By Sneha Pandey:
As a Nepali, I am suspicious of the likes of Tony Abbott, Theresa May and Donald Trump – influential politicians of developed nations who have thought of obstructing, deliberately tried to block, or at times even succeeded in blocking action against climate change. I am also wary of other seasoned climate change skeptics, whether it be fossil fuel corporations or the think tanks and ‘scientists’ these corporations fund, who have either denied climate change outright or have shrugged off its seriousness at the very least.
Living in a country that is continuously assaulted by climate catastrophes, I, unfortunately, do not have that luxury. Nor do any of the citizens of Nepal or any number of people from climate-vulnerable countries around the world. Climate change denial is a privilege that is enjoyed mostly by the right-wing ruling elites of powerful nations (and the people that they have sway over).
Nepalis are poor and our Himalayas, hills and plains are quite climate-sensitive. Often we have been characterised as being under ‘extreme threat‘ due to climate change – and not without merit. Shifting climate patterns has severe implications for us. Over the last few decades, even as we witnessed a disproportionately high rise in average temperatures – and subsequent changes in the rainfall patterns and a rise in climate hazards – our people and ecosystems have struggled to adapt to and build resilience against these new realities.
In the Himalayas, as summer temperatures get warmer, glaciers and ice sheets melt to form unstable glacial lakes that may burst at any time and flood settlements downstream to them. On the other hand, during monsoon, as rainfall patterns become more intense, inhabitants of the hills and plains are under constant threats from landslides and floods. Hazards such as these have been responsible for a lot of losses and damages. Many Nepalis have lost their lives and livelihoods, their mental and physical well-being, their properties and cherished assets.
Extensive droughts, which are more common during the dry winter months, are also destructive as they have a huge impact on the agricultural and the hydroelectricity sector – both of which are important aspects to our lives. For example, the winter drought of 2008-09 – when rainfall was fifty percent less than what it should have been -affected the production of two of our major winter crops, wheat and barley, extensively, such that a significant number of the rural Nepali population were left food insecure.
Conversely, the urban and rural populations – both of which rely on hydroelectricity to meet most of their energy requirements – have faced increasing power cuts, due to low river flow. In the past, throughout such dry winter months, blackouts have lasted for as long as eighteen hours per day.
Shifting ecosystems and vanishing flora and fauna in all three regions of Nepal have also had severe implications. This impact of climate change has not only affected the day-to-day life of the rural population who depend on such resources to make a living but also has potential to impact tourism which is a significant source of revenue for our country.
Given the severity and magnitude of the effects of climate change in Nepal, one might think that our contribution to global warming is extensive. But, we are responsible for less than 0.05% of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We have no oil, gas or coal reserves so to speak of. Our electricity is produced mostly from hydropower and the relatively small amount of petroleum products and gas that we use, we import from our neighbor, India. Therefore, fossil fuel companies have no vested interests in our country, whatsoever.
Yet, Nepal – and many other underdeveloped, climate-vulnerable countries like it – have had to bear the burdens of not just our own climate sins but those of the developed and developing world’s as well. A study carried out by the University of Oxford, found that the top three countries with some of the least efficient (read: most polluting) coal-fired power stations in the world were major economies such as China (with 39% of such coal plants), USA (with 21%) and the European Union (with 10%). Since coal is the most polluting of fossil fuels, it is no wonder that these nations are also among the top emitters of GHG – in that same order.
Transnational fossil fuel industries have, often, used their deep pockets to cultivate financial relationships and partnerships with the governments of nations that are either rich in fossil fuels or have a huge market for it. By doing so fossil fuel corporations ensure that they have the power to shape the climate politics of that particular country. For example, during the Bush Administration, according to US State Department papers, US did not sign the Kyoto Protocol – a treaty on global warming – because of pressure from ExxonMobil, the world’s most profitable and powerful oil company. This, effectively paralyzed any significant climate action from the second most polluting country for many crucial years.
Such intimate relationships between polluting industries and powerful governments means that fossil fuel companies wield influence not only over national but also over international climate policies and actions. Last year, during the Paris conference, for example, carbon-intensive companies were not only the official sponsors but were also considered to be stakeholders – and had a say in the formulation of climate policies inside the halls of the UNFCC. This happened mostly because the governments of powerful nations and other policymakers were looking out for the vested interests of such fossil fuel companies.
While the preparation and execution of national climate policies, without outside interference, is the sovereign right of any country, the implications such policies are never contained by borders. Influence spills into international policies and greenhouse gases spills into the weather systems of blameless countries – victimising millions of the poorest in the process.
In Nepal, people of the Himalayas, hills and plains, all live with the perpetual fear of one catastrophe or another – with the proverbial Damocles sword swinging over our heads. For many still, the sword has already fallen and ripped their world apart. But no compensation has been made, no climate justice achieved.
To ensure that such wrongs are righted and reparations made, among many other actions, fossil fuel corporations must be booted from any policy making arena, including the upcoming COP 22. This must be done to ensure that the steadily rising mercury level is arrested and the dangers associated with such warming is reversed.