He came, he saw, he left

Visiting Nepal in the midst of the Gaza war and ahead of COP28, the UN Secretary General highlighted the twin dangers of climate and conflict


That UN Secretary General António Guterres invested four days to visit
Nepal in the midst of a war in the Middle East was perhaps a
deliberate attempt to draw attention to another calamity: climate

He chose Nepal because it is a least-developed country that has itself
come out of a ten-year conflict, and is one of the most vulnerable to
the impact of global heating. In a video message he recorded on Monday
from Syangboche with Mt Everest peeking over his shoulder he said: “We
can see the terrible impact of the climate crisis on the Himalayas …
climate action cannot wait. I am here to show Nepal to the world, and
how dramatic climate change is.”

Guterres highlighted the “climate injustice” that made a country that
does not contribute much to climate breakdown, but is one of the most
vulnerable. From the Himalaya the Secretary-General will be going to
Antarctica ahead of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai to draw
attention to melting of the polar ice caps.

Read Also: António Guterres' agenda in Kathmandu

The Guterres visit has helped spread awareness of anthropogenic
greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere, and the urgent need for
drastic emissions cuts. He vowed to raise the issue of urgent support
for the energy transition in developing countries, funds for
adaptation, and to recover from destruction caused by weather

We in Nepal already know that the glaciers are melting before our
eyes, the question is how communities most at risk will adapt to
disasters like landslides and overflowing glacial lakes. Who will help
them cope with droughts and floods? How will millions of people
survive heat stress and unlivable wet-bulb temperatures?

The fact that Guterres visited not just the Everest region but also
the Annapurnas on Tuesday showed the emphasis he placed on the climate agenda during his Nepal visit. The Annapurna Conservation Area is a unique model developed in Nepal by Nepali social scientists to support environmental protection through eco-tourism.

At a time when we hear nothing but bad news, Nepal’s achievements in
nature conservation despite its low economic development is a model
for countries around the world. The country has met its target of 45%
forest cover, and although we could move faster in promoting electric
public transport, there has been progress in the past two years. By
next year, Nepal will have surplus hydropower even in the dry season
and can more rapidly replace LPG and other petroleum imports.

Nepal has done all this without much help from the outside world.
Indeed, while we highlight the need for climate justice and adaptation
funds, Nepal has not waited for that support. But we can decarbonise
much faster if green funds are more forthcoming.

At a time when historical records for the earth’s energy balance,
global average temperature, hurricane intensity, extreme rainfall and
wildfires are being broken every other week it is farcical that COP28
is being held in a country that is the world’s 5th largest exporter of
refined petroleum products, and the summit chair heads the Abu Dhabi
Oil Corporation (ADNOC). The greenwashing in the run-up to the Summit
gives us little hope that we will move beyond the hair-splitting in
the last COP between ‘phase-out’ and ‘phase-down’ of fossil fuels.

Nepal and most other South Asian countries which are themselves at
high risk from climate impact (Bangladesh and Maldives from sea level
rise, Sri Lanka from weather extremes, India and Pakistan from floods
and droughts, Nepal and Bhutan from melting mountains) have millions
of workers in the Gulf states where it is already too hot to work in
the daytime most of the year.

After addressing a joint session of Nepal’s Parliament on Tuesday
where he once more underlined climate action, the UN Secretary-General
flew to Doha where he will resume fire-fighting the Israel-Hamas war.

Despite the lack of closure for survivors and families of victims of
Nepal’s own conflict, our peace process is in a lot of ways exemplary.
The two former enemies are not just the state, but are coalition
partners. The insurgents were demobilised, and a part of the militia
was inducted into the national army – some of them are today actually
in UN peacekeeping forces around the world.

Read Also: Justice delayed, justice denied

Secretary-General Guterres acknowledged this in a speech after his
visit to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha: “Nepal is an example
of a country that is not only able to make peace with itself but also
contributes to peace in conflict regions around the world.”