Surendra Shrestha is the regional head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Bangkok involved in supporting governments and civil society in negotiations at the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He spoke to Nepali Times in Bali this week about the prospects of an international agreement on meeting emissions targets.
Nepali Times: How difficult is it to convince developed countries like Australia and the US to fulfill their responsibilities according to the Kyoto guidelines?
The informed public in Australia has elected a new government which has made a commitment to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol. In the US over half the cities and states have taken actions to reduce emissions. I am sure the informed public in the US will also prevail and bring in the leadership that will take up the challenges of climate change.
India and China talk about per capita emissions, but their total carbon footprints are pretty large. How successful have you been in convincing them about their role?
The scientific evidence presented by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has prioritised climate change on the political agenda. There is more awareness and better understanding of the greenhouse gases. These gases stay around for 100 years and possibly more. Over 70 per cent of the greenhouse emissions are generated in developed countries. China and India are big countries with huge populations and challenges of poverty alleviation for over 600 million people. Development needs more energy that leads to increased emissions with present technology. Both China and India are taking national-level actions to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions, and they are doing it internally without boasting about it. The current level of emissions is high, but in a few years both will be providing innovation in terms of energy efficiency.
Are the countries of Asia taking seriously the melting of Himalayan glaciers?
The Hindu-Kush Himalayas are the largest water towers in the world. They provide for over three billion people directly or indirectly. All the major river systems in Asia originate in the snows, ice and glaciers of the Himalayas.
The science shows that due to global warming the glaciers are retreating rapidly. In 50 or 100 years' time the glaciers may be gone. This message is beginning to be understood by increasingly more people. A quick look at our region where recent elections have taken place show the science and public are ahead of policy. With a gradual increase of public awareness, the electorate is deciding with votes.
As a Nepali, how seriously do you think our own country should be taking this issue?
Climate change will fundamentally change human civilisation as we know it. The increase in temperature is changing ecosystems. We are already faced with extreme weather events, and food, water and energy security issues. Climate change has received attention from the major development partners, and new financial resources as well as technology are being made available to less developed countries to address the challenges.
Few vulnerability assessments have been conducted in Nepal to date, but these highlight the vulnerability of the country's rich biodiversity and natural capital within a fragile mountain ecosystem. The other key sectors that are vulnerable to climate change in Nepal are water resources, agriculture and the health sector. The impact of climate change on water resources will affect Nepal through a number of pathways including disasters, hydropower, irrigation and domestic water usage. There is also a pressing risk to Nepal from the potential increase of climate-related disasters, particularly of glacial lake outburst floods.