The SDG-13 is climate action. Our activities beget the climate crisis and our actions will overcome this global crisis. It is a man-made catastrophe. It seemingly looks like a natural calamity onstage but offstage it is human behavior at play—how we use up the resources, how we live, how we respond to and how we connect with the earth through our lifestyles. The crisis is complex in nature, interdisciplinary in areas, wide in spatio-temporal spectrum and grave in magnitude. No choice nor excuses, it just calls for action. The action is for climate empowerment. Yes, education has a key role to play in mitigation and adaptation efforts of the most urgent global issue of our times. Act now or never.
Climate change, with its rising temperatures and changing weather patterns, is a major contributor to the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, such as heatwaves, droughts, and heavy rainfall, which threaten communities and the environment. Furthermore, the destruction of natural habitats and ecosystems due to human activities such as deforestation, overdevelopment, and poor land-use practices has also played a significant role in exacerbating the impacts of climate change.
Nepal is a stunning and spectacular natural sanctuary full of biodiversity. Home to natural wonders like Mt Everest, the world’s highest peak, Nepal has 118 ecosystems, 75 categories of vegetation, and 35 types of forests. The resources are diverse. The climatic variations occur primarily in three geographical regions: the mountains, hills and the plains landscapes. The flora and fauna species and a diverse array of cultural heritage and communities add one more diversity to Nepal’s unique climate and cultural diversity. These diverse resources and communities are at stake. The stake is huge, enlisting Nepal as one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.
In such a context, how do we cope with climate change?
Nepal has envisioned building a climate-resilient society. The goal is to contribute to building a sustainable society by augmenting the capacity to adapt to climate change and minimizing its adverse effects. For this, there are three important objectives. One is to increase the adaptive capacity by minimizing the adverse effects of climate change in accordance with the Paris Agreement. Another is to implement the concept of environment-friendly and clean energy-driven development (green development) for climate change mitigation. The third one is to access international finance and technologies available for climate change mitigation and adaptation within the framework of the Paris Agreement and distribute the benefits equitably.
Nepal confronts a number of problems and challenges visa-a-vis climate change. Reducing climate vulnerability through risk management at various levels, building climate adaptive capacity; building climate-resilient communities, increasing access to climate finance, conducting result-oriented programs, ensuring inter-agency coordination, enhancing institutional capacity, and addressing Nepal’s specific issues related to climate change in international fora are the major challenges as outlined in the 15th five-year plan of Nepal.
Recent reports and studies suggest that climate change is causing the glaciers in Nepal’s Himalayan region to melt at an alarming rate, threatening fragile ecosystems, vulnerable communities, and billions of people downstream, who rely on snow-fed rivers. The ramifications of these natural disasters are far-reaching and devastating, particularly for vulnerable communities, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and inequality. They also have a detrimental effect on the economy and the environment, further exacerbating the effects and impacts on communities and species.
Potential for bilateral and multilateral cooperation and collaboration in mitigating the effects of climate change, availability of regional and international methods and institutions for participation in carbon trading to reduce carbon emissions, possibility for the establishment of an environment-friendly payment system for development and carbon footprint reduction, access to international payments for carbon sequestration, mobilization of foreign aid in the field of climate change in line with Nepal’s priorities, and its inclusion in the country’s climate-friendly development programs to support the nation’s prosperity are the key opportunities.
One important initiative is climate empowerment. It is possible through education awareness, training and knowledge and information sharing in a digital platform. The nexus of education and climate change is critically important for three main reasons. First, education develops the ability to understand, adapt to, and mitigate the effects of climate change. Education also empowers individuals to take control of their own lives and to make informed decisions, particularly with regard to the environment. The well-aware and well-educated populace can make decisions about their lifestyles. Here comes the role of education providers, both formal and informal. Sad to say, our education system is missing the mark to cater to this need in order to address this pressing issue. Nevertheless, the 15th plan has emphasized a strategic initiative. This is to conduct research and capacity-building activities in the field of climate change. Studies and research, technology development, and capacity building activities are being carried out in the field of climate change in collaboration with universities and other institutions at federal, provincial, and local levels.
Secondly, technical education transfers skills, knowledge, and know-how. This creates an opportunity for better-paying jobs in a competitive job market and therefore contributes to the economic development of their communities. A well-educated population is essential for the development of a healthy and stable democracy, and for achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. However, our education system is philosophical. In this regard, the Government of Nepal needs to focus on imparting technical and vocational education to the citizens. The plan has stressed the need for investment in climate change management through mobilization of all three levels of government by clarifying the responsibilities of each level.
Thirdly, it is obvious that climate change education must be part of school and university curricula. In the absence of this, students will have a hard time in the world of environmental complexities and ecological hazards. Therefore, an urgent call for action is to incorporate climate change education in formal education systems. This initiative will equip students with the knowledge, skills, and mindset necessary to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. This requires a collaborative effort from government, educators, and civil society, to develop and implement curriculum and teacher training programs that address climate change.
Furthermore, Nepal is marred by corruption in all its state machineries and functionaries. Corruption further aggravates the climate crisis by sucking the public funds dry and by reducing the efficacy and effectiveness of programs of climate action. Here, education plays a vital role to hold public office bearers accountable for their actions and decisions. According to Transparency International, climate change and corruption share many symptoms. They hit the poorest first and the worst. They are caused by powerful individuals or entities seeking short-term gains. In the long term, they put livelihoods at risk and threaten the entire economy. They thrive on the flaws of national governments: The countries need strong global cooperation to stop them. Education thus makes the vigilant civil society raise questions on transparency and accountability.
In the final analysis, climate empowerment is one of the most implementable solutions. It is high time we got empowered for the future. It is time to act on education for climate action.
DJ Shah is a graduate from Kyung Hee University, South Korea and is currently working for the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security. Bibek Shah is an independent researcher on climate change