Recent visit of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres in Nepal has heightened climate change concerns and stimulated climate community to further advocate on evidence-based impacts of climate change in the mountains, and its consequences to the people and their livelihood, socio-economy, and natural resources. UNSG has observed snow-melting, glaciers retreating, and climate-induced disasters such as landslides, and interacted with the local people, further realised climate vulnerabilities and risks in the mountains, threatened future of the mountain communities, and accelerated impacts of climate change to the billion of people in the downstream. Local people have informed the UNSG at the base camps of Sagarmatha and Annapurna Himal about the high rate of snow-melting, increasing loss lives and properties from climate-induced disasters, drying-up of water sources displacement of people, decline in crop production, and increase in landslides.
While delivering a statement at the Parliament of Nepal on 31 October 2023, UN Secretary-General reiterated that "glaciers are melting at record levels"; "Nepal has lost close to a third of its ice in just over thirty years" and told "I am deeply concerned by those communities in Nepal facing the brutal impacts of the climate crisis. The most vulnerable must be at the centre of efforts to build climate resilience". This would greatly contribute to address climate crisis in the mountains by mobilising additional supports to protect people and natural resources from climate-induced disasters and make economies resilient by reducing climate vulnerabilities and risks.
In 2021, Alok Sharma, President of CoP26 at his opening speech informed the climate community about his visit at Jomsom and talk with "communities literally displaced from their homes from a combination of droughts and floods" and expressed that "the rapidly changing climate is sounding an alarm to the world to step up on adaptation, to address loss and damage, and to act now to keep 1.5 alive". That realisation should have contributed to note the "importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including in the cryosphere" in the Glasgow Climate Pack.
Reviewing the news during UNSG's visit, President and few politicians have urged the UNSG to voice Nepal's climate crisis at the global fora. However, climate change has not been an agenda of the political parties in Nepal. Position-based statements on climate change are made sometimes with unrealistic commitments.
Nepal's participation on UNFCCC process dates back to its adoption in 1992. It has attended all CoPs and delivered statements during the high-level segments and climate summits. Each statement focussed on snow-melting, glaciers retreating, and climate-induced disasters. President Bidya Devi Bhandari delivered a statement at the climate summit in 2018 (CoP24) at Katowice, Poland.Two Prime Ministers, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Madhav Kumar Nepal addressed the World Leaders Summit in 2021 during CoP26 at Glasgow and Climate Conference (CoP15) at Copenhagen in 2009 respectively. During CoP15, Nepal organised 'Summiteers Summit to save the Himalayas’ on 11 December to draw the global attention to the impacts of climate change in the Himalayas. A cycle rally was organised in Paris in 2015 before the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Current Prime Minister is expected to attend the CoP28 at Dubai. On 3 November 2023, the Prime Minister has instructed the secretaries of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Forests and Environment (climate change focal point) to prepare for CoP28 to provide global leadership on climate change issues and submit a 'claim' effectively.
Recalling the past, Prime Minister at CoP15 called upon the mountain countries 'to come together, form a common platform and collectively raise concerns in the international arena' and launched the Mountain Initiatives (MI) in 2009. Nepal organised side-event during CoPs and sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies (SBs) from 2010 onwards to further inform the climate community about climate change impacts in the mountains and national initiatives; also organised expert consultations, South Asian Parliamentarian workshop and an international conference of mountain countries on climate change in April 2012 which agreed on Kathmandu call for action. Nepal accessed bilateral and multilateral funding, including from dedicated climate funds to prepare and implement adaptation plans and programmes, and comply with the reporting requirements such as national communication. These funds are mobilised to implement adaptation and mitigation program. Nepal showed leadership in localising adaptation actions by implementing a national framework on Local Adaptation Plan for Action (LAPA), committing to channel at least 80 percent of the climate fund to field activities through a climate policy, channelling fund through the climate change budget code, and mainstreaming gender with further commitment on gender responsive LAPAs. However, fund mobilisation modality in few projects requires rethinking.
Now, MI is functionally 'dead'. The government planned to host the Sagarmatha Sambaad, a multi-stakeholder forum in April 2020 with the theme on 'climate change, mountains and future of the humanity'. The Sambaad was postponed due to COVID-19 and seems now dormant. Nepal deserves special appreciation in taking new initiatives and dropping it at any stage along with the change in political and administrative leadership. Non-continuation of 'good initiatives' is a perennial problem.
UNSG's call on the adverse impacts of climate change in the Himalayas might greatly influence negotiations at CoP28to be held at Dubai, UAE from 30 November to 12 December 2023. It is good to record that CoP28 provisional agenda includes an agenda item "mountains and climate change: highlighting the need for the protection of vulnerable mountain ecosystems while building the resilience of mountain peoples, and economies to reduce loss and damage" as per the submission of a mountainous country Andorra. If this provisional agenda is adopted as it is, it would require effective participation to identify and prioritise key areas requiring implementable decisions on mountains and climate change. Visibility in negotiations would count a lot. Nepal's visibility in CoPs and SBs was high in 2013 and 2014 when she coordinated 48 LDCs and negotiated with developed and other developing country Parties to the UNFCCC on behalf of the LDCs.
UNEP has launched an Adaptation Gap Report (2023) on 02 November with a message that adaptation is "underfinanced and underprepared" and "inadequate investment on climate adaptation leaves world exposed." The report highlights the "urgent need for rapid acceleration of global adaptation action" and has estimated the need for adaptation finance @ of US$ 387 billion/year for this decade. This report would provide a basis for further negotiation on adaptation and loss and damage in CoP28.
One can see several permanent climate negotiators. The current chairperson of the LDC Coordination Group from Senegal should have almost two decades of continued participation in UNFCCC negotiation. In Nepal, nomination of an official for UNFCCC meetings is considered an incentive. Realising non-continuation, the government approved the concept of forming a code-of-conduct-based multi-stakeholder 'core group' for climate negotiation in early 2012. It worked till 2016 and then seems non-functional. Nepalese working in non-governmental sector have attended SBs and CoPs being a government delegate from Togo, Malawi, Bhutan or Senegal. It seems that Nepal dropped the idea of 2012 to developing and utilising country capacity on climate negotiation. It is necessary to revitalise the 'climate core group' and develop country capacity on relevant agenda items of national priorities such as adaptation, mountain, and carbon trade. Negotiation being a step-by-step process and taking note of issues raised and decisions made on several agenda items, continuation is a must. Few may be the 'tourist negotiators' whose interventions require 'close watch'.
Nepal is currently the Chair of the Global Coordination Bureau of the LDCs. To fulfil additional responsibilities, concerned official(s) should participate and closely monitor outcomes of relevant events. As climate change has become a 'hot cake', Nepal needs to effectively participate and collaborate in several events to voice the concerns and priorities of the LDCs. Unfortunately, Nepal did not attend the LDC ministers meeting on UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement held at Dakar, Senegal on 28 September 2023. Taking note of the urgency of protecting the climate vulnerable mountain people, unwillingness in such participation would have multifaceted impacts to maintain existing representation and leadership. Non-participation in key events, making the declared initiatives 'dead', non-competitive technical and managerial supports, postpone or shifting of responsibilities, and wishing to be outside the key events or non-inclusion of focal point in major events call for rethinking the institutional arrangement on climate change.
Taking note of provisional agenda of CoP28 and CMA5 (CoP serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement), it would be useful to designate knowledge-based and dedicated person(s) for specific agenda items of national priorities such as adaptation and LDC matters, including Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation, mitigation including Sharm el-Sheikh mitigation ambition, loss and damage, work programme on just transitional pathways (to achieve the Paris Agreement goal), technology development, transfer and management, capacity building, gender and climate change, carbon trade, finance and mountain and climate change (if adopted).
Recalling inclusion of biogas under the Clean Development Mechanism to engage Nepal in carbon trade in 2007, negotiation may take place at three levels - technical, diplomatic, and political levels. At the country level, participation, negotiations, and reporting at UNFCCC process are coordinated by the climate change focal point. The focal point should be updated with scientific information and country priorities to effectively participate and/or provide guidance to the national negotiating team. Non-involvement or inclusion of the focal point in major events and non-identification of national priorities may likely weaken the outcomes of national interests. This can be linked with the recent visit of UNSG where climate change focal point was not visible. Nepal may take initiatives to follow-up the UNSG's message about the impacts of climate change in the Himalayas at CoP28. Let us hope, CoP28 to be held at arid desert climate (dry land) will make remarkable decisions to protect the highlands - the mountains.
Nepal's climate concerns are internationalised through statements without operational decisions, simply like a big tree without roots. Uprooting or failing climate actions or non-mobilising resources would have long-term consequences. Nepal should be prepared to communicate political messages on mountain issues through CoP decisions for further actions.
As Andorra has submitted a dedicated agenda "mountains and climate change" for this CoP28, Nepal may wish to fully support and make extra efforts for its adoption. If adopted, windows to address impacts of climate change in the mountain will open.