Nepal can lead in zero-carbon

The 100kWp Solar Mini Grid in Gutu of Surkhet. All photos: Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC)

We are at a critical moment for the future of our planet. Temperatures are rising, storms are raging, and crops are failing across the world.

In the 14 months in the run-up to the next United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, we must increase climate ambition around the world to protect our planet. Nepal has an opportunity to lead the region by developing an ambitious strategy for a zero-carbon economy in the next 10 years.

Accelerating the transition to renewable energy sources is a key part of the puzzle. Nepal is already leading the way with 95% of its electricity generation coming from clean hydropower, and plans in place to increase hydro production from the current 1,000MW to an ambitious 5,000MW in the next five years.

Solar Wind Mini Grid in Mityal of Palpa.

But globally, despite the rapidly falling cost of renewables so that they are cheaper than coal and gas in most countries, over 50 countries are still planning new coal plants whilst one coal power station needs to close every day until 2040.

That is why, alongside leaders in the politics, finance and technology of the global power sector, we have launched the COP26 Energy Transition Council. The UK COP26 President, Alok Sharma, will chair the council alongside the co-chair Damilola Ogunbiyi, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Sustainable Energy. The Council will harness multilateral convening power and sector expertise to more rapidly find solutions to drive forward a transition to clean energy in developing countries.

The arguments for a clean energy transition are clear for Nepal. The UK is helping to invest in clean energy including hydropower where Nepal has already mobilised around $6 billion of investment. We now want to help mobilise a further $22.5 billion for hydropower investment. Investment that can create over a hundred thousand construction jobs in the next decade and generate revenue of over Rs1 trillion ($9 billion) per year if fully exploited through power exports to the region.

UK Solar power support is also helping Nepal reach the government’s target of 500MW of solar production and solar home systems for 600,000 households in the next five years that will reduce drudgery and air pollution impacts for women.

Speeding up the move to renewables is not just good for the environment and for health, it is good for jobs and growth, too. Both solar and wind power costs fell by 13% in 2018 -- and soon it will be cheaper in all countries to install new renewable capacity than to continue to run existing coal plants.

The 80kWp Solar Wind Hybrid Mini Grid in Narakot of, Jumla.

As the International Renewable Energy Agency has shown earlier this year, boosting investment in renewables would increase jobs in the sector to 42 million globally by 2050, four times more than today.

Importantly for Nepal, both hydro and solar power have the potential to attract significant private investment. This is investment that can reduce the burden on government resources whilst creating jobs in these sectors, if more investor-friendly policies are put in place.

By speeding the development of renewables, we can both reduce emissions and support a green and resilient economic recovery.

At this critical turning point for our planet, there is no time to waste.

Nicola Pollitt is the British Ambassador for Nepal.