Mayors should engage the youth to come up with innovative ideas to fight air pollution and climate change
With the air pollution emergency still ranging over Delhi that unlikely will subsidize any time soon, the situation in Kathmandu is not much better either. Perhaps a good majority of citizens of the Valley got used to it but ask any foreign tourist spending some days around the town and you will soon hear complaints about how polluted Kathmandu has become.
A study recently published by The Lancet highlighted the problematic cause-effect relationship between climate change and public health with severe and dire consequences for the wellbeing of future generations.
The fight against pollution and climate change should be a political priority for Nepali politicians, especially those at local level.
It is a fight that, if properly tackled, will confer legitimacy and respect to locally elected leaders.
Obviously there are no easy answers on ways to solve such pollution problems and other challenges stemming from climate change, including recurrent flooding patterns.
Yet, certain initiatives can be taken to at least start doing something to offset the most negative consequences of unregulated economic development.
Local governments, no matter, how funding deprived and no matter the fact that Nepal is still building its own federal system from scratch, can play an important role.
To start with, even partial and limited solutions could be helpful to break the stalemate.
On the short term, for example elected leaders might come up with some short-term measures like imposing alternate plate numbers for cars and motorcycles.
All the major banks, insurances and other big companies might be encouraged to experiment with remote working at least one day in a week and see how it works out while at the same time they can give a try with designing carpooling mechanisms where colleagues share the lift to office.
While such measures would only partially mitigate the issues of air pollution in the Valley and elsewhere in the country, they could be a line of “first aid” emergency response that could pave the way for longer term measures.
Here we would like to make the political case for locally elected leaders to start tackling air pollution and climate change with utmost priority, with actions that could be seen as stepping stone for bolder and more structured interventions.
Certainly there are some encouraging signs that progressively could lead to more long-term solutions.
For example, despite some recent controversies surrounding the procurement process of 300 electric buses by Saja Yatayat, hopefully soon we will be able to have a gigantic fleet of eco-vehicles moving around thousands of people, offering a modern and comfortable alternative to the use of personal transportation or use of old and unsafe micro-buses.
At the same time other transportation cooperatives and companies have been adding more modern and fuel efficient buses on the streets even though I never see a comprehensive map of all the official bus lines available to the public, making it more difficult for the citizens to understand that alternatives are being rolled out.
The fact that Lalitpur Metropolitan Office has recently launched the construction of a pioneering bicycle line that will cross its major routes is really significant and it could be seen as a best practice to be replicated throughout the urban areas of the country.
The same Lalitpur Metropolitan Office recently hosted a major international conference, CityNet, bringing together mayors and administrators from all over Asia to discuss sustainable development of urban spaces.
Harnessing the power of localized decision making, more and more local administrations could come up with new ideas and solutions to make urban living more sustainable and healthier for the citizens.
Certainly only having local government bodies taking the lead will not be enough and the Federal Government should come up with a cooperative framework to support, with competitive grants, the best ideas and initiatives coming up from the local administrations.
While waiting for such sort of central level, mayors should think of climate change as the defining issue through which they can renew their partnerships with the citizenry, forging new alliances at grassroots level.
The electors could be the ones able to provide the best support possible to local mayors determined to tackle the emergencies of climate change and sustainable development.
Public hearings could be easily organized to ask for ideas and feedback from the public. Each ward office and its elected officials could initiate such democratic exercise that eventually could also work out to deal with any other issues of major public concern.
Youth should be enrolled and brought into discussions and assigned responsibilities to promote ideas, from the creation of new green spaces to the management of waste to the design of new forms of urban transportation.
For example Fridays for Future Nepal, a local youth movement inspired by Greta Thunberg, could represent a vanguard of youth leaders determined and committed not only to organize strikes but also to engage other stakeholders and come up with ideas and solutions.
They do not only have a voice to rage their protests but also ideas and solutions.
The positive energies of youth determined to change the status quo in matter of climate change must be recognized and new collaborations can be created among elected leaders, NGOs, private companies and students.
Only together can we come up with the best solutions to the biggest challenges.
With collective efforts, we can make living healthier and sustainable, increasing the level of social capital and our chances of surviving tomorrow.