Nepal needs to tell the world effectively that it has been severely affected by the changing climate.
--BY RAJENDRA PRASAD ADHIKARI
With the increasing incidents of loss of human lives and property by natural disasters, Nepal ranks fourth in the Global Climate Risk Index which analyses the extent to which countries have been affected by extreme weather events. Infrastructure meant to harness growth and productivity have been seriously affected owing to the country’s vulnerability posed by the fragile soil composition in hills, mountain valleys and flat plains. The instability of landscapes across the country has been attributed primarily to two factors - massive land surface erosion due to unprecedented rainfall caused by the changing monsoon climate and movement of the ground underneath triggered by regular seismic wave shocks. Every monsoon season leaves us with shattered road alignments and urban infrastructures, inundated crop fields and damaged riverside powerhouses, forcing people to flee from their settlements as displaced migrants and the government to allocate a sizable budget for restoration. The loss of fertile agricultural land to the flood and landslides has forced youth from the country to overseas job destinations. Data published by the government shows the monsoon season inflicts a gross domestic product (GDP) loss of 2%, while it can go as high as 5% in case of extreme rainfall.
The damage sustained by the Melamchi Drinking Water project - one of the costliest drinking water projects in Nepal which took three decades to complete – on August 1, 2021 caused by rainfall lasting a few days is an example of risks that our infrastructure are exposed to. With all these references of infrastructure damaged by landslides and monsoon rains, climate scientists are of the opinion that the changing climate due to global average temperature rise in land and sea has seriously altered the monsoon rainfall pattern in Nepal. Apart from the erratic monsoon, depletion of snow from the high mountain peaks, melting of glaciers which have put glacial lakes on the verge of collapse, and increasing numbers of forest fires owing to the prolonged drought are some of the catastrophic natural events due to which the country is losing its natural resources.
Whenever we talk about global warming by carbon deposition in the atmosphere, the share of rich, big and industrious countries is more as they consume excessive coal, petrol and diesel to meet their colossal energy demand. Since Nepal’s contribution of carbon to the atmosphere is a meagre 0.056 % of the total emission, industrious countries should bear the major responsibility for producing greenhouse gases which is solely responsible for the climate crisis throughout the world. With the added burden of carbon emission from rich countries, Nepal is suffering adversely from the effects of the climate crisis on top of its fragile landscape.
The global record on carbon emission based on Global Carbon Project indicates the USA, European Union, China and India have emitted 25%, 22%, 12.7% and 6.4%, respectively, of the total atmospheric carbon deposition. Nepal, on the other hand, with its forest coverage of over 45% has been helping to reduce atmospheric carbon deposit to drive the world to be carbon neutral.
A report published by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) indicates that nearly one-third of the age-old snow packed on Himalayas are in the process of melting, turning once shiny snow peaks into lacklustre rocky cliffs. A report published recently by the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has made the prognosis that on continuation of global average temperature rise at the present pace, more than half of the earth’s snow deposit would melt, submerging a considerable part of island countries in the world.
While the climate crisis has adversely impacted its natural resources and landscape, Nepal has not been able to raise its voice in the UN IPCC platforms to make the international committee realise Nepal has been harshly affected by the changing climate. At the present juncture when our country has been reeling under the vicious climate crisis circle, it is worthwhile to recall the highly diplomatic and relevant statement given by our late Prime Minister BP Koirala in United Nation General assembly in 1961 that even a small nation can play a big role. Nepali leaders need to set up a panel of all the vulnerable countries hard hit by the climate crisis, including small island countries which are at the risk of disappearing due to rising water level in surrounding seas.
Despite our geopolitically sensitive location between the two big and populated countries emitting a larger share of carbon in the sky, our politicians participating in the international forums or climate conference should have clear views and opinions regarding the country's right to social and environmental justice. At a time when the country is facing environmental, social as well as economic crisis resulting from environmental-unfriendly development being carried out by a few rich countries, Nepal needs a vibrant leadership having a clear vision on the environmental issue. The stance of any country on global issues such as the climate crisis is formed on the basis of three distinct components - country’s supreme leadership position, national consensus, political system and organisation, and geopolitical situation. It is a matter of honour that a small country like Nepal is pursuing a policy of non-alignment in the international arena. But the alignment or non-alignment depend upon the relevancy of an international issue, and the explanation of likely impact thereof to it.
Whenever a country faces a serious threat of climate crisis to its natural resources and people’s livelihood, Nepal as a country has to raise its voice against environmental and social injustice. The big and powerful nations will be compelled to be responsible when a group of small nations with a common problem gather in one place and persistently press them. The vested interests of rich and powerful countries cannot be superior in the context of climate change to the time and historical step taken up by small and least developed countries for protecting the environment of the earth in general and their own in particular.
(Adhikari is an engineer and served Nepal government in various high level capacities.)