| July 19, 2019

Top priority

Protecting environment

Speaking on the occasion of the World Environment Day on Sunday, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli pointed out how it is tricky for an underdeveloped country like Nepal to strike a balance between development and environment conservation. He also spoke of how the new constitution guarantees the right of each and every Nepali to live in a clean and healthy environment. We agree with the prime minister that it will not be easy to meet our development goals by always keeping to the green track. To start with, the awareness that the natural environment we inhabit needs to be protected is low. But even when people know certain actions led to long-term and irreversible damage to our environment and to the fragile ecosystems therein—the mining of sand and aggregates from the ecologically important Chure range for example—environment conservation might not be their priority. The allure of short-term profits easily overcomes their environmental awareness. More or less the same logic applies to the polluting of our waterways and the polluted air that we breathe.
Nepal has been consistently raising the issue of climate change and its disproportionate impact on small and vulnerable countries at international forums. We have a strong case. Nepal contributes under a tenth of a percentage of all the greenhouse gases the world emits. But thanks to the reckless emissions of big countries like the US, China and India, the global climate is getting steadily warmer. The glaciers in the Himalayas, our only source of drinking water and of the power to light up our homes, are thinning. If the current rate of global warming continues, in the next couple of decades there might not be enough ice up there in the Himalayas to feed our river systems. We were thus delighted when a universal agreement to climate change was successfully negotiated at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) back in December. This was the first time such a universal agreement had been possible in the 16-year history of global climate talks. The agreement was seen as a first step to keeping average global temperatures from rising above 2 degree Celsius, as compared to the level before the industrial revolution.

That was not all. The agreement took "full account of the specific needs and special situations of the least developed countries" and called on international institutions to "ensure efficient access to financial resources" for LDCs. Furthermore, at least US $100 billion a year was committed to help developing countries meet their emission targets. The challenge for Nepal is to prove to the global community that it is committed to playing its part—albeit a small one—to reducing global warming, for instance by strictly enforcing nationally-set emission standards of motor vehicles. That will be an unmistakable proof of our seriousness to tackle greenhouse gas emissions head on. We could also show more resolve to clean up our polluted rivers. Creating green spaces in major urban centers should be another priority, along with enacting tough laws on littering. All this we should do not as gimmicks to impress the outside world. We should do it for ourselves.

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