Climate justice is a subject that sparks deep emotions and passionate discussion. Vulnerable communities argue that them being at a vulnerable situation to climate change has very little to do with their own actions. In their eyes, they’ve been hit with a double whammy: the ‘developed’ world’s emissions have not only exacerbated their vulnerabilities through economic inequality and whatnot, but also forced them to change their traditional ways to deal with a problem they didn’t create.
One could observe this sentiment manifesting itself in different magnitudes of aggression throughout the COP, especially in side-events involving vulnerable countries and local-level stakeholders. For instance, in the discussion of ‘Forests: 1.5C from a community perspective’, the speaker from India highlighted their frustration, stating that “Actions of climate change mitigation is being forced on vulnerable communities while the real emitters are not being punished.” This statement seemed similar to the reactionary response to indignant treatment that I felt displayed over at the Nepali camp.
If you have read my previous blog posts, you would know that Nepal is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, and the issue of climate justice has been the stepping stone to the national climate change agenda. Thus, it is only fitting for me to highlight the frustration seen at the Nepali front on the issue of climate justice and climate related funding. Also, in contrast to large-scale programs supported by international aid, local efforts have had their own importance in countries like Nepal. Finally, national and local actors interact with actors from neighbouring regions to share knowledge and collaborate on similar climate change problems. Thus, I will be summarizing all these themes below.
Climate Justice and Finance
On Dec 5, Nepal organized an event titled “Nepal and LDCs: Upscaling Adaptation Actions in LDCs through Innovative Technology, Finance and Capacity Building”. The program touched upon the Adaptation at Scale Initiative, which includes an innovation prize programme on matters of ‘WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), energy access, and adaptation.’ The innovation prize is supposed to act as a financial incentive to induce innovative adaptation practices and processes that focus on building capacity in the local level, and which can be scaled up and out to affect policy decisions while including a larger populace in the projects. The prize is awarded to local projects at two stages: firstly, during the initial phase (‘Encouragement prize’) and secondly, during the implementation phase (‘Implementation Prize’). The nature of the support (‘prize’) and the benefactor of the prize (a foreign entity) seemed to make a few Nepali heads in the audience uncomfortable.
One audience member, a student of forestry, argued that officials should not be settling for funding in the form of ‘prize’, but that they should vouch for ‘compensation’. For me, this question played on the connotation of ‘prize’, which not only suggests that actors work within a set-framework, but which also diminishes the culpability of the benefactor. Compensation on the other hand reinstates this culpability of the financial backer, a culpability that extends to historic and present carbon emissions that have forced local communities to strengthen their adaptive capacities. The same connotation however would also dissuade foreign entities to provide funds to vulnerable communities, and they would rather stick with titles such as donations, loans, or prizes/awards.
Local Efforts and Forests
Other questions raised by the audience in the aforementioned event concerned the usage of and risks to indigenous knowledge in these projects. The panellists specified that while indigenous knowledge is useful in many of the projects, often they need to be rescaled or supported by other forms of knowledge to be successful in the present context.
This leads us to the discussion of local actions that value local knowledge and make it a priority to include local stakeholders. Consider forests: they form a big part in our discussion of carbon emission and carbon sinks. However, often the discussion of forest use seems to ignore or even shed in a negative light the livelihoods that depend on the forests. The event on ‘Forests: 1.5C from a community perspective’ sought to tackle this idea. The panellists argued that ignoring the intricate relationships between forests and people is to undermine indigenous groups, and put a blind eye to displacement, eviction, and land grabbing. The panellists also warned against undermining local actions, especially when it comes to forests.
Dil Raj Khanal spoke for the rights of community forestry groups and presented the success of such community forests in Nepal. The deeper learning takeaway was that large-scale implementation of climate-friendly projects should always be assessed for safeguard measures for local communities and wherever possible, local community involvement should be sought in the building of adaptive capacity with regard to the effects of climate change.
The support of community-level projects does not suggest an isolation from other similar projects in the region. In fact, as seen in the COP, collaboration between different community-level actors is actually beneficial and encouraged. For Nepal, this collaboration was seen through interactions with other LDC states. The similarity in economic condition and the need for climate finance meant that valuable knowledge sharing could take part via LDC Expert Groups or other channels. On a larger scale, the LDC group also formed a collective during the negotiations. Though I couldn’t attend the daily LDC group meetings (because of my ‘observer’ status in the COP), I am certain valuable discussions occurred that will be beneficial for individual states. Also, the LDCs unanimously welcomed the IPCC report, which is always a positive.
However, a more obvious collaboration, especially with regard to local projects, would be that between the states in the Himalayan region. To understand if any such collaboration was mentioned in the COP, I attended numerous events pertaining to these states. I mostly frequented the events of the Indian pavilion, for the simple fact that they had numerous daily events. The Indian Pavilion’s events were mostly focused on showcasing projects that helped local communities reap economic benefits while acting in a sustainable manner. There seemed to be some knowledge sharing between Sikkim (a Himalayan state in India), Bhutan, and Nepal. This was through workshops provided by successful projects pertaining to water security in Sikkim.
I was also made aware of other non-state actors that promote regional efforts at climate change mitigation and adaptation, with adaptation being the key focus. Though I was unable to attend other similar events because of time constraints, collaboration between mountainous nations was observed in an event organised on the occasion of International Mountain Day on December 11.
Thus, the engagement of multiple stakeholders on issues pertaining to Nepal has provided me with a bit of hope. I came to the COP with a very pessimistic idea of Nepal’s activities. Much of this pessimism had origins in how I had witnessed development works and other projects undertaken in Nepal. However, in the COP, I witnessed the presence of youth who were not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions and who sought accountability from their representatives. I was able to interact with delegates who were passionate about actions in the realm of climate change. These are surely positive indicators for the future of Nepal’s efforts at climate change mitigation and adaptation. Though much is yet to be done, the COP has not only made me aware of Nepal’s efforts at lessening the brunt of climate change, but also allowed me to sympathize with their relative powerlessness in face of global superpowers.