Just before local elections in May, a survey of young Nepalis of voting age showed that 75% felt that the impact of global climate breakdown on the Himalaya should be a political priority for candidates.
That survey by the Avni Centre for Sustainability has relevance for federal and provincial elections also because more than half the voters are in the 18-40 age group. However, many in that cluster are among the 4 million Nepalis working and living abroad and are not able to vote.
Still, past surveys have shown that environmental concerns like air pollution, solid waste management and the climate crisis top the list of main concerns of younger Nepalis. And despite the main leaders of the main parties being senior citizens, 90% of the candidates are below 60, and an unprecedented 41% are under 40 years, and 10% are below 30.
Therefore, candidates who understand the concerns of young voters will be the ones whose political futures will be secure. Repeatedly-elected politicians who have mined our rivers to destruction, illegally quarried mountains and logged forests, and plundered Nepal’s natural resources can be swept away by these elections.
Their political future is threatened by a future generation of Nepali votes.
The time has come for Nepal’s politicians to regard the climate crisis not as a problem, but an opportunity. Similarly, voters must also use the chance that comes every five years to reward candidates who are most likely to act on helping Nepalis cope with erratic weather caused by climate change.
We need to vote in leaders who understand not just the environmental aspects of climate breakdown, but also the economic and political roots that determine fossil fuel use and consumption patterns.
Scientists have warned that we just have 5-8 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of the climate emergency. The politicians we elect on 20 November will be in office for another five years, by which time things will have got much worse.
At COP27 that ends this week in Egypt, world leaders will have to implement pledges they made in the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global average temperature rise to only 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Global warming has already crossed the 1.1C threshold. At the rate emissions are rising, it looks like global average temperatures will be at least 2.8C by the end of this century – driving many species to extinction and melting two-thirds of what is left of Himalayan glaciers.
Climate denialism is not as widespread in Nepal as some other countries, either because of the lack of awareness or unavailable alternatives to fossil fuel use. There is also a tendency to use the climate crisis as an excuse to beg for money to tackle it, even when there are a lot of low-hanging fruits that Nepal can pick to reduce its carbon footprint.
While we blame industrialised nations for historical emissions, they are watching Nepal’s actions like haphazard road-building that has affected drainage and unleashed landslides, mining of rivers and mountains, destruction of watersheds, over-extraction of groundwater, rampant dumping of waste into rivers and forests, and open garbage burning. That is the real ‘loss and damage’ that Nepal should address first.
At last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Prime Minister Deuba pledged that Nepal would be ‘carbon neutral’ by 2045. But as soon as he returned to Kathmandu, he actively backed a white elephant airport project that was being heard in the Supreme Court and that would have destroyed a large swathe of Tarai native forest. We say one thing, we do another.
Nepalis will benefit from decarbonisation: by reducing air pollution, lessening our dependence on petroleum imports. Protecting forests, greening cities, promoting organic agriculture, conserving groundwater, cleaning up rivers and soil, will ultimately benefit Nepalis and improve their quality of life.
Environment-friendly, green and sustainable policies will mend the economy and safeguard society. Nepal can be a model for meeting carbon negative goals, but for that we need to rapidly replace fossil fuels with hydro, solar and wind energy and prevent further forest destruction.
That will be our contribution to help the global effort to address the climate emergency, but the immediate benefits will be enjoyed by this and future generations of Nepalis.
Shilshila Acharya is with the Avni Centre for Sustainability, a non-profit and Avni Ventures, a waste management company based in Kathmandu.
Global crisis, local solutions, Sonia Awale
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