Diplomatic Eye-EP 14

Climate Diplomacy, COP and Contradictions: What Next? (Video)

An agreement on how to combat climate change, reached by world leaders, ministers, and negotiators at the United Nations (UN) annual climate change conference, is called the “Conference of the Parties” or “COP.” Governments that have ratified the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, and/or the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are among the talks’ parties. In addition, thousands of representatives from the media, international organisations, business sector, and civil society attend the COPs as quoted by Townend and Aberg (2023).

First World Climate Conference, held in Geneva, on February 12–23, 1979, was sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization. It served as the site of one of the first notable global conferences on climate change. Researchers from several fields attended what amounted to a scientific symposium. After concluding that the UNFCCC’s existing processes were insufficient, the first conference of the countries (COP 1) approved the Berlin Mandate, which enables countries to make specific commitments.

In relation to climate change, Nepal has enacted at least 19 national policies. There are over 30 global, and over 14 regional negotiations completed so far.

The main focus of COP meetings is on discussions and negotiations. The review’s objective is to assess the UNFCCC’s overall goal of limiting climate change.

Some significant Initiatives

  1. The Kyoto Protocol, 1997:  As per the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted at the Third Conference of Parties (COP 3), industrialized nations were assigned legally-binding targets for the first time to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The seven greenhouse gases applied to the Kyoto Protocol are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). Nitrogen trifluoride was added during the second compliance phase of the Doha Round.
  2. The Copenhagen Accord, 2009: It was adopted by the fifteenth Conference of Parties (COP15). It recognized the need of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, protecting vulnerable forests, and establishing a framework for a Green Climate Fund. Developed countries were urged to provide developing countries with US $30 billion in “fast-start climate finance” by 2012, and they were also urged to increase the fund to US $100 billion annually by 2020. These funds would be used by developing countries for mitigation and adaptation efforts.
  3. The Paris Agreement, 2015: The Paris Agreement, the first legally binding agreement, was adopted at COP21, uniting 196 nations for the first time behind a common cause. Nations were required to commit to lowering their emissions. Preventing the global average temperature from rising by 2°C (3.6°F) beyond preindustrial levels and maintaining it below 1.5°C (2.7°F) were the goals of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). By the middle of the 20th century, it also aimed to attain global net-zero emissions, often known as climate neutrality.

Nepal’s PM Focus on COP 28
Prime-Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ addressed the COP 28 Summit in Doha on December 2, 2023. According to Rising Nepal, PM Prachanda during his speech to the UN climate change summit, COP-28, being held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, emphasized that “Nepalis are plagued by extreme weather events due to sheer injustice to us.”

PM Prachanda also said that scientists predict the glaciers will lose one-third of their mass due to their rapid retreat and that’s a red flag, as reported by Rising Nepal. Despite making almost no contribution to global emissions, the prime minister worried that Nepal is suffering from the direct, disproportionate, and harmful effects of climate change, it added. As stated by Rising Nepal, the Prime Minister claimed that our people are terribly impacted by climate-related calamities including landslides, floods, wildfires, glacier lake outbursts, drought, etc. because of the terrible injustice that has been imposed upon us. The Prime Minister argued that this is a complete injustice. This needs to end right away.

Discrepancies between the environmental conservation practices linked to the climate change issue in Nepal
Soil and Watershed Management expert Rabin Bogati believes that Environmental conservation practices in Nepal and elsewhere in the world are not really conservation responsive to climate change issues. Climate Change, according to Mr. Bogati, has been a begging pot and showcase for Nepal. Mr. Bogati further said, “There are dozens of people at COPs: tens of people with the PM, five to seven with the Minister, and ridiculous media. However, there are two or three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are doing excellent work in the field of environmental conservation and are getting paid for it, saving the faces of the government and journalists. That none of these journalists are covering their excellent work astounds him greatly. Instead of claiming environmental payment, Nepal is not managing its forests—not cutting them is not management.”

One of the conservation specialists, who chose anonymity, stated that it is not appropriate to hold people accountable for climate change emissions while destroying forests and other pristine areas that are important to the ecosystem for the sake of needless development. If necessary, one should develop a long-term plan and take the appropriate action within the allotted time frame. For example, the license for hydropower projects is for 15000 MW, but only about 3000 MW have been produced up to this point. The current aim of 15,000 MW is reached in a particular amount of time if we have an assured market for more than 10,000 MW. We can then prepare for the next ten years. Likewise, the maximum requirement for Nijgadh International Airport is 2000 hectares, but claims are made for around 8000 hectares, which is meant to damage the wild elephants’ living corridor over Rautahat area.

Dr. Bharat Pokharel an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs at the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Tennessee State University told this analyst that Nepal has been a leading country in conservation of its flora and fauna. There are numerous success stories we have witnessed in the past few years.  These successes came with dedication and hardworking individuals who worked around the clock.  However, a question arises whether we are sustaining our conservation practices for the long run.  For example, rhino poaching was zero few years back, but it has been devastating in the past few months.  Why is this happening? Dr. Pokharel believes, ‘because we have been practicing ad hoc programs and activities without addressing the root cause of the program.’ Therefore, it is important to address the root cause of the problem rather than short term gain or popularity.  Another example is we conserve flora and fauna but forget to preserve or conserve their habitat such as soil, water and forests.  Are there any soil and water conservation programs?  We only are focusing on the outputs not the outcomes!!  Rhino numbers, according to Dr Pokharel, are output whereas conservation of entire ecosystems is the outcome. Are these conservation practices linked to address the major environmental issue of our time, climate change?  Dr. Pokharel does not agree with this. He says, “We should be tackling this problem differently.  For example, we should be addressing climate change in order to meet the conservation need, not vice versa.  Most recently, climate smart practices such as climate smart forestry, climate smart agriculture have received attention because there is no doubt about climate change, but we need to adapt it and work on mitigation measures.”  Climate change, as per Dr. Pokharel will have major impacts on conservation, therefore, why not commence climate smart conservation practices.

Prakash Shrestha, the Coordinator at Nepal Tiger Trust argues that there are several reasons for the disparity in environmental conservation methods related to the climate change problem. Mr. Shrestha thinks that one of the primary causes is that both the general public and the government are ignorant of the problem. The majority of Nepal’s leading politicians are reluctant to enact laws that would restrict the financial gains made by their supporters or preferred commercial establishments. This makes it challenging to inspire people and political parties to adopt conservation-related behaviors, according to Mr. Shrestha.

Development practitioner, Dev Raj Gautam asserts that Nepal has committed to fulfill the Paris Agreement towards net zero emissions by 2045 by keeping 45% forested land as well as utilize hydropower to fulfill the clean energy demands in Nepal and its neighboring countries. He believes that its roadmap in climate mitigation and adaptation through preparation of the National Adaptation Plan and Nationally Determined Commitments is very clear, comprehensive and straightforward.  However, Nepal is facing huge financial and technological constraints to fully implement these plans.

Nepal is lacking resources and technologies added with inadequate infrastructure, or challenges in enforcing regulations and plans. The gap between policy intentions and on-the-ground implementation can result in a disconnect between claimed efforts and actual results. It will have implications to meet ambitious climate targets without adequate support or investment from international communities. So, LDCs like Nepal, in Gautam words, “have to organize and claim for adequate international support for more predictable, adequate, and equitable resources and technologies for LDCs to achieve their climate ambitions.”

Dr. Thakur Silwal, Associate Professor of the Wildlife and Protected Area Management at Institute of Forestry Pokhara says, “Forestry sector strategy aims to keep Nepal’s forest cover at 45%, with maximizing carbon sequestration target. However, our leadership is constantly arguing that the forest ministry is obstacles to development pathways.” The recent statement by the prime minister on revising forest regulation, recently proposed strategy by MoFE on developing infrastructure development within the protected area, Nijgarj airport decision on cutting trees, despite supreme court order, are some of the examples – clearly show discrepancies on our commitment and reality according to Dr. Silwal. He reminds that Nepal aims to be a carbon neutral country by 2045 (Nepal’s carbon neutral strategy submitted to UNFCCC in Glasgow by the Prime minister himself). The main strategy to remain carbon neutral, according to Dr. Silwal, is through carbon sequestration, which means, increase in forest cover. Much emission we do have, the reason, mitigation is not our primary focus. Despite such international commitment, we remain reluctant to focus on conservation of our forest resources. Dr. Silwal questions whether the recent decision to give landless households access to almost 100,000 hectares of forested land is yet another proof of how serious we are.

Nepal should maintain its current mitigation measures and focus on adaptation, safeguarding existing policies. It should lead in bringing India and China to address global climate change, forging joint partnerships, and promoting mountain agendas in climate negotiations.

 Development versus Destruction
Certain projects, like planned road construction, hydroelectric power projects, and cable car systems, are being planned inside national parks under the pretext of development, and it is believed that these projects may harm the habitat of endangered animals. It is a common argument that development is putting us on the path to destruction. Mr. Bogati supports deliberate growth. Though politics has a big influence on our development, this has left locals unhappy and resulted in awkward, meandering highways. Nevertheless, problems can always be solved.

Senior Conservation Officer, who requests anonymity, discloses that projects are largely taking too long period to complete the construction. So there is always disturbing the wildlife and habitats. Scale of damage, according to him, is never ending and labors are the one who gradually start to settle down along or near the project sites such as road, hydro power, canals, and so on. Simultaneously illegal harvesting of Forest Products, smuggling, poaching and illegal trade of Forest and wildlife products are also triggered for their subsistence. The Senior Conservation Officer told this analyst that many of the projects are awarded to a select group of powerful individuals without following the proper legal channels; some of these projects may result in the destruction of sensitive and forested areas for the profit of those individuals. Thus, the quality of governance declined to the point where neither the local communities nor the government could profit directly from it. As far as Cable Car is concerned, only short distances can be covered for recreational purposes; they cannot be used for transportation in areas where road networks have already been established. Furthermore, taking a cable car cannot replace hiking.

According to development practitioner Tara Panthi, we should use national parks, rivers, and other natural resources responsibly so that we can profit from them in a sustainable manner. Using sustainably suggests that we are also concerned with their preservation. In his opinion, technology has advanced to the point where it can assist us in making the most of natural resources without causing harm to them.

Dr. Pokharel asserts that building big infrastructures can provide value to society, but it’s crucial to consider long-term impacts, risks, and trade-offs. For example, haphazard road construction in Nepal costs billions and causes soil loss, landslides, and casualties. Climate change impacts daily livelihoods, leading to flooding and landslides. Mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and a code of conduct should be implemented for large infrastructure projects, ensuring natural ground and landscape.

One of the experts of natural resource management, and biodiversity conservation told this analyst that there is a contradiction in our intentions and policies regarding this. While we recently announced plans to create highways, hydroelectric power plants, and other recreational facilities, these plans run counter to our own values. On the one hand, we are dedicated to conservation and required to uphold the global environmental agreements. He reveals that the entrenched mafias, who are determined to take advantage of the untapped riches, are making a clear move with this. With regard to development projects, we may take a very deliberate and prudent approach without causing significant environmental harm.

Mr. Gautam claims that the fragmentation of habitats, deaths from vehicle collisions when crossing highways, deaths from currents, and easy access for poachers for illegal hunting and felling of rare plants and animals from protected areas are all factors. Genetic degradation will result from habitat fragmentation. For instance, numerous tigers have lost their lives in traffic accidents in Bardia and Chitwan national parks as a result of colliding with cars while crossing the street. The irrigation canals that cross the Banke National Park have many wild creatures stuck in them.

Maintaining bio diverse places with global significance for biodiversity will raise Nepal’s status internationally and draw more visitors who would boost the country’s economy and prosperity.

Mr Shrestha candidly states that Nepal intends to construct a pipeline system to transport petroleum products from India to Nepal, even as global efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels are underway. This runs counter to Nepal’s ongoing work on its Long-term Strategy for Net-zero Emissions and its active participation in international climate initiatives such as the Paris Agreement.

Notwithstanding these obstacles, it is critical to keep raising public awareness and educating the public, community members, young people, and students about environmental conservation techniques and climate change.

The main purposes of National parks, in Dr Silwal’s words, are in-situ conservation and genetic resource pools. In-situ conservation refers to the method of preserving an endangered plant or animal species in its native environment. Massive infrastructure undertakings, such as hydroelectric plants should be discouraged. But infrastructure that is small-scale and beneficial to animals should be permitted. For instance, fundamental tourist infrastructure. However, it might be necessary for us to devise a regularized solution. For instance, Rara, the most promising tourist location, lacks a fully functional infrastructure, according to Dr Silwal. He reminds that the residents of two villages, “Chhapro” and “Rara Gaun,” were moved to Kohalpur, Chisapani, from Rara around 50 years ago in order to protect the Lake. Unfortunately, there are more hotels reportedly in the works there, which is unfair to the local villagers who left their villages.

Impact of global warming on Nepal
In recent years, reports of increased occurrences of flash floods, droughts, landslides, and soil erosion have been made nationwide. These natural disasters have a greater impact on Nepalese lives and livelihoods.

Estimates indicate that the consequences of climate change, such as reduced agricultural output, food poverty, strained water supplies, loss of forests and biodiversity, and damaged infrastructure, could endanger millions of people in Nepal.

In a Book Chapter entitled “Climate-Resilient Forest Management”, Chitale et al (2021) revealed that 6.61 million hectares of forest land make up Nepal which accounts for 44.74% of the country’s total area and 0.17% of the world’s total forest area. Over 35% of Nepal’s population depends on forest resources for a living. FAO (2018), claimed that deforestation and forest degradation are significant environmental problems for the country. Research studies claim that degradation occurs when forests continue to exist but lose their ability to generate all ecosystem services. Deforestation is the change of forests into another type of land-cover.

Important fauna and flora under threat
Experts believe that important tree species such as Dalbergia latifolia (Satisal) and Pterocarpus marsupium (Vijaysal) are under threat from deforestation and forest degradation in the Terai region. There is less wildlife in protected areas due to habitat loss and the division of large national forests into little regions. Ornithologists believe that thirty-nine species recorded in Nepal have been identified as globally threatened birds. Sukla Phanta and Koshi Tappu Wild Life Reserve, Chitwan National Park and Bufffer Zone have been identified as key site of International significance for birds and bio-diversity conservation.

Way Forward
Experts believe that many of Climate Change’s concerns and difficulties might be resolved by successfully implementing the National Adaptation Program of Actions (NAPA).  It should prioritize planned development operations above alignments that cut through the center of wetlands and forests, including rivers and streams that naturally occur. Utilize as much of the bare and open ground as possible around or next to human habitation, as well as regions outside of natural sites and WL habitats. Because of year-round improper management, wetlands are completely polluted and remain muddy, which has a direct influence on the aquatic habitats.

Some experts assert that although forests exist, they must be managed scientifically to meet human demand for wood and timber. However, water management—which includes dryland and water source management—is essential and is often neglected.

Similarly, researchers and professors suggest that Nepal must take immediate action on climate change adaptation due to unusual calamities. Implementing programs and activities to promote clean energy, conserve water, soil, and forests, and adopt climate smart agriculture and forestry practices can help minimize greenhouse gas emissions and maximize carbon storage. This will help Nepal transition from fossil fuel-dependent livelihoods to renewable energy-based ones, contributing to a prosperous and sustainable future. They assert that mitigation is not the primary focus of Nepal’s climate change policy, though. It is believed that about 22% emission is from land use sector, such as agriculture, forestry. Technological innovations can minimize methane emissions from rice cultivation, while vehicle-based emissions can be reduced by switching to electrical vehicles and promoting mass transit-based public transport. Waste to energy innovations can be explored for waste management. Key areas include a nexus-based approach, climate smart agriculture practices, and forest-based enterprises for carbon sinking.

Nepal should maintain its current mitigation measures and focus on adaptation, safeguarding existing policies. It should lead in bringing India and China to address global climate change, forging joint partnerships, and promoting mountain agendas in climate negotiations.

After consulting various experts, it is essential to keep in mind that a crucial first step in achieving Nepal’s goals of climate change adaptation and mitigation is the complete implementation of the 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) Road Map. Another essential component is its regular review to make sure that the objectives are being met. It is also crucial for the Nepalese government to effectively mobilize the nation’s financial and human resources and to advocate for further funding through international climate financing structures.

In a nutshell, Nepal has the potential to significantly reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by investing in renewable energy sources such as hydropower, solar and wind power, and promoting renewable energy. Energy efficiency can be achieved by replacing traditional incandescent bulbs with LEDs, improving appliance standards, and encouraging green buildings. Forests and land use can be improved through agroforestry practices and sustainable land management. Transportation can be managed by constructing under/over passes for wildlife and promoting non-motorized transport. Green finance can be used to mobilize public and private investments in renewable energy and climate-resilient homes. Governments, individuals, communities, and companies all have a vital role to play in the fight against climate change. Are we prepared to lead by example?

If we take the necessary corrective action and proceed appropriately, Time will tell.