Inconvenient Truths

Apr 16th, 2014 | By | Category: Development and Climate Change, Health and Climate Change, Nepal

imageThe key message from the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is that climate change is real, humans are the main culprits for the dramatic change and the cost of inaction will be catastrophic. The accelerated warming of our earth is the clearest manifestation of human-caused climate change. The risks to both human and natural systems will rise incredibly with increased warming, the report concludes. Although the only way to reduce the severity of this change is by reducing greenhouse gas emissions drastically, some warming has already happened. The only way we can reduce or manage the climate risks is by fast and effective adaptation, the report implies.

No time to waste

The ‘risk’ factor can be considered to be the central theme of the IPCC’s Assessment Report 5 (AR5). Commenting on the report, US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “There are those who say we can’t afford to act but waiting is truly unaffordable.”

IPCC Chairman Dr Rajendra Pachauri said, “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.” Others are calling for fundamental changes in human lifestyles and behaviour; failing to do so might damage civilisation itself. Some critics are calling the report rather ‘alarmist’ or ‘pessimistic’ but this may be intentional since politicians have not acted on past report findings.

One of the key points made by the report, which is of great concern to poor countries such as Nepal, is that the impact of climate change will be uneven, with vulnerable countries and regions affected the most. The increased vulnerability to human and natural systems is multi-dimensional in nature but the role of climate-induced risks on countries with fragile systems will be higher. Nepal perhaps tops the list of countries that are inherently vulnerable—geophysically, socioeconomically and ecologically. Anthropogenic warming will only aggravate the vulnerabilities of combined human-natural ecosystems, including the cryosphere—which means great implications for the Himalayas, the major source of ecosystem goods and services for Nepal.

Food productivity impacts

The report’s projections on extreme weather events, including melting of ice, will impact the water, energy, food and biodiversity supply—all sectors of vital economic importance. Nepal’s largely mountainous ecosystems have already been impacted by changing vegetation composition, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and productivity decline. Increased incidents of weather extremes will only exacerbate the already badly exposed and hazard-prone landscapes. The report further forecasts a worldwide decline of food production by two percent but for regions located in the lower latitudes and dry tropics, crop yields, especially for maize and wheat, are likely to decline by 25 percent with the rise in temperature and disruption in water supply.

This will make the food security situation worse for Nepal as two of its main cereal crops will be affected and the population will be more likely to face risks of hunger, food shortage and malnutrition. Our farmers are already facing increased cycles of droughts and floods, which is only likely to increase, affecting critical crop production in the Tarai. One of the illustrations of the projected nature of change if the temperature rises by three degrees places Nepal under a orange colour band implying around -25 percent changes in crop yields by 2050. While experts have to carefully decipher the implications of this classification of change for Nepal, one can safely conclude that the impact will be bad and perhaps unmanageable on our own.

This means that climate change will adversely impact Nepal’s agriculture and ecosystem productivity as well as the health, safety and habitats of Nepalis with rising poverty, inequality, conflict and political instability.

What can Nepal do?

The report, among other things, highlights the immediate need for adaptation by giving examples of successful measures. One of the immediate steps Nepali politicians can carry out is to take the report’s message more seriously than they have done in the past and put climate change higher up in their agenda. Nepal can do many things immediately and not at a great cost.

For example, policies in climate change and related sectors such as water, agriculture, forest and education could be quickly reviewed and climate change risk in all sensitive sectors mainstreamed. Nepal’s government can implement new policies to ensure that all ministries coordinate their development efforts by mainstreaming and managing climate risks in all their plans and programmes. The National Planning Commission can play a more proactive role in leading this effort.

Food security has been highlighted as an area of significant concern in the report. Crop yields for maize, rice and wheat are all expected to be hit in the period up to 2050. This impact will be dramatic in the Indian subcontinent. One can only imagine the social upheavals a famine and mass hunger situation can bring about in a region, which can also be termed as a demographic time bomb.

In order to address the likely reduction in our crop production and decline in ecosystem goods and services, Nepal’s response has to concern making its irrigation and larger water management policies attuned to expected changes in temperature, hydrology and river basin behaviours. We could help our farmers use limited water efficiently, conserve water by promoting community forestry and integrate adaptation in agriculture, forest and watershed management.

Investing in integrated land, plant and water management using upstream and downstream frameworks can conserve soil, water and valuable biodiversity exposed to increased heat. Nepal’s agriculture policy could be renamed along the lines of Food, Agro-forestry and Land Management.

Of course, tackling Nepal’s chronic food insecurity and hunger problem will  require—as the report also points out—more inclusive economic, institutional and social strategies. An emphasis on indigenous food production and efficient food distribution systems as well as market-oriented and agro-ecosystem-based one-region, one-product value chain development strategies are some effective measures. As one of the reviewers has said, “Climate change is really important but we have a lot of the tools for dealing effectively with it—we just need to be smart about it.”

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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>>

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