COPOUT at COP26
The COP26 climate jamboree ends in Glasgow on Friday, and already it looks like the best world governments are prepared to offer in terms of emission cuts is not enough to stave off an environmental catastrophe.
There were a slew of national, international and multinational pledges for net zero, but activists fear allegations that the targets are vague and over-ambitious greenwash that they have no intention of meeting.
The result could be global average temperatures soaring to up to 3oCelsius above pre-industrial levels, with catastrophic results. The Himalaya will warm even faster, and scientists say it could lose up to two-thirds of its remaining ice during this century.
Read also: Nepal's greewashing in Glasgow, Rashmi Baskota
On Tuesday in Glasgow, Nepal unveiled three ambitious targets, and without waiting for others to say it, boasted that it was the ‘highest climate ambition country’.
In its three-point pledge, Nepal said it would:
- Start reducing emission from 2022 and be carbon negative after 2045
- Halt deforestation and increase forest cover to 45% by 2030
- Ensure all vulnerable people are protected from climate change by 2030
In Kathmandu, environmental activist Bhushan Tuladhar welcomed the new targets, saying they were “ambitious but doable” but one which will require a serious review of our normal development pathway.
“We can’t look at the commitments as just reduction of carbon emission, but as an investment for our economy and health. Now let’s walk the talk and get to work,” Tuladhar told Nepali Times.
A good start would be for the government to order that all official vehicles purchased from now on will be battery powered, and encourage public transport operators to electrify their bus fleets and by reducing taxes and setting up charging stations, he added.
The pledges have been criticised as being too vague on protecting all ‘vulnerable people by 2030’ and annual reduction of emissions till net-zero by 2045 will hinge on implementation, on which Nepal has always been weak. The forestry target, however, is seen to be achievable.
The targets are also conditional upon financial support, and Nepal will require $46 billion to implement them from 2022-2030, which is 24% of national GDP, and the government can fund only about 2% of this sum.
Amrit Nakarmi, an adviser at the Energy Development Council who prepared the long-term strategy report, says that Nepal is unlikely to meet the targets without climate funds.
“We contribute only 0.5% of total global carbon emissions and even within that only 30% is anthropogenic, 20% is natural and the remaining 50% is transboundary, so us reducing our carbon footprint will not make much of a difference to the global climate,” explains Nakarmi.
“But having said that we can replace our fossil fuel imports with clean hydroelectricity and cut our import bill,” he adds. “Electrification of the economy is urgent, and government policies should be in line with our targets and the private sector should be involved.”
Climate finance and payments for Nepal’s carbon sink from expanded forest cover will take time to materialise. But experts say we should not wait for the money, and start with low-cost effective mitigation measures locally.
Cooking via electricity has now become much cheaper than LPG, and many urban families have transitioned to induction stoves. But 90% of households across Nepal are hooked to only 5amp current which is only enough for lighting. If the transmission can be upgraded, Nepal could save at least Rs33 billion a year by replacing its cooking gas imports with electricity.
Nepalis have paid nearly Rs10 billion in pollution tax for every litre of petrol or diesel at the gas stations in the last decade. This money could be used to buy electric public buses. Increasing the petroleum excise tax could fund conversion to renewables.
Nepal would also save Rs21 billion a year by reducing its petroleum import bill by just 10% if it converted public buses to battery-operated vehicles while also increasing domestic consumption of clean electricity and improving air quality. If the transport sector is electrified, experts believe net-zero by 2045 is possible.
Water scientist Madhukar Upadhya believes Nepal can also increase forest cover to 45% by 2030 (from the current 37%) by controlling forest degradation due to encroachment, deforestation and reducing wildfires.
But Upadhyay is puzzled by the third target on protecting vulnerable people. “We just don’t have the infrastructure, knowledge or expertise to achieve climate resilience for vulnerable people by 2030,” he asserts.
“Nepal experienced extreme weather this year, droughts and floods destroyed crops, lack of water is creating climate refugees, wildfires have become nationwide,” Upadhyay adds. “These are not just headlines anymore, we are experiencing them ourselves, what are we doing to address these challenges? Nepal has taken no action to reduce or control them.”
Other areas that can be cleaned up with existing technologies and local resources include industries, agriculture and waste management. The cement industry is booming in Nepal, and they are big carbon emitters. By switching to electricity, Nepal could mitigate emissions. Rice farming generates methane, which is a greenhouse gas, so converting to the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) could reduce our contribution to climate change.
Kathmandu’s only landfill in Sisdole has reached maximum capacity and an alternative site has been in talks for decades. Landfills add to methane emissions, but there has been no commitment to composting and biogas using biodegradable urban waste.
After overdosing on climate news for two weeks just to be side-lined until the next COP, we might want to recall another one of our targets, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Half of the 17 goals in SDGs will be directly affected by the impact of climate change, and yet these initiatives are working in isolation when in fact they should coordinate and collaborate for the same goal: sustainable and just future.
Says environmentalist Tuladhar: “There are two things to do right after Glasgow: explain the nitty-gritty of the commitments we made and immediately implement short-, mid- and long-term strategies to achieve them. Start with the low hanging fruit, what we can immediately do, and there are plenty of them.”
Sonia Awale is Executive Editor of Nepali Times where she also serves as the health, science and environment correspondent. She has extensively covered the climate crisis, disaster preparedness, development and public health -- looking at their political and economic interlinkages. Sonia is a graduate of public health, and has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Hong Kong.