“Environmental Concerns Need A Fit With Federal Structures” Dr. Oli,

As Nepal is celebrating the World Environment Day on June 5 with various programs, Dr. Bishwa Nath Oli, Secretary at the Ministry of Population and Environment, spoke to New Spotlight on the importance of the day in Nepal’s context. Excerpts:

June 4, 2017, 5:26 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 10, NO. 20, June 2- 2017 (Jestha 19, 2074)

What is the importance of the World Environment Day in the context of Nepal?

This year’s World Environment Day slogan is "Connecting People to Nature." However, we have localized it and our slogan for the World Environment Day, June 5, 2017, is: "I am with Nature." This is very important for a country like ours, which has been facing severe environmental challenges. The slogan is very timely in the sense of fostering relations between the nature and people. All our environmental and nature conservation related programs and policies are related to the people. In our nature conservation programs, there is direct involvement of ethnic groups and communities. Almost 1.9 million hectares of forest is now under the management of the community user groups. Our community forestry is managed by over 19,000 community user groups. Similarly, 7000 households are managing forest under the contract. This is a record in direct involvement of people in our forest management. Besides that, there are various communities involved in the natural resources management.

How do you see the contribution of forest and natural resources?

We are conserving natural resources and forests. This has been contributing to tourism promotion. It is contributing to the national economy as a source of foreign currency. We celebrated the Biodiversity Day with the slogan highlighting biodiversity and sustainable management. This year’s World Environment Day slogan is very similar to the policies Nepal has been formulating for conservation and management of nature and environment and the works done in this regard.

Does celebrating the day annually as a ritual contribute to nature conservation? What do you say?

I agree with you that just celebrating a particular day annually cannot preserve and conserve the environment. Although it is like a ritual, the UN Day has certain significance as well. Celebrating the World Environment Day helps increase the level of awareness about the issue at stake. All such days of UN have the objective of mainstreaming the slogans in the national programs of the member countries.  World Environment Day is no exception. Nepal is a party to UN Convention and it is the obligation of Nepal to incorporate its resolutions in the policies.

How do you view the issue of environment in general?

So far as environment is concerned, it is a multi-dimensional issue. And it is inter-sectoral. We need to pursue all the environment day related activities not just on a specific occasion and day once a year but take them seriously on all days. Environment protection and preservation starts from the house. We need to incorporate, integrate and mainstream all environment related activities in our programs and policies. On the environmental related work, our ministry is responsible for environment management and regulation related areas. There are Ministry of Local Development and Federal Affairs, Ministry of Urban Affairs, Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation working in the environment front. Ministries are scattered in various areas as this is a multi-sectoral issue. It is a very complex issue and all the concerned ministries need to work cautiously. In our context, all of us have expressed the commitment for environmental protection. However, we care little so far as implementation is concerned. We have the tendency of shifting the responsibility to others. However, recently, we have been receiving good support in mainstreaming the environment from none state actors as well.

As Nepal is moving from a unitary to federal state structure, what do you suggest should be changed for taking a better care of environment?

In the changing context, as we are heading from a unitary to federal structure. environment conservation, protection and management issues need to be taken care of by all three tiers of government. There is a very clear need to move the awareness and management part to different levels. Our constitution has clear responsibilities and guidelines regarding the functions of three tiers and the issue of environment should follow that spirit.

How do you see the present level of governance?

At the federal level, there are international environmental management issues. This includes the formulation of policies related to environment protection and management. Our responsibility will be to fulfill the commitments expressed in the international conferences as a party.

Will there be any change?

Environment protection and management sides will go to the province and local level. IEE and EIA will go to the second tier of governance or province. Only the EIAs that cross more than one state come under the purview of the center. Similarly, environmental monitoring will also fall under the jurisdiction of local bodies and provinces, for instance, the monitoring of industries, air quality, and waste management. Most of the implementation side will be now with local and provincial levels and center will just decide on the policy matter. Policy and international level works will be with the center.

What is the state of Paris Agreement?

Paris Agreement on Climate Change is a part of UNFCCC. We have already ratified it and Nepal is a party. We are already in the stage of implementation of the agreement. As a party of the agreement, it demands certain things. There are several benefits Nepal can make from the agreement. For instance, we need to submit periodic reports to the UNFCCC. One of the liabilities is to inform periodically about our state of environment. Each party of the conference has to submit Nationally Determined Contribution.

What obligation does Nepal have under this agreement?

We need to make period reports about the status. This is also good for a country like Nepal to brief the international community on the status of work on environment. We have submitted the NDC during the ratification of Paris Agreement. Under NDC, we have all the activities currently operational. We have also set the targets as to what to do or what not to do. We have proposed promotion of electrical vehicles, alternative energy, maintaining for forest sectors and so on. It is a compilation of our works. We also need to submit adaptation communication report as a Least Developed Country. We are regularly submitting this report. We have already submitted the first national communication and second national communication report. We are now in the process of submitting the third national communication report. One of the liabilities is to submit the report. We also have a lot of advantages including taking benefits from climate finance.

What is climate finance?

As an LDC, we can attract funds from the Green Climate Fund to formulate the National Adaptation Plan. It is fortunate that Nepal is the first country to attract finance from the fund to formulate NAP. As the Ministry of Finance is the national designated authority, we have already submitted some proposals to GCF and our proposals are under review. We are already in the process of fund accession. Under the Paris agreement, developed countries can provide funds to LDCs.

What is the stage of NAP?

All the ministries are now at the central level. We are formulating the NAP through nine thematic groups. However, there are now elected local bodies. As the scenario is foggy, we are working to send the block grant at the local level. We are discussing it. We will formulate our NAP with the structure of the states. We are working on how to transfer the areas identified by NAP at local and provincial levels.

How do you see NCCSP?

As NCCSP is based on local bodies, we can implement it at the local level. It is a model project to show how adaptation program can work with the support of local communities and local bodies. The liaison ministry of NCSSP is MOFAL and this is recognized by MOFAL and taken by international community in good spirit. Due to this, DFID agreed to support NCCSP's second phase. This has already continued for the second phase.

How many related acts and regulations need amendment?

So far as acts and regulations are concerned, several laws and regulations need to be amended and replaced. For instance, there is the need to amend the forest and environment protection act as per the constitutional duties of local and provincial governments. There is the need to review it.

What will be the state of forest user groups in the changed circumstances?

Earlier, these groups were registered under the District Forest and Soil Conservation offices. Now, all these systems will be changed with powers to the local bodies. What will be the state of those local user groups is important. There is the need to formulate an Umbrella Act, like in India. Our acts are based on piecemeal basis. There are acts like National Park Act, Forest Act and Soil Conservation Act. All have different natures. There are also quasi legal rights given to forest officials and officials of National Park and Wildlife. There is also the need to review these. In my opinion, these rights should be given to technical manpower that is protecting wildlife and plants. These rights are given to forest officials to protect animals. There is also the same practice in India. There is the need to review policies and programs. We need to restructure policies and programs.

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