As a researcher, Bishal Bhardwaj, a PhD student at the University of Queensland, evaluates environmental policies to suggest ways to increase their effectiveness. He has contributed an article in Climate Change and Community Resilience: Insights from South Asia, the book recently published by the integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE). The book documents how community-based climate change adaptation and resilience programs are being implemented in South Asian countries, providing insights into the hopeful ways of approaching climate solutions and community resilience. Nepal Live Today caught up with him to discuss various aspects of climate change.
You have contributed an article to the book entitled Climate Change and Community Resilience: Highlights from South Asia. Could you give a quick run of the scope of the book?
This open access book collects stories of community-level climate change resilience in the South Asian context. You can find studies from a variety of fields such as agriculture to tourism and seven countries of South Asia in this book. From reducing urban flooding through improved waste management to the role of climate information on resilience, this book compiles a set of selected interventions that can be applied at the community level to increase their resilience toward climate change impact. Most importantly, this book informs policymakers and development planners about evidence-based adoptable interventions in our context. It can also be seen as a research collaboration of environmental economics researchers across South Asia and an outcome of research and capacity-building activities conducted by the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE) in the last two decades.
Your article is focused on the issue of urban sustainability. Why is this topic important?
Our chapter explores the risk of urban flooding due to poor waste management and provides insights on ways improved waste management can contribute to flooding risk reduction. As we know, South Asian cities have high population density, soaring consumption, and poor waste management. This means we are not only producing a massive amount of waste but also releasing it into the environment. This process results in pollution and degradation of the fragile environment. Also, the impact is likely to be higher due to massive poverty and households’ high dependency on nature-based solutions. For example, you can imagine the impact of groundwater pollution on households who use well or spring water for drinking purposes. Also, a poor household cannot afford to invest in things to reduce the impact of environmental pollution when they are struggling with basic needs. Therefore, it makes sense to invest in preventive measures. It is important to identify preventive measures that are low-cost, focus on behavioral change but increase resilience toward the slow-induced risk of climate change.
“A recent study in municipalities of Nepal by Mani Nepal and team has found that people are willing to pay a premium price between 25 to 57% for houses in the cleaner neighborhood, suggesting investing in drainage and municipal waste management provides benefit to a household as well as the municipality through increased property price”
How can urban waste management and drainage be made sustainable in Nepal. What are the key takeaways of your article?
Our book chapter synthesizes the key findings from the cities and climate change research project. The research produced several peer-reviewed publications aimed at improving municipal waste management and climate change resilience. This chapter takes the key finding from these individual papers and nicely discusses the holistic policy insights. We started looking into the problem of waste management and urban flooding. A paper authored by researchers from Bangladesh and Nepal was published in water policy. The study shows structural infrastructure may not be sufficient to mitigate the risks of urban flooding in climate change scenarios. The take-away message from the paper is that improving solid waste management reduces the risk of urban flooding. Although this is an important finding, a more important question to policymakers or municipal planners in developing country context is: How can municipality improve solid waste management practice? To address this question, we investigated the role of management and finance in sustainable solid waste management. Our peer-reviewed paper shows increasing collection efficiency and material recovery by one percent can provide an additional 4.64 percent and 2.06 percent of the solid waste management costs respectively. So doing, the municipality can avoid hundreds of tons of plastic released into the environment, create jobs for the recycling industry, supply raw material to industries and reduce the import of plastic.
But how can we increase collection and recovery?
We investigate these issues in another paper. The paper shows households are willing to pay an additional cost for improvement in a solid waste collection system. This indicates municipality can increase revenue as service fees by improving the collection system. Other studies estimate the benefit of solid waste management. For example, a recent study in municipalities of Nepal by Mani Nepal and team has found that people are willing to pay a premium price between 25 to 57% for houses in the cleaner neighborhood, suggesting investing in drainage and municipal waste management provides benefit to a household as well as the municipality through increased property price.
“It is possible to improve solid waste management but Kathmandu needs a workable plan that defines the roles of each stakeholder and the benefits arising from their contribution.”
At times, it feels like waste management can never be done properly in Kathmandu Valley. Is that the case?
Waste management in Kathmandu hasn’t improved doesn’t mean Kathmandu cannot properly manage waste. Firstly, it is never too late to start good things. However, we need improvement in the approach to waste management. As a starting point, let’s try to find the underlying cause behind poor waste management in Kathmandu. First, Kathmandu doesn’t have the proper urban infrastructure for waste segregation. Households put all waste including kitchen waste in plastic. This waste is then collected in a normal truck then transported and dumped into a landfill. This produces externalities such as bad smells and attracts animals to landfills. These externalities reduce the well-being of surrounding communities. In summary, the current approach of collecting and dumping wastes has several shortcomings including the way Kathmandu views the waste.
If so, how can we improve this situation?
We can improve this situation by changing our waste management approach. This process should treat waste as a resource and focus beyond collecting and dumping toward material recovery and behavioral change. Municipalities can choose a set of interventions that suit their context. For example, let us think of a different scenario where the municipality promotes a kitchen garden and provides a recyclable and compost bin for free and charge for general waste bin to the households. So doing we incentive the composting and segregation. The household can use organic waste as manure for the kitchen garden. Consecutively, the municipality can work out the material recovery from recyclable waste and generate revenue by selling the recovered material. By doing so, we reduce the waste going into the landfill sites while useful materials are sent to the industry. This circular economy-based waste management reduces the import of materials like plastic and paper providing a win-win situation. This is just a sketch that could require a wide range of complementary interventions such as separate transportation mechanisms and material recovery facilities. However, this is achievable as seen in several cities in South Asia. The take-away point here is that improvement in solid waste management is feasible, but Kathmandu needs a workable plan that defines the roles of each stakeholder and the benefits arising from their contribution.
Let’s talk about climate change. Has the government of Nepal accorded enough priorities to climate change issues?
If you look at the policies and the commitments expressed by the government of Nepal in international forums, it indeed looks like the government is prioritizing climate change issues. We can see several sectorial programs under implementation such as REDD+ and alternative energy promotion. Besides climate change, Nepal also faces several other challenges, including massive poverty and regional disparity. We cannot afford to forget these issues while we focus on climate change. Also, these issues increase the severity of climate change impact. Despite these policies and programs, the situation on the ground may not be encouraging. Perhaps the effective implementation of the policies or resourcing is a gap. Therefore, policymakers must look for win-win intervention by which people get more by spending less from the public purse. For example, promoting electric cooking through subsidy will reduce deforestation, reduce the risk of respiratory disease, reduce import of LPG, and increase domestic demand for hydroelectricity. This could provide a better value of the public money than subsidizing the LPG or limiting subsidies to biogas.
This is just an example. There is a range of adaptable interventions that reduce poverty and protects the environment.
“Declaring an environmental policy is not sufficient. A mechanism to implement or enforce the decision is crucial to achieving the expected outcome.”
Plastic pollution is another major issue in Nepal. Do you think that the measures to reduce the use of plastics in Nepal are sufficient?
Several municipalities in Nepal are implementing measures such as a single-use plastic bag ban to reduce the use of plastic. The ban reduced plastic bag use in some municipalities but not in others. This situation raises issues regarding the sufficiency of plastic bag reduction measures. For example, what makes the plastic bag ban effective from a policy point of view? We investigated this question using consumer and retailer plastic bag use in 13 municipalities of Nepal. Two interesting insights appeared from the study. First, a partial ban—a ban that restricts the use of plastic bags less than 20 microns—did not reduce plastic bag use whereas a complete ban that restricts all types of single-use plastic bags reduced the use of plastic bags by consumers and retailers.
The second insight was that the subjective probability of being fined for using a restricted plastic bag determines the effectiveness of the ban. In other words, two factors are implemented in reducing plastic bags: selection of the appropriate type of ban (policy) and frequent monitoring. This result was further confirmed by our study at Dharan Municipality. We surveyed 150 retailers a month before the plastic bag ban, one month after the ban, and a year after the ban. We found monitoring was frequent during the first month of the ban, hence, compliance was high. As monitoring reduced so did the retailer’s subjective probability of being fined for plastic bag use. This led to higher non-compliance. Additionally, we also found after a month of ban total bags used by retailers didn’t reduce because the reduction in plastic bag use was compensated by an increase in the use of reusable bags. However, one year after the use of plastic and the reusable bag was reduced, reducing the total bag use. This result highlights that long-term enforcement is essential for consumer behavior change and sustainable reduction in bag use. My focus here is that declaring an environmental policy is not sufficient. A mechanism to implement or enforce the decision is crucial to achieving the expected outcome.
“We should think of community level climate change resilience and comply with our global commitments. We also need to make sure our global agendas are supported by our local actions.”
A plastic bag is just one among thousands of plastic products. Plastic has several advantages, and some product is necessary. Therefore, we need an integrated approach but before that, we need a careful investigation on what plastic items should be discouraged.
Our political actors and policymakers are often said to have failed to execute local actions to combat the climate change impacts. What should be done?
Environmental problems don’t recognize the political boundaries. Let’s take the case of carbon emission and climate change impacts. The amount of carbon we emit may be negligible but the potential climate change impact on us is massive. A fragile ecosystem, massive poverty and weak infrastructure mean the severity of climate change impact on our communities is acute. Therefore, it makes sense to talk about global issues. However, talking about global issues should not be an excuse to delay our local actions. We should also think of climate change resilience at a community level and comply with our global commitments. We need to make sure our global agendas are supported by our local actions.
Additionally, it is easy to point out the policy failure or provide a piece of general advice, say, on reducing carbon emission. However, pointing out what underpins such failure or suggesting workable strategies to achieve needs scientific investigation. This is where we are weak. There is a need for evidence-based policymaking and proper policy evaluation.