My Republica: During the upcoming Rio+20 summit in Brazil, the main expectation of developing mountainous countries in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region is stronger political commitment.
Nepal, for example, hopes that the Rio+20 outcome document will express concrete global support for greater synergy, balance, and integration of the pillars of sustainable development—environmental, economic, socio-political, and cultural sustainability. This should translate into poverty reduction, greater equity, and improved wellbeing.
For Nepal—as a largely mountainous, landlocked, least developed country (LDC) beset with challenges including persistent poverty and inequity— expectations of a green economy at both national and local levels are not very clear. A green economy may not seem much different from what Nepal’s millions of farmers, forest users, and landless people in rural areas already practice. Meanwhile, at the international level, green economy is a topic that has remained stuck in intellectual debate; subject to varying interpretations, it still lacks consensus among countries. So what exactly does a green economy mean for the people of Nepal and the Himalayan region?
There is no single definition of a green economy. However, the central theme is that a green economy minimizes the human-induced carbon footprint in development activities while leading to sustainable poverty reduction, better social equity, mitigation of natural resource scarcities, and decreased environmental risks.
What this means for Nepal is that its predominantly agricultural economy, which has remained low carbon by default, has to remain low carbon; but furthermore, Nepal has to start to systematically adopt more socially sound and economically viable green growth strategies that can improve resource efficiency, reduce poverty faster, and enable greater social inclusion.
A feature of the green economy concept that is particularly relevant for mountainous, biodiversity-rich LDCs is the international commitment to valuation of the use of natural capital and to compensating providers of ecosystem services through economic incentives, financial rewards and transfer payments. A natural resources accounting regime must be created based on the principle that the user pays for services provided by the ecosystem, including water and biodiversity, and that the polluter pays for contributions to ecosystem degradation.
Several components of the green economy could fit well in Nepal’s context: renewable energy (solar, biogas, bio-briquette, wind, etc.), cleaner transportation (public transit, electric vehicles), water management (rainwater systems, water purification), and most obviously, land and vegetation management (organic agriculture, habitat conservation and restoration). With more than one-third of the country blanketed by forests, a rich biodiversity including hundreds of commercially viable medicinal, aromatic, and dye plants, and rich agro-biodiversity, Nepal, like other Himalayan countries, has a comparative advantage for greening its economy. However, this comparative advantage is not enough; to cash in the dividends of a green economy we must develop a competitive advantage.
To reap the benefits of possible new trade opportunities that developing countries are arguing for in the green economy context, Nepal’s predominantly subsistence agricultural economy has to start producing market surpluses, especially targeting medium and high-end markets. Developed countries should not use green economy as a pretext for green protectionism; instead they should support capacity building, training, and technology transfer to developing countries. Since Nepal is classified as an LDC, its transition to a green economy has to be gradual, and conditions must not be set that would constrain the country’s ability to pursue its national development agenda. Nepal cannot fully abandon its brown economy overnight. Given its dependence on external financing for development programs, Nepal will also require a substantial transfer of new or refined mountain-friendly technologies and knowhow with strong institutional and financial support. This will be necessary to lead Nepal down a low carbon, yet still productive and equitable, economic growth path.
The concept of green economy is not a substitute for sustainable development, something many people wrongly assume. Green economy must be an instrument for sustainable development, poverty reduction, and inclusive and equitable economic growth. But in order for this to happen, well functioning national, regional, and international markets are necessary, and green products must have preferential market access at prices that reflect the scarcity value of natural resources. Himalayan countries have the potential to scale up production of internationally marketable, high-quality natural foods, herbs, medicines, and dyes. But for this to happen, the rights to resources must be clearly defined in favor of local producers, gatherers, and processors to enable and encourage them to use biodiversity and natural resources sustainably.
In Nepal, a green economy also entails the development of a national accounting system to measure human welfare benefits and to value ecosystem services. Nepal’s local communities have been managing mountain ecosystems, but they need better recognition and compensation to ensure that these ecosystems continue to provide life sustaining services. Proper valuation of natural resources should lead to fair compensation systems for communities practicing sound environmental stewardship, but greater support is required to address livelihood issues.
Nepal’s experience in promoting community-based resource management, particularly in community forestry, provides a model for improving mountain livelihoods while mitigating and adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change. Current achievements can be taken further by promoting low-carbon development strategies that create green jobs, reduce poverty, and maintain ecosystem services. Ongoing pilot projects on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), payment for ecosystem services (PES), micro hydropower, and biogas and bio-briquette energy solutions can be scaled up as clear opportunities for setting Nepal on the path towards a greener economy.
POST RIO+20 ACTIONS
Nepal and other low-income countries should start identifying proven, people-centered, pro-poor, sustainable, clean development interventions to attract support from the international community after Rio+20. The first step is to plan green economy friendly policy reforms that provide secure natural resource tenure, strengthen existing rights of local communities and indigenous people to natural resources, and redefine the existing institutional framework. This would require strong national commitment and broad-based support. With an enabling policy and institutional framework, Nepal would stand a good chance to receive global support for customizing green economy-oriented strategies, and could also argue for special provisions to meet the financial, technical, and capacity building requirements essential for transforming Nepal into a green economy.
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five 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 the 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>>