Nepal: Strategic Perspective on Climate Change

Professor Upendra Gautam, PhD

Consolidated Management Services (CMS) Nepal

Though Climate Change (CC) has moved to the centre stage of public affairs, there is no effective policy of CC. Publications like "The Climate Change Risk Atlas" 2010[i] ranked Nepal as the fourth most vulnerable country in the world after Somalia, Haiti and Afghanistan. Why is this country so vulnerable to CC for which it is not accountable at all?

Key Factors in CC Vulnerability

Factors really affecting contemporary Nepal's CC vulnerability are hunger, poverty and unemployment because a large number of people are deprived of development and equity-a fair access to both natural and financial resources.

The contemporary Nepali state has never been adequately strategic in its domestic and foreign policies, programs and behaviors. Lack of strategicity has made the country's leadership an appendage to others-leaving the people at the mercy of natural risk and political uncertainties.      

As such, the fundamental issue for Nepal is not the CC and any impact made by it per se.  The issue is: development of national capability according to its own national specificities and needs.[ii] For example-for the Nepali people the Himalaya, Devapattan or Lumbini are not something only environmental but also highly spiritual.[iii] But in the contemporary Nepal, the leadership has never been honest enough to help develop our national capability based on our specificity. If developed, this national capability would have been an unassailable knowledge base on the Himalayan ecology, Buddhist-Hindu mix civilization and associated technology. 

Instead, leadership took the easy way out (though it used to keep talking nationalism)-aliens would come to feed us, employ us and take care of our poverty. Even in the last 50 years of so-called planned development, it were the aliens who asked us to go for community development, rural development, agricultural development, women-in-development, liberalization, privatization and so on. Now, we are asked to take care of CC and its impact by adopting CC impact mitigation, adaptation processes and climate resilient practices.    

Nepal is in no way able to address CC impact mitigation and adaptation from a position of national incapability. And, it will never be on the way of achieving national capability unless the aliens' generated global CC impact issue is addressed by integrating oriental wisdom and local capability. Pre-requisite to this is indeed our ability to think and act strategically[iv]-meaning we take our national interest as the one which is most sacred and, are always on the look out as to how it can be best served by developing our national capability. Identification of the following issues may help explain what do I mean by strategic thinking and action vis-à-vis CC impact mitigation and adaptation? The identified issues may in a small way help the deliberations of this august gathering as well.

Issues of CC Impact Mitigation and Adaptation

Agriculture: Sustainable and long term viability of Nepal's agriculture depends on the environmental suitability of its soil and seeds. In the name of climate change and food security requirements, a section of global players are promoting their commercial vested interests. Efforts are being made under a USA's bilateral project to kill sustainability and long term local viability of Nepalese agriculture by introducing hybrid and genetically modified seeds.[v]

We may, on the other hand, learn from a Chinese experience. What was done there sounds simple: Seeds from the historically warm ecological region were used in cultivation in region with increasing temperature- the local government and farmers' water users association provided a cooperative mechanism in this seed technology transfer and adaptation process. This experience showed that even in the context of climate change, strong local institutions become the effective institutional vehicle for inter-regional transfer and use of seed - the most important component for improved agricultural productivity. This solution does not entail much time and cost that breeding of new seed variety might have taken.

Distributive Justice: Studies have examined the impact of climate change on rich and poor countries across the world. They revealed that climate change would have serious distributional impact across countries, grouped by income per capita. It was predicted that poor countries would suffer the most from climate change. Although adaptation, wealth, and technology might influence distributional consequences across countries, it was argued that the primary reason that poor countries were so vulnerable was their location.[vi] ICIMOD studies show a co-relationship between the altitude and temperature rise: the higher the altitude the higher the rise in temperature.[vii] 

Countries like Nepal need to struggle and negotiate hard with the richer countries-which are accountable for climate change consequences-for adequate financial compensation. Investment in sizable clean energy and environment-friendly infrastructure will bolster livelihood and socio-economic opportunities for the large number of poor and unemployed people which in turn increases the national and local capability to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

However, the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR), a part of the World Bank-administered Climate Investment Funds (CIFs), in the name of helping integration of climate resilience in national development planning of climate vulnerable countries, offers recipient countries a mix of grants and loans for climate adaptation projects. The World Bank plans to provide Nepal US $ 60 million in loan and another US $ 50 million as grant.

The Ministry of Environment wishes to spend the loan money through the relevant line ministries for the development of infrastructure such as hydropower, bridges, roads and other infrastructure. But the assistance process is fundamentally flawed on the ground that it is donor-driven, it is meager in terms of the challenge, ignores the indigenous process of social change, and disregards local development dynamics. This World Bank CC assistance seems to define globalization as only the flow of goods, people and ideas according to a predetermined western way in which institutional structures in developing countries have to be shaped. [viii] Why should Nepal take any loan to mitigate and adapt to the impact of CC for which it can not be held accountable on any ground?  Moreover, Nepal has been advocating for climate justice. The government of Nepal has envisioned climate justice in its Climate Change Policy 2011.

Nepal has also submitted its National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) on climate change to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The framework of NAPA implementation requires 80 per cent of the funds of any adaptation program to flow directly to the community.

But the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR) does not support NAPA priorities and its implementation framework. It disregards the principle of country and community ownership.[ix] The World Bank climate change assistance seems more to be a debt trap than a complementary support to harness, use and institutionalize local climate change capability. It shall be a better way to internally raise a substantial amount of money through pollution and green taxes on fossil fuel. Financial resource from these taxes can be appropriately used in dispensing climate justice by establishing mechanism at the local environment and energy units.[x]    

Geo-politics: Science and technology do improve the geo-political constraints in terms of transport, communication, trade and tourism. But geo-political significance as expressed by the location of a country would have critical impact on climate change consequences. The Himalayas and the rivers originating from them are the life-line of Nepal. For this basic reason, cooperating with China and the Republic of India for ecological conservation and environmental-friendly utilization of the Himalayan resources is a must. In this sense, the last November Climate Summit held in Bhutan does not augur well to Nepal's interest.[xi] As China was not in the summit, the summit cared more for partisan regional climate politics than integrating climate politics with geography. For Nepal, therefore, institutional framework of cooperation patterned after International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is perhaps more rationale, realistic and relevant than the one seen under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Bottom Line:

The bottom line of this short discourse is: for Nepal, Climate Change though a global phenomenon could be successfully addressed if Nepal adopts a strategic perspective on it. For this purpose, Nepal needs to develop its national capability according to its own national specificities. 

References



[i] http://www.prevention web.net/English/professional/news/v.php?id=15379, "Maplecroft's 'Climate change Rist Atlas 2010' highlights vulnerable nations and safe havens", 17 November 2011. Also Gayatri Parameswarsn, "Nepal's growing climate change woes," http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/nepal%E2%80%99s-growing-climate-change-woes, 16 November 2011.

ii The concept of "national specificities" is also used by Anthony Giddens, The politics of climate change, September 2008, www.policy-network.net, 17 November 2011. 

 

[iii] Athrabaveda, Chapter 12, Section 1, Stanza 11 states, "O Earth! Pleasant be thy hills, snow-clad mountains and forests; O numerous colored, firm and protected Earth! On this earth I stand, undefeated, unslain, unhurt, www.akhandjyoti.org, Akhanda Jyoti Magazine of All World Gayatri Pariwar. 

[iv] Upendra Gautam, "Nepal: Food Security, an Institutional Irrigation Perspective", a talk delivered at the  National Conference on Water, Food Security and Climate Change (CC) in Nepal organized by International Water Management  Institute, 23-24 November, Kathmandu, Nepal

[v] Anil Bhattarai, "Better Ways than Monsanto," The Kathmandu Post, 1 November, 2011.

 

[vi]  Robert Mendelsohn, Ariel Dinar and Larry Williams, "The distributional impact of climate change on rich and poor countries," Environment and Development Economics 11: 159–178 C _ 2006 Cambridge University Press, doi:10.1017/S1355770X05002755, UK

[vii]  Arun Bhakata Shrestha, Climate Change Impact and Glacier Melt, An ICIMOD  (International Center for Integrated Mountain Development) Paper presented at the Global water Partnership South Asia 17th Regional Council Meeting , 5th General Assembly of GWP-SAS and Roundtable Dialogue on Benefit Sharing in Hydropower Development  organized by GWP Nepal/JVS, 29-30 November 2011, Kathmandu. 

[viii]  The Himalayan Times, "The Climate Change Politics," 15 February 2011. 

[ix] Keshab Thapa, "Nepal climate loans: an injustice," http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/art-569237, 18 November 2011.

[x] Lack of mechanism has made the Ministry of Environment unable to use financial resources collected from the Pollution Tax, Pragati Shahi, "Pollution tax not utilized as planned", The Kathmandu Post, 10 December 2011.

 

[xi] AFP, "Nepal defends China snub for climate summit," 10 November 2011.

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