Nepal’s greenwashing in Glasgow

Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg calls COP26 in Glasgow the ‘Global North Greenwashing Festival.’ But it is also developing countries like Nepal that are using the occasion to make wild promises they are not serious about.

As a country that has taken a lead in championing the mountain agenda at climate summits, Nepal put forth three targets this week:

  • Remain 'cumulatively net zero carbon’ from 2022-2045' and become carbon negative after that. 
  • Halt deforestation and increase forest cover to 45% by 2030
  • Ensure all vulnerable people are protected from climate change by 2030

Individually and collectively, these targets do not mean anything. What is more, the Nepali delegation commended itself as the ‘highest climate ambition country’. Even if that was true, it would be for someone else to say that, not us.

The forestry target is more realistic: increasing the current 37% forest cover to 45% in the next nine years is attainable. But how can Nepal justify clearing the last tract of native tropical forest in the eastern Tarai that is a migration corridor for wild elephants by building a white elephant airport at Nijgad?

Read Also Nepal must save Nijgad Forest to receive climate funds, Kashish Das Shrestha

Other infrastructure projects are undermining the success of community forestry, and Nepal is still reluctant in allowing private capital into climate action, and consequently the inclusion of private sector project developers.

Consumption and a throwaway plastic culture is growing in Nepal, recycling is almost non-existent, domestic aviation is flying high, and petroleum import is doubling every few years.  Black carbon deposits from factories, vehicles and cooking are accelerating Himalayan melting and exacerbating a public health crisis from pollution. 

And the third point about Nepal’s claim that it will ensure all vulnerable people are ‘protected from climate change by 2030’ has dumbfounded most experts I have spoken to. How exactly are we going to protect them in the next nine years, from what? And what is the criteria by which we can judge that they have been ‘protected’?   

A footnote in Nepal’s press statement in Glasgow is that these targets are conditional upon financial support and Nepal’s goal to raise Rs250 billion. Oops. Given Nepal’s history of unwillingness to allow the flow of private capital into climate projects, this is very unlikely.

As COP26 host, the UK has gone into overdrive with media hype about the successes: the Global Methane Pledge, Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use.

Every day brings forth a new declaration. Countries are picking up on this convenient way to make pledges they know they will not have to fulfill on reducing carbon emissions.  From Saudi Arabia to Israel, India to China, ‘net-zero’ has become the next big thing. 

Read Also Net Zero is not zero, Maureen Santos and Linda Schneider

As a youth environmentalist, I am appalled by empty and reckless promises being made at this make-or-break conference -- our last chance to save the planet from heating that will lead to societal upheaval, mass extinction, overflowing oceans and other calamities. 

While some see these commitments as a welcome sign that leaders are committed to transitioning to a carbon neutral world and implementing the Paris Agreement, the reality is different.

We need to phase out all fossil fuels by 2030 if we are to cap global temperature rise to 1.5. But national emission reduction ambitions do not reflect this. The fossil fuel lobby is prominently present in Glasgow, and national delegates have turned net-zero into political sloganeering, while ignoring the roadmap on net-zero put forth by the International Energy Agency. 

Climate change is a political agenda, but it is also a technical one. Ensuring a just and affordable transition to net-zero requires a global overhaul of the energy system while adopting a cross-sectional and integrated approach to addressing poverty. 

Sadly, COP26 presidency seems to have forgotten or completely ignored this. The newfound energy in enhancing climate ambition has dwarfed the real agenda of climate negotiations. Britain, as the cradle of the industrial revolution, has made dramatic national cutbacks, and wants desperately for Glasgow to deliver meaningful and realistic targets.

Read Also Climate change is a disaster in Nepal Himalaya, Sonam Choekyi Lama

But negotiations on Article 6 are still contested and it seems unlikely that the Paris Rulebook will be adopted. Coal financing continues, negotiations on public climate finance and the $100bn target has not materialised.

Civil society plays a crucial role in ensuring climate action, ambition, and accountability. But twisting the truth about Nepal, and creating illusions is detrimental to action on climate that we must start taking. Inviting civil society to Glasgow and pretending to listen to them is a scam.

It is working: climate activists on Facebook are lauding the COP Presidency for helping Nepal make a bold pledge on an ambitious sets of targets. And when there is so much doom and gloom, even critics do not seem to want to speak against this ray of hope. 

This is not a COP to feel good about yourselves. It is not a COP to pawn our youth climate activists in Glasgow to create the illusion of inclusion. It is not a COP for industrialised countries to now pin the blame for the climate crisis on the developing world, without putting their money where their mouths are.  

The hearts of the delegates in Glasgow may be in the right place, but their actions are not. This is not your COP. It is my future, so stop messing with it.

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