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Learn why the French Ambassador to Nepal walks from home to office every day

French Ambassador to Nepal François-Xavier LEGER. Photo: Nasana Bajracharya

François-Xavier Léger is the French Ambassador to Nepal since September 2018. Among the diplomats in Kathmandu, he stands out for a different lifestyle. For instance, he walks (does not drive) from his residence to the office every day.

Léger, who is claimed to be one of the leading personalities to conceptualise and develop the Green Embassy project, says he wants to be thoughtful of the impact he leaves on the host country and the environment. Similarly, the diplomat says he does not want to be entitled and take for granted the hospitality he has been offered, instead express his gratitude by reducing his carbon footprint, under any project he gets involved in.

Onlinekhabar recently met the diplomat to briefly talk about the Green Embassy project and the local initiatives it is tied with, and the workforce. Excerpts:

How did your Green Embassy project come to life? And why?

During COP 21, member countries pledged to work against climate change and reduce their carbon footprint. But, in Paris, we felt that we needed something more and lead the countries by example. We conceptualised the Green Embassy project and worked with a group of local engineers there who analysed and deducted the way forward. The project is not a political commitment but a way to expedite the initiation at the grassroots level. It was brought into implementation, starting in Paris, the same year (2015).

We (France) have over 1,000 embassies and consulates around the world and we realised the amount of carbon footprint we have been leaving behind. So, the project has been adopted by many embassies around the world.

Is the Green Embassy project adopted in the same way in all embassies and consulates across the globe?

No, it is not the same. The underlying concept and policy are the same though. Each embassy ties up with different initiatives or organisations working locally. 

It is about using the resources one has and trying to maximise that for an efficient living arrangement. One project that works for Paris or Nepal might not work for countries in Africa. For example, the solar panels we can use here would not be feasible in desert areas as they are more prone to get destroyed by the sand storms there.

Elsewhere, there are more innovative works that are being carried out. Like, there is a French company [MéGO!] that are recycling cigarette butts and turning them into furniture pieces. It is feasible in France, but not in other places where they do not operate.

So, what are the local initiatives that the French embassy has taken in Nepal under this project?

For starters, we try to reduce the impact personally. The embassy and the (ambassador’s) residence are just 10-minute away, so I walk to and fro every day and not use any vehicles to reduce fuel consumption and emission. Everyone turns off the switches (including lights, AC) once they are done.

Then, we recycle anything we can. We have tied up with Khaalisisi to help with our dry waste [of the Embassy of France in Kathmandu, the ambassador’s residence, and the International French School of Kathmandu]. We have tied up with SmartPaani to help us with rainwater harvesting. Another company, Skylight, has helped us with the double-pane aluminium windows that ensure proper insulation promoting less use of air conditioners throughout the year. We have solar panels to promote renewable energy sources.

In the gardens, we have strictly prohibited the use of pesticides or chemicals to conserve the insect ecosystem. Next, we are planning to put a beehive on the roof to promote the ecosystem of bees as well.

What are your thoughts on the waste management system in Kathmandu? What differences are there between France and Nepal in terms of waste management?

In many developed countries such as Japan and France, there is a strict policy for waste segregation and management where it is an individual’s responsibility to recycle. In Nepal, the system is rather unmanaged, from waste segregation to dumping. But, many are growing aware of its importance.

There is a network of informal waste collectors, those collecting waste on vehicles, and those dumping in waste collection centres and Sisdol respectively. Vising Sisdol made me realise people are working and living in such an unhygienic place. They are susceptible to diseases, getting hurt and being sick, given the environment they work in, without proper gear.

Informal waste collectors are an essential dynamic for the economy of the country; they give you money for your waste which you can reuse for other projects. A French company has tied with us, buying our used papers that they recycle and give us money in return.

In Nepal, these informal waste collectors are generating income and educating their families, wishing they (their children) live a better life and do not have to do the same work; it is commendable. 

But, informal waste collectors are prone to stigmas and discrimination. Also, they do not always have access to places like embassies. What are your thoughts regarding this issue?

The security protocols and policies bar anyone from coming inside the embassies or offices under them. So, informal waste collectors not getting access is not uncommon, and not adhering to the social inequalities that one can witness in Nepal. 

In every country, there is a certain population that live in the poorest economic condition and generate income in unconventional ways. And, waste collection work has always been considered ‘second-class’ employment given the nature of work and unhygienic work environment. There is a homeless population in many countries that do similar work, scavenging the waste and selling them for food.

Having said that, I also have to accept that there is a gap in access and factors like their lack of education and lack of communication skills have played a part in that.

And, that is where local initiatives come into play. Local entrepreneurs have got in touch with us, made us aware of their existence, and gave us the much necessary narratives.

With waste being turned into a product, more people are getting aware of the situation. It is ensuring their dignity of labour. But, they are yet to be formalised, and in need to improve their living standards.

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Bajracharya is a sub-editor at Onlinekhabar. She mostly writes on culture and nature.

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