Local election: are the candidates aware of climate issues? – The Himalayan Times – The No. 1 English daily in Nepal
In line with his announcement made in June 2017, former US President Donald Trump officially withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord on November 4, 2020, becoming the first nation to do so.
Many climate change leaders and scientists around the world have harshly criticized the US decision.
Bhutanese Prime Minister Tsering Tobgay, during the 2009 climate change talks in Copenhagen, emphasized that Bhutan remains carbon neutral forever and promised a carbon negative country soon. Six years later, at the Paris summit, Bhutanese leaders and their actions on climate change were hailed around the world for their pursuit of a clean environment.
These two cases clearly show that the issue of climate change or environmental protection is taken seriously around the world, although it may not be popular with the business community.
With local election fervor gripping Nepal, candidates and political parties have shown their commitment to several agendas including good governance, social welfare, infrastructure development, health and education restructuring. education, job creation and many more. However, looking through the election manifestos of the main parties, no one seems to have sufficiently discussed climate change and its effects on the Nepalese economy or taken meaningful steps to mitigate its impact. A few candidates mentioned plans for waste management and the fight against pollution in cities. However, this is unlikely to tip the balance at the polls to the level it should be.
In domestic politics, votes are sought and won on issues of the day: poverty, the response to the pandemic, racial justice or rising inflation and economic inequality. But, as climate change is now labeled as ‘real’, the climate crisis knows no borders and a host of issues are all fundamentally linked. Protecting public health is acting for the climate.
The same applies to the removal of racial barriers or the reduction of poverty. This is why local ballot candidates need to understand the problem and learn the necessary lessons.
Since federal and provincial elections are also scheduled for this year, the question remains: will environmental issues finally be at the center of electoral debates? If the events held in some of Nepal’s major cities over the past few years are to go, green issues are definitely where to shine. The environmental issues plaguing the internet-savvy electorate as well as the poor in these big cities could finally become part of the electoral discourse among political parties, pundits and other stakeholders.
Over the past year, the Kathmandu Valley has attracted the most attention for environmental issues compared to other major cities in the country. The cleanup of the sacred Bagmati River has been seen as a campaign by civil society and local people in cooperation with the civil service and security forces for more than a decade. Another problem that has occupied the minds of the inhabitants of the valley is that of air pollution, especially during the winter months.
Elsewhere, the following three events in Nepal in recent years show our vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change: 1) Floods triggered by incessant rains on August 1, 2021 caused massive damage to the Mela- mchi in Helambu Rural Municipality; 2) Unseasonal rains and floods that occurred in the last week of October 2021 in the western part of Nepal damaged standing rice crops worth Rs 8.26 billion, the biggest loss never registered, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development; and 3) the government has decided to close all educational institutions for four days (March 29 to April 2, 2021), due to the severe deterioration of air quality.
These are representative events only.
Despite the seriousness of some environmental issues at hand, they did not feature in the political campaign, although this may be justifiable to some extent. Countries like Nepal have contributed very little to the climate crisis, ranking lowest in cumulative emissions per capita. And despite the crucial role the environment plays in global ecosystems, multinational corporations continue to recklessly reap big profits from indigenous minerals, forests and water resources. Global Witness investigations have repeatedly shown the terrible impact of corporate environmental and human rights abuses in South Asian countries, including Nepal.
Although in recent decades several environmental issues have been in the spotlight, they have never been an integral part of the electoral debate.
In some cases, even if they became an electoral subject, they lost their importance once the polls were over.
A significant part of the Nepalese middle class, especially in urban and semi-urban areas, which is active online – mostly on social media – has at times championed green issues. Do they think it is time for the development of a “Green Party” in Nepal like in some western countries like Germany, Sweden, Finland and UK? A Green Party is a political party that looks at the development of society through the prism of environmental protection.
But in a country like Nepal where basic amenities like water, electricity and even food are still a struggle for many, it’s only natural that they end up being a big part of election promises. Thus, researchers in the field of natural conservation and political economy believe that it may be too early for environmental issues to be reflected in the form of a political party for elections in Nepal.
An election like this won’t do much to alleviate the global climate crisis.
But if it leads to more distraction, delay, and denial, other issues will become insignificant. In these elections and all future competitions, activists, advocates and voters must be prepared to support a candidate who meets these criteria and puts climate justice at the heart of their platform.
Khanal and Acharya teach economics in Kathmandu colleges
A version of this article appears in the May 12, 2022 printing of The Himalayan Times.