Interview by Harley Pope, reporting by Alex Moores
Nepali academic Professor Biraj Singh Thapa has called for direct compensation of climate-induced damage in talks at COP28, claiming that existing mechanisms are not able to address the hazards Nepal faces.
Due to its precarious position on the Himalayas, Nepal is already feeling some of the worst impacts of climate change, despite contributing very little to the crisis.
“Every year we lose several thousands of people in Nepal, just as a result of climate change induced disasters in our country.”
Existing funds are supposed to help countries adapt to the increasingly destructive impacts of climate change and to reduce their contributions to the crisis.
However, Thapa, who works as an Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of Katmandu, says, “the terms and conditions to access it is quite difficult.”
Thapa argues Nepal needs both the support to realise its potential as a green energy producer, and a recognition of the losses it has faced and will continue to face as climate change progresses.
“Mostly, the compensation funds that are coming, are to build bridges that were taken off by floods or build houses were damaged by landslide.”
Thapa also criticises the injustice of resorting to economic action in the face of human loss of the Nepali people. “Just giving a blanket or small temporary housing to them, instead of as a compensation to the lives of the children’s or family members they have lost, is not fair.”
“We’ve got a lot of commitments, but of course, not the resources that we should have access to.”
Thapa has also vocalised his disdain at the disparity between the commitments made by the international community and the actual level of support Nepal has received.
“Nepal is considered as the world’s second largest hydropower potential country in terms of the land we have, however hydropower is contributing just 4% of our energy supply system.”
Through the Green Climate Fund, Nepal should in theory have access to $100 million of funds. “That’s not small.” But they have never been able to spend the full amount it receives each year. “To use 25% of the GCF is, I think, kind of a milestone for Nepal.”
Rising global temperatures mean that flooding in Nepal is increasingly deadly each year. “We are facing the largest problems from climate change due to the melting of Himalayas […] and flash floods washing large swells.”
In 2022, Nepal experienced three instances of heavy flooding that existing infrastructure was unable to cope with. In just one event, 20,000 people were displaced in the Koshi river region.
Even if ambitious climate change targets are met, such effects will continue to have destructive impacts to Nepal’s people, culture, and national heritage.
“Our Himalayas, which are the world’s tallest structures, are actually very weak sediments. It’s not as strong as European [land] or the Andes.”
Despite the success of enacting the Loss and Damage Fund on day one of COP28, Thapa is sceptical that this will have a meaningful impact to the communities broken apart by the climate crisis in Nepal.
“I think life never can be compensated.”