Erik Solheim is a well-known global leader on environment and development. He served as Norwegian Minister of Environment and International Development from 2005-12. During his tenure he initiated the global program for the conservation of rainforests and introduced game-changing national legislation—among them the Biodiversity Act and legislation to protect Oslo city forests. He also increased Norwegian development assistance to one percent, the highest in the world.
Solheim has been chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (the main body of world donors) as well as Executive Director of UN Environment. He led the peace efforts in Sri Lanka as the main negotiator of the peace process and played a vital role in peace efforts in Nepal, Myanmar, and Sudan. Currently, he is senior adviser at World Resources Institute and President of the Belt and Road Green Development Institute in Beijing. ApEX talked to him on a range of environment and climate change issues.
How do you assess current global efforts to limit the rise of global temperature below 1.5 C?
Avoiding temperature rise of above 1.5 C is a huge challenge for humanity. We need to stick together as one family. For the first time the world is now moving in the right direction. China is the world leader in nearly all green technologies, the EU has embarked upon the green new deal, US President Biden has made the most environment-friendly budget proposal in the country’s history and Indian Prime Minister Modi is investing heavily in solar power and green hydrogen. The train has started rolling, but we need to speed up and increase the urgency.
Developing countries are scaling up the use of fossil fuels. What are the voluntary ways to scale back their use?
Many developing countries are fortunately in the process of abandoning the old development model. They understand we have win-win opportunities now. Solar is cheaper than coal everywhere in the world so the shift to solar is good both for ecology and economy. China is producing 80 percent of all solar panels in the world; 99 percent of all electric buses are running on Chinese roads. India is home to the world´s first all-solar rail station in Assam and all-solar airport in Kerala.
How do you evaluate the outcome of the COP26 Summit for least developed countries like Nepal?
It was crazy when some ministers and activists from the West accused developing countries of causing the climate crisis. Historically, Indian emissions are four percent of American per capita emission; Nepali emissions, even less. The fuel of the green transition is no longer diplomacy, but the political economy. Renewable energy, electric mobility, tree planting, circular economy and zero emission agriculture are now available for developing countries. So Nepal can focus on opportunities rather than problems.
What is your take on persistent reports of fast-melting Himalayan glaciers?
The melting of ice in the Himalayan glaciers is the single-most scary possible outcome of the climate crisis. If the great rivers of Asia, the Ganga, Indus, Mekong, Yangtze and more go dry it will be a catastrophe for hundreds of millions of people.
Developed countries had promised to channel $100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020 to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature. That promise was broken. Can we trust them to keep any of their promises now?
They can and should. But in the end this is small money. It is a lot more important for poor nations that the US, China and others turn around their domestic economies. Then the green shift becomes affordable for all. Nepal will be able to finance its own green development. The Peoples Bank of China has announced a domestic low carbon facility in the range of $1 trillion. That’s huge and very promising. The Belt and Road Initiative will allow Nepal to benefit from Chinese green investment.
What are your suggestions to the Nepal government on climate change?
Please see the opportunities! Nepal is rich in water resources and can be a hydro superpower. My nation Norway may assist it in this. Nepal has sunshine to power solar plants. Two-, three- and four-wheelers can go electric. Agriculture in the Tarai can learn from Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim in India that have pioneered zero-budget natural farming. Nepal is a fantastic tourist destination, top in the world. There are enormous promises in green tourism.
How do you assess the performance of the Nepal government in international climate forums?
Nepal can step up and take more of a leadership role. Nepal is a nation with any number of friends and no enemies. It can help lead the world into the green revolution both through domestic and global initiatives.
Snow on Nepal’s mountains is melting at an alarming rate yet the world seems to ignore it. What can Nepal do to draw the world’s attention?
I suggest inviting global leaders for study tours to watch with their own eyes.
How do you suggest Annapurna Media Network should press ahead with its new Unity for Sustainability campaign? How can we collaborate with international organizations?
The huge network and great standing of AMN offer a big opportunity to engage the people of Nepal in dialogue on climate issues. Please never be boring, academic or exclusive! We cannot bore or scare people into action. Please bring people on board in a positive campaign for change. We have a triple win opportunity in front of us. We can design policies for Nepal which are good for the wellbeing of people, for economic growth and jobs and at the same time taking better care of nature in this most beautiful of places, called Nepal.
As a Green Ambassador for our campaign, any specific message to Nepal and Nepali politicians on climate change?
Please focus on the positive. How agriculture in Tarai can give better yields to the farmers by going green. How the Nepali valleys can be hubs for hydro and solar energies. How the Himalayas can attract more tourists, but with less impact on vulnerable nature. I am so excited to be a part of this campaign.