The adverse climatic conditions we have been experiencing for the past few years probably should make us wary of how big of a threat climate change is. The earth has undergone record temperatures, heatwaves, biggest of wildfires, more extreme storms, floods, droughts, and other weather extremes within just the last five years. As global warming intensifies each year, ice caps start melting, causing sea levels to rise that further absorb more heat. Warmer oceans and warmer atmospheres cause more water to evaporate into clouds, causing severe droughts and wildfires in some places while brewing stronger storms in other places. Evidently, this affects weather patterns, which then affects conditions for all life on earth. Even though the Paris Climate Agreement has set out to cut carbon emissions to limit global warming to 1.5° C this century, there seems to be huge gaps between the actions that need to be taken to achieve this goal and the reality of the actions being taken. A combined carbon emission of the top six carbon producing countries will have to be cut by 2030 if we want to stay below 1.5°C. As of May 2020, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere was the highest in human history, i.e. 416ppm. Global estimates from the period of 1850-2011 show that two-thirds of earth’s carbon emissions were contributed by the United States, the European Union, Japan, the Russian Federation and China together. Today, six of the top ten emitters are developing countries like China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Brazil and Mexico, where China alone contributed about 25% of the total emissions. Although developed and developing countries are mostly responsible for climate change, least developed countries like Nepal are at higher risk.
Cost of Climate change for Nepal
We need to be aware that the cost and impact of climate change for underdeveloped countries, where the livelihoods of people and the economy depends on agriculture and natural resources is significantly higher than that for developed countries. Nepal is ranked 4th in terms of vulnerability to climate change. Housing one of the largest fresh-water reserves of the world in forms of snow-capped Himalayan mountains and glaciers, Nepal is at the receiving end of the adverse effects of global warming and climate change. Studies show that Nepal has been getting 0.06 C hotter per year, which has naturally contributed to changing weather patterns. We cannot deny that over the past few years, the floods and landslides have gotten worse, killing hundreds of Nepalis, displacing thousands, and damaging infrastructure. Along with loss of human lives, the country has been losing billions in disaster management, infrastructural damage, and relief efforts. Between the periods of 1983 to 2005, the country incurred a loss of NPR 28 billion to water induced disasters, and NPR 16 billion between 2010 to 2016. In 2017 alone, the total estimated loss rocketed to more than NPR 60 billion. Furthermore, rapid melting of glaciers are creating lakes that never even existed a few decades ago, and the already existing glacial lakes are at risk of bursting. This puts several villages in the Himalayan region at risk of getting completely wiped. It is quite heartbreaking to think about the loss this would cause the livelihoods of the locals and the country’s tourism industry.
Not only does climate change trigger severe natural disasters, it also brutally affects agricultural productivity and biodiversity. Erratic monsoon patterns induced by climate change, increasing temperatures, and droughts would decrease the overall agricultural yield. Most agricultural activities in Nepal being dependent on the monsoon rains means that climate change would drastically affect productivity. Unpredictable and extreme weather disaster would further contribute to the drop in production. Ultimately, climate change would take a huge toll on the GDP as well as the livelihoods of the majority of our population who are directly or indirectly employed in the sector. The changing climate patterns are also giving rise to pests and new diseases. In 2016, the production of tomato, one of the country’s major cash crop was severely affected by Tuta Absotula infections. Likewise, in 2020 we saw the invasion of locusts, that destroyed several hectors of crops all over Nepal. With serious implications for the agricultural sector, climate change would almost gravely compromise the efforts of Nepal in reducing poverty as well. Even though Nepal ranks within the low emission countries, it has to face one the harshest futures.
Nepal’s role against fighting climate change
Nepal has regularly been vocal about the impacts of climate change in the Himalayas in national and international platforms. Prime Minister KP Oli recently addressed the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) leaders, highlighting the need to fight climate change together. He stressed on how important it was to ensure that the Paris Climate Agreement to limit the global rise of temperatures to 1.5° C was implemented at all costs.  Nepal, along with other Least Developed Countries at high risk have been demanding that the high emission countries take responsibility and scale up the actions to control climate change. The “Sagarmatha Sambaad”, an event to hol discussions on climate change in the Himalayas, was to be hosted by Nepal in April 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nepal is also a party of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and committed on providing the Third National Communication report to the UNFCCC by 2019. On a national level, Nepal’s contribution to fighting climate change has been to a great extent successful due to the potential for hydropower. Nepal generates 90% of its electricity through hydropower. The use of fossil fuel has been drastically decreasing over the years. The Oli led government made a commitment to make 20% of the vehicles in the country electric by 2020. Contrary to this commitment, the 2020/21 budget slammed taxes of up to 140% on EVs. Even though another recent cabinet meeting announced tax rebates on purchase of EVs, the stance that the government in taking in reducing our carbon footprint in uncertain. Nijgadh International Airport, one of the government’s pride projects would clear out 8045 hectors of forest, i.e. 2.4 million trees. While the government has been slamming the developed and developing countries for not controlling their carbon emissions, its plan to cut down 2.4 million trees that have been helping absorb significant amounts of carbon seems very confusing.
It is clear that the majority of Nepali citizens as well as people in the government do not really see the big picture, and there is a huge knowledge gap regarding climate change. We desperately need to invest more time and resources into understanding climate change and its impact on countries like Nepal. More data and information need to be gathered collaborating with other Himalayan nations to increase awareness amongst everyone at risk. We as aware citizens also need to put pressure on government to take responsibility and act before its too late.
Willeit, M., Ganopolski, A., Calov, R., & Brovkin, V. (2019). Mid-Pleistocene transition in glacial cycles explained by declining CO2 and regolith removal. Science Advances, 5(4), eaav7337. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aav7337
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