It was an April day when I was waiting for my mom at the airport who was returning to Nepal from abroad. The day was hazy and smoky out of air pollution unlike any bright and sunny day of April. Nevertheless, not taken seriously, my attention was on landing the plane. Despite the scheduled arrival at 3.30 pm, the flight got delayed for hours for obvious reasons — hazy, cloudy and smoky sky in Kathmandu affecting the visibility. Perhaps the plane revolved around the same area in the sky approximately over fifty times. Sudden downpour that temporarily made the day-time look like dark night, ultimately helped the sky to open up at around 7 and the plane landed the same day. My lost hope of seeing my mom that day materialized finally. This incident made me ponder how global warming, the adverse impact of climate change causing sudden change in weather and untimely precipitation, has already peeped into our life unintentionally while the world continues to engage in the discourse if climate change is reality or mere perception.
Definition of Climate Change
Climate change is a global menace posing serious existential threats to both humankind and nature due to anthropogenic emissions (greenhouse gases). UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere.” Our planet has been facing the catastrophic impacts of climate change in the forms of global warming, extreme erratic weather patterns, unpredictable rainfall patterns, glacier melting, rise of avalanche, outburst of glacial lakes flood, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, ocean-salinations, deoxygenation, inundation, among others.
All nations, big or small, developed or developing, mountainous or small islands, are bound to face the adverse impacts of climate change alike which in the due course risks the lives of ours and our future generation. Both natural and human systems are bound to be affected by the adversities including recurrent floods, droughts, depleted agricultural produce and productivity of land, land degradation and land desertification, all gravely troubling the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, both upstream and downstream.
Climate change is a threat to the planet and people since it negatively affects socio-economic and environmental pillars of sustainable goals and disproportionately adds burden on the poorest and most vulnerable countries like Nepal that have limited resources, capacity and technological strength to confront it effectively. Nepal that negligibly contributes to GHG emissions is bound to endure the penalty for the wrongs that have not been committed.
Climate change impacts in Nepal
Nepal, as a mountainous least developed, landlocked country located in the Hindukush Himalayan region, is a highly vulnerable country due to its fragile topography, climate-sensitive livelihood and its limited adaptive capacity. Although 13% of Himalayas and 45% forest coverage in Nepal contributes in maintaining temperature, Nepal not only endures high cost economy but also is the 4th most vulnerable country in terms of climate change and 13th most vulnerable country in disaster risks, 20th in terms of multiple disaster risks and 30th in terms of water induced disaster risks. Nepal continues to suffer from climate extremes and volatility including recurring and rising droughts, untimely and uneven rain patterns, early or delayed monsoon and other unusual weather patterns, flash floods, landslides, and desertification, loss of agricultural land, and food insecurity. Women and the downtrodden communities bear the major brunt of such calamities.
Realizing the urgent need of climate action and climate justice for our own and future generation, the world leaders signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 under the framework of UNFCCC as a collective expression of strong collective political will to overcome challenges posed by climate change. Commitments were made to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. State Parties presented Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) to implement the Paris agreement on time. Climate Ambition Summit was held at the UN Headquarter in New York in December 2020 to stimulate climate action through acclamation of NDCs related to net zero carbon economy. The world is optimistic towards future deliberations including COP 26 (November 2021) as stepping stones to buildback better for green recovery and green growth.
Efforts in Nepal
As a State Party, Nepal is committed to the implementation of the Paris Agreement and is always proactive with its best efforts in minimizing the threat of Climate change through activities including National and Local Adaptation Plan of Action, among others. Presently, Nepal has been implementing National Climate Change Policy (2019) with an integrated approach for adaptation covering climate-sensitive sectors. As per Nepal’s second NDCs, that takes into account the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), the nation aims for net zero carbon economy by 2050 while formulating a long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy by 2021. To promote green recovery, clean energy generation will be expanded by 2030 using mini and micro-hydro power, solar, wind and bio-energy while extending protected area up to 30% by 2030; and introducing climate adaptation resilient plans in all 753 local levels by 2030. Nepal has also initiated a global forum for international dialogue namely “Sagarmatha Sambaad,” and the theme of its first episode is “Mountains and climate change: The Future of Humanity,” but due to the outbreak of unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic emergency in 2019, the Sambaad has been postponed.
However, climate emergency requires a global solution, adopting “multi-stakeholder partnership” along with “whole-of-society approach” to limit global warming and mainstream climate actions by building climate-friendly, green and resilient economies when the entire world is combating the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. The global pandemic has not only caused enormous human casualties, but also adversely affected the global economic, social and health systems.
In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “we are facing a devastating pandemic, new heights of global heating, new lows of ecological degradation and new setbacks in our work towards global goals for more equitable, inclusive and sustainable development.” Although the pollution and emission have been deceptively reduced due to COVID-19 lockdowns, it will not last longer. No sooner the vaccines become easily accessible and the global health crisis gets resolved, humanity will simultaneously need to work to build back better for a sustainable, inclusive and resilient green economy. The world needs to concentrate on both mitigating COVID-19 and climate change together through future deliberations including COP26 occurring in November this year.
Since humanity is waging war on nature, making peace with nature should be a priority. Specifically, the developed countries need to focus on climate justice and climate finance, ensuring financial and technical support for adaptation and mitigation measures with emphasis on the principle of equity and CBDR. Polluters’ pay principle should be at the core for the inevitable damage and loss caused in LDCs that are least responsible and hardest hit. Concerted efforts should be redoubled for clean and renewable energy, exploring nature-based solutions, placing women and vulnerable people at centre. Sufficient funds should be available to combat twin global crises engendered by COVID-19 and climate change since our present determines the future of our offspring. Efforts of recovery from COVID-19 should incorporate green recovery as an urgency.
(Nakarmi is a section officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nepal)