Waving the green flag
The climate summit in Glasgow is coming to an end today. For the past two weeks, leaders and activists from around the world have gathered to decide on the course of action against a hotter planet.
From the mountains to the oceans and the poles to the torrid, climate crisis is affecting every corner of the world. People around the world as in Nepal are experiencing flash floods, prolonged droughts, scorching heat waves and unprecedented wildfire.
And scientists say this will only get worse with the global temperatures set to surpass well above 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, at the current rate of warming.
Real climate action makes a difference and Nepali Times spoke to three young Nepali activists to know more about their initiatives.
Founder of Leklekk: The Green Wave, Yajaswi believes in recognising and working on intersectional and cross cutting issues. Her primary interest lies in environment sustainability, and indigenous as well as other vulnerable communities. She is also one of the Youth Gender Activists at UN Women, and a central committee member at Youth Congress Nepal.
Nepali Times: Can you tell us a little about Leklekk?
Leklekk: The Green Wave works on a circular economy of various environment conscious products and services. Leklekk means ‘Green’ in my mother tongue.
The company works with organisations to educate the consumers, sell and recycle eco-friendly products. We also plant equal if not more trees to replenish the resources consumed. The company is striving to achieve a fair balance of profitability, social responsibility and environmental sustainability through three phases: 'Give’, ’Recycle’ and ‘Grow’, working in various districts of Nepal.
Leklekk at the moment has paper and PLA products for restaurants. We have bamboo toothbrushes, and produce bamboo medals and other for schools. We resell our recycled papers and crafts in bulk as well.
What motivated you to start the initiative?
Starting Leklekk was an amalgamation of need and interest at the same time. I am a believer of a holistic and sustainable development hence working in the field of indigenous knowledge and environment was always an interest. On the other hand, my pet almost died due to plastic congestion, and it's not a unique story for animals, and will soon be applicable in human lives too, hence a need.
Can you elaborate a little on the projects you have with the schools and restaurants?
In schools we work on educating the students regarding sustainable practices. During lockdown, along with educating them, we held a nationwide “Green Mindset Competition” where students all over the country from age 6-25 years sent us their practices or creative outputs of environmental consciousness.
In restaurants, we first educate them, tell them why plastic is harmful and ways we can make the restaurants more environmentally conscious. Alongside, we supply eco-friendly products to them, but also recollect their paper wastes for recycling in their next orders.
Do you think the climate crisis impacts women and marginalised communities disproportionately? How so?
Yes, but this is however more visible in places with gender inequality. The majority of people affected by climate change are women and marginalised communities and the reasons are multifaceted. For example, most often we see men swimming in ponds, rivers and pools. So in times of water disasters like tsunami, floods, it is no surprise more women die more due to drowning.
Economically, it is comparatively difficult for marginalised populations and women to achieve or own places, knowledge or equipment, which are safer. Because their mobility is also more restricted, they tend to still be in regions vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Physically too, water shortage due to the climate change has added to the drudgery of women, they have to walk longer to access water for irrigation and household purposes. In an aftermath of climate disasters, women are more vulnerable to sexual harassment at rescue centres.
How can we include and prioritise women in real climate action at home and not just highlight their vulnerability at global platforms like COP26?
Educating everyone about the issues of climate change and the vulnerability is the first step. Actions have to begin from households and to national and international levels. In developing country like Nepal, safety training in disaster preparedness and safety is crucial.
Every local government should have demographics of vulnerable people like pregnant women, children, old people, in their areas, and map the vulnerability of their community itself. Each unit then should be prepared with proper human, financial, and contingent resources for any climate related disasters.
The grit and knowledge of marginalised and indigenous communities have to be respected and brought into practice, it is one of the most sustainable ways to act against climate change. Our leaders should also start listening to experts and prioritise these issues.
Nepal should also start carrying out independent research and actions to identify the needs for the future. Climate related financing should be a priority in our budget.
Best examples of climate initiatives in Nepal?
Every small to big climate action is the best climate initiative. My niece rejecting one more plastic in a grocery shop, a friend choosing to become vegan, my customers choosing to switch to bamboo toothbrush, friends protesting, to all various movements and enterprises like Global Youth Biodiversity Network, Leklekk: The Green Wave, Fashion Revolution, Harin Nepal, and countless others are all the best examples.
Samikshya Rai is a full-time teacher and a part-time sustainable blogger from Nepalganj. A graduate of Environment Science, she shares her everyday practice on her Instagram page @thesustainable.life.
What does sustainable living mean for you?
Well scientifically, sustainable living is a way of reducing your carbon footprint on earth. For me personally, it’s a lifestyle which I have control over.
I wake up every day and get to decide how much natural resource I am going to use that day, or the amount of money I spend on the things I actually need. I get to make a decision to help a local business by buying their goods. And these actions collectively have a positive impact on the environment and our future generation. I feel that living sustainably makes you considerate and kind towards nature as well as other human beings.
What got you interested in it?
After the 2015 earthquake, I was volunteering in an organisation in Kathmandu, where I was a part of an environmental campaign called “No thanks I carry my own bag”. The more I learned about climate change, the more interested I became. It was then that I decided I want to study Environmental Science and do my bit in protecting the planet.
I started watching vlogs and reading blogs from people who had been practicing a sustainable lifestyle. Most of them were from West. But with time I came to a realisation that we Nepalis have been practicing sustainability for a long time. For example, we use duna and tapari, made from leaves for puja and other functions. Our Nepali moms are true “Sustainable Heroes”. They use old glass jars to store pickle or store vegetables in an ice-cream tub in a refrigerator. When a t-shirt gets old, they don’t throw it away, it is used as a pochha to clean the floors.
My parents grow their own food and they have so much respect for nature. They live a sustainable lifestyle themselves, which has influenced me to lead one as well.
How can people take the first steps to a more sustainable lifestyle?
Living a sustainable life is easy if you make it so. For beginners I would suggest starting by doing small actions in your daily life. You can start using reusable bottles and containers instead of plastic. When you go shopping make a list of things you need beforehand instead of buying random goods just because it’s on a sale or looks attractive on the shelves. Extreme consumerism is a major factor contributing to the global climate crisis.
Women can switch to reusable products like menstrual cup, reusable razors. For sustainable fashion you can opt for thrift stores or borrow/rent clothes. Also, do your research if your clothes are made ethically or not. You can learn to grow vegetables on your own. Choosing an electric vehicle is also an option but let’s hope the tax for EV is further reduced. Using public vehicle is also a sustainable practice.
Before starting a sustainable lifestyle, we should be mentally prepared because ‘eco anxiety’ is a thing. Once you start learning about climate crisis and how serious it is, it can be overwhelming for some.
Does sustainable have to be expensive?
Sustainable living is not a matter of privilege, it’s a matter of necessity, and it is a matter of urgency for a better cause. Sustainable living shouldn’t be expensive but unfortunately it is, the main reason being lack of demand and high manufacturing cost.
I tried to buy a hemp yoga mat once in Kathmandu but I couldn’t afford it. Sustainable clothes can be expensive as well because they are made with eco-friendly materials. But in the long run eco-friendly products are cheaper. For example, a menstrual cup costs Rs500-2500, but it can be used for years.
More importantly, sustainable living doesn’t only mean fancy/trendy sustainable products. There are other budget friendly ways to live a sustainable life and save nature. Just practice what’s feasible for you.
What role do young people like yourself play in mitigating the impacts of climate crisis?
Young people will bear the impacts of climate change. So, it is our responsibility to protect this earth and as such youth all over the world are stepping forward in solidarity to fight back. Our generation should utilise the skills, knowledge, and turn to science, technology and education in any way possible to speak up for ourselves.
Young people should advocate with their governments as well as world leaders on this issue. There are also different career paths that can be taken to save the environment. One can volunteer in a climate organisation, or even be a part of climate research.
How can government proactively help the youth to tackle climate change?
The most important thing that our government can do is make young people part of environmental policymaking and development. Youth activists should be given an opportunity to be part of programs like COP, more so that the officials filling out government quota who go there and click pictures at best. For a better systematic change there should be inclusiveness.
Education plays a big role in mitigating the climate crisis. It is high time that government redesign the curriculum and include content such as best practices to saving energy, ways to reduce carbon footprint, recycling, growing their own vegetables, among others. They should be educated and made a party of climate policy.
The government should invest on youth-led climate projects and businesses. Climate smart agriculture should be promoted. More green jobs should be created. The government should understand the urgency of the situation and that only our generation can save this planet.
How can we keep up the focus on climate crisis post conferences like COP26?
It’s the responsibility of individuals and government/private organisations who attended COP26 to share and implement their findings from the program at national level. Better climate action plans should be executed at local level.
Local community should be made a part of implementation. They should be made well aware of global climate crisis. Young people should raise their voice to push their governments to actually work on climate targets set. Those in power should be held accountable, climate issues should be prioritised all year around.
Best examples of climate initiatives in Nepal
LAPA, Local Adaptation plan of action is one of the best climate initiatives in policy level in Nepal. It aims to identify vulnerable local communities and work closely with them to mitigate climate crisis. It is supported by National Adaptation Programme of action.
Baghmara, a buffer zone community forest in Chitwan which covers 215.6 ha. is managed by local people. It is contiguous with Chitwan National Park. It showcases that conservation is effective only when local community is made a part of it and benefited from it.
There are some Local Business promoting Environment friendly products like Ecosathi Nepal, Deego Nepal, Bora Studio Nepal etc. These businesses work closely with local community to manufacture their products. Khaalisisi is an NGO working with waste workers which aims to build Nepal as one of the top 20 Recycling Nation by 2030.
Shail Shrestha is a program director at Digo Bikas Institute. He has been involved in bicycle activism since 2009, and has gradually expanded his work and activism towards broader urban agenda and sustainability aspect of development itself.
You have advocated for the use of bicycles and a cycle friendly city for over a decade now, what changes have you seen?
Especially post federalism, local governments have taken lead and shown interest to bring innovative solution that serve the public. This has made it possible for cycle lanes to be built in some municipalities as Lalitpur and Chitwan.
LMC in particular has taken lead to make its streets cycle friendly. They have also started branding itself as the first cycle friendly municipality of Nepal. That has built pressure and motivation on other municipalities including Kathmandu. The lessons of LMC will help and assist in development of cycle lanes elsewhere as well. They have also started second phase of cycle lane construction and are now lobbying to make the ring road cycle-friendly. Lalitpur has also formed cycle act to ensure legal backing to support, secure and promote use of cycle as a form of commute.
Are people and the government more aware receptive about it?
Yes. Back in 2009, promotion of bicycle was taken as anti-development by some traffic police officers when we reached out to them. Now that the urban centres are branding themselves as cycle friendly due to increased awareness around climate change, governments have as least understood the value of cycling, and now see cycle not as a tech of the past but as a solution of the future. The frequency of cycle events and participation in them, and the youth who cycle to commute is a proof that even the public understand its significance now.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba during his address at COP26 announced Nepal's ambition to reach net zero emission by 2045. Given Nepal's negligible carbon footprint, and abundance clean energy sources, shouldn't we be able to reach net zero emission way before 2045?
We need to be careful about “net zero”. Net zero is based off marketing possibilities and trading of carbon mitigation efforts. Through it, bigger countries like USA can buy carbon credit from countries like Nepal for the forest conservation or afforestation the latter does. That way the former can continue polluting and making profit from fossil companies and still act like they are doing enough.
Nepal should have taken stand against 'net zero' and demanded 'real zero'. But under the pressure of the powerful countries and fossil lobbyist, we did not. That is my stand on net zero.
The commitment of net zero earlier than 2045 could deviate Nepal from focusing on the protection of the communities in the forefront of climate crisis. Nepal will need to equally focus on loss and damage, and adaptation fronts as communities are already facing the impacts of climate change through erratic rains and drier seasons. Reaching net zero could be achieved early, but should not be at the cost of lives of people.
Oftentimes Nepal's stance at COPs is to ask developed countries money to adapt with climate change for their historical emissions. But shouldn't Nepal also work on mitigation measures at home? And what are some of those?
Nepal should definitely work on mitigation and it has indeed committed to it through its Nationally Determined Contributions. Nepal has received huge climate funds to for the electrification and improvement of cooking systems and also for the conservation of Chure. There are mitigation as well as adaptation approaches.
How can we keep up the focus on climate crisis post COP26?
Now that we are experiencing extreme weather events around the world including in Nepal, not losing focus from climate change should not be difficult. What we do about it is another issue. Focusing on the vulnerable communities that are facing the impacts of annual disruptive weather for years should be of priority for Nepal.
Since Nepal doesn’t have a dedicated ministry that works throughout the year on the issue, civil society and media should support the government agencies for institutional assistance. There also need to improve the institutional memory of Nepal across multiple COPs. What hasn’t helped is the constant change of the government and ministers which has left us without a dedicated climate expert within the government.
What are some of the best examples of climate initiatives in Nepal?
As part of the Car free cities alliance, I want to share that the historic medieval cities of the Kathmandu valley that were built long before vehicles can provide viable solution to not just carbon mitigation but also for climate resilience.
Some municipalities this year supported the farmers that were hard hit by erratic rain. This is a good example of building climate resilience. Nepal government has also contributed in alternative energy development.
The massive use of electric rickshaw across southern plains could have been a great mitigation example, but Nepal failed to recognise as a mitigation measure.
What steps can people take on a personal level to minimise their own carbon footprint?
This is a crisis at the scale of civilisation, so changing the bulb or just cycling to work alone will not be enough. Thinking/understanding at what phase of global science and politics we have reached at is very important. People need to demand change for the leaders to act. This mobilisation is needed at local, national and international level.
Nepal's greenwashing in Glasgow, Rasmi Baskota
COPOUT at COP26, Sonia Awale