Climate diplomacy should be at the helm of Nepali foreign policy. The urgency and need for robust institutional capacity building and strong coordination among government establishments is evident with the recent vaccine disaster. The government along with its lackeys, lobbied for vaccines, with the President even sending out personalized letters, to no avail. Along with battling the pandemic-induced health crisis, the country now faces the aftermath of flash floods. Empirical evidence hint towards a future with worse climate change effects so it is high time Nepal strengthens and facilitates better diplomatic channels to avoid such shortcomings when need be.
The history of the global discourse on climate change has been long and strenuous. Initially championed only in tight-knit scientific circles, climate talks became mainstream with the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The journey from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to the Paris Agreement has been dynamic in rousing voices for a greener future and bringing international communities together on climate agendas, even creating climate funds for developing countries, but not without controversies and certainly with limitations. In 2011, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Agreement, and in 2017, the United States announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. While the global action plan has moved ahead from the Kyoto Agreement and the United States has rejoined the Paris Agreement, it does raise questions if such agreements are merely tokenistic. Further, the developing nations, often conflicted between ‘development’ and maintaining ‘ecological balance’, might succumb to international pressure and comply with multilateral treaties but how will the developed world be held accountable?
Nepal’s contemporary journey to the fight against climate change began in 2016 with Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) commitments encouraging the use of renewable sources of energy and enhancing climate change adaptation, adhering to the Paris Agreement. However, there have neither been significant strides towards the fulfillment of these agendas nor the enactment of visionary state policies. Nepal had aimed to reduce air pollution and dependency on fossil fuels by increasing the share of electric vehicles by up to 20% by 2020. Ironically, the same government increased tax on electric vehicles not even two years after committing while Kathmandu’s air quality tanked hitting 500 on the Air Quality Index on 4 January 2021. Although climate activism from the grassroots has emerged, changing the discourse on the urgency of climate change adaptation, without the enactment of strategies regarding disaster risk management, waste management, use of green energy, and other frameworks, international coalitions will not come into fruition.
The need for strong international cooperation is ever-growing for formidable action against climate change as it is undoubtedly a global crisis that cannot be tackled in isolation. Besides few seen effects like changing weather patterns, which were often considered scientific problems with scientific solutions, the climate crisis has unseen effects bordering peace and national security. While climate crisis being a part of the international political economy is relatively new, making climate crisis the center of foreign policy agenda in today’s politics is crucial, especially for developing nations. Nepal has a tremendous opportunity to leverage climate funds, should it choose, to strike a balance between conserving the environment and developing the nation, like other developing economies. More importantly, disaster risk management is the need of the hour proven by the increasing number of climate migrants. For a country ranking amongst the top ten most vulnerable countries in the Global Climate Risk Index, the discourse should be around injecting stability of climate policies even during the political crisis by ensuring a presence of resilient institutions rather than engaging in public outcry over not being invited to another summit.
Launching a new foreign policy agenda- Foreign Policy 2020 , in December, Nepal did hint at its sway towards environmental action plans but critics rule out the move insinuating a political ruse full of jargons. To be fair, the government has failed fulfilling its pledges in the past with, sometimes, even introducing policies contradicting its promises. Historically, environment protection action plans have rarely been implemented. Instead, the current government has pushed for a disastrous airport construction plan and ignored environmental concerns while mining resources. Following staunch criticism, the government did reverse the hike on electric vehicle tax and announced a ban on plastic bags in the budget speech this year. However, the government seems to have skipped on building a national strategy for logistical requirements for electric cars. Plus, it remains unclear how the government is going to solve the problem of increased traffic congestion brought on by such car imports. Similarly, this is the third time the government has announced ban on plastic bags. It is highly unlikely such a ban would see effective implementation with current laissez-faire management.
The strength of any nation internationally is reflected through the vigor of foreign policy and the dynamism of its diplomacy that remain undeterred by change in leadership. Despite having immense resources at disposal, even the vantage of strategic geo-political location, the government’s priority sadly lies in maintaining domestic polity through a game of musical chairs among limited players.