In 2019, while in Sagarmatha Sambad—the first national conference to address climate change and other cross-cutting issues—Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali stated “we need to decrease fossil fuel dependency and invest in other alternatives.” The same year the government of Nepal signed an agreement with China on Oil and Gas Resources Survey Projects in Nepal. We are well aware that fossil fuel needs to be phased out. But the agreement with China does not align with our commitments, agreements and policies.
Nepal recently submitted its Enhanced NDC which has clearly stated the targets to phase out fossil fuel. First, it says that sales of electric vehicles (e-vehicles) in 2025 will be 25 percent of all private passenger vehicle sales, including two-wheelers and 20 percent of all four-wheeler public passenger vehicle sales. Due to this e-vehicle sales target, fossil fuel energy demand for the transportation sector will decrease from approximately 40 million GJ in the Business As Usual (BAU) scenario in 2025 to 36 million GJ. This would be around a nine percent decrease in fossil fuel dependency.
Second, it aims by 2030, to increase sales of e-vehicles to cover 90 percent of all private passenger vehicle sales, including two-wheelers and 60 percent of all four-wheeler public passenger vehicle sales (the public passenger target does not take into account electric-rickshaws and electric-tempos). As a consequence, energy demand for fossil fuels will decrease from approximately 48 million GJ in the 2030 BAU scenario to 34.5 million GJ, which is around 28 percent decrease in fossil fuel dependency.
Third, by 2030, it aims to develop 200 km of the electric rail network to support public commuting and mass transportation of goods. By 2030, it aims to expand clean energy generation from approximately 1,400 MW to 15,000 MW, of which 5-10 percent will be generated from mini and micro-hydro power, solar, wind and bio-energy. It aims to ensure 15 percent of the total energy demand is supplied from clean energy sources and promote public electric mobility through policy incentives, including subsidy policies and other financial mechanisms.
Nepal has been dependent on India for fossil fuel since the beginning. Are we trying to find the alternative to dependency by oil drilling in the country or are we trying to lose and face the worst economic, social and environmental crisis in the future?
The Government of Nepal also has developed climate change and transportation policies which emphasize a mitigation approach, with plans on decreasing fossil fuel dependency. Nepal being a small landlocked country has way more to achieve through its renewables pathways. Bhutan is an example country for us to know what can be done and achieved. Argentina, different states of America, and The Philippines are examples of countries that show what should not be done and why oil drilling is ultimately drowning us in the future.
Fossil fuels are limited resources and as we extract more and more, it will run out. Oil can last up to 50 years, natural gas up to 53 years and coal up to 114 years. We need to explore the unlimited sources which are sustainable environmentally and economically. On the other hand, as Nepal falls in seismic zone, we are vulnerable to earthquakes. Fracturing and drilling of ground extremely increases seismic activity. In this process, Nepal’s rich water resources are going to face adverse impacts. It is estimated that around 80 kms of the drilling site is contaminated with poisonous chemicals that lead to cancer, respiratory problems, infertility, and heart problems. In addition soil, agricultural land, ecology and communities will suffer.
We definitely need a source of energy but would it be fossil fuel in current situations? This would have been more relevant if it was a century ago. Today the world needs to struggle to keep the average global temperature below 2 degrees and limit it to 1.5.
Nepal has been dependent on India for fossil fuel since the beginning. Are we trying to find the alternative to dependency by oil drilling in the country or are we trying to lose and face the worst economic, social and environmental crisis in future?
Sagarika Bhatta is a climate justice advocate, researcher, academic tutor, environmental preservationist, and entrepreneur.