After attending the first major global summit to discuss climate change and how it affects the world’s future populations in Bali, Indonesia in the first and second weeks of December 2007, Nepal’s environmentalists came back quite delighted that so many of the delegates talked about Nepal on the conference sidelines. Many industrialized countries did promise to help, but nothing truly materialized.
However, despite such false promises, two good things have happened in 2008: one, Nepal got its first CDM payment from the World Bank worth $514,786 for Nepal’s role in reducing emission of greenhouse gases. And two, USAID has been operating its regional environmental office for South Asia from Kathmandu. Add to it the fact that the UNEP Regional Director for the Asia-Pacific region, Surendra Man Shrestha who founded the first Global Resources in Development (GRID) facility in Bangkok in 1993, happens to be a well known Nepali environmentalist. The World Bank payment was specifically for the good work the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) was doing, a government initiative to promote clean energy. Susan Goldmark who has established a credible reputation in Katmandu’s World Bank office often linking up innovative thinking and doable actions mentioned AEPC as an excellent country level endeavor but that there could be other similar projects hidden in Nepali villages and towns, which might prove a boon to other developing countries to emulate, or the World Bank to share in a larger forum.
In 2008, Nepali environmentalists are getting a bit worried about the side depletion or the ‘environmental toll’ taking place due to the country’s increasing tourism intake, particularly the country’s rich flora and fauna that are rapidly vanishing. Part of the agenda at the Bali Summit was also the protection of wildlife species, and in the past two years, with rife poaching on the rise, there is a serious threat now to the Himalayan ecology.
Nepali environmentalists are also a bit worried because there is very little to report after Bali. To them, Bali offered very little significant benefit to achieve sustainable development after signing the Protocol. However, Nepal has little control effect over its environmental future, situated as it is between two huge economic giants, India and China, that have a transferable, cross- emission effect caused by rapid industrialization and unsurpassed economic growth casting a sponge effect on the Nepali people’s daily lives. Nepal also lost its prominent environmentalists in the helicopter accident in Ghumsa in August 2006, which was considered an irreversible environmental loss for Asia as well.
Why this new concern? Between 1996-2006, most of Nepal’s industries were shut down permanently due to the past civil conflict. The only major industry in Nepal that remained was the non-polluting tourism industry, but which has a direct impact on natural resources through over graze effect, i.e. if one considers the polluted trekking routes around Annapurna Base Camp or the dirty river basins in the touristy Terai towns, particularly Chitwan’s River Side. Thus three months after the landmark Bali agreement on a road map towards strengthened international action on climate change, the next round of negotiations has now shifted to Nepal’s neighboring country, Thailand.
The Bangkok Climate Change talks will take place from 31 March to 4 April 2008 at the United Nations Conference Centre (UNCC) of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). These talks will focus on sessions of both the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (first session) and the Ad hoc Working Group on further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (first part of the fifth session), during which governments need to advance the Bali Road Map progress road map agreed last December. Unfortunately, while Nepal will participate in full as usual, this will have little impact on the country’s environment. The country’s politicians and UN top hats are more focused on the country’s major CA Poll scheduled on April 10.
One should note, Nepal with the other governing parties agreed at Bali to formally launch negotiations on enabling the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Bali Convention. These negotiations needed to conclude on an agreed outcome by the end of 2009. The Bali Summit’s challenge was basically to design a future agreement that will successfully halt the increase in global emissions within the next 10-15 years, dramatically cut back emissions by 2050, and do so in a way that it is economically viable and politically equitable worldwide.
Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General, had stated in inaugurating Bali that time was really running out in the fight against global warming. “We have read the science. Global warming is real, and we are the prime cause. Our job in Bali and beyond is to shape this nascent global transformation – to open the door to the age of green economics and green development.” But unfortunately, even with the Kyoto Protocol, what is still missing is a global framework within which the planet’s people can coordinate their efforts to fight climate change scientifically or measurably. It still makes smaller countries like Nepal, Maldives, Fiji and Laos feel like losers in not being able to contribute much except to politely nod heads in ‘unanimous agreement’ with other affected countries of the world on issues that are of little concern to their own individual ecologies.
Why the uncontrolled global warming despite the Kyoto Protocol, which Nepal has also ratified? The fact is, the Protocol which is the baby of the 1997 UN conference held in Kyoto , Japan , requires nations to reduce carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gasses emitted by power plants and other industrial, agricultural and transportation sources to at least five per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12, which is well nigh impossible. The U.S. in fact had objected to the way the smaller countries, such as Nepal, Maldives or Fiji were being treated, and also for holding rhetorical and unrealistic expectations of change. In Bali, a total of 174 nations ratified the pact, however, none has achieved it. The UNFCC has even divided countries into developed and developing nations. Not all have the same commitments, the EU, for example, which negotiates as a bloc, has committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 per cent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. If taken together, the limits would reduce overall emissions of six greenhouse gases from these countries by approximately 5 per cent below 1990 levels before 2012. A relatively small reduction in percentage but a huge step for the world’s environmental scientists since Europe is the world’s leading economic power house and industrial belt.
For Nepal, the current dilemma is: if climate change is unchecked particularly given the geo-strategic location it straddles in the Hindu-Kush Himalayas which also hosts the headquarters of the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, it could be the main cause of another major world depletion, the Himalayan glaciers. Some change has already been noticed in the glacial movements in the Himalayas in the past decade and some of the Himalayan lakes have over spilt their natural mountain embankments threatening floods and mass migration. Right now, it might not be a major concern to global climate change theorists, but if it did happen in an unchecked level, it could lead to depletion of agricultural land due to rising, trapping water levels, floods in India, or rising sea level in Bangladesh. The scarcity of water itself could be the ironic end-consequence for Nepal due to soaring global temperatures.
In context, Nepal 's environment has already suffered the effects of a bad socio-economic regression period that is the 10 year civil conflict that ended only recently. But as soon as it ended, there was an unchecked tourism boom which shows no signs of abating (average growth last year-40%; increase in air passenger traffic-37%). But more acute problems have been agricultural encroachment, deforestation and consequent soil erosion, contamination of the water supply, and unsurpassed migration into mid-hill townships and cities that has put local environmental pressures. Do note this: between the mid-1960s and the late 1970s, forestland lessened from 30% to 22% in total acreages since firewood was then over 90% of Nepal 's fuel requirement source. Soil erosion is causing the loss of about 240 million cubic meters of topsoil erosion each year. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN estimates that at the present rate of depletion, the forests will be virtually wiped out by 2015. Air and water pollution are also significant environmental problems in Nepal , airline pilots complain that Kathmandu valley is always covered with a layer of air pollution.
According to United Nations sources, Nepal produces 18,000 tons of carbon monoxide and 3,300 tons of hydrocarbons per year. Roughly one-third of the nation's city inhabitants and two-thirds of all rural dwellers do not have pure water, and the use of contaminated drinking water creates a health hazard. Untreated sewage is a major pollution factor: the nation's cities produce an average of 0.7 million tons of solid waste per year. Nepal ’s pro-green environment lobby has estimated that in 2007, 34 of Nepal 's mammal species and 42 of its bird species were endangered, as were 11 plant species. Some of the animal species classified as endangered in Nepal include the snow leopard, tiger, Asian elephant, pygmy hog, great Indian rhinoceros, Assam rabbit, swamp deer, wild yak, chir pheasant, and gavial. No one has done an accurate study to date.
Thus, in the oncoming Bangkok Climate Change meeting, there is a definite need to focus on the environmental fate of countries like Nepal. Delegates at the UN's climate change conference in Bali were worried about the Nepali types of depletion as well, not just the exchange of carbon emissions and allocating country points, or whether cuts in carbon emissions should be mandatory or voluntary, or how by reducing deforestation, poor countries might be less hit by worsening droughts, floods and violent storms. While through the Bali meting both developed and developing countries are able to earn credits, known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CMD), to offset against their targets by funding clean technologies such as solar power used in both groups, poorer countries such as Nepal can only wish that through Bali, Bangkok and future summits, the world’s environmental experts can reach some agreement on what is more important than monitoring CDM alone, it is the quality and care of environment that surrounds us.
(Surya B. Prasai writes regularly for NepalHorizons, is Regional Contributor from Marylandto the American Chronicle National Media Network, Los Angeles, and a Google Global Discussant and Resource Expert on international affairs, global climate change, HIV/AIDS impact mitigation, protecting women and children´s health, and curbing international illegal labor migration).
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