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Do young climate activists have roles in local elections?

Sonam Lama

Sonam Lama

Do young climate activists have roles in local elections?

Youth participation in the Glasgow summit paved the way for inclusive policy making and immediate actions to tackle the crises, even though youths left the summit disappointed

COP26 in Glasgow 2021 concluded with heavy climate negotiations tabled between the high and low carbon emitters across the globe. As a member country, Nepal presented its second Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) initiating its strong move for climate action. While the country managed to come up with an enhanced NDC, a massive challenge still remains: turning promises into action. The road to implementing effective climate actions seems difficult with local elections around the corner. However, climate youth coalitions in the country believe they could have significant participation to bridge the divide in localizing climate policy targets in partnership with local representatives.

The newly elected 753 local representatives will work under a five-year term. By the end of their term in 2027, many of the policy targets of National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) and NDC should fall to places with an achievement goal of 2030. Henceforth, the election will lay a foundation for planning and implementing the climate policy targets.

“This moment serves a motive to imprint the importance of climate action for vulnerable countries like Nepal. But we need adequate economic and skilled human resources to achieve tangible outcomes," says Umesh Balal Magar, network coordinator at Nepalese Youth for Climate Action (NYCA).

Ever since the climate emergency was declared, young people’s rights and roles have been questioned and reassessed. Their participation in the Glasgow summit helped pave the way for inclusive policymaking and initiating immediate actions to tackle the crises, even though the youths left the summit disappointed. Their voices at the decision-making level are not heard and they are resorting to street demonstrations.

  "The government should provide spaces for youths in discussions, but our voices are unheard and we are forced to come out in the streets,” says Binod Deuba, co-founder of Harin Nepal and a member of Youth Congress Nepal.

To ensure youth participation in climate action, Deuba and his team are running Climate Literacy Campaign to raise awareness on the issue.The challenge faced by youth climate activists in Far-west Nepal is huge. Difficult geographical terrains with poor motorable road access make reaching the climate-vulnerable areas hard. “Even if we reach these communities, there is a language and awareness gap. They are unable to respond and adapt to climate change,” says Azeena Adhikari, an agriculture student and network coordinator of NYCA, Baitadi.

Nepal has committed to maintaining 45 percent forest cover by 2030 and pledged to go net-zero by 2045. However, there are stumbling blocks. Climate activist from Kanchanpur Sujit Ramesh believes these blocks could be minimized by half if concerned authorities strictly followed the law.

“Many projects in the Far-west are run without conducting EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). The budgets allocated for adaptation and mitigation purposes either freeze or are used in other projects,” he says.

It is also high time that Nepal started addressing the glaring gaps in youth engagement in climate action.

Prakriti Koirala, a member at the Department of Forest and Environment of CPN (Maoist Center) witnessed this gap while at COP26 summit. She shared that her young contemporaries from other countries were on the frontlines of negotiation. “It is not only about youth’s representation or letting them speak their mind, but also about grooming them for the negotiation table. Making preparations only before COP summits will not suffice,” she says

Active youth participation and engagement is imperative for effective climate action. Promoting intersectionality is also important for generating diverse marginalized voices from remote, intersectional and indigenous communities.

Young people across the globe are calling out for climate action and Nepal is on the same page.  “The response from Nepali youths on bringing about policy reforms on climate issues are overwhelming. The next step is to capacitate them and develop their skills,” says Sushmita Mishra of Central and South Asia for Water and Climate Coalition.

By 2025, the government also aims to mobilize 2,000 climate change adaptation resource persons locally. Local Adaptation Plans for Action (LAPA), which is to be implemented by 2030, is considered a primary medium to connect to all the local units. This is where the role of young climate enthusiasts and youth coalitions comes into play. Youth representatives from all local levels could be mobilized as resource persons to encourage their participation while ensuring that their needs are addressed.

Radha Wagle, chief of the Climate Change Management Division at the Ministry of Forest and Environment, emphasizes youth’s role in effective planning and policy enforcement.

“This need has been further intensified by the upcoming election. We are seeking to engage youths as resource persons in a more strategic manner. The initial plan is to develop a youth engagement strategy coordinating with youth organizations and coalitions across the country,” she says.