Practical Action: This briefing focuses on the impact of climate change on Nepal’s rural poor. A great deal has been written on the challenges of providing clean energy and the risks to urban populations but, as this paper outlines, climate change also has many other consequences. Rural communities, whose livelihoods are intimately tied to the environment, are profoundly affected by the climate, yet have received little attention in the climate change literature. This aim of this briefing is to help address this shortcoming by first, setting out the current understanding of climate change and its impacts for Nepal and second, demonstrating that through immediate government action and community based adaptation the needs of those most affected by climate change can be met.
Global warming means more than just rising temperatures: climate change affects all aspects of the climate, making rainfall less predictable, changing the character of the seasons, and increasing the likelihood or severity of extreme events such as floods.
Poor communities face the challenge of adapting to climate change through a process of building their ability to adapt and reducing their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.
The changing climate
In 2007, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) considered data from climate observations across the world and concluded that the evidence for warming of the global climate is ‘unequivocal’. Current projections estimate that the increase in global temperature by the end of this century will range from 1.8 – 4.0ºC, predominantly depending on the level of future greenhouse gas emissions. However, these figures demonstrate that dangerous climate change – conventionally understood as a global temperature rise of 2°C or greater – is becoming increasingly likely. And even this picture is evolving rapidly: recent studies suggest that the impacts of climate change may be even more severe and more rapid than those reported by the IPCC at the start of 2007.
Whilst many reports of climate change focus on rising temperature, global warming means more this: climate change affects all aspects of the climate, making rainfall less predictable, changing the character of the seasons, and increasing the likelihood or severity of extreme events such as cyclones and floods. Worse, the impact of these changes is often aggravated by existing environmental problems, such as when deforestation and extreme rainfall combine to produce landslides or floods.
Hitting the poorest first
Far from being an issue that only has implications for energy supply or the environment, climate change touches all the resources that we depend on in life. In particular, the current and future impacts of climate change hurt the well-being of the poor and vulnerable. Climate change puts extra burdens on the social and economic challenges that the poorest already face, emphasizing and increasing their vulnerabilities due to
the dependence of their livelihoods on climate sensitive natural resources and their weak social protection structures. By directly eroding the resources that poor people depend on for their livelihoods, climate change makes it easer for people to fall into poverty and harder for the poorest to escape from it:
• Physical resources. Shelter and infrastructure will be damaged or destroyed by an increased frequency of flooding, storms and climate-related disasters.
• Human resources. Malnutrition and the incidents of infectious diseases are predicted to rise with changing weather patterns.
• Social resources. Reduced livelihood security and prolonged or more frequent droughts and floods will lead to the displacement of communities
• Natural resources. Ecosystems are directly threatened by climate change. Change to the natural environment undermines the poor who depend on local ecosystems for a variety of goods and services, and rely on the productivity of their environment to support agriculture. Changes in local ecosystems may require changes to agricultural systems and practices.
• Financial resources. The repeated failure of crops or loss of infrastructure and homes leads to increased household costs, decline in income, slower economic development and lower livelihood security.
Adaptation to meet the challenge
The scale of the long term impacts of climate change can be controlled through mitigation, the process of reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, the effects of climate change are being experienced now. Worse, because of long delays in the climate system, the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today means that further climate change is now unavoidable, regardless of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – meaning that the need to adapt to the impacts is equally unavoidable. Poor communities therefore face the challenge of adapting to climate change through a process of building adaptive capacity and reducing vulnerability.
• Building adaptive capacity means incorporating climate change into community-based development and improving the availability of appropriate information and skills, effective institutions, access to technology and opportunities to raise incomes.
• Reducing vulnerability to climate change requires the protection of existing assets (including the ecosystems on which communities depend), improved risk management, increased assets and broadening the available range of livelihood options.
The challenge is simultaneously to protect existing livelihood assets against the new risks posed by climate change, whilst securing more assets that can be accessed to help cope with the disruption and change that climate change will bring.
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on the mountain and climate related issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last two years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>