Nepal pre­sents a pow­er­ful suc­cess story in re­new­able en­ergy ini­tia­tives

Asian Geographic - - Environment -


of­fers an un­usu­ally pos­i­tive ex­am­ple of a poor coun­try whose strate­gies for de­vel­op­ment are si­mul­ta­ne­ously ad­dress­ing cli­mate change. It isn’t im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous trav­el­ling through pol­luted Kath­mandu, but a more care­ful look at the coun­try as a whole re­veals strik­ing suc­cess at cre­at­ing an all-re­new­able elec­tric­ity sys­tem, a grow­ing fleet of elec­tric ve­hi­cles and mo­tor­bikes, re­new­able cook­ing sys­tems, and a re­for­esta­tion pro­gramme that is rapidly bring­ing forests back all across Nepal.

Given all this, it is ac­cu­rate to pro­claim Nepal as a leader in the fight against cli­mate change. For a coun­try strug­gling with se­vere poverty and the lin­ger­ing im­pacts of the se­vere 2015 earth­quake, it is more than a lit­tle ad­mirable how much Nepal has done al­ready to build a clean en­ergy econ­omy.

Take a look at Nepal’s elec­tric­ity sys­tem. Do­mes­tic gen­er­a­tion is 100-per­cent hy­dropower-based and there­fore 100-per­cent re­new­able. Gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives for small and medium hy­dro­elec­tric power, cou­pled with avail­abil­ity of credit from Nepali banks, have en­cour­aged in­de­pen­dent power pro­duc­ers to bring on line hun­dreds of new megawatts of hy­dropower. In ad­di­tion to hav­ing a zero-car­bon record, these new elec­tric­ity re­serves are ex­pected to end the coun­try’s chronic power short­ages and stem the im­port of coal-gen­er­ated power from In­dia start­ing in 2018.

Pri­vate en­trepreneurs in Kath­mandu have also de­vel­oped a net­work of bat­tery charg­ing sta­tions that suc­cess­fully elec­trify hun­dreds of tuk-tuks which trans­port work­ers around the Kath­mandu Val­ley. All of the elec­tric­ity powering these bat­ter­ies comes from hy­dropower fa­cil­i­ties, which means that these ve­hi­cles are also zero car­bon.

In ad­di­tion, hun­dreds of elec­tri­fied mo­tor­bikes are on the streets of Kath­mandu and oth­ers cities around the coun­try.

Nepal has among the largest frac­tion of elec­tri­fied trans­porta­tion glob­ally. And it’s grow­ing. Given the in­crease in pop­u­la­tion and the grow­ing air qual­ity con­cerns in its pop­u­la­tion cen­tres, this is a wel­come de­vel­op­ment that must con­tinue to spread. Not sur­pris­ingly, im­porters of petrol and diesel ve­hi­cles and fuel are ac­tively work­ing to slow adop­tion of ad­di­tional elec­tric trans­porta­tion use in Kath­mandu, but the re­cent block­ade of goods cross­ing the In­dia-nepal bor­der has im­pressed on most Nepalis the need to be more in­de­pen­dent of pe­tro­leum im­ports. Elec­tri­fied trans­porta­tion is seen as an im­por­tant av­enue to en­ergy independence.

Nepal has also de­vel­oped an ex­ten­sive bio­gas pro­gramme to fuel ru­ral house­holds’ cook­ing needs. In­ex­pen­sive bio­gas sys­tems us­ing live­stock waste are a stan­dard fea­ture of ru­ral homes across Nepal. Over 100 com­pa­nies in­stall the tech­nol­ogy and have sold more than 300,000 sys­tems na­tion­wide. Credit from mi­cro­fi­nance in­sti­tu­tions has been help­ing the poor­est ru­ral house­holds pay for in­stal­la­tion of these sys­tems.

State-spon­sored ru­ral so­lar pro­grammes have also brought elec­tric­ity for lights to un­con­nected ru­ral house­holds. These pro­grammes serve al­most ev­ery com­mu­nity in Nepal now, with over half a mil­lion homes sport­ing a panel on their roof.

Pri­vate en­trepreneurs in Kath­mandu have also de­vel­oped a net­work of bat­tery charg­ing sta­tions that suc­cess­fully elec­trify hun­dreds of tuk-tuks

The gov­ern­ment has also re­cently be­gun to pro­vide in­cen­tives for rooftop so­lar pho­to­voltaic (PV) sys­tems in cities to counter still-oc­cur­ring power out­ages. These PV sys­tems for elec­tric­ity com­ple­ment al­ready ex­ten­sive use of so­lar-pow­ered hot water sys­tems by ur­ban res­i­dents.

Nepal has also done great things on land use over the last sev­eral decades. Its in­no­va­tive com­mu­nity for­est man­age­ment pro­gramme has mas­sively in­creased for­est cover across the coun­try over the past two decades, and has im­proved the abil­ity of de­graded lands to serve some 20,000 com­mu­ni­ties’ eco­nomic needs, pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity, im­prove water man­age­ment, and se­quester car­bon.

Nepal, like many devel­op­ing na­tions, is ea­ger to re­ceive in­ter­na­tional sup­port for its cli­mate mit­i­ga­tion and adap­ta­tion needs, hop­ing to have rich na­tions, who are responsible for the ma­jor­ity of global emis­sions, pay the bill for en­ergy and cli­mate adap­ta­tion. The re­al­ity, though, of rapidly spread­ing cli­mate im­pacts and hu­man de­vel­op­ment needs has en­cour­aged Nepal to move ahead with these pro­grammes even with­out the larger flows of for­eign aid it has hoped to re­ceive. The nine pro­jects and pro­grammes of ac­tiv­i­ties that the coun­try has reg­is­tered un­der the United Na­tions Clean De­vel­op­ment Mech­a­nism, cov­er­ing bio­gas di­gesters, im­proved water mills, im­proved cook stoves, mi­cro-hy­dropower sys­tems and so­lar home sys­tems pro­vide rev­enue to par­tially sup­port these na­tional pro­grammes, but ac­count for only a frac­tion of the con­tri­bu­tion these pro­grammes have made to re­duc­ing emis­sions of green­house gases.

Cli­mate im­pacts are here now and Nepal re­alises it must act. Aid and tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance are still badly needed and more would be very well used, but Nepal is a great ex­am­ple of a coun­try boldly tak­ing im­por­tant steps other poor na­tions can learn from.

Nepal has a track record that should en­able it to at­tract ad­di­tional aid re­sources and pri­vate in­vest­ment if its progress were more fully known. Its hy­dropower de­vel­op­ment, clean trans­port in­fra­struc­ture, ur­ban and ru­ral so­lar pro­grammes, and its com­mu­nity for­est pro­grammes could all grow at a faster clip with the help of ad­di­tional in­vest­ments. Nepal would ben­e­fit more from its work to date by broad­cast­ing its ef­fec­tive­ness. Donors of all kinds would be en­cour­aged to con­trib­ute and in­vest more given the suc­cess thus far.

Lessons from Nepal could po­ten­tially be adapted else­where. For ex­am­ple, some African na­tions, which made enor­mous com­mit­ments to land restoration at the Paris cli­mate con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber 2015, might draw lessons from Nepal on how to re­for­est lands in co­op­er­a­tion with ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. Africa’s other enor­mous Paris com­mit­ment – to de­velop 300 gi­gawatts of re­new­able en­ergy – could also be in­formed by the re­mark­able work Nepal has done to de­velop hy­dropower, so­lar and bio­gas en­ergy.

As the globe hur­tles to­ward a fu­ture very much af­fected by cli­mate change, Nepal of­fers a pow­er­ful ex­am­ple to other poor coun­tries. In the wake of last year’s Paris cli­mate agree­ment, Nepal also pre­sents a great op­por­tu­nity for donor coun­tries and im­pact in­vestors seek­ing to en­cour­age and in­vest in low car­bon de­vel­op­ment. ag

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