Climate Change and Nepal

For the period of 1999-2018, Nepal was among the top 10 most vulnerable nations from Climate Change according to the Climate Risk Index (CRI).  

2019 saw Nepal’s CRI score rise more although the rank dropped:

CRI Rank  Country  CRI score Fatalities in 2019 (Rank)  Fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants (Rank)  Losses in million US$ (PPP) (Rank)  Losses per unit GDP in % (Rank
12 Nepal 20.00 10 7 42 27

The CRI score

…identifies the extent to which countries have been affected by extreme weather events. These can be meteorological events such as tropical storms or tornados, hydrological events such as storm surges or flash floods, or climatological events such as wildfires or droughts..

Today, climate change is having a serious impact on the Earth. The actions we take today will determine our fate as a species on this planet.

Although climate change on Earth is a natural phenomenon, human induced Carbon emissions have been responsible for heating of the Earth’s atmosphere to a critical point. The scientific community world-wide seems to have now agreed upon this fact. 

It was the Swedish Scientist Svante Arrhenius who gave the first warning on Climate and its impact in 1896. He talked about Greenhouse Gases creating problems for the atmosphere and Carbon Dioxide warming the surface temperature of Earth.

Earlier, in the 1820s Joseph Fourier had developed a theory that said –

the amount of energy entering Earth through Sun’s radiation should be equal to the amount of energy exiting the Earth.

John Tyndall in the 1860s had demonstrated that coal gases (containing CO2, methane and volatile hydrocarbons) absorb energy. He showed how CO2 absorbs multiple wavelengths of sunlight like a sponge.

After this, research on the relationship between Greenhouse Gases and Climate increased and also did the process of measuring Earth’s surface temperature. Mechanisms to monitor climate change through human activities began developing. 

British engineer Guy Stewart Callendar noted that the United States and North Atlantic region had warmed significantly on the heels of the Industrial Revolution.

Callendar’s calculations suggested that a doubling of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere could warm Earth by 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). He would continue to argue into the 1960s that a greenhouse-effect warming of the planet was underway.

It was the American scientist Charles Keeling who developed a mechanism to measure the atmospheric concentration of CO2. It became known as the Keeling Curve. It is a graph that shows the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.  

In 1963, the first conference on Climate Change was held and the subsequent developments showed that:

  • Humans have added a great amount of  CO2 to the Earth’s atmosphere. Along with it, other  Greenhouse gases have also been added: 
    • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
    • Methane (CH4)
    • Nitrous oxide (N2O)
    • Industrial gases:
      • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
      • Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
      • Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)
      • Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3)
    •  Water vapor (H2O)
    • Ozone (O3)
    • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC)

It was then noticed that these gases were heating the Earth. These gases were stopping the Solar radiations that were supposed to reflect back into Space.  It was named the greenhouse effect and was confirmed that the absorbed heat was what was increasing the temperature.

Here are a few facts:

  • The increasing temperature impacts all activities on Earth that are dependent on Heat. And that is everything!
  • Humans have been adding around 3o billion metric tons of CO2 annually.
  • In the last 150 odd years, the Temperature of the Earth has been increasing by 0.6 degree celsius. But it is estimated to increase  by 0.4-2.6 between 2046-2065 and by 0.3-4.8 between 2081-2100
  • There is a concept called Tipping point which is a point beyond which Earth’s system will get damaged beyond repair. It is 2 degrees.
  • If nothing is done, the temperature is expected to increase by 5 degree by 2100
  • Evidences of Climate Change:
    • Measured Surface Temperature
    • Melting Ice
    • Inconsistent season patterns
    • Appearance of Plants and Animals in environments previously not favorable to them
  • The Impacts of Climate Change:
    • Sea Level Rise and its impact
    • Flood, Landslides and their impact
    • Biodiversity loss and its impact
    • Glacial melts and its impact
  • In 2000, 1,50,000 people lost their lives due to the impact of Climate Change
  • In 2009, this number raised to 3,00,000
  • The people residing near coastal areas and mountainous regions are the most vulnerable.  

Although adequate warning has been given and nations have started to take precautionary actions, poorer countries such as Nepal have a long way to go. The 2020 CRI index showed Nepal to be the 12th most vulnerable nation from Climate Change. Due to the presence of Himalayas and dependency on Summer Monsoon; Nepal, which is an agriculture dependent nation can have catastrophic consequences if proper actions are not taken immediately. 

Glacial Lake Outburst Flood and other natural disasters such as Flood, Landslide, Soil-Erosion have already increased by a considerable margin. The problem though is that enough research has not been done and that which has been done has not been contextualized and distributed among the public and the responsible agencies.  

Internationally there have been ‘landmark’ initiatives in regards to Climate Change.

In 1989 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established under the United Nations whose task was to provide scientific basis of Climate Change and impact Political, Economic decisions.

In 1992 The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) established an international environmental treaty to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system“, in part by stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere

The Kyoto Protocol was initiated in 1997 with an agreement to decrease the release of Greenhouse gases. 

The Paris Climate Agreement 2015 saw 197 nations reach an agreement to monitor and report their Greenhouse Gases emissions. 

There are majorly two ways to begin solving the Climate Crisis:

  1. Monitor the Change
  2. Understand the Cause-Effect

Stewart Brand of The Whole Earth Catalog talks about three types of strategies:

  • Mitigation – Decrease the greenhouse gases. Avoiding the unmanagable. 
  • Adaptation – Migration, Sustainable Agriculture. Manage the unavoidable. 
  • Amelioration – Adjusting the nature of planet through large scale Geo-Engineering solutions.

Nepal has been actively participating in International Initiatives:

In 1994 Nepal became the supporting partner in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It also adhered to the NAPA plan which is a

…type of plan submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by Least Developed Countries, to describe the country’s perception of its most “urgent and immediate needs to adapt to climate change

Nepal has also initiated Clean Development Mechanism. It has also agreed towards promoting Alternative Energy carbon neutralization. In 2011, the Local Adaptation Plans of Action – LAPA) was prepared. Nepal is also a part of the Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement and Sendai Framework.

Nepal’s Issue and Crisis

Precipitation, Increasing Water stress.  Droughts, storms, floods, inundation, landslides, debris flow, soil erosion and avalanches- are the apparent issues Nepal has to deal with. 

Climate Migration resulting from the above will occur and the lack of capable/credible power-structure will only bring more crises thereon.  

Nepal’s major crisis will stem from the Glacial Lake Outburst Flood. It occurs when water dammed by a glacier is flooded which results in flash floods of water and other debris destroying the infrastructures of lower regions. This impacts agriculture, settlements, industries and tourism.   

Prakash Mani Sharma writes in Climate Change and its Impact in Nepal:

In Nepal’s Himalaya, total estimated ice reserves between 1977 and 2010 decreased by 29% (129 km3). The number of glacier lakes increased by 11% and glaciers receded on an average by 38 km2 per year during the same period. The substantial impacts on snows and glaciers that are likely to increase the possibilities of Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs).

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued a report in 2007 that claimed Himalayan glaciers could completely melt away by 2035. • The other scientists believe that by the time global temperatures increase by just 2 degrees Celsius, more than half of the Himalayan glaciers will have vanished  

even under the present climate at least 44 glacial lakes have been identified with serious potential of GLOFs.

Of these, 20 glacial lakes are identified as potentially dangerous for GLOF events. Among the potentially dangerous lakes, only few mitigation measures are taken.

Several GLOF events have occurred over the past few decades incurring extensive damage to roads, bridges, trekking trials, villages as well as incurring loss of human life and other property and infrastructure. At least 12 GLOF events have been reported to date. These have caused extensive damage and with continued regional warming GLOFs are likely become more common.

Monsoon is another area that will get disturbed due to Climate Change. Since Nepal is heavily dependent on the Summer Monsoon, there is a huge risk for agriculture and other industries.

There is an even bigger risk for areas directly heavily dependent on Summer Monsoon.   

Snow, glacier melt precipitation will also bring risk to agriculture and industries. Furthermore, it will increase the chances of floods, landslides and soil erosion.  With this too, there is a huge risk for areas heavily dependent on Summer Monsoon.   

Here are some facts related to Nepal and Climate Change:

  • Out of the 75 districts, 29 districts are highly vulnerable to landslides, 22 districts to drought, 12 districts to GLOFs, and 9 districts to flooding.
  • 95% Greenhouse gases generated from Nepal are from agriculture and forests. 77 % of this is from forests. 
  • By 2030 the surface temperature can reach up to 2 degree Celsius. 
  • By 2060 the surface temperature can reach up to 3.8 degree Celsius. 
  • By 2090 the surface temperature can reach up to 5.8 degree Celsius. 
  • 70 % of the people in Nepal are dependent on agriculture. 
  • There are 6000 rivers in Nepal with an annual mean runoff – 224 billion cubic meter
  • Per capita water availability – 9000 cubic meters 
  • ~96% water is used in agriculture but only 24 % is used in agriculture
  • Nepal is dependent on Monsoon. Now there is a risk of greater rainfall. 
  • Monsoon will get even more unpredictable
  • All this can result in food crisis
  • Weakened Agriculture sector will be impacted more by Climate Change. There is a risk of Food Insecurity and Food deficiency 
  • There hasn’t been much research on Climate Change in Nepal. Because:
    • GCM model is difficult to implement
    • Lack of Climate Change Records
    • Natural Variations in Water Resources
    • Poor resource Management
  • Impacts which can help understand Climate Change scenario in Nepal:
    • Glacier Melt
    • Changes in Precipitation Pattern
    • Increasing Water Stress

Towards Solution

We earlier mentioned Stewart Brand and his three strategies. In Nepal’s case, Amelioration seems implausible which leaves us with Mitigation and Adaptation. 

  • Mitigation – Avoiding the unmanagable. 
  • Adaptation – Managing the unavoidable. 

The challenges of Nepal can be summarized as follows:

  • Too much dependency on Agriculture makes Nepal very vulnerable.
  • The same dependency results in difficulty in implementing strong policies. 
  • Poor Governance.
  • Poor Infrastructure.
  • Geographical constraints.
  • Lack of dependable financial sector.
  • Lack of Research

With this, there are basically two approaches towards solving the climate crisis in Nepal:

  1. From the National Level
  2. From the Local to Individual Level

From the National level, the best that has been done so far is the theoretical राष्ट्रिय जलवायू परिवर्तन निति

It’s goal is to contribute to the socio-economic prosperity of Nepal by developing a sustainable system. It aims to assist people, families, groups and communities, vulnerable from Climate Change. Not only that but it also wants to develop a sustainable system, promote green-economy and mobilize grants from various sources towards reducing climate change catastrophe.  

The policy has identified the following areas:

  • Agriculture and Food Security
  • Forest, Biodiversity and Watershed preservation
  • Water Resource and Energy
  • Rural and Urban Settlements
  • Industry, Transportation and Physical Infrastructure
  • Tourism and Natural/Cultural Heritages
  • Public Awareness and Capacity Building
  • Research and Technical development
  • Climate Change Finance Management

But since these policies are paperworks that will merely feed their makers and the makers’ masters, these are the minimum actions that have to taken from National Level to avoid catastrophe in Nepal:

  • Focus on Water Management: Sustainable agricultural techniques have to be developed that are less water intensive and refocused efforts have to be put on the rehabilitation of water infrastructure. 
  • Focus on Infrastructure development and crisis mitigation: Roads, Electricity and such infrastructures are going to suffer. Appropriate preparations have to start NOW.
  • Support Local and Independent Actors: If you can’t and don’t want to do it yourself, at least don’t make it difficult for others. 

From the local to individual level:

Awareness programs have to be greatly initiated. Usage of less water, diverse agriculture, micro irrigation, small scale storage, etc. have to be taught and adapted. Public actors have to be active for this.