Himalayan Communities Must Be Central to Fighting Climate Change in Nepal

Climate change action in Nepal needs to be inclusive and representative in order to create systemic change, says Joss Gillespie

Climate change is already casting a long shadow over the Himalayan communities of Nepal.  Glacial melt has turned land, previously used for grazing and agriculture, barren and uninhabitable. The exact number of people forced to migrate from their ancestral homeland due to climate change is unknown, but community officials estimate it is in the thousands.

The Long Shadow of Climate Change on Nepal

Changes to the earth’s climate are poised to cause unprecedented migration. Researcher’s estimate that the number of people forced to flee their homes due to natural disasters or environmental change could reach one billion by the year 2100.

Few places are more vulnerable to the impending effects of climate change than Nepal. “Nepal is ground zero for the impacts of climate change,” said Ayshanie Medagangoda-Labé, the United Nations Development Program’s representative for Nepal, in an interview with the New York Times,

As a country with one of the most fragile ecosystems — the Himalayas — and an economy that is heavily reliant on favourable climate conditions, Nepal is probably one of the most exposed.”

Ayshanie Medagangoda-Labé,

Nearly 70% of the country works in agriculture, an industry dependent on climate stability. If the glaciers in the Himalayas continue to melt at the pace they are currently, then the health and livelihood of the entire nation is placed under threat. The Himalayan region could lose two-thirds of its glaciers by the year 2100. This would significantly alter river patterns across South Asia, threatening the lives of up to 800 million people.

The burden of climate change is unequally shared across countries. While Nepal ranks 95th on Global Carbon Atlas’s index of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN it is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the globe.

There is no easy solution here. Climate change is, and will continue to be, the biggest issue of our times. But what we can do is develop a plan of action. In order for it to be effective, this plan must begin where it ends- with the communities that are affected.

The Answer: Including Local Communities

Empowering the Himalayan communities to be the custodians of their own land is essential for both their survival and the survival of the mountains. Studies suggest that “local communities are the key actors for the success of strategies for sustainable management of natural resources” . Locals typically have a greater knowledge and are more invested in the preservation of their environment. What they lack is the means and the platform to make a difference.

Change needs to happen on three levels: local, governmental and international. The voices of those who are most affected need to be elevated on all three levels. If the thousands of climate migrants in the Himalayas are a harbinger of what’s to come, then their stories ought to be heard not just in Mustang, not just in Kathmandu- but across the whole world. 

This plan must begin where it ends – with the communities that are affected.”

In order for change to be sustainable, communities need more than just a blueprint for participation. It is not enough for people to to be receivers of information and subjects of intervention, without being meaningfully included in the dialogue. 

In most cases, representation in government bodies does not lead to systemic change, as is evident in the case of Community Forest User Group (CFUG). In accordance with Nepal’s 2015 constitution, the CFUG were legally required to have a proportional representation of Dalits amongst their executive committees. Despite this progressive step, some reports have questioned the actual engagement with Dalits; their participation was used “to formalize and complete process, they call us for participation as per legal procedure but decisions are made as per their interest,” according to one representative of the Dalit community. 

Empowered Deliberate Democracy

Inclusion has to be about more than just optics. What’s needed is empowered deliberative democracy. In the context of the Himalayan climate migrants, this means involving the mountain communities in the implementation of resilience and disaster risk reduction projects, as actors with accountability for their actions. This can’t be done alone, nor should they bear sole responsibility for the maintenance of the world’s greatest mountain range; but without them, it can’t be done at all. 

This is where you come in.

Empowering communities affected by climate change means amplifying their voices on social media, engaging with aid and development initiatives, and lobbying the private and public sectors to provide support. 

This won’t always be easy. At times, it might even feel futile. But creating a sustainable future requires collective action. People from climate-affected communities deserve to have their say; supporting their participation is our best bet at protecting the environmental landscape of Nepal, and the world.

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Himalayan Communities Must Be Central to Fighting Climate Change in Nepal

by Joss Gillespie Reading time: 3 min