Act globally, think locally

Dozers were required for the rescue of stranded locals and their motorbikes in Kavre during the floods caused by incessant rainfall across the country last week. Photo: RAJKUMAR PARAJULI/RSS

As nearly 300 scientists from 60 countries arrived in Kathmandu this week to attend the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to plan its next report, it is as if the rain god was waiting to remind them to be more forthright about the causal link between climate change and weather.

After being three weeks late, unprecedented monsoon squalls this year hit the country with record precipitation in places. Floods and landslides killed nearly 80 people in Nepal, affecting millions of people downstream in India.

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Weather warning for climate change, Sonia Awale

Where is monsoon this year?, Ajaya Dixit

It must have been premonition that drove us to write an editorial in this space on 28 June warning of just such a calamity. We said floods are an annual phenomenon in Nepal and farmers have learnt to live, even benefit, from them. Floods are natural, we wrote, disasters are not.

It is when we let the city expand into the floodplains of rivers, when we construct ill-designed road embankments or block natural drainage systems that floods claim lives. We saw ample evidence of that this week from the Kalanki and Nakkhu neighbourhoods of Kathmandu, where streams turned into raging brown torrents to reclaim their original courses.

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Flood of recrimination, Editorial

Nepal Tarai learns from past floods, Sewa Bhattarai

And in Rautahat, which saw a repeat of the 2017 disaster caused by flood control levees on the Bagmati narrowing the river, which was then dammed by a road embankment across the border in India. The fatalities were much less this time because the Indian embankment gave way, releasing the dammed water. But in the process, it inundated large parts of northern Bihar.

Bad urban planning combined with climate-related weather extremes will surely lead to future catastrophes. The way to be prepared for them is to understand rivers, not block their paths to the sea. The river will always win.

This was a point driven home at the IPCC meeting in Kathmandu this week by co-chair of Working Group 2, Debra Roberts of South Africa. She told our reporter: “Kathmandu has been tested over the last week by an unusual monsoon – you need the people who run and design this city to have access to information on major global transitions like how urban infrastructure can cope with future climate events.” 

Indeed, urban infrastructure is one of the four major global transitions that countries need to pay attention to in coming decades, underlined the IPCC’s 1.5 Special Report last year. The others are land use, industry and energy systems.

The scientists writing the IPCC’s 6th assessment in Kathmandu this week will be focusing on adaptation and impact, but their final report will not be released till 2022. The danger is that, at the accelerated pace of warming that we are witnessing, the data used to predict impact will itself be outdated.

Just as the Himalayan Assessment released by ICIMOD earlier this year showed, the warming trend is already much worse than we thought. Our mountains are warming up to 0.7oC degrees faster than the global average, melting and shrinking glaciers at an accelerated pace.

Read also: On thin ice in the Khumbu, Kunda Dixit


If we go on with business as usual, spewing the same amount of carbon we do today, two-thirds of the ice in the Himalaya will be gone this century, with catastrophic effects for the up to 1.6 billion people living downstream.

Ice and snow get all the media attention, but weather extremes are already depleting aquifers and as groundwater levels drop, springs are going dry in Nepal’s mid-mountains.

Our governments have a tendency to blame all their past neglect and poor governance on the climate crisis. In fact, climate change is a god-sent excuse for them to do nothing. However as we know, Nepal’s poverty, dependence on rain-fed agriculture and lack of clean drinking water, are structural problems that pre-date climate change. The global climate emergency just makes all our existing development problems more challenging.

What we have to be prepared for is that even the IPCC’s findings presented in Incheon and Katowice last year may be too optimistic, and that warming trends will certainly be much worse.

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Climate climax, Editorial

Climate damage, Editorial

We really do not need more evidence that the climate emergency is happening. The question is, what we are going to do about it. Being an inter-governmental body, the IPCC is a vital interface between scientists and politicians. Policymakers now need to turn the knowledge available into specific action for the local context. The old cliché may have to be turned around: act globally, think locally.

10 years ago this week

Ten years ago this week, the front page story in Nepali Times by Prashant Jha from New Delhi (#460, 17 -23 July, 2009) dealt with what Nepal-watchers in India's capital were thinking about the political goings-on in Kathmandu. Then, as now, Delhi seemed confused. Excerpt:

‘There is a great deal of confusion in India about the political confusion in Nepal, but officials here say they want the Maoists to “reform internally” and support the Madhav Nepal government.

Sections of the Indian establishment concede Nepal’s government suffers a legitimacy crisis. They insist that the process must move forward in the present framework. Indian officialdom wants the government now to try to get the political process back on track. India is learnt to have told Madhav Nepal to “keep the doors open” for the Maoists and constantly engage with them.’