Earth is not merely warming but the ‘era of global boiling’ has arrived. Despite this critical situation, global leaders have not adequately addressed it; their responses appear to be mere lip service. Rather than fostering genuine engagement, the youth seem to be merely grouped together without meaningful participation. In this regard, our intention is not solely to assign blame but to actively collaborate, working towards progress from Nepal to the international stage.

Impact of climate change is increasing

Given the challenges we face, we have the opportunity to take a leadership role globally. Despite being behind in crucial aspects of physical infrastructure such as basic education, health, and electricity, climate change has jeopardized our fragile infrastructure. We need to share our communities' best practices in addressing these issues with the world.

Raising issues should not be reserved for international forums; we need to assert our concerns in various meetings throughout the year, not just during COP sessions.

The effectiveness of the mountain issue, similar to the Arctic region's case, should be highlighted, and inclusiveness in COP processes, especially youth participation must be increased.

COP's process is slow. After three decades of fighting, the Loss and Damage Fund has been established. Civil society and youth society have also been making a strong presence and voice in this process. Cope should be made more inclusive.

While the COP process has been slow, recent achievements like the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund after three decades of struggle show progress. Civil society and youth are making impactful contributions, emphasizing the need for a more inclusive COP.

Though the COP process has been slow, recent accomplishments, such as the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund after three decades of advocacy, demonstrate notable progress. Civil society and the youth are actively contributing in the process. COP needs to be made more inclusive.

Dr Popular Gentle-Development Management Expert on environment and climate change to PM of Nepal

First, we need to understand why we are among the most climate-vulnerable nations in the world. We are geographically vulnerable. Research has shown that as altitude increases, so does temperature. The Paris Agreement calls for limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by the end of this century.

Research has shown that the temperature in Nepal's mountains will increase by 1.8 degrees Celsius by the year 2050. Another thing is that our social and economic conditions and adaptive capacity are weak; we do not have the ability to withstand climate impacts in time.

Nepal has made adequate policy arrangements in the field of climate change. We have a climate policy and a blueprint for the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the National Adaptation Plan (NAP). We have a commitment to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2045.

Similarly, we have expressed our commitment that we will go for clean energy. In a country like Nepal, we have said that 45 to 46 percent forest area will be maintained.

Climate risk affects not only Nepal, but worldwide. The world's largest source of clean water is being lost when the crisis hits the Himalayan region. Biodiversity is being destroyed. Important cultural heritage is being destroyed. The world's important heritage is being destroyed. We provide global ecosystem services. That’s why the world should pay attention to this matter.

In order to make climate diplomacy effective, we must raise a united voice with other mountainous nations with similar problems and with economically weaker nations and other countries with similar problems. Similarly, we have to raise this issue from the group of least developed countries. Until recently, the group was led by Nepal.

Therefore, how to present our evidence, and how to demonstrate our ability to gather evidence is important. We have to improve on this.

The issue of the climate crisis is linked to climate justice, but how to implement it in practice is complex. So far, climate finance commitments have not been fulfilled, nor have sufficient investments been made in capacity development, nor have climate finance processes been simplified. We have to look at these aspects in a balanced way. A solution should be found together.

It is necessary to review the demand to create a separate ministry or agency to deal with climate change in Nepal. When this issue is raised, it is said that a new structure is needed to attract climate finance or increase access, but the effective implementation of climate finance is equally important.

Nepal needs Rs 3.6 trillion by 2030 to meet the needs of local level and implement the NDC to fulfill adaptation commitments. Similarly, Rs 4.7 trillion is needed to implement the NAP by 2050.

It is important to consider what is our strategy to meet this financial need, what is the ability to spend and use it. In this context, the second meeting of the Environment and Climate Council chaired by the Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has decided to form a task force to review all these issues and make suggestions. The task force has already started its work. After discussing with everyone, this task force will suggest what kind of structure and policy is appropriate to deal with climate finance.

PM Dahal is stating that climate justice should not be demanded, but should be made a matter of rights. This justice is long overdue. We have covered this issue in Nepal's position paper. These topics will be raised in our discussions and debates. Nepal will raise its voice based on evidence and facts. PM Dahal will also address this issue at the conference.

Not only is the annual conference of the COP, but also its proceedings and preparations take place throughout the year. We should put our concerns and demands strongly at events such as high-level political leaders' meetings, round-table meetings, climate talks and other side events during the conference.

The topic of climate damage is important this time. The process of measuring economic and non-economic losses and how much the process of getting compensation can be simplified is equally important. We should have a strong say on it. The global progress review of the Paris Agreement is also taking place, we will clearly state what our concept and concern is.

We should get climate finance as grants, not as loans. If we take debt, we may be more at risk. That is why climate justice should be strongly raised as a matter of our rights. Everyone should raise their voices collectively.

To make the COP 28 successful,  it is important to draw the attention of nations responsible for the problem of climate change in Nepal. It is our responsibility and matter of concern on how strongly we raise the voice in a global platform. After the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres visited Nepal; global public opinion has come in favor of Nepal due to the climate crisis. Against this background, how we present ourselves at this conference and how our efforts will proceed after the conference is equally important.


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