Localizing climate action

The consequences of climate change extend beyond spatial and temporal boundaries. Despite contributing minimally to global greenhouse gas emissions, Nepal is ranked as one of the most vulnerable countries facing the effects of climate change. The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative Index, which measures a country’s current vulnerability to climate disruptions and assesses its readiness to improve resilience, ranked Nepal 125th out of 192 countries in 2021. Research showed that the fragile and rugged topography and ineffective response mechanisms and strategies for dealing with natural hazards exacerbated Nepal’s vulnerability. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology also reports that temperatures in Nepal have increased by an average of 0.056 degrees Celsius annually, with the highest rate occurring at higher altitudes in the Himalayan regions. The precipitation pattern is also unusual, especially in the higher mountains.

Soil erosion, landslides, flash floods and droughts have all been reported across the country, wreaking havoc on lives and livelihoods across the country. Research shows that more than 80 percent of material losses result from disasters, mainly caused by climate-related hazards. Water-related incidents such as floods, landslides and glacial lake floods (GLOFs) displace communities and demolish homes, agricultural land and essential infrastructure. According to the Nepal Vulnerability and Risk Assessment 2021, climate-induced disasters take a toll of over 647 lives and cost the country an annual economic loss of over Rs 2,778 million.

National obligations

The Government of Nepal has endorsed several international commitments to address these challenges. The National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) was introduced in 2010. Realizing the importance of local intervention, the Local Adaptation Plans of Action (LAPAs) were developed in various local units to help local governments and communities build resilience to climate impacts. change. The LAPAs are developed in regions and communities vulnerable to floods, droughts or extreme weather events.

Following the federal structure, the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) 2019, the Environment Protection Act (EPA) 2019 and the Environment Protection Regulation (EPR) 2020 were formulated, establishing the Climate Change Policy 2011, EPA 1997 and EPR 1998 respectively withdrawn. The National Climate Change Policy is considered a landmark document in achieving climate action in Nepal. In addition, climate action has been implemented at provincial and local levels. Similarly, a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) has been prepared in response to the NCCP, in line with the Nationally Determined Contributions.

Role of local government

The Local Government Operations Act 2017 has given local governments the power to work on disaster management, agriculture and food security, small hydropower and renewable energy, catchment area management and wildlife and biodiversity conservation. These sectors are pillars of climate adaptation and mitigation. Therefore, local governments play a crucial role in minimizing vulnerability and building community resilience, thereby contributing to achieving climate goals.

Despite policy interventions and results, local preparedness still needs to be improved. We cannot deny that climate-related impacts exist at a local level and that action is therefore needed. However, in our case, the federal structure has left local climate change issues out of development planning. The biggest problem lies with the institutional arrangement.

The Ministry of Forests and Environment is the central ministry for climate change, but several gaps remain at provincial and local levels. While several committees and sections have been appointed to implement climate action, the question arises regarding the placement of competent and qualified personnel at the local level. The formality of setting up climate units without resources and knowledge does not help much. As a result of this situation, translating national policies into planning at the local level has failed, and thus mainstreaming climate change issues into the overall development process has become a herculean task. Unsustainable financial mobilization, limited research and development, insufficient data assortment and a lack of coordination mechanisms between different levels of government, institutions and stakeholders are some examples.

The gap in the integration of the bottom-up approach has not been able to solve climate problems at the local level. The NAP is considered an important intervention to introduce climate action at the local level, but the dilemma of the financing mechanism has raised doubts about the implementation of the proposed climate adaptation measures. The estimated cost of Nepal’s NAP for implementing priority programs until 2050 is US$47.4 billion. On the contrary, Nepal’s contribution capacity is only $1.5 billion up to the time frame. This clearly shows our dependence on external financing and support to implement the programs under the NAP. The dependency creates uncertainty and reduces our ability to implement priority adaptation actions at the local level.

The impacts of climate change vary geographically. While our higher mountain region experiences irregular rainfall and GLOFs, the low mountain region is severely affected by the effects of landslides and soil erosion, and people living in the lowland areas are victims of floods. The intensity, severity and duration of impacts in each local unit are different, and at the same time, the resilience of each community at the local level also varies. That’s why a single blanket approach doesn’t work when it comes to localizing climate action.

A tailored and multifaceted approach is needed that empowers communities, builds institutional capacities, promotes collaboration and mobilizes resources at the grassroots level. This can be done by raising awareness and communicating understanding of climate change impacts and adaptation/mitigation measures among local stakeholders, including community leaders, government officials, civil society and the public. Local communities can also be empowered to take collective action, leverage local resources and integrate traditional knowledge and practices into climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.

There is a need to strengthen the institutional capacity of local units for effective climate management and implementation of climate action plans. Recruiting qualified and competent staff and improving their technical expertise and skills within local government is critical for localizing climate action in Nepal. Furthermore, promoting partnerships and cooperation between government and national agencies, academia, the private sector and non-governmental organizations is crucial to leverage expertise and resources and share best practices in adaptation and climate change mitigation. By strengthening the institutional foundations for climate action, local units can increase their effectiveness, accountability and resilience in responding to climate change challenges and promoting sustainable development outcomes for local communities.

The first step towards localizing climate action is to ensure the involvement and involvement of local governments and non-state stakeholders at the local level during the preparation and modification of climate change policies. Maintaining policy coherence at national and subnational levels is also crucial. During the implementation of climate change policies, strategic partnerships between national and subnational governments through joint development of the implementation and investment plan, capacity building and access to fiscal transfers and funds are essential.