Features | Environment | South Asia

Nepal Gets Serious About Climate Change

Amid worries of a meltdown in Himalayas, Nepal plans to hold the Everest Dialogue. 

Kamal Dev Bhattarai
By Kamal Dev Bhattarai and Sujata Karki for
Nepal Gets Serious About Climate Change
Credit: Pixabay

A report published in February last year, titled “The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment: Change, Sustainability and People” was a wake up call for the international community. It warned that the Himalayan region will face a tremendous meltdown if concrete actions are not taken immediately to cut world carbon emissions.

The report explained, “In the future, even if global warming is kept to 1.5 °C, warming in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region will likely be at least 0.3 °C higher, and in the northwest Himalaya and Karakoram at least 0.7 °C higher.” The report concluded that such “larger warming could trigger a multitude of biophysical and socio-economic impacts, such as biodiversity loss, increased glacial melting, and less predictable water availability—all of which will impact livelihoods and well-being in the HKH.”

There have been several research reports on the impact of climate change on the Himalayas and all have come up with alarming results. Not only scientific observations, but even scenic observations of the mountain region also clearly show that the snow is melting fast, turning white-capped Himalayan peaks into black rock. A video prepared by the Nepali Times in the second week of December clearly showed the rapid melting. At the one-minute long video put it, the “Himalayan Mountains are melting like ice-cream cones.”

With the purpose of highlighting the impact of climate change on the Himalayas, the Nepal government is organizing its first-ever global summit to be dedicated to climate change issues. Sagarmath Sambad (the Mount Everest Dialogue) will take place April 2-4, 2020. Hosted by Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA) and the Policy Research Institute (PRI), the title of dialogue is “Climate Change, Mountains, and the Future of Humanity.” The mountain economy is another prominent agenda that Nepal wants to push forward through the summit.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to hold such a meeting every year or two addressing other global issues that are affecting Nepal as well. Earlier, environmentalists and diplomats had suggested that the Nepali government organize such a meeting in order to tell the international community the devastating situation emerging in the Himalayan belt.

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During the most recent UN Climate Change Conference, COP25 held in Madrid, Spain from December 2 to 13, 2019, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) demanded global warming be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with Paris Agreement. Nepal, one of the LDCs, strongly raised its voice, underlining the need of limiting the impact of climate change in the Himalayas.

In recent years, Nepal has been frequently highlighting the impacts of climate change in the Himalayas in international and international platforms. Addressing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Poland in December 2018, Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari said, “Himalayan glaciers are melting; snow-capped mountains are becoming dark and dull; the possibility of glacial lake outbursts is high; and the river- basin system is adversely affected.” At every such platform, Nepal is urging the international community to act swiftly to minimize the impact of climate change.

Speaking with The Diplomat, Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal, the head of the Climate Change Management Division under the Ministry of Forests and Environment, said, “Himalayan regions of Nepal is a power house of much knowledge which is yet to be discovered. I do hope that the Sagarmatha Dialogue will dig out and discover new and innovative knowledge of the region, which will be useful to combat the climate change.”

He further added, “Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries due to the adverse effects of climate change. The high mountainous regions like the Hindu Kush Himalayan region face more accelerated warming than most other regions of the world. This fact is also backed up by a recently released HKH Monitoring and Assessment Program. The report finds that even if global average temperatures were to be contained to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, two-thirds of glaciers will be melted by the end of the century.”

Experts highlight the multiple effects of climate of climate change in Himalayas region. They are of the view that people from poor and vulnerable countries will suffer most from these effects. Pasang Dolma Sherpa of the Center for Indigenous Peoples Research and Development (CIPRED) said the impact of climate change is a tragedy for people living in the Himalayan region. “Due to extreme temperatures people are unable to adapt the current changing climate pattern,” she told The Diplomat.

“The changing rainfall patterns are affecting the livelihoods of people who depend on agriculture in the mountain region,” leaving their traditional agricultural practices less and less effective, Sherpa said. “People living in the Himalayan region of Nepal are dependent on agriculture, livestock and tourism. Due to the climate change impact water is drying up, which is directly impacting agriculture.”

Santosh Nepal, a water and climate specialist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), said, “The climate change assessment suggests that Nepal’s future climate will be getting warmer and wetter toward the end of the century. Based on the report from the Ministry of Forest and Environment (MOFE), the temperature is projected to increase by 1.7 to 3.6 degrees C and precipitation is projected to increase by 11-23 percent by the end of the century.”

He further added, “An ICIMOD study suggests that between 1980 and 2010, 25 percent of glacier area decreased in Nepal. Glaciers and snowmelt are very important factors to buffer the seasonal flows in the Himalayan river basins. Studies have indicated that at least one-third of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region will be gone by 2100. This will have serious implications for downstream water availability and dependent sectors.”

According to IPCC’s Special Report on Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, the region would lose around a fifth of its glaciers by 2100 even if emissions are severely curtailed immediately. If business-as-usual continues, however, glacier loss would increase to one-third — severely endangering the fragile ecosystem and the livelihoods of the 250 million people that live in the region, as well as the 1.65 billion that live downstream.

Climate change will affect different sectors in Nepal. To take just one example, river flows with become highly variable due to climatic change. This will affect water availability in downstream areas, impacting agriculture and domestic water use. Climatic changes is likely to exacerbate both flooding and droughts, which can affect infrastructure, livelihoods, and hydropower. The impact could be extended to many other sectors like health, urban affairs, tourism, etc. Therefore, “climate change’s impact on society should be seen in totality,” Nepal from ICIMOD asserted.

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In this context, Nepal aims to bring together more and more government representatives, climate change experts, and global institutions working in this area together to discuss the issue. The government has also invited United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres to participate in the dialogue. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal, the tentative agenda that will be discussed during the summit includes adaptation, resilience, and livelihoods (including water issues and natural disasters); green economy (including transport, trade, energy, industry, production, and consumption); traditional knowledge and nature-based solutions (including tourism, agriculture, forests, and carbon sequestration); and transformational solutions (technology, innovation, lifestyle opportunities, climate justice, and finance).

This is not the first time that Nepal has taken initiatives to highlight the impacts of climate change on the Himalayas. The Madhav Kumar Nepal-led government at the time held a cabinet meeting at Everest Base Camp in 2009 with the slogan of “Save the Himalayas.” Organized to highlight the issue of climate change, the cabinet meeting adopted the 10-point Everest Declaration but with a change in government soon thereafter the declaration has been gathering dust.

The ninth point of the 2009 declaration says, “Given that very limited research has been carried out concerning the impact of climate change on the process of snow and glacial melt in the Himalayan region, [Nepal will] take the initiative to meet knowledge needs in this respect.” Over 10 years later we are seeing more action toward that end. Government officials say the cabinet meeting held in 2009 served as a vital tool in order to raise Nepali voices. This April’s upcoming Sagarmatha Sambad, they believe, will wake the international community to act immediately to save the Himalayas.

Kamal Dev Bhattarai is a Kathmandu-based writer and journalists. He writes on foreign policy issues.

Sujata Karki is a seasoned environment journalist based in Kathmandu. She currently serves as news editor of Nature Khabar.