04 Nov 2021
As the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, also known as COP26, kicked off on Sunday in Glasgow, UK, where more than 120 heads of state, together with delegates and scientists from over 200 countries are gathered to double-down on climate goals and actions necessary to avoid what the landmark IPCC 2021 Report has called nothing short of a manmade planetary catastrophe, COP26 President Hon. Alok Sharma shared with world leaders the direct impacts of climate change on small mountain communities he had witnessed firsthand in Nepal. Hon. Sharma had visited Nepal's Mustang region in the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) earlier in February this year, where forced migration of villages pressed by climate change have given rise to climate refugees in the Himalayan nation. ACA is the largest protected area of Nepal and is managed by National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC).
At the conference the COP president made particular reference to the case of Dhye village in upper Mustang which lies at an altitude of 3930m in the trans-Himalayan region of Nepal. Direct effects of climate change in Dhye in the form of drying out of water sources, erratic snowfall and rainfall, altered temperatures and vegetation have struck at people's basic livelihoods, causing this remote agriculture and livestock-dependent community to abandon their ancestral lands. Over successive years, 23 households of Dhye have resettled out, mostly nearby to Thangchung, into public lands, serving only as a temporary respite for such communities.
Dhye's plight of displacement and despair is a concern shared by a growing number of high mountain communities in Nepal. Samjong village in Mustang is another example of this kind of climate-met displacement. Having some the highest mountains in the world, Nepal's fragile topography, poor preparedness and poverty-related challenges make it among the most vulnerable countries to climate change. The Himalayan glaciers are already melting at unprecedented rates, equivalent to more than one-and-a-half foot of vertical ice each year since 2000, double the melting that took place from 1975 to 2000. Changing precipitation and weather patterns have caused subnival vegetation expansion in the Himalayas, changes in harvests and agriculture patterns, recording of new diseases and pests, and increasingly Yak herders report difficulty finding suitable grazing patches for their animals.
Without concerted action, this trend of disaster and displacement can only be expected to rise. Studies show that even the most ambitious Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C by the end of the century will lead to a 2.1C spike in temperatures in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region and the melting of one-third of the region’s glaciers, a critical water source to some 250 million mountain dwellers and the 1.65 billion others living downstream. A 2C rise in global temperatures would melt half of the Himalayan glaciers—also known as the world’s “Third Pole” for its vast store of ice—potentially causing consequences of unthinkable proportions.
Dhye's case is indicative that current efforts to address the impacts of climate change, especially among poor, vulnerable and isolated communities of the world is far-flung from the reality on ground-zero. Riddled by poverty and low adaptive capacity, along with their own development aspirations, people in least developed countries like Nepal (including in small island developing nations) are increasingly at risk of falling victim to the climate dilemma, too often at the expense of the industrialized world. Losses and damages caused by global warming on human societies, cultures, livelihoods, and natural environments such as in Dhye village thus necessitate for a more fair and reliable paying mechanism to be secured in the immediate future.
As positions presently stand at COP26, keeping inside the 1.5C threshold will be "touch-and-go", unless met with bold ambitions, robust policies and definitive actions, especially by rich and developed nations. Together with speeding up the transition away from fossil fuels toward clean-energy technologies, following through on promises related to climate finance, biodiversity protection, restoring natural ecosystems, and enabling nature-based solutions and green capacities in the future will clearly have to be definitive.
In Dhye, to support villagers cope with the effects of climate change, NTNC is already introducing local development initiatives focusing on climate adaptation through supporting irrigation infrastructure, solar technology (for lighting, grinding mill), crop plantation, water and forest protection, human-wildlife conflict mitigation, health services, women’s group support and other capacity-building measures. We are presently working on developing a project focusing on enhancing the climate resilience and sustainable livelihood of Dhye village to address immediate adaptation needs of the few remaining households in the village, who seasonally migrate in and out, while developing favorable conditions for permanently migrated households to resettle back. Some of the new intervention areas will look at the introduction of innovative water conservation technologies for agriculture production and domestic use, agri-based economy enhancement focusing on specific fruits and crops, rangeland improvement, promoting energy efficient technologies for cooking, capacitating green enterprise and tourism opportunities, setting up a MAPs-focused (medicinal and aromatic plants) high-tech nursery, and improving existing local-level climate adaptation plans (LAPA).
Moving into the future, NTNC's recent accreditation as a Green Climate Fund (GCF) entity will enable it to develop specific projects that help to expand and speed-up climate response and adaptation capacities of the most vulnerable people and places in Nepal. Earlier at the COP26 world leader's summit, the Prime Minister of Nepal Rt. Hon'ble Sher Bahdadur Deuba announced Nepal's ambition for net zero by 2045 further urging on the "issue of survival" of mountain communities and the need to "accord high priority to the mountain agenda in all climate-related negotiations."
For a country that has negligible contribution to the total global greenhouse gas emissions, Nepal is doing its part despite its socio-economic standing. While keeping in line with 1.5C pathways and decarbonizing to net zero at the earliest may not be a choice anymore, for countries like Nepal, increasing climate finance will be fundamental if we are to convert our ambitions and pledges into real climate actions, protect communities and natural habitats, power low emission development pathways and future-proof a climate-resilient society.