If science is to be believed we live on a 1.1 degrees warmer planet than pre- industrial era humans had lived. And it’s us who did it. More importantly, temperature rise is two times faster in Asia than the global average. In the Himalayas—the tallest mountain range (our home) on earth, the temperature rise is above global average. In numbers, even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, our mountains will be at least 0.3 degrees warmer.
Moreover, Asia emits nearly half of global carbon dioxide. And, with little less than one third of earth’s land area it hosts nearly 60 % of the global population—majority of them are just next to us as neighbors. Asia is equally good in coal consumption and production. The region (including Australia) produces and consumes three-quarters of the world’s coal—a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. But it doesn’t mean Asia is the problem and the rest of the world isn’t. The rest of the world (especially the west) has more contribution to this cause now and historically too.
It’s true that Nepal’s share of global carbon dioxide emissions—a major culprit of climate change is negligible. But it has been forced to take a significant amount of burnt due to climate change. Mostly because the country is poor, so are the institutions and governance. Just to mention a few; glaciers are melting at a faster rate, biodiversity loss is at an unprecedented level, frequency of floods and number of landslides have been on increase and likely to become more extreme, rainfall pattern has changed and is likely to be more uncertain in future. Impacts of climate change are everywhere but in a divided and unequal world the capacity to respond differs. With low income and weak governance, we don’t have good infrastructures in place and a robust system to respond.
Undoubtedly climate change is a problem. Equally true that it’s not easy to deal with it. When United Nations global climate negotiations started in 1995 in Germany there was a consensus—it’s the richer world that has warmed the planet and they must pay for it and act accordingly to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They called it common but differentiated responsibility. Three decades down the road global climate negotiation has yielded more documents and less actions.
While negotiations have been lousy and unproductive things have changed rapidly on other fronts. Technological advancement is on pace, renewable energy price gone down dramatically. These changes have helped a bit to shift the narrative from the problem to opportunity.
While the narrative of being victimized for the crime not committed has been politically bought and propagated in Nepal, less has been discussed on opportunities that climate change has brought. We are a member of the least developed countries group and collectively we must amplify our voice demanding rich nations to pay for what they did to the earth historically. There is a paucity of injustice on climate change. We must demand to pay for the historical injustice. But also push them to act more swiftly to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
However, as a country, an individual and a community we have a wealth of opportunities to change the way we think about prosperity and development. Governments and institutions could re- frame and redesign what is currently in place. We can think of something small but could be an example to the world.
Climate has become a concern of all. Climate has become a story of the century. Climate has become an agenda in diplomacy. It’s everywhere but in a divided and economy dominated world it’s hard for anyone to take the lead and say we should think about ecology before the economy. Richer world has been thinking on how to build an economy that will eventually help protect ecology, but Nepal could think the other way round. How if we think about protecting ecology and the economy will be built around it as we have so much to show to the world.
Being a country with two giants as a neighbor is a challenge but equally an opportunity. We are uniquely positioned to be a leader on climate change. On a warmer planet, we have an opportunity to do things differently. Climate change could be an opportunity to change ourselves. Let’s just start thinking about it.