Achievable Targets or Pandering to International Benefactors?

-Sahara Shivakoti

Ms. Shivakoti ​​is a research intern at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based in Kathmandu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization. Author can be reached at Sahara Shivakoti [email protected]

​​Since it has already been established by scientific experts and understood by laypeople that climate change is one of the most urgent global issues, instead of reverting to questioning the problem’s legitimacy, let’s move on to questioning Nepal’s strategies for dealing with it. The country has set a lot of ambitious targets to tackle the problem but is it only following international trends and doing so just to appease conventions and donors? While that is not necessarily a bad approach as they have the expertise and the financial means, we need to be cautious about setting milestones and accepting assistance that could give us an illusion of progress while taking us toward environmental and economic ruin.

An oft-quoted example of over-ambitious goals we have fallen short of has to do with electric vehicle adaptation in the country. For instance, the first Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) of 2016 endorsed the Environment-friendly Vehicle and Transport Policy (2014) that aimed to increase the share of electric vehicles (EVs) in the country to 20% by 2020. According to a Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoFE) assessment in 2021, there are 3.5 million motor vehicles in the country and only 34,000 of them are electric, putting the share of EVs at less than 1% of the total. In the absence of any concrete strategies, Nepal is failing at its ambitions, even when they are merely a tokenistic endeavor to keep up with the global race toward the adoption of electric transportation. 

Nepal has long been participating on the international stage on environmental and climate protection treaties and conventions. One such contract at the forefront of dealing with the climate change crisis is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) whose ultimate objective is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations to prevent anthropogenic harm to the global climate. Nepal signed the convention in 1992 and in 2010, MoFE—which runs Nepal’s nodal agency on climate change—submitted its National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA). But was this only to access the Fund for Least Developed Countries as per the convention’s mandate? MoFE also released a National Adaptation Plan in 2021 that prioritizes programs in nine thematic sectors as per the National Planning Commission’s Climate Change Policy (2019). This document estimates that the implementation of the priority programs will require USD 47.5 billion until 2050 and that Nepal will only contribute USD 1.5 billion.

Nepal has been receiving climate finance from intergovernmental and international development organizations for many years in the form of either grants or loans. Environmental justice activists heavily criticize climate loans asserting that developing nations should not be financially responsible for repairing the damage they had no hand in causing. They also argue that loans imply a profit motive but climate change mitigation does not necessarily lead to a return on investment. For example, a protest was held against a World Bank concessional loan to Nepal in August 2022 of USD 100 million under its ‘green, resilient, and inclusive development’ (GRID) initiative which was inconsistent with Ministry of Finance’s International Development Cooperation Policy (2019), in which sectors working on environmental protection, climate change, and sustainable development are specified under grant assistance instead of loans. 

Prakriti Resource Centre, a non-governmental organization, reported in 2021 that the two largest multilateral development banks working in Nepal, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank (WB), committed to providing USD 2.63 billion to Nepal between 2013 and 2020 for projects with climate co-benefits. However, in the fiscal year 2019/20, concessional loans comprised 93.5% of ADB’s and 95.4% of WB’s development assistance to Nepal. There has been no comprehensive assessment as of yet on whether all project objectives were fully met and if they resulted in any climate benefits but deadlines to submit updated national plans and policies are steadily approaching and our debt burden is rapidly rising.

Yes, considering that halting the global temperature increase is imperative to the survival of humanity itself, we will need to concede to international help and expectations and set goals that push us to the absolute limits of our collective capability. But we also need to temper it with acknowledging—but not excusing—the draw of short-term reputational and financial gain that come at the expense of healing the planet. This will drive us to find solutions that preemptively offset the impact of human greed instead of wasting precious time on posturing and pandering. This means making sure that we do not accept responsibility for more than we owe and can repay what we do owe and deliver on our promises without discontent or delay.