Nepal: Climate change impacts reveal alarming trends

Udo Weber

Counsellor, German Embassy, Nepal

The big environmental issues cannot be solved on a national level. This is an experience we are making for centuries. The big river systems, be it in Europe, in the Middle East or in Asia have always been a connecting element between different people and countries  - but they also have often been a major bone of contention (German – French history is a vivid example for this). Regional co-operation is therefore the only reasonable way of addressing environmental cross-border issues.

South Asia has always been – to some extent - prone to disasters, especially to water related disasters. In recent years, the risks and also the worldwide perception of risks, have change dramatically due to climate change. I therefore wish to elaborate a few points on climate change from a German perspective. Climate change is the definitive challenge of the 21st century. Changes in the climate destroy the basis on which a human life subsists; drought, for instance, leads to shortages in food and water. Rising sea levels are already threatening the territories of small island states like the Maldives and vast stretches of coastland as we see in Bangladesh.

Climate change impacts in Nepal demonstrate alarmingly increasing trends. According to a recent OECD report, Nepal's average mean temperature is projected to increase by 1.2 to 3 degrees Celsius in the next 40 to 90 years.

Warming trends will have adverse impact on Nepal's glacial landscapes and also bring the threat of Glacial Lake Outburst Flooding (GLOF). Both cause potential danger in the livelihood and security of billions of people depending on the Himalayan headwaters in the South and East Asian Regions. 

Changes in snowfall patterns are already experienced which pose threats to Himalayan snow accumulation forcing glacial retreats. Dry season run-off of the rivers in Nepal emanating from the Himalayas is now partly reduced, meaning Nepal's largely agricultural economy, hydroelectricity potential and river-bank farming will be under substantial danger in coming years.

However, the international community has to admit that it has not, as things stand, stepped up to the challenge posed by climate change. Global CO2 emissions went up again in 2010, global temperatures are already 0.8°C higher than before industrialization, and sea levels rose twice as fast between 1993 and 2003 as they did in the preceding decade; icebergs and glaciers are melting at record speeds and the big re-insurance companies warn us about an ever increasing number of disaster events.

Germany is aware of how pressing this problem is. We are therefore doing what we can – within our sometimes limited scope – to mitigate it effectively. Thanks to our national reduction measures, we are within the targets which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends for industrialized countries: we intend to reduce our emissions by 40% by 2020 and by 80‑95% by 2050. We are also doing our bit to push for ambitious reduction targets within the EU.

At the highest level internationally, too, we want to create awareness that we have to act now to tackle climate change. It was under Germany’s presidency that the United Nations Security Council, on 20 July 2011, unanimously acknowledged for the first time ever that climate change poses a threat to international security.

The German Government has been assisting countries - in South Asia and worldwide - that are particularly affected by climate change for years. Our partners in developing coun­tries and emerging economies receive support for projects to mitigate and adapt to climate change through German development cooperation under the auspices of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development as well as through the International Climate Initiative being run by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. Between 2010 and 2012, our Government is providing these countries in all regions of the world with a total of 1.26 billion Euro in additional funds for mitigation and adaptation, within the scope of the industrialized countries’ fast start finance initiative agreed in Copenhagen in 2009. South Asia has benefited from this initiative with funds for a regional programme with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) to preserve the biodiversity in the Mount Kailash region. Further funding will be added to this programme in 2012. Other programmes help South Asian countries in the energy sector to build a green economy, reduce green house gas emissions, and improve energy efficiency or to preserve its biodiversity. 

Parallel to these specific measures, we also need to reach a comprehensive agreement in the international climate change negotiations which encompasses all the big emitters. Only when we finally stop pointing the finger, and create the legal certainty that no country will be at a disadvantage or be able to opt out, can we combat climate change effectively.

As part of the EU, and shoulder to shoulder with many developing countries, small island states and LDCs, Germany working for a robust, legally binding climate change agreement. That is the only way for us to achieve our common goal of capping global warming at 2ºC and so fulfil our obligation to future generations. I am con­vinced that we cannot afford, economically or otherwise, to hold off on combating climate change until its effects become even more drastic.

I am aware the focus of this meeting goes beyond the issue of climate change. I nevertheless hope, that the raising awareness of its international challenge will also contribute to a wider awareness on environmental issues and the need for regional co-operation in general. I therefore appreciate initiatives taken like this one by the Centre for South Asian Studies to bring together Government and Civil Society Representatives from the region for an intensive and open experience of joint learning and discussion.

Author’s speech at a CSAS Seminar on Regional Environmental Issues, Water and Disaster Management, February 11, 2012, Kathmandu. Thanks the author and the organiser. 

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