Tackling climate challenges in Nepal – understanding the present status

This confusion exists at global level too and the term ‘midaptation’ is used by few experts to refer the overlap between these two approaches

Jan. 30, 2015, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 08 No. -15 January. 30- 2015 (Magh 16, 2071)

As we welcome 2015 - the most important year in the history of climate change which can MAKE or BREAK climate actions with implications to several decades and many generations to come, climate change itself is not a new issue in Nepal anymore. Nepal is signatory to the UNFCCC since the convention took place in 1992 (with ratification done in 1994), is taking part in negotiations as they started and has been proactive afterwards COP 13 in Bali (2007). However Nepal’s international visibility increased mainly with and after COP 15 in Copenhagen (2009) where Prime Minister-led delegation got involved in several intensive rounds of discussions (bilateral and multilateral) and then Honorable PM Madhav Kumar Nepal announced Mountain Alliance Initiative (MAI), following to success of Cabinet Meeting at Kala Patthar and Summiteers Summit to Save the Himalayas (S3H) in Copenhagen. This has further enhanced with the organization of the International Conference of Mountain Countries on Climate Change in April 2012 with ministerial level participation from 10 countries (Kathmandu Call for Action) and 8th community-based adaptation to climate change conference (CBA8) in Kathmandu in April 2014 apart from periodic UNFCCC meetings, including COPs and Intersessionals, and national to international climate relevant conference Nepal has been contributing.

 Following this, climate change awareness, incoming funding, process documentation, government and non-government agency involvement and variety of efforts to tackle climate change issues have significantly increased in Nepal with both – positive and negative consequences. Highlights include - NAPA documented is prepared, LAPA Framework is drawn, National Climate Change Policy is formulated, Prime Minister-led Climate Change Council (CCC) and MOSTE-led Multistakeholder Climate Change Initiative Coordination Committee (MCCICC) and Climate Change Program Coordination Committee (CCPCC) are functioning, NAPA follow-up projects are being implemented including Strategic Program for Climate Resilience (SPCR), Nepal Climate Change Support Programme (NCCSP) and Ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA)  among others. In addition to this, multi-million-multi-year initiatives such as Multi Stakeholder Forestry Programme (MSFP), Hariyo Ban Program, Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KSLCDI), Koshi Basin Programme (KBP), Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme (CDRMP), Community Based Flood and Glacial Lake Outburst Risk Reduction Project (CFGORRP) etc are adding fuel to government works. On the top, Carbon Finance has gained a momentum attracting Community Development Carbon Fund (CDCF) through biogas initiatives, there has been significant improvement in rural electrification through increased use of solar panels, number of and energy produced from mini- and micro-hydro has increased, and internationally Nepal just concluded its 2-years tenure as the LDC Chair leading the UNFCCC negotiation block of 48 countries from 2012-2014. However, this is not the end of the story!

 Several experts have repeatedly expressed their views on these issues - in written and also in verbal. Although different people have different observations to share, in general, most experts are univocal on the following issues:

1.       All three aspects of climate change research (used by IPCC) are not fully understood – the physical science basis; Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability; and Mitigation of Climate Change: The reason being we do not have adequate hydro-meteorological as well as and biological monitoring stations and long term data in these areas are rather limited. Sectorial impacts of climate change in various areas is not well documented and properly researched. Lack of scientific data coupled with gap in socio-economic understanding and population dynamics and their interaction with natural resources makes our vulnerability assessments less reliable. We believe there are number of ways people (our local communities) have been adapting to various environmental changes, including climate change for ages, however such traditional as well as modern adaptation skills and approaches are not much documented and to develop new adaptation means in the changed context, we do not have clear understanding about what exactly has changed? How much has changed? What such changes mean to us? And what and how can reverse or minimize such changes and their effects? Of multiple reasons behind lack of understanding in these areas, Nepal lacks research oriented initiatives and/or is suffering from less efficient research efforts with extremely limited involvement of academia that should be playing crucial role in unveiling the real science behind this process.

2.       Institutional capacity building: Although the Ministry of Science Technology and Environment (MOSTE) has been functioning efficiently maximizing use of limited human, financial and technical resources it has, it is increasingly felt that there needs a radical improvement in the capacity of the ministry as well as other scientific and administrative bodies within the ministry including Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), Department of Environment (DoE) among others. Institutional capacity building has to cover also other sectorial line ministries including but not limited to Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development, Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, Ministry of Agricultural Development, Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Irrigation, Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Ministry of Home Affairs etc and affiliated units such as Department of Water Supply and Sewerage, Water and Energy Commission Secretariat, Department of Water Induced Disaster Prevention, Department of Electricity Development, Nepal Water Supply Corporation, Department of Transport Management, Disaster Management Section among others. Such efforts should improve state presence from national to local level, ensuring Kathmandu and the districts are on the same page to take climate actions. An unavoidable measure for near future would be integration of academia in this process.

3.       Funding Vs efficiency and role of (inter-agency and within the agency) coordination and monitoring: In recent years, UNFCCC negotiations, esp. COPs are becoming battlefield of ideological war between the developed/industrialized and developing (LDCs included) nations, where developing countries demand additional climate support fund from developed countries and in return agree to reduce their potential carbon emissions and help the developed countries to do so through different mechanism including carbon trade. Adaption is much thriving area within UN process for climate support. Recent BBC feature story reports more  than 500 such projects are listed in the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), which least developed countries, including Nepal had been preparing since 2001 under the UN climate convention. LDCs require more than $2bn to complete the 500 or more climate adaptation projects they have identified, but not even $900m has been made available to the fund so far. Like other LDCs, NAPA 2010 estimated that Nepal needs $350m to properly address the adaptation issues. However a recent climate finance study by Oxfam shows that total committed fund for climate change adaptation projects in Nepal for the period of 2009-2012 was $550m as per the Rio Marking by donors. This figure may increase after taking into account financial support received by number of other agencies working in Nepal. Considering this, Nepal has to focus in both the areas – attracting additional funding as well as making sure available funding is effectively utilized benefitting the real stakeholders on the ground. This should also be seen in the context of need for an improved inter-agency (ministry-ministry, government-nongovernment-UN-donor and private sector) as well as intra-agency (within the ministry and departments) coordination mechanism and most importantly in establishing an effective monitoring mechanism.

4.       Governance (both government and non-government), and creation of ‘level playing field’ for all national and international players in Nepal: In order to make the climate actions in Nepal more effective, time has come that revisit our present approach and governance structure. Through careful analysis of several elements (as suggested by ESGP[iii]) such as Architecture, Agency, Adaptiveness, Accountability, and Allocation & Access, as well as cross cutting themes such as Power, Knowledge, Norms, and Scale, we should be able to make a better formulation. It is also important to create enabling environment for all climate actors in Nepal (level playing field) to end the climate action deadlock, to discourage ‘donor and large NGOs’ oligopoly in climate sector and enhance our actions.

5.       Mitigation Vs Adaptation: By nature Mitigation responds to larger systems and adaptation to people/community. Unfortunately we have not yet fully understood how mitigation is different from adaptation, and what the extent of overlap is. This confusion exists at global level too and the term ‘midaptation’ is used by few experts to refer the overlap between these two approaches. In Nepal, further clarity is needed on Nepal’s scope and limitation on both the areas - mitigation and adaptation. All our interventions should be classified considering this. A simplified understanding is, mitigation affects the larger system (such as forest, transport, energy etc) and adaptation affects people and very locally. Although Nepal’s immediate priority is adaptation, mitigation on the other hand, can no longer be ignored given the fact new scientific evidences have shown several localized process such as black carbon that effect the local climate more than global phenomenon. This also means our adaptation actions and finances need to be further localized and pushed outside Kathmandu as much as possible and as effectively as possible.

6.       Climate change problem to culture and trade-mill: Interestingly, climate changed has revealed its multiple forms in Nepal. First it emerged as a ‘serious socio-economic and environmental problem’,   then it became a ‘culture’ (as we think, talk and see climate change in everything), and eventually now it is becoming a trade-mill as our governance is weak, monitoring mechanism are not in place, and climate change has more easy money than other sectors. This is the worst form of climate change one country like ours face as trade-mill culture will increase inefficiency, science will suffer from gross exaggeration, relevant agencies will be cannibalized by powerful but unproductive agencies and its expected users (the local communities) will never benefit from it. We need to break this chain.

7.      Climate Change negotiations and Nepal’s niche within the regional and international processes, including discussions on LDC Vs Mountain Agenda vis-à-vis Nepal’s economic and geographic realities:Nepal’s presence in international negotiations have often suffered from clear identity crisis. We are LDC and at the same time we are mountainous country (MC) too. One has to do with socio-economic conditions and other has to do with the geography. This LDC-MC divergence is seen effecting Nepal’s negotiation position. Esp. when Nepal was chair of LDC groups. It is important that Nepal defines its fixed home before intermittently switching in between. Such switching needs to have conceptual clarity and Nepal, as a state, should not be used y powerful agencies to fulfill their vested interest.

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