one really wonders whether a least developed country such as Nepal can play an effective role in reviving international climate diplomacy, which needs to be urgently pursued in the aftermath of failures in global negotiations on climate change as seen in the last few years.
The climate talks under the auspices of the UN were held in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009, and the end was disastrous with no agreement reached on measures to arrest carbon emissions, the most important factor in global warming. Then Nepal was privileged to chair the 49-strong Group of the Least Developed Countries and could have left significant impressions on international negotiations on climate change, had it been led by capable, knowledgeable and dedicated team of negotiators.
Worryingly, our diplomats are frequently immersed in promoting institutionalised corruption, demonstrably exposed by the latest report of the Auditor-General, whose relevant portions were made public by one of the popular dailies "Kantipur"’ on its issue of Baisakh 15, 2069.
Despite the above dilemma, Nepal was found struggling to form a consensus on climate change talks - which have not yet kicked off though the Durban Platform last year has raised some hopes of agreement in the future - during the recently-organised Kathmandu meeting of mountainous developing countries encompassing both Asian and Latin American countries. As reported in the Nepalese media last month, the above meeting ended disappointingly with no uniform position agreed among the participating countries.
In international negotiations on climate change, Nepal has failed to seize upon the opportunities available to it as the chairman of the LDCs. Our chance of leadership of the group is being squandered as time passes on without harnessing the so-called climate adaptation fund, which the Durban Summit has created to the tune of a few billion dollars.
Climate change will be one of the most pressing issues in the 21st century, necessitating increased multilateral cooperation and more so among the highest pollutant countries like China, the U.S. and emerging economies such as India, Indonesia and Brazil, among others. In this regard, the need for deeper bilateral cooperation between China and the U.S., as the world’s two top-ranking economies in terms of GDP, has been highlighted by economist C. Fred Bergsten, who is the first to popularise the term G-2. In his 2005 book "The U.S. and the World Economy", he has argued convincingly that none of the world’s most pressing challenges could be effectively addressed without the cooperation from Washington and Beijing.
In the same vein, former U.S. National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter (1977-81) Zbigniew Brzezisnki, as quoted by Ian Bremmer in his recent Foreign Policy essay "Welcome to the New World Disorder", has even proposed an "informal G-2", a partnership between the U.S. and China, based in the complex interdependence that binds the two countries’ future.
In the above mentioned essay, Ian Bremmer elaborates the importance of international cooperation in tackling global problems and says, "In a world where so many challenges transcend borders - threats to the stability of the global economy, climate change, cyber conflict, terrorism to name just a few - the need for international cooperation has never been greater."
Highlighting the contributions of carbon dioxide emissions to the rising temperatures in the latest thoughtful feature "The Climate Threat We Can Beat" carried by the May-June issue of Foreign Affairs, David G. Victor, Charles F. Kennel and Veerabhadran Ramanathan have contended that the total emissions of carbon dioxide have risen by more than 50% since the 1980s and are poised to rise by more than 30% in the next two to three decades. Undoubtedly, the consequences from rising global temperatures are troubling viz rising sea levels, a thinning Arctic ice cap, extreme weather events, ocean acidification and loss of natural habitats, and many others.
No lasting solution to the climate change problem is feasible without tackling carbon dioxide, around which global climate diplomacy revolves. Developed countries want their developing partners undertake higher obligations of cutting greenhouse emissions while emerging economies refuse to do so claiming their rights of development.
Given this reality, it is difficult to achieve the goal of international climate diplomacy which is to prevent the global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius above its pre-industrial levels. Countries bent on increasing quantities of carbon dioxide emissions driven by their desire of speedy industrialisation is the Achilles heel because expensive and rapid shifts to new energy systems could have negative effects on the competitiveness of modern economies.
But all three climatologists Victor, Kennel and Ramanathan have passionately argued that 40% of current global warming can be blamed on four other types of pollutants, which are short-lived. These are dark soot particles called black carbon, methane, lower atmospheric ozone and industrial gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used as coolants in refrigerators.
Considering the prevalence of mountain glaciers and Nepal’s river system, which are fed by such glaciers, and the immediate neighbourhood of India and China, whose rivers such as the Ganges, Indus and Yangtze constitute the main water supplies of South Asia and beyond, reducing black carbon which traps heat from sunlight and speedily melts the glaciers deserves prioritised attention in climate diplomacy.
Little wonder that only a fortnight ago an avalanche caused heavy loss of life and material in Kaski district in Western Nepal when the origin of the River Seti was blocked and resultantly burst into a devastating flood in the downstream areas where more than 50 have been missing with a number of dead bodies found on the banks of the river. Had the government authorities not been alerted by some villagers who first noticed the floods in the upstream of Seti, there would have been hundreds of deaths of poor labourers who collect sand everyday on the banks of the river to earn their living in the vicinity of Pokhara city.
Experts at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) have, however, declined to observe this incident as a clear act of climate change disaster. Notwithstanding this, Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries that is forced to bear the brunt of global warming, where hundreds of glacial lakes are located and some of them are deemed too risky with potentialities of imminent bursting.
Before calamity occurs inviting horrendous consequences that lie beyond our capacities to manage, we should be consistent in our efforts to convince the international community of prioritising Nepal’s vulnerabilities in terms of global warming with ever increasing vigour. But will our negotiators have the required skills to do so in view of their track record is a question that puzzles us.