Dr. Chandra Lal Pandey is an Assistant Professor at Kathmandu University. He has over 15 years of working experience in South Asia, particularly India and Nepal.
He has extensive working experience in the fields of public policy focusing on the areas of political economy, environmental affairs and disaster governance. He earned his Ph.D. and Post-doctorate in Political Science and Public Policy from the University of Waikato, New Zealand.
Dr. Pramod Jaiswal, Strategic Affairs Editor at Khabarhub spoke to Dr. Chandra Lal Pandey on Climate Change and Nepal.
What do you have to say about the recent ‘The Glasgow Climate Pact’, the first-ever climate deal to explicitly plan to reduce coal, (the worst fossil fuel for greenhouse gases)? What can countries like Nepal expect out of it?
The Glasgow Climate pact is one of the pacts or agreements that generally takes place at the end of every year. So, it’s not very much different.
However, one point which has been highlighted here as you said is the ending of the use of coal. But if you look at the language there it is not ‘phase out’ but ‘phase down’ which means reduce as far as possible.
That does not necessarily mean that coal will be phased out shortly. Particularly you know the first draft had “phase out” language but later when it was revised it became “phase down”. Particularly because of the interests of emerging economies.
If you look at emerging economies like China, India, Brazil, South Africa, these kinds of countries are using abundant amounts of coal to propel their economies, including the United States of America. Therefore, the language was changed from “phase out” to “phase down”.
Therefore, we need to be aware and should stress reducing the use of coal or dirty fuel. However, it carries a very important message for a country like Nepal as Nepal is a country that has an abundant volume of under-utilized flowing water resources.
If we look at Nepal’s water resources, we have over 6000 rivers and rivulets, but unfortunately, our cities and households don’t have enough access to the drinking water, nor do we have ample water to irrigate in our farms and or have been able to generate hydroelectricity.
Hence, as the world is thinking about phasing out coal or dirty fuel, there is an opportunity for renewable energy.
Therefore, it can be directly connected to Nepal’s renewable resources like hydro. Nepal can consider, concentrate and emphasize improving its hydropower generating capacity and look out for hydroelectricity trading with India, China and other emerging countries.
Hence when it comes to Nepal it has a very clear message if Nepal wants to use it as an opportunity.
How do you assess Nepal’s position in the International Climate Change negotiations? What are the barriers confronting Nepal’s Climate Diplomacy?
I keep talking about it in different kinds of symposiums and seminars also. If you look at Nepal, it is not a small country, it is a mid-sized country with a sound population but still, it is considered to be one of the least developed countries.
However, soon, Nepal is going to be a developing country. When we look at Nepal’s past, Nepal over the years has always been working with the G77 and China group; which is one block of climate negotiation.
Another is the least developed countries, group. Hence, it has always been G77 and the least developed country when it comes to Nepal.
G77 has more than 130 countries and Nepal needs to align with this grouping for collective bargaining which can be much more effective on an international platform.
While these groupings are effective for collective bargaining, Nepal is also graduating from a least developed country to a developing country in near future and the nation needs to consider its position.
Similarly, Nepal needs to understand that when we talk about G77 we are talking about the heterogeneity gap, we are talking about diversity.
Because Nepal is there, Maldives is there, and so are the countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, China, India. All these big emerging economies are there and small countries are also there.
Some countries are big, some are small, some countries are emerging, powerful economies. So how do all these countries articulate their interests and concerns from a single platform?
That’s the fundamental challenge for Nepal that lies between India and China.
As Nepal is not an emerging economy, Nepal does not have any export-oriented industries. This is a fundamental challenge.
Next aligned with this, Nepal is in itself unclear about the meaning of CBDR (Common but Differentiated Responsibilities).
Nepal still engages in North-South politics a lot on this issue and historical responsibility, Nepal is not clear what does historical responsibility means in climate negotiation.
For example, in North-South politics we often say that today’s climate change is because of 18th-century industrialization leading to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hence, we have global warming or climate change today.
This means if we continue to emit today we will have much more dangerous consequences in the future. So, we need to stop somewhere and where is that?
If we look at Europe or the United States of America they used to be the number one emitter in the world but today the US is not number one, China is number one, India stands at number three, EU stands number four, the US stands number two.
Now, do we allow these emerging economies to emit today as they did in the past so that we can have disastrous consequences in the future.
Therefore, Nepal needs to rethink the principle of CBDR, historical responsibility and also the question of equity and burden-sharing. Nepal is confused about these things so these are the most important things Nepal needs to consider.
Let’s look at equity, for instance, equity is a very great concern in terms of Climate Change. Generally, China is considered as the number one emitter and the US number two emitter but in terms of per capita emission China is not number one; that’s one way to look into it.
There are different approaches to equity to look at. Thus, on equity as well Nepal needs to be clear, the same goes with the burden-sharing.
In the past, the western countries contributed to emissions and should they only go on shouldering the burden, or should the new emerging economies today also need to be a part of the burden-sharing.
These are the most important things for Nepal to look at because Nepal has greater interests because water towers are here, the Himalayas are here and depend on that water system which the data and statistics very clearly show are melting today at a worrying pace.
Just recently we also had the Glacier Lake Outburst Flood because of climate change or global warming.
Therefore, there are a number of complications, apart from that, climate change negotiations themselves are very time-consuming because there are about 197+ countries with their sovereignty issues.
Hence, if any decision has to be made that has to be made based on consensus. Apart from that, the framework we are dealing with in the United Nations system is state-centric.
Although we can say that the Prime Minister, Presidents of any country are representative of the people if we look at the impact of the connection of climate change they are direct with the people.
Unless people are convinced about these kinds of things, things may not change quite a lot. That’s another complication Nepal has to face in terms of global scenario and local scenario.
There are a number of challenges Nepal needs to consider given its location, international might that it can perform during global negotiations.
On the 9th of November, Mountain Day at COP26, Minister for Forests and Environment Ramsahay Prasad Yadav pledged to remain ‘cumulatively net-zero carbon’ from 2022-2045’ and become carbon negative after that. How realistic and achievable are such commitments?
We keep hearing that Nepal has 83 gigawatts of hydro energy generation capacity. Some studies show it and other studies show about 40 gigawatts of energy can be produced. But what has Nepal produced until today?
Today if we look I think we have 1385 megawatts of hydroelectricity production. When this Tamakoshi [hydropower plant]is completed another 300-400 is going to be added.
So altogether, we can have around 1800 megawatts of electricity production in Nepal. If we look at today’s peak hour Nepal Electricity Authority data, about 1500-1550 MW of electricity is the current demand.
So, it appears that in the near future our peak hour demand exceeds our supply. However, within Nepal as well at the moment how many people have been able to get access to this hydropower energy?
Many villages in Nepal still have no access to energy systems. In cities as well, people’s lifestyles can gradually change: how many people are using electric vehicles? How many people are using let’s say electric stoves, fridges and other home appliances.
As urban areas expand, the demand would obviously go up. In Nepal still, all the vehicles are either run by diesel or petrol. Again, it’s a kind of dirty energy.
So we have plenty of scopes to improve there if we have a higher level of hydroelectricity production in Nepal, then maybe our vehicles can go electric.
If we are talking about electricity, that’s a big fat light; that’s not realistic. We bring electricity from India which is produced by coal and it is polluting India and emitting it all over the world.
But claim that we are electric which is not going to work. Because climate change is a global issue. In Nepal we can make producing hydroelectricity the most important objective of Nepal then we can achieve these goals.
For example- some data show that by 2025-26 we will have about 5000 MW of electricity production in Nepal while the government statistics/ aspires to make it 10,000 MW. If we can produce 10,000 MW of electricity, maybe we can go green’. However, there are a number of problems.
The first challenge is production because still the private sector’s they have invested in hydroelectricity but they don’t get connected to the grid system and they are wasting energy.
There are a number of challenges; those challenges need to be addressed. Grid system, production, and then selling system.
When we have enough electricity produced or more than what we require in our country, do we have a mechanism to sell this electricity to India, China and other countries?
Recently the Indian government allowed the exchange of electricity between Nepal and India, now with Bangladesh and Bhutan also.
But what about China and what about engaging with India effectively? Those kinds of things are there, however, if we are to consider the situation within Nepal as well, will we be able to produce enough electricity for all our appliances, vehicles using hydroelectricity?
Being able to do so would be a great achievement. Thus, Nepal needs to focus number one on hydroelectricity then on tourism and agriculture.
If we can do so that can be realistic but with the instability and frequent change in the government things don’t things haven’t gone smoothly. These kinds of things generate plenty of doubt on whether Nepal can go green in the future.
Amidst the intensifying politics of the North-South divide in climate change negotiations, how do you think Nepal would be able to articulate its interests?
North-South politics is historical in all environmental debates. It’s not unique to climate change, it’s the same with biodiversity, forest issue, climate issue, and all other issues.
So, it’s not unique to climate change. Ever since the 1972 Stockholm conference, in fact, Indira Gandhi started this discussion.
These discussions are going on, it will go, it needs to go on. If you look from a global development perspective, these advanced countries like Europe and the US are at the apex of development. But if we look at Nepal, we still have to reach that destination.
Many people in India, in China and elsewhere also aspire to live the life of American and European people. Such aspirations for development cannot be stopped from a human rights perspective, from a climate justice perspective, from social justice prestige.
Therefore, that is there and it will remain there in the future also. So, I think that is the most important thing we need to consider.
Having said that, again, within north-south politics there are a number of avenues opening up. What can be done? Should we continue development in a business as usual scenario using coal or other kinds of gasoline, also known as the dirty fuels? or do we have alternative options for development goals?
Nepal can pursue its development with alternative sources instead of dirty fuel. There is an opportunity, Nepal can connect this whole north-south politics with its leadership role on hydropower generation or renewable energy. But Nepal has a very good option of hydroelectricity and Nepal can focus on that.
However, certain things are always important in north-south politics: western countries have already reached the apex of their development, living standard, they have the technology, they have funding.
These kinds of resources must be channelized to other countries as well and Nepal must be the beneficiary of that so that Nepal can develop itself very well. Therefore, not using a business as usual type of fossil fuel can be an alternative path of development.
How have National Adaptation Plans of Action 2009/2010 and Local Adaptation Plans of Action 2011 been implemented in our three-level governments? Has our current political instability affected our adaptation and mitigation program?
I think this LAPA (Local Adaptation Plans of Action) and NAPA (National Adaptation Plans of Action), were designed a long time back in 2010-2012, a long time back before Nepal was federalized.
They were designed in a very unitary system. Therefore, their implementation today, unless and until they are revised, is not fruitful. Although they have multiple things, lots of things there, good things also, but these documents were designed and prepared when Nepal had a unitary system.
But now we are federalized and they don’t have any kind of, let’s say suggestions on, that can be effectively applied to a federalized system.
Hence things still need to be explored. Therefore, I think these two documents must be revised in the context of federalized Nepal as we now have three levels of government- the federal government, provincial government and local government.
Particularly when these documents are revised, local government is very important. Local government always plays an important role and local government works at the local level, local government understands local problems, local issues, local situations, local climate challenges and even local climate solutions.
Therefore, these documents need to be revised in the context of federal Nepal. They were written a long time back and they do not match the current context.
Nepal is sandwiched between the two world’s biggest polluters India and China. Without their interest, we cannot adopt emission-free technology as we have become more dependent on them. Against this backdrop, how can we initiate addressing the impact of climate change happening in Nepal? How can Nepal negotiate with its neighbors?
Of course, we discussed, Nepalis sandwiched between these two big powerful countries in the world China and India even in terms of climate change impact.
India’s booming economy, India uses over 80% of its coal and steel to propel its economy, so is the case with China.
As we know, environmental issues, concerns, climate change issues and concerns; are borderless, they easily travel from one country to another.
We have been badly impacted by the development of our neighboring countries but we cannot tell them to stop their development, and they are not going to listen to us anyway. That’s one way to look at it.
There’s another way to look at it, instead of looking at Nepal as, you know, pressed between two countries, we can say that Nepal can provide leadership in terms of climate change, there are those kinds of opportunities also.
Nepal is not sandwiched; Nepal is in between these two countries that can provide a neutral platform and through that neutral platform, Nepal can provide a leadership role to bring China and India together, to discuss climate change issues and find out ways to reduce the impacts of climate change.
For example, we have ICIMOD in Lalitpur here, all the South Asian countries are parties to ICIMOD, even China is engaged with ICIMOD.
So, such institutions can play an important role in addressing climate change in the regional area. We have another institution called SAARC that engages all seven SAARC countries; you can say it’s dead but still the secretariat is in Kathmandu and Kathmandu has a higher level of responsibility to make it active.
We have not done it, as we tend to assume and not act. On certain issues, SAARC may not be useful but on climate issues, environmental issues SAARC can be useful. We can activate SAARC and bring let’s say India and other parties together; so, that’s the other thing.
Another important thing is how do we do that? For example, Nepal has its embassies in India and China but we have never heard our ambassadors or our embassies talking about climate change issues in those countries.
They can play a catalyst role in this area. Diplomacy does not always have to be political, it can be social, it can be environmental, it can be climate also.
Climate Diplomacy is already an established genre, in political science and public policy but nobody talks in the US, nobody talks in India, nobody talks in China, in fact, in terms of environmental issues, our embassies are almost asleep. They can activate themselves, the government can make them function in those areas also.
Having said that, again, Nepal has a higher level of potential in terms of hydroelectricity generation. Both India and China need abundant amounts of energy.
China is bringing coal from Africa, Australia and other countries and so is the case with India; both of these countries are energy-hungry.
They need a lot of energy and they are getting energy from the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, everywhere. If they don’t have enough energy, their economy is bound to slow down.
So, in such a complex situation, Nepal can maximize the production of hydroelectricity, and sell their hydroelectricity to India and China and they are bound to buy that because that’s beneficial, that’s cheaper and that contributes to a greener environment. It promotes a greener energy system.
So, they are bound to buy green energy from Nepal. Therefore, Nepal can do a number of things. First of all, focus on green energy and sell that green energy to China and India. If you look at the statistics, China and India, buy coal from Africa, Asia-Pacific, Middle East, because they don’t produce enough themselves.
As they are buying from the Middle East, there’s no harm in buying from Nepal because Nepal is just in between, very close, immediate neighbor. It’s also cheaper.
But Nepal has never focused on that. Nepal has always thought that it is sandwiched and cannot do anything. We are not doing enough and our embassies can play a very active role in terms of bringing interest on hydroelectricity, reducing environmental challenges on a regional level.
Similarly, as I mentioned, ICIMOD and SAARC can activate themselves very well. They can act as a neutral platform where China and India come, Nepal can provide hydro leadership and then convince both countries. You know, it’s beneficial for India and China; they are not going to lose anything.
In fact, they can save quite a lot and they can raise their reputation in terms of the use of green energy. So, there’s plenty of scopes even if we are between China and India, however, we are not acting in this area.
I always hear our government officials and politicians saying we need climate finance; Yes, we need climate finance, I agree with that.
But getting climate finance is itself not enough. We need to activate other avenues also. We need to activate what kind of human resources they have in those countries and how we can bring these countries into consensus and develop our green energy and then provide our green energy to these countries.
So, other important things are in front of us but we are not acting on that front. We need to activate on that front also.
Despite contributing only 0.027 percent to the total global emissions, Nepal is paying a huge cost for climate change. How important is equity as a component in climate policy? What should be the actual interests of Nepal concerning climate change?
Equity is very important, in terms of north-south politics of climate change or terms of emerging economies or less developed or other developing countries or within a country also. What kind of equity we are talking about is also an important thing.
Most often we talk about inter-state equity as I discussed earlier. For instance, China claims that their per capita emission is low while the per capita emissions of the US is highest in the world’, arguing that they have a right to emit more.
If we look at things from a similar perspective, Chinese people’s per capita emission is almost 10 times more than Nepalese people’s.
Hence, we also need to consider equity politics as well. If China emits that amount of greenhouse gases, what about Nepal?
Nepal is not emitting anything, right? Nepal can articulate its interest in that way also. ‘Interested equity’ is what we can call it.
Within China, within Nepal, within the United States also, everybody doesn’t emit in the same way. There are rich people, there are poor people. In Nepal, you can see that almost 21 percent of people here are poor and don’t have access to basic needs like food, shelter and clothes.
So, do we consider these people to be equal emitters to those who live comfortable, luxurious lives in the urban areas of Nepal? No, right. So, we need to consider that there is a pollution of affluence- rich people; and there is a pollution of poverty also.
So, when we look at it from this equity perspective, inter-state equity perspective, what we see is that within Nepal there are people also who are emitting way more than what the American citizens are emitting.
But then some people don’t emit at all also. So, this group of people, affluent people, are badly affecting poor people within Nepal also. That’s another way to look at equity.
Apart from that, another most important aspect of equity is intergenerational equity. As we have lived half of our lives, we don’t tend to become considerate about the future generation and the kind of world we are leaving them with.
So, we need to think; Do we exploit all the resources available on earth? Do we continue to emit more until the world becomes a place where human beings cannot inhabit anymore? What about our children, our grandchildren?
If we continue to emit in this way, you can see reports of IPCC, and the Glasgow pact also clearly shows that we have already warmed up 1.1 degrees Celsius. This 1.1 degree Celsius has started to cause disastrous changes all over the world.
Right after the Dashain festival in Nepal, the intensive precipitation resulted in floods, landslides, inundating people’s homes, right.
Lots of destruction took place in the far-eastern region, eastern region, mid-region as well. We have already been experiencing these kinds of events today and if we continue to emit today, what about future generations?
Do we want to end humanity after our time? If you look at sustainable development, it says ‘use resources of today in such a way that you don’t bring any kind of disaster on earth’ so the future generation can also live comfortably. But, are we doing that today?
No, we aren’t. We are exploiting all the natural resources available on earth today and we are in a way, on a mission to destroy the world, in the name of development but development without care can become disastrous. So, intergenerational equity is a very important thing that we need to consider.
At the same time, inter-state equity. We need to look at the way the American people consume or the west consume, the way Nepalese, Indian or the Chinese people consume.
This issue must be considered.; therefore, we have north-south politics; therefore, we have this historical responsibility, therefore, we have common but different responsibilities that need to be articulated very clearly.
In the past, only the west, but what about other emerging economies today- that also needs to be considered.
Similarly, after that, the intrastate equity, we need to consider the fact that within the state as well there can be different types of the population living in different types of places. How do we address that? A country needs to address those issues as well.
If we look at the revised version of the Climate Change policy, it is observed that Nepal hasn’t done enough, it doesn’t have a bottom-up approach. Similarly, most policy plans are designed according to the needs and criteria of the donors. In such a scenario, how will the problem of the common, marginalized, poor community be addressed? How can the government address the huge gap of knowledge and understanding prevalent in local government when it comes to adaptation and mitigation plans?
Well, that’s a very good question; we have come back to Nepal ultimately. If you read Climate Change of 2019 it’s a long document but you can see almost everything there. It’s an interesting document.
It says that Nepal is a vulnerable country in terms of climate change; issues of poverty, issues of illiteracy, issues of social disparity and Nepal’s dependence on higher levels of natural resources.
Those things have been written and it also briefly touches upon NAPA and LAPA and says that LAPA and NAPA have made remarkable achievements.
However, if you go and look at the document under the problems and challenges section, it states that there is an “absence of uniformity in understanding the multi-sectoral issues of climate change among the inter-sectoral agencies and lack of coordination among them.
It further states that the lack of studies, research and investigative data about climate change affects a potential loss or damage resulting from climate-induced disasters.
Similarly, it claims that the failure to mainstream climate change issues into the overall development process and a dearth of institutional capacity, financial resources, technology, and knowledge to address the problems are the major problems or challenges of climate change management.
That’s what it says in the report. So, how controversial and contradictory the policy document is. On the one hand, it says we have fantastically done well using LAPA and NAPA; great achievements.
But then it says we don’t have anything, we don’t have institutional capacities, we don’t have line ministries coordination, we don’t have data, capacity.
If you read NAPA and LAPA: capacity-building, coordination; are the objectives there and we started those things in 2010, 2012 and again we say we are cheap, we are downward, we haven’t achieved anything.
So, it’s a very contradictory policy document; it has not been peer-reviewed at all. It’s like an emotionally written document, that’s what I feel; it’s not a good policy at all from my perspective, because good policies can be implemented and I can give you further examples.
When you look at the ‘objectives’ section, there are 7 objectives of this policy document. Let me read down those points also so that it becomes clearer.
Policy objective A is “To enhance climate change adaptation capacity of persons, families, groups and communities vulnerable to and at risk of climate change”, that’s one of them. So, the government wants to reduce the vulnerability of families, individuals, and communities.
It’s a good objective. “To build the resilience of the ecosystem that can address the adverse impacts of climate change”.
So, eco-system, protection, conservation. The next one says, “To promote the green economy by adopting the concept of low carbon development”, that’s the third objective.
Fourth, “To mobilize national and international financial resources for climate change mitigation and adaption in just manner”; means, in an equitable manner, incorporating climate justice, social justice component.
And “to conduct research, make effective technological development related to climate change”; and two mainstream “owing to get climate change issues into policies, strategies, plans and programs at all levels of state and sectoral areas” and number seven, “To mainstream gender equality and social inclusion into climate change mitigation and adaption programs”.
So, these are the seven objectives of the policy; these are good objectives, well-written objectives. But when you go to the policy section, you don’t see the policy section discussing any of these objectives; it’s completely detached. It talks about finance and all those kinds of things.
One of the most frustrating things about this policy document is that it talks about research, technology development and expansion, but it doesn’t state with whom it collaborates.
In any country there are universities and it can connect with universities that can be mentioned; but no. It rather mentions the private sector.
It forgets about universities, it forgets about research centers that exist in the country that can engage in research and can be engaged in research and development because universities are established for that purpose.
Similarly, our ministry of the environment does not have any capacity to do any kind of research; in fact, it cannot attend any kind of seminars and how do we trust our ministries to do research? except hiring some celebrity consultant and then preparing a policy document like this.
Therefore, I do not see this document can be implemented. Sometimes I talk about our constitution also. Our constitution guarantees fundamental rights. It tells all the people of Nepal, let’s say, to have access to clean drinking water.
Do we have access to clean drinking water? Where is the state? And then “pollution-free air”. Look at Kathmandu, right. So, it’s an emotionally written document for me and if you read between the lines, it’s not a good policy document at all from any point of view because it cannot say how those objectives can be achieved or can be implemented.
There is one type of objective, another type of policy and another type of achievement. So, they are not connected, they are not coherent. I don’t think this kind of emotionally hollow-written document can help Nepal.
Yes, climate change is a global problem but the impacts of climate change can be disproportionate; very disproportionate.
You hire international consultants to write document papers with a perspective of how you can get funding for it, and lack any reason to utilize that funding properly except saying that 80 percent of funding goes to communities.
Do we have any practical example with us in which 80 percent of funding has gone to communities? When the climate development fund comes to Nepal and goes down to communities, it trickles down only.
In fact, 20 percent also don’t go there; How do you ensure that? Where is that mechanism? It doesn’t talk about those things either.
So, generally, how I feel is that- policy is a vision; someone hired some celebrity consultant and then this document is produced.
Not to do anything here, but to keep getting international funding into Nepal. Well, from that point of view, it’s okay. What I think is, when you talk about what to do with the different layers of government particularly, as I talked about some time ago, any policy that we make today needs to focus on local government.
Local governments understand actual climate impacts, and local governments also have some understanding about what can be done to address those kinds of challenges. Inputs must be taken from local governments and local governments must be kept at the center of climate change policy.
Only we can do quite a lot in our local communities and then we can address our climate challenges from adaptation and where possible, green energy in terms of mitigation also.