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Climate ironies

Friday, December 4th, 2009

NTV’s live broadcast of the cabinet meeting at Kala Patthar on Friday left a lot of us viewers in tenterhooks. Boy, were we relieved it was all over without some ministers passing out live on camera.

Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala looked a little blue in the face at one point but perked up after the oxygen tank in her rucksack was adjusted. Her boss, Prime Minister Madhav Nepal seemed to warm up to his act and by the end of the meeting looked like he was beginning to enjoy it.

The entire exercise was inspired by the Maldivian cabinet meeting underwater two months ago, and both worked to focus world attention on the impact of global warming on melting of the Himalaya and on sealevel rise. Interesting that the Maldivian and Nepali ministers both had to breathe artificial oxygen whether they were in scuba gear underwater, or in down jackets above it. It underscored the geological fact that the limestone on top of Chomolungma was formed by crustacean deposits on the seafloor 60 million years ago.

On the whole, it was a smart stunt. It boosted awareness within Nepal about climate change and put us on the international map as a country vulnerable to global warming. But there is a looming danger that our rulers can now blame everything on climate change and say it’s the fault of the rich countries.

Already, we hear climate change being blamed for the food deficit in western Nepal. C’mon. The trans-Karnali has been suffering from food deficit since time immemorial because of the neglect and apathy of successive ruling systems in Kathmandu. It is an uncaring state that is responsible for 80 percent of agriculture in this country still being rainfed, thus making them vulnerable to erratic weather patterns.

Carbon buildup in the atmosphere may have exacerbated it, but you can’t blame lack of progress on irrigation on climate change. If things go on like this, they’ll even start blaming the lack of agreement on a power-sharing agreement between the Maoists and the Baiseys on climate change too.

Even at the cabinet meeting below Everest today, we overheard some ministers saying: “Look at Sagarmatha, it is so black it has no snow.” There have been successive years of winter drought across the Nepal Himalaya, and glaciers are receding, but the south-west face of Chomolungma has always devoid of snow because of terrain, lack of precipitation and exposure to the jet stream.

Even in Syangboche, tv hosts looked at the crags of Khumbila (The Sherpa holy peak that is below the snowline) and took it as an indication that the mountains were melting. The very word “Kala Patthar” where the cabinet meeting was held, and the destination of Everest treks, comes from the fact that the dark rocky spur of Pumori is almost always devoid of snow.

We must be careful not to allow our rulers to blame climate change for their neglect of development and for problems that existed before scientists even knew about global warming. Climate change, and lack of western compensation for adaptation and mitigation, should not be allowed to be used for domestic inaction and the lack of political will to get moving on irrigation, forestry, food security and shifting the economy to renewables.

For Nepal, climate change is not an ecological issue but an economic one. We need to switch from a fossil-based economy to a hydro-economy. Not so much to save the planet, but to save our economy from a crippling and increasing dependence on imported petroleum from India.

There can’t be any bigger irony than the fact that a country that should be exporting hydroenergy to India is importing fossil fuel from it.

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4 Responses to “Climate ironies”

  1. Shobhakar Dhakal on Says:

    Finding excuses for non-performance or sub-standard-performance is not that new but lets hope that they won’t resort to that degree of naivety in the name of climate change. If there is such debate already or starts to pop-up, we should thwart it.
    However, I didn’t understand what Mr. Dixit wants to convey in the last two paragraphs here. In my view, climate change is indeed “ecological issue” for Nepal and this ecological issues then has potentials to be translated into a series of other problems in economical, disaster, social, policy and other domains. The shift to hydro is our “strategic issue” than “economic issue”. If it would not be a strategic issue, what’s wrong in using the least cost path wherever that guides us? I would leave this to our economist community to think how they like to internalize the externalities for considering cost though. If Mr Dixit even remotely means a potential global push to reduce emissions in Nepal as an economic issue, nobody is asking that for a low-per-capita-emission and a low-income country like Nepal.

  2. Shellfish on Says:

    Interesting article by Darryl D’monte:
    Says we “should exercise the greatest caution on this very crucial issue, instead of shooting their mouths off.”

  3. aawartan on Says:

    Hmm.. did not know that the southern face of Sagarmatha had always been devoid of snow. Thx.

  4. Omar Dai on Says:

    Nepal would have seen a dramatic change for good if the cabinet members who attended the summit at base camp had remained behind and not returned to Kathmandu. I wish politial parties shifted their headquarters to different base camps in Nepal.

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