‘ApEx for climate’ Series | How does Nepal get help in tackling climate change?

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

‘ApEx for climate’ Series | How does Nepal get help in tackling climate change?

There is a need to build a wide international network through robust diplomacy, which in turn must focus on securing resources to gain access to the latest available technology, all in order to deal with climate-induced disasters

As we reported two weeks ago, the effects of climate change are real and already visible in various sectors. Some mitigation and adaptation programs have been initiated but there is an urgent need to ramp them up. 

As Nepal alone can’t fight the effects of climate change with its limited resources and knowledge, it needs to secure international support and cooperation. There is a need to build a wide international network through robust diplomacy, which in turn must focus on securing resources to gain access to the latest available technology, all in order to deal with climate-induced disasters.  

So, the issue of climate change should be an integral part of the country’s engagement at bilateral, regional, and multilateral levels. However, except for participating in international platforms, Nepali diplomats don’t prominently raise the issue—the Ministry of Foreign Affairs doesn’t even have a mechanism dedicated to climate diplomacy.

In addition, seldom do the Ministry of Forest and Environment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Finance cooperate on climate change issues.

But politicians and bureaucrats are gradually starting to realize that climate should be a focal component of foreign policy.

Prabhu Budathoki, former member of the National Planning Commission (NPC) and a student of climate change, says there is a need for a nodal agency to deal with climate-related issues, both in and outside the country. “When I was an NPC member in 2017, I had lobbied for the creation of such an entity within the NPC to coordinate with all government agencies,” says Budhathoki. “Given the urgency of the matter, big countries have already started to appoint climate envoys, but we don’t even have a focal agency.”

Also read: ‘ApEx for climate’ Series | Nepal makes its case. But to what effect? 

For the first time, Nepal’s foreign policy unveiled in 2020 incorporated a separate section on climate diplomacy. The policy envisioned Nepal’s proactive role in the policy formulation process of the United Nations and other international platforms for the acquisition of resources and technology for mitigation and adaptation plans. It also says Nepal shall lead mountainous countries to implement the principle of ‘polluters-pay’.

But, a key challenge, like always, is implementation. First, the Deuba government has not owned the policy introduced by the erstwhile KP Sharma Oli administration. New Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka publicly says he has initiated consultations to draft a new foreign policy.

To highlight Nepal’s issues and build an international network, the erstwhile government had initiated the Sagarmatha Sambad, a flagship annual international program to highlight Nepal’s agenda, including climate change. The event was planned for 2020 and a separate mechanism was set up for the same purpose—before it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

After the easing of international travel, the Oli-led government had organized a conference just before the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP-26 to highlight Nepal’s agenda. But then the government changed.

Bimala Rai Paudyal, member of the National Assembly, who closely worked in the preparations of Sagarmatha Sambaad, says the current government has not owned up the initiatives of the previous government. Paudyal says the key purpose of such a dialogue was to invite world leaders to discuss pressing global issues and identity Nepal’s stand. “We had planned to hold the first dialogue on climate change to highlight the global climate issues as well as their effects on Nepal,” she says. The Nepal government had already invested millions in preparations and some invitations were also sent.

At COP-26, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba committed to holding the summit, too, but to no avail.

Also read: ‘ApEx for climate’ Series | Nepal in the middle of a climate crisis 

But Nepal should step up its diplomatic efforts, most vitally in carbon trade. Nepal’s forests store over 500 million tonnes of carbon and it is eligible to sell carbon credits to developed countries that want to offset their emissions.

The ‘mountain agenda’ is also not getting due attention in climate-related international negotiations. Though Nepal repeatedly urges the world to recognize specific climate vulnerabilities of high mountains, it has not been given priority in international policy frameworks.

Nepal has committed to achieving net-zero emission by 2045—a move estimated to cost $25 billion. Most targets set by Nepal are conditional: it can achieve them only with international support. But as Nepal graduates from the list of Least Developed Countries bloc, it will face additional hurdles in getting international support for its mitigation programs.

It is not only about finance. Nepal also needs to secure technological means and knowledge on capacity-building. The Green Climate Fund, Global Environment Facility, and Adaptation Fund are the potential fund sources . Similarly, there are bilateral/multilateral agencies and development partners before whom Nepal will have to display its capability to secure funds.

Issues related to loss and damage remain a key concern for Nepal. Addressing the COP26 Summit, Prime Minister Deuba said, “Loss and damage have become a key concern due to increased phenomena of climate-induced disasters. This subject must find a place under article 4.8 of the Convention. We call upon the Parties to agree on making Loss and Damage a stand-alone agenda for negotiations and support the framework of additional financing for it.”  

Also read: Nepal’s COP26 commitments 

Now, Nepal is raising this issue through the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group on climate change. The Least Developed Countries are 46 nations that are especially vulnerable to climate change but have contributed the least to the phenomena.

Similarly, Nepal is a member of the G-77 group on climate change issues. Activist Arjun Dhakal says Nepal’s climate diplomacy through the LDC group and G-77 is not yielding results. Instead of only relying on these platforms, says Dhakal, Nepal should start leading the climate change dialogue.

“For instance, we can lead the mountain agenda by bringing all mountainous countries, including India and China, on board,” says Dhakal. Dhakal also advocates for the formation of a separate entity to deal with climate diplomacy.

“We can create a separate mechanism under the Prime Minister’s Office by incorporating climate change experts and other technical manpower,” he says. Nepal needs to deal with major powers like the United States, United Kingdom, China, and other countries to secure their support. 

Regional organizations such as SAARC and BIMSTEC could also play an instrumental role in highlighting Nepal’s agenda both regionally and globally. The problem is that the two organizations are now largely dysfunctional.

During the 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu in 2014, member countries had discussed climate change. The declaration document says, “They [top executives of member countries] directed the relevant bodies/mechanisms for effective implementation of SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters, SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment and Thimphu Statement on Climate Change, including taking into account the existential threats posed by climate change to some SAARC member states.” 

Yet again, the problem was in the implementation of the agreed goals.

Sagarmatha Sambaad: What and when?

Sagarmatha Sambaad
The then foreign minister Pradip Gyawali inaugurating the office of Sagarmatha Sambaad on 22 November 2019 | Photo: 

Sagarmatha Sambaad is a multi-stakeholder dialogue forum envisioned by the erstwhile KP Oli government to discuss issues of global, regional, and national significance. As a platform, it aims to bring together people from across the globe to shave and drive the discourses for positive change.

The Oli government had planned to organize this flagship program every two years by inviting heads of state/government, parliamentarians, policymakers, and local government representatives, as well as leaders from intergovernmental organizations, private sector, civil society, think tanks, academia, women, youths, and media to discuss ways of cooperation, exchange of ideas and sharing of experiences on prominent global issues.

The first edition of the program, scheduled for 2-4 April 2020 on the theme of ‘Climate Change, Mountains and the Future of Humanity’, was indefinitely postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. After the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, the erstwhile Oli government had made preparations to organize a ‘hybrid program’ (part-online, part-live). But the government fell and the dialogue was not a priority of the new Deuba government. According to sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, new Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka has been mum on the event.

Says Bimala Rai Paudyal, a member of the federal upper house who had worked in the preparations of the Sambaad, invitations were sent to dozens of heads of government and leaders. “As the new government did not follow through on our initiative, our resources have gone to waste and our international standing has been compromised,” she says.