Leaders of developing and least developed countries that suffer the worst consequences of global warming argue that their priority is economic development, and they can invest in clean energy later when they can afford it.
The net global C02 emission pathways in the IPCC Special Report requires the curve to come sharply down after 2020 and reach zero emission by 2040 or 2050 (see graph). How will this happen? To answer this, we have to first ask how we got here in the first place.
Climate change is a consequence of the global economic order of the past two centuries that was powered by burning fossil fuels. It has brought benefits, but also given the world inequality, dependence, degradation of nature, and nationalistic populism. In the US that is a partisan divide between climate change believers and deniers. Liberal democracy is faltering in Europe.
Electri-City Cars, Sikuma Rai
The cost of light, Om Astha Rai
The great Himalayan thaw, Ajaya Dixit
In the past six decades, many developing countries including Nepal sought foreign aid to lift living standards, but the strategy did not bring about structural changes that would have helped ensure social welfare and environmental protection. The economic model was western-inspired wasteful consumerism. In Nepal, this saw social and political movements, and country suffered three border blockades, a decade-long war, five constitutions, a palace massacre, and the replacement of a monarchy with a federalised republican order. Nepal’s current socio-politics shows signs of regression, while the economy is built on ecologically-destructive extractive practices.
Most solutions are externally imposed, and have only worked when co-produced with communities. Past investments have been piecemeal and have not yielded the desired systemic impact. Similar inertia prevails in almost all countries: the status quo is too comfortable, and the ruling classes benefit from business as usual. Added to that is the populism of deniers.
Given the prevailing dogma in both the rich and poor countries, it is unlikely that carbon curve will become less steep as hoped for in the IPCC Report. Nepal’s Prime Minister K P Oli, while launching the fist electric buses in Kathmandu last week, announced a National Action Plan for Electric Mobility under which 20% of public transport will be battery operated by 2020.
This proposition, theoretically, can offset some emission and fuel cost, but without clear thought-through investment strategy, petroleum import will not fall. Since 2000, import of petroleum products has increased by more than three times. Weaning the economy towards renewables needs statesmanship and vision – both of which our rulers lack.
Imported electric vehicles will not build backward linkages in the economy, and the trade deficit will continue to grow. Without a fundamental reorientation of its economy towards a more self-reliant clean energy supply, and a stronger commitment to protecting ecosystems, Nepal will not meet decarbonisation targets.
Globally, bringing carbon emissions to zero in the next 30 years will need incentives on investments globally and within individual countries which promote social equity, protect nature, improve governance and prioritise a low carbon lifestyle.
Ajaya Dixit is Executive Director of Kathmandu based ISET-Nepal. His monthly column Climate for Change in Nepali Times deals with the impact of global warming in Nepal.