The election fever has engulfed Nepal. Almost all political leaders and parties are busy drafting their manifestoes for upcoming local elections and going door to door with the same old promises of building roads, bridges and improving infrastructure. But, so far, not one political party has seriously discussed climate change in its manifesto or put it on its agenda.
The effects of climate change have been visible over the past few years. Floods, landslides and droughts have affected people from all walks of life. Despite this, politicians have not shown any serious interest to combat changing climate as they have not seriously discussed it ahead of the elections.
Does climate change matter?
A report prepared by the Ministry of Forests and Environment states a lot of incidents are taking place in Nepal due to the changing climate. Researchers came up to the conclusion that incidents like landslides, floods, hailstorms, cold waves, unnatural rain and forest fire increased drastically from 1971 to 2019. It was also clear that all these incidents took place because of climate change.
In October 2021, 120 people died and 28 are still missing due to incessant and untimely rainfall. Likewise, 44 people were injured as crops worth Rs 12 billion were also destroyed. All this took place four days after the Department of Hydrology and Metrology announced that the monsoon was over.
During the monsoon (June-October 2021), 661 incidents of floods and landslides were reported. In these incidents, 142 people died, 42 are still missing and 153 people were injured.
Hence, Raju Pandit Chhetri, a climate change expert, says that it was about time climate change became a political issue as well. He says political parties should include this issue in their election manifesto.
“These need to be an agenda in forthcoming local elections because the most affected by the changing climate live in remote areas,” says Chhetri.
Does the local level matter?
And, he is right. The first responders to any disaster cause are at the local level. It is the local representatives that go to these areas to rescue and provide aid.
Take the floods in Melamchi and Manang, for example. The flood displaced hundreds of people from their homes. The local officials were the first to reach the scene and help people affected by it. These representatives are still working to help these people. They are also quite active in helping people who faced issues due to hailstorms, rain and drought.
“The local units can do a lot. They can offer services like crop insurance, relief and help build irrigation canals. These things can be listed in the manifesto and help people in rural areas,” says Chhetri.
He believes that if things like these are included in the manifestoes, the local units will be more vigilant and take changing climate impacts seriously.
“We need to assess how the changing climate affects people. We build unsafe roads that lead to landslides and we relate that to climate change. This can’t keep happening and this will only stop when we start assessing disasters carefully,” says Chhetri.
A joint secretary at the Ministry of Forests and Environment, Sindhu Dhungana, also says that the first assessment needs to be done at the local level.
“Politicians don’t seem to care about climate change. They speak about it, but don’t act,” says Dhungana. “I personally feel that they should start including risks and prevention in the manifestoes.”
Do political parties care?
In most countries, political parties use their manifestoes to tell people why they should vote for them. Once they come into power, they use their influence to fulfil the promises made in the manifestoes.
In recent times, some political parties have started to include climate change in their documents. CPN-UML in its recently held general convention released a report which stated the risk and prevention of issues related to the changing climate.
The CPN-Maoist Centre’s general convection also discussed climate change and carbon immission to some extent.
“We want to make this a political issue and have stepped up our effort to do so,” says Pradeep Gyawali, a deputy general secretary of the CPN-UML.
He says when his party was in power, it had prioritised the issue of changing climate. “We have mentioned it on our political report and manifesto too,” he says, claiming the Sagarmatha Sambaad initiated by the KP Sharma Oli-led government is a prime example of this.
The Oli government had planned to call major leaders and climate scientists from all across the world to hold a summit about the changing climate. But due to Covid, the summit did not happen.
Gyawali says his party will include climate change in its election manifesto at the local level. He says that the manifesto will include the preventive measures, the use of electric vehicles and utilising the international climate fund for climate adaptations.
Govinda Pokharel, a central member of the Nepali Congress, says that the reason the issue has not become a political issue is that all political parties have never adopted a holistic approach.
“Politicians haven’t cared enough about the effects of climate change,” says Pokharel. “They aren’t aware of it and when that happens, one chooses to ignore its existence completely.”
He says people who are aware of this have not been able to explain it to major political leaders. But, Pokharel says he is aware that climate change has risen the cost of development too.
“The bridges we build need to be stronger and when we build roads, we need to make embankments too,” adds Pokharel.
Like Gyawali, Pokhrel also says the Nepali Congress will include climate change in its manifesto.
The Maoist Centre’s Shakti Basnet, who has served as an environment minister once, says his party will work on ensuring moving the society forward in its manifesto.
“We will work on issues like drinking water, irrigation ad others,” says Basnet.
Almost all political parties agree that they lack awareness when it comes to climate change. And, because they are unaware, they do not pay much attention to it.
“This issue has been limited only to environmentalists. We all need to be aware of it,” says Gyawali.
The government has prepared a local adaptation plan of action (LAPA) to tackle the effects of climate change. But, local representatives and politicians not being on the same page has meant the plan of action has not been effective.
From COP to COP
So why has not climate change been a political issue? Experts say everyone is at fault. From bureaucrats to citizens to activists to NGOs, everyone is to blame, they say.
These people take part in climate change conferences, but they have not been holding proper discourses about the issue in the country.
Every year, before the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Conference of Parties (COP), people who are meant to attend it assemble and discuss it. But, after they come back from the conference, the issue is not talked about. Even the Environment Ministry does not pay much attention to issues related to climate change despite attending these conferences every year.
Dhungana from the ministry, however, says the issue is being discussed among different ministries. But, another official at the ministry says the issue is given emphasis when COP comes around the corner as they get to visit new countries every year for free.
The officials who go there do speak about climate change and what the world needs to do to help countries like Nepal. They come back and rarely talk about the things they learned there. For them, these trips are nothing but a free holiday. Experts say this needs to change if Nepal is to be serious about tackling climate change.
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.