There is a tendency on the part of governments to blame everything on climate change. It lets them off the hook. In Nepal, a politician once even said Kathmandu’s garbage problem was caused by global warming.

Many of Nepal’s chronic crises, like food insecurity, under-development, inequality and poor governance, pre-date the climate emergency. Government neglect, apathy and the failure of past authoritarian and democratically-elected leaders to address these structural problems are why Nepal is in the state it is in today.

The climate emergency is just the latest crisis to hit Nepal, making all our pre-existing problems worse. Climate change crowds out the other crises because it is treated as a standalone problem.


Many of the measures the government says it plans to take in response to the global climate crisis should be carried out anyway, regardless of whether the earth is warming or not. For example, we should switch from a fossil fuel-based economy to renewable energy, we must promote solar and take local adaptation measures because our economy demands the efficiency — not only because Greenland is thawing.  

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Let’s face it: what we do or do not do in Nepal is not going to save the planet. With an annual carbon footprint of 0.12 tons per capita (Qatar’s footprint is 40 tons) Nepal’s contribution to atmospheric carbon is negligible.

But, for the past three years, Nepal has imported Rs20 billion worth of electricity annually from India, generated by coal-fired thermal plants in Bihar, doubling the average Nepali’s carbon footprint.

This is on top of the Rs100 billion worth of diesel, LPG and petrol that Nepal will import from India this fiscal year. The growth in Nepal’s petroleum use is the fastest among South Asia countries, and has more than doubled in the last two years. Since it is all imported, this has increased our trade imbalance with India.

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Yes, there is a need to address historical emissions by industrialised nations that have brought about global heating, and Nepal’s demand in international fora for resources for climate adaptation is fair. But India, China and Indonesia now exceed the total carbon emissions in Europe and North America combined. The Asia-Pacific is now responsible for half of global carbon dioxide emissions. 

For Nepal, adaptation and mitigation must now go hand in hand. We need to adapt to erratic weather, extreme rainfall events, and be prepared for future glacial lake outbursts. But Nepal also needs to cut emissions -- not just to save its glaciers from disappearing, but to save our economy from collapse.

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We could do with budgetary support to implement national strategies to build up carbon stock and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but ultimately it is about planning smart and being energy efficient.

It is not that Nepal is not moving in the right direction. It is just that it is not moving fast enough. The Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) under Kul Man Ghising got a lot of credit for doing away with power cuts by scrapping the black market in electricity through dedicated circuits and importing the shortfall from India. This monsoon, Nepal actually managed to bank power in India for the first time.

In anticipation of a surge in electric vehicles, NEA plans to install 30 fast-charging stations along highways. Ghising has called on consumers to switch to induction stoves and rice cookers in the kitchen to replace LPG use. It will be cheaper for families, reduce Nepal’s import bill and slash carbon emissions.


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Much more needs to be done to invest in solar power, including installing more large-scale generators with storage capacity and household-level rooftop panels. With reverse metering NEA can buy back electricity in the daytime, and one recent calculation showed that Kathmandu Valley alone could generate 100MW using solar even if only south-facing rooftops were used. The beauty of it is that there will be minimum system loss in transmission. To even out demand, NEA needs to be freed of the stranglehold of its political unions so it can introduce seasonal and time-of-day tariffs.

The spread of community electricity bodes well for reducing pilferage and other losses. There has been a surge in new private investment in hydropower plants in the 5-20MW range all over the country. This gives villages the power to adapt to climate change -- water can be pumped up from rivers for year-round irrigation in the Karnali and elsewhere.

It is time Nepali officials stopped using climate change as an excuse, and started upscaling measures that we know work to reduce our petroleum import, salvage the economy and help save the planet.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.  

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10 years ago this week

Reading this State of the State column by CK Lal from Nepali Times edition #468 of 11-18 September shows us how far we have come, and how things are no different from 10 years ago:

'Despite a concerted disinformation campaign against the Maoists, it is Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal's hubris that lies at the centre of the parliamentary deadlock in the Constituent Assembly. Under Nepal's leadership, the UML boycotted the entire winter session of Parliament in 2001, so he must know the difficulty of extricating an opposition party from a self-destructive, confrontational course. Koirala and Nepal need to accept that there is no place for their old antagonism in the present scheme of things.

They need to make peace with Pushpa Kamal Dahal for their own good and for the future of peace and democracy in the country.'