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Nepal battles to keep climate change at bay
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Nepal battles to keep climate change at bay

August 20, 2020

Kirti Manian [00:00:53]: Hi, Dr. Dhakal, thank you so very much for coming to our show. We are privileged to have you with us. I’m going to get started by asking you this. Can you perhaps take us through your career arc?

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:01:05]: Thank you very much, Kirti for giving me this opportunity because I’m very pleased to talk with you. Regarding my career, I’m working as the Chief of Climate Change Management Division, Ministry of Forest and Environment in Nepal. I’m also a National Focal Point for UNFCCC and IPCC and UNCCD as well.

In the past, I was a National Focal Point for UNCBD and CITES, Ramsar, and UNESCO conventions as well. My education – I completed my masters and Ph.D from the University of Tsukuba, Japan and I have more than 20 years working experience here in the Ministry with the government of Nepal.

Kirti Manian [00:01:51]: Thank you so much for that. So, moving to more specifically Nepal and climate change, so according to the 2020 Global Climate Vulnerability Index, Nepal is ranked as 9th as the most vulnerable country in the world to climate crisis. I found this very ironic given that Nepal is responsible for literally a miniscule portion of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s most likely to suffer from the effects of climate change.

So, please enlighten us on how the government is dealing with this issue and what kind of policies are in place to protect Nepal’s population?

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:02:27]: Yes. According to the 2020 Global Climate Vulnerability Index, Nepal is considered as the 9th position; it’s the most vulnerable country. As you know, Nepal is a mountainous country, landlocked country and by economy, it is the least developed country as well. Most of the people are farmers. Their livelihood is largely based on agriculture. Most of the people suffer from landslides, floods and inundation.

In the winter seasons, the slow onset impact of... for example, the kind of… not exactly desertification, but most of the water is drying up mountainous regions; they are drying up, and people have to visit long distance to get a litre of water, and the people from the marginalized community, particularly women and socioeconomically poor people are really vulnerable to get the resources and to find their livelihood opportunities. These are some areas that Nepalese peoples are very much vulnerable with climate change effects.

In the meantime, because of this climate change effects, our infrastructure and then even health and drinking water problems, ya, are vulnerable, but in order to address to those effects from the climate change, the government of Nepal endorsed the National Climate Change policy last year in 2019 and the policy aims to develop climate resilience to society through sustainable development.

This is a very big objective of this policy. This policy has clear 7 objectives, best under Nepalese situations and we have core areas of climate change, thematic areas we identified under this policy, and this policy – thematic areas are agriculture and food security – this is the most important one and then second one is the forest and biodiversity, watershed management. Another one is the clean energy and water resources.

As you know, Nepal is very much rich in water resources and another one is the cultural and natural tourism because tourism is the main income for the Nepalese people who are living in the Himalayan parts of the country.

And then another is the urban and rural settlement, is a part of infrastructures, but another important area is of course large scale infrastructure, transport and industry which is the major area to carbon emissions.

And, drinking water and health is another area, and the final and most important one is climate-induced disaster. As I already mentioned about landslides, floods and inundation is the big problem in the summer season, and, these are the 8 areas we identified with priority, but at the same time, do you know, the Nepal is a country having heterogeneous society in terms of caste and ethnicity and then different language, cultures and then gender and social inclusion is equally important to address the more vulnerable people with a special program.

Similarly, we need research and technology development. Technology, I think – the modern technology is one part, but on the other hand we need promotion of the indigenous knowledge and techniques that are applied by the people on the ground.

Another area of intervention is all people are not equally aware about climate change because the education level is different, socioeconomic condition is different, that’s why to aware the people on climate change issues and educate them and build the capacity is another really important one and then final area of the climate change policy is finance.

Whatever core areas or cross-cutting areas, whatever is identified in the climate change policy, we need climate finance to implement those activities including cross-cutting and core areas, our policy identifies the 8 core areas and 4 cross-cutting areas and collectively this climate change policy is implemented by 3 layers of the government – the federal government, the provincial government and then local government, but side by side, we are taking on board to the private sector and the civil society, and we are working in a team to address the climate change in the ground.

Ya, these are the policies, but at the same time, government of Nepal has developed local adaptation plan of action in order to guide the local communities and local government to implement the climate adaptation activities and then another documentation – National Adaptation Plan is under preparation, and at the same time, the government of Nepal is planning to develop Enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution (ENDC) which should be submitted by the end of this year.

Kirti Manian [00:07:48]: So, all these policies sound extremely complex because you are talking about different layers of government, there is bureaucracy of course, which is part and parcel of sub-continental life. I’m just curious to see do you think this is something that can be implemented and will need lots of intervention from the government or do you see this as choices bureaucrats will make and say this is something I must take on and implement for the betterment of my country – I’m just curious to know your opinion please.

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:08:21]: Yes, Nepal introduced the new federal systems just 3 years back right and we had 3 layers of the government – the federal government, provincial government and local government. That’s why we also designed the new climate change policy considering these 3 layers of the government, but side by side, we considered the private sector and the civil society – even NGO people – they can implement or they can be a part of this policy implementation agent either in local government level or provincial level government level or in a federal government.

Our policy we designed based on our country situations, right, that’s why I’m a bit doubtful whether it exactly is similar to other countries or not, it’s very difficult to say, but this is a new policy and we developed it based on our local situations.

Kirti Manian [00:09:20]: So, you mentioned carbon emissions and I just want to talk about Kathmandu and like 3 years back it was listed as the 7th most polluted city in the world, so in the last 3 years what kind of steps have you taken to kind of rectify the situation and are you looking, as a country to move away from fossil fuels, for instance and looking at renewable energy as a source of fuel?

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:09:42]: If you compare Kathmandu to Delhi or Hong Kong or one of the other international mega cities, I think the Kathmandu situation is a bit different, right?

Kirti Manian [00:09:52]: Right.

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:09:53]: …because most of the infrastructure development in Kathmandu was under construction a few years back right, but if you come to Nepal or Kathmandu in this time, I think not only because of lockdown because most of the roads lack traffic nowadays and there is no air pollution that you mentioned earlier. This is the one reason, because of the construction the air pollution was much higher in the past, but now it is a bit controlled and another one is…of course, the… because of the lockdown, it already reduced the… some pollution, but I’m not sure whether all the vehicles, all the transports operate in full phase, then the situation what will be happening in the future I do not know, but you cannot find that Kathmandu is a polluted city at this moment atleast.

At the same time, another point is our transportation system is also quite improved, and we are also planning to shift from petrol to clean energy, I mean the electric bus and electric cars is also now already started by some private companies and some government offices, but the most important part is the government of Nepal just last year, I think, developed new guidelines to control the air pollution in Kathmandu, and this guideline is implemented from this year, and hopefully the pollution will be controlled and will be kept in the limit that is acceptable to the human health and the local environment. I don’t think the pollution is… earlier it was so worse and we cannot take a break… other implications… something like that.

Kirti Manian [00:11:41]: As you just explained that the government has taken initiative to help the city, kind of conquer the pollution in that sense, I want to move towards agriculture now – 65% of Nepal’s population is involved in agriculture in some way, with sector accounting for 35% of the country’s GDP, can we talk about food security in the context of Nepal and has Covid-19 impacted any of the government’s effort to kind of help people?

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:12:07]: Ya, I think this is a very valid question. Regarding food security, Nepal – 60 or 70% of the people is based in agriculture, but despite the fact, some of the food materials – we import from the neighboring countries particularly India, even a few items from China and Bangladesh as well.

At the same time, we also sell some of the food products to India and Bangladesh. Regarding food security, I think Nepal needs a bit of investment on agriculture. Definitely I do agree on that, but the government is doing our best to make food security, but the main problem is most of the young people are migrating outside the country to get their employment opportunities. Maybe some of the people you can see in Hong Kong or Malaysia or Gulf countries or even other developed countries – Australia, even Japan and the United States, and the reason is that the young people since they are not living in rural areas, due to that there are no farmers at all in the rural area.

It has very clear and linear linkage over the food security problem, but if you go through the country… because our climate is very much agriculture-friendly means you can do something either in mills or high mountains or lowlands. All lands are arable; arable means they are very much suitable for agricultural productivity whether it is horticulture or the vegetables or cereal crops or other products, but definitely the government of Nepal should invest additional investment we need to promote agriculture.

Kirti Manian [00:13:58]: Okay, I’m going to digress again but can we talk about wildlife crime? I know this is one of your research passions but what steps is the government actually doing to cut wildlife crime down?

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:14:11]: Regarding the wildlife crime, ya, it’s a very big issue because Nepal is located between China and India. Most of the tiger and rhino horns, tiger skins and the bones, they are used to sell in some other countries, sometimes East Asia, sometimes Europe and sometimes America as well.

Basically, the government of Nepal, we developed 3 types of law to control wildlife crime. One is CITES, based on the CITES Convention, Nepal is a party, we have a separate act. One is the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, and third is of course the Environmental Act and Forests Act as well – it’s another act. There are 4 types of laws we do have and then we are doing our best to control the wildlife crime, and our law enforcement system; if someone else kills the tigers, then the person should go jail for 15 years and they have pay 1 million Nepalese rupees; it’s a very expensive punishment they have to face.

Kirti Manian [00:15:18]: Very stringent punishment indeed. So, I just want to ask you a question about the UN green climate fund. I know Nepal won its first climate grant from the UN green climate fund. Can you tell us more about this please and who’ll benefit from this grant and what hope does it present for the future?

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:15:36]: Do you know we have a very small readiness support in the past, but this year we got one big project, around 40 million, and the project is not implemented yet, but we have another small grant – 3 million dollars from the Green Climate Fund to develop the National Adaptation Plan and side by side we have also applied for another proposal and then hopefully that will also… will endorse the act for bidding of the GCF.

Kirti Manian [00:16:05]: About the climate grant, I just wish to know more about it, you talked about being given for specific plans. Can you tell, maybe, a little bit of detail about that?

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:16:15]: Yes, the first grant is… approved the proposal, is… all the process is completed, but is yet to be implemented. We are very much happy having this type of big project… a very big project for us, we are very happy, but I’m not sure how it will be implemented in the future. Definitely, it will implement as per the document as per the document and is mentioned in the document, but let’s wait until the implementation.

Kirti Manian [00:16:44]: Fair enough. So, we have Dr. Molden from ICIMOD talking about Sagarmatha Sambaad, can you tell us more about this?

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:16:52]: Actually regarding the Sagarmatha Sambaad, you met the right person because he was the managing secretary of the committee of the Sagarmatha Sambaad. It was planned to hold this global dialogue in April, I think 3 to… 2 to 3… 2 to 4, but unfortunately because of Covid it was postponed and the new date is yet to be disclosed, because still we are not sure when this Covid situation will be normalized, but government of Nepal still sticks to organize this global event, and this event is about mountains, climate change and humanity – it’s a very much important topic for us as Nepal is a mountainous country, and at that time we will organize different thematic area. As I earlier mentioned to you about climate change policy – 8 thematic areas and 4 cross-cutting areas, and this dialogue was also designed with different aspects, not only mountainous – of course the mountainous people, even the island people also because if you do not link it to an island and highland because the glacier melting is a very serious problem to the mountainous country like Nepal, but sea rise level is equally very serious to the island country like Maldives, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, right.

Kirti Manian [00:18:19]: Ya.

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:18:20]: That’s why what type of linkages we can make in these two types of countries, that was the… one major area, but at the same time, the core value of that Sagarmatha dialogue is to find the humanity, how the humanity is facing problem because of the climate change crisis and emergency. It was its main crux… the humanity was the main area, but unfortunately it is postponed and maybe in the future when it will be announced, new date, then definitely we will be in touch and I will inform you.

Kirti Manian [00:18:54]: I really hope so too, I really hope it does happen very soon in the future. So, talking about events in the future, do you have any expectations from COP 26 when it happens next year?

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:19:06]: Yes, COP 26, I think we do have a long time to go there, but definitely we have to get some outcomes in the COP 26. Basically my expectation is carbon trade guidelines, so we find Article 6 which is carbon trade. We have to finalize it because the… under the Paris Rulebook, that Article 6 part is still pending, we have to find the solution on that primarily.

The second is all the member countries, I mean the parties should submit the enhanced NDCs. As you know, the Covid and climate change we have to manage jointly, that’s why there is no alternative to find the way out through nature-based solutions particularly green recovery. We have to find solutions from the green recovery, I mean the forestry, agriculture and then water resources and all the business and all the entrepreneurs based on nature without any carbon emission.

So these three areas, I think we have to discuss and we have to find a way. I’m very much hopeful that the COP 26 will find us some solution, but it depends. Do you know how the countries they prepare? 

Kirti Manian [00:20:16]: Ya.

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:20:17]: …and how the developed countries they are ready to support the finance and technology and at the same time the developing countries how they are ready to take the responsibility, I mean to give the pressure to developed countries to traditional financial support and technology and also side by side adapt the new green strategies to develop the country in terms of economic development or social development or whatever you can say. I’m very much optimistic and the COP 26 will find some solution.

Kirti Manian [00:20:51]: I hope all your expectations of COP 26 are met. So, my second last question is really about the climate change narrative as it is presented by the media to people in the region. Does this need to be changed? Do we need more participation from common people in that sense and are they able to understand and grasp the reality of what is happening in terms of climate change?

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:21:15]: I have a mixed answer on it because all the media are not equally sensible and equally their messages well communicated. Of course, some of the medias, they are very well communicated with the issue and some best practices and some… even some failure cases, but my request to the media colleagues to find the best solutions based on the ground reality, not creating rumor but it should be reality with the ground. Basically the people who are living in the ground and facing the problems, their stories should be expored, otherwise simply – “do you know, carbon emission is a big issue and then people are very vulnerable, women are vulnerable,” something that’s very… jargon words does not make sense because media also should go to the ground and find the reality because all people are not equally impacted by the climate change, but the real impact should be explored through the best case scenario of the… best story we have to develop and disseminate to the communities.

Kirti Manian [00:22:19]: So, it’s basically my last question to you. So, my question really is what does the future look like to the people of Nepal and this is like our call to action… what is your call to action for the people of Nepal? How do you look at tackling climate change? Is government policy the only way forward or people doing small deeds, is that helpful? What do you say to that, sir?

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:22:42]: In climate actions, you have to focus on 4 activities. If you do not produce the product, I mean in terms of agriculture or forestry or water resources, then you cannot create or you cannot produce the goods and services, and if you do not produce goods and services, then you cannot get income or employment opportunities. That’s why climate change action - not in the vacuum or air, just you have to be real ground and every action should produce something.

The simple, you can plant a tree in your garden and that tree gives some fruits and some leaves or some products. That’s why let’s motivate the people with some action; not only campaign because sometimes the people are very much engaged in climate change campaigns. Campaign does not produce the goods, just it sensitizes the people, just it aware the people or educates the people or to some extent builds the capacity, but if you do not produce the goods then you cannot eat the food.

That’s why my request to change the situation, I mean to face the climate change problems, we have to focus on the ground with action, with productivity.

Kirti Manian [00:24:07]: Ya, that’s absolutely… it’s is a great model for building climate resilience, right, I mean it’s just making individual choices which actually is a productive action. Thank you so very much, Dr. Dhakal. I’m sure our listeners have learnt so much more about what’s happening, you know, in terms of ground reality in Nepal.

So, thank you very very much for this opportunity. We really appreciate it.

Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal [00:24:28]: Thank you very much.

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