TOKYO-Japan's greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high last year pushing the country further away from meeting its Kyoto targets. The world's fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter, it has been long criticised for not paying attention to its climate-protection obligations.
Tokyo's leadership on climate change is eroding as it slips in meeting targets to limit emissions. The global recession may now make it harder for industrialised nations like Japan to invest in cleaner technology.
Japan is already experiencing some adverse affects of climate change. There has been about a 1?C rise in temperature over the course of the 20th century and a 2-3?C rise in large cities. There have been dramatic changes in the length of growing seasons. Studies have also found that various birds and mammals exhibit trends toward larger body size, probably due to increasing food availability. Rice yields are projected to decrease by up to 40 per cent in irrigated lowlands.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC) first major follow-up summit took place in Bangkok earlier this year. Japan proposed that the developed countries be given a target date of 2020 to reform their global warming reduction goals as compared to the 2012 agreed in Bali earlier. If Japan's proposal were to be accepted, even the developing countries will have to set up the same greenhouse gas reduction targets as Japan. Under Kyoto, which expires in 2012, only industrialised countries have to reduce emissions by five per cent from the 1990s level.
Although Nepal's contribution to climate change is negligible, the Himalaya will be the hardest hit region in the world after the north polar region. And it will be the poorest people in the mountains who will suffer most. A report by the Institute for Global Environment projected that there will be an increased risk of hunger in South Asia due to a 30 per cent decline in cereal yields. Accelerating melt of glaciers in the Himalayas, glacial lake outbursts and flooding, migration of malaria and dengue to higher altitudes and the loss of mangroves because of sea-level rise will threaten South Asia. So far, no action has been taken by Nepal or developing countries other than the preparation of a National Adaptation Program of Action by least developed countries.
At major international climate change meetings Nepal's environment experts have drawn attention to the fact that ice retreat in the Himalaya is not just Nepal's problem. The Himalaya is the water tower on which nearly 1.5 billion people in Asia depend.
Nepal's own ongoing alternative energy programs like community forestry, biogas, micro-hydropower development are all climate-friendly activities. But the international community is slow to give us credit for our small efforts, and compensate us adequately. UN data shows that Nepal is leading with its initiatives to curb climate change and is ahead of countries like Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Maldives and even China. But such initiatives are easily dwarfed by the scale of the problem especially considering the size of Nepal's neighbours China and India.
Global warming will affect all regions of the world. But there are some countries that will be more seriously hurt, like the Maldives and Nepal. Countries like ours are also the least responsible for the problem because of low populations and low per capita emissions of carbon dioxide both now and in the past. We are also doing relatively much more to reduce our carbon footprint.
Of course, a lot more needs to be done. Nepal's consumption of fossil fuels is increasing, and past governments have been negligent in reducing our dependence on imported fuel-not just to combat climate change, but even as a purely economic imperative.
The new government of a New Nepal could pro-actively promote hydropower generation and a switch to electric mass transit, electric buses and vehicles. At the same time, we need to protect our carbon sinks. Despite the spread of community forestry, encroachment on woodlands is shrinking hardwood canopy cover in the Tarai.
The melting Himalaya - FROM ISSUE #427 (28 NOV 2008 - 04 DEC 2008)