Climate action governance: How Nepal can make it possible

Nepal needs to design a new body entirely focused on climate action, which carries out a range of functions from advising the governments at all levels with effective policies to monitoring and evaluating them.

Illustration of people cooperating for environmental protection and sustainability. Photo: World Bank

Simone Galimberti

  • Read Time 6 min.

It is probably the most difficult policy conundrum to crack. Strictly linked, through a perverse feeding loop, with other major social issues, climate change is our ultimate governance challenge.

Considering its complexity, though its destructive impact is so staggeringly simple to be visualized and understood by anyone, it is not surprising that climate change is absent from the political manifestos of the political parties for the upcoming local elections. As a consequence, there is no doubt that future climate destruction will be stemming from the ignorance and short-term indifference of local politicians as well as their national counterparts.

Unfortunately, the consequences will come at people’s expense, and, sooner than later, each single elected officer will have to confront the high costs of their irresponsible attitudes.

Change is possible

However, it is possible to achieve a different scenario. If Nepal deals with climate change effectively and inclusively will depend on a different type of governance in place, a system of decision-making equipped to connect local issues with those at higher levels. This is the main reason why it is imperative to talk about climate change governance at local and national levels not as standing alone domains of policymaking but as key pillars of a ‘whole of a nation’ approach. It is a way that would include all the different policy dimensions of governance–from health to education to livelihoods. An umbrella federal legislation might be what the country needs, though such law does not necessarily imply creating entirely new institutions.

The latest Climate Change Policy (2019) opens the doors for new legislative action, a space that could give light to an overarching governance framework covering all the aspects of climate actions. 

There are examples of climate change-focused institutions around the world. There are more than dozens of national institutions in countries outside Nepal which are established to comprehensively tackle climate change. Some of them are of hybrid nature, a mix of independent policy advising, policy formulation, and overall coordination. In South Africa, for example, the Presidential Climate Commission is a multi-stakeholder forum led by the President whose members are both ministers and members of the civil society. Its scope is mostly focused on formulating policies and programs on behalf of the government.

In the UK, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act (2008) focused on “advising the UK and devolved governments on emissions targets and to report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change”. A similar body exists also in Australia. There is a Climate Change Authority in the country, though its responsibilities are limited to monitoring a limited number of legislations.

The Climate Change Commission in the Philippines, under the Office of the President, is the lead policy-making body that is tasked to coordinate, monitor and evaluate government programs and ensure mainstreaming of climate change in national, local, and sectoral development plans toward a climate-resilient and the climate-smart Philippines. These are just a few examples of institution-building exercises centered on climate change.

Case of Nepal

Nepal also has a coordination body called the Climate Change Council led by Prime Minister. Unfortunately, it’s one of the many high-level coordination mechanisms that lack effectiveness and is devoid of any statuary legality. Equally ineffective is the Climate Change Initiatives Coordination Committee. This is not what the country, one of the most vulnerable to climate change, is in desperate need of.

Nepal needs to design a new body entirely focused on climate action, which carries out a range of functions from advising the governments at all levels with effective policies to monitoring and evaluating them. That we have the National Planning Commission does not mean we don’t need another institution. However, the Commission itself could transform its structures and functions to embrace the climate challenge by holistically mainstreaming climate action throughout all its subsets of policy formulation.

This would lay the foundations for a whole climate change approach to policymaking.

It is possible that future climate destruction in Nepal will be stemming from the ignorance and short-term indifference of local politicians as well as their national counterparts.

To some extent, through the Fifteenth Plan (2019-2024), the Commission is already doing so but its internal mechanisms could be even more strengthened to ensure that climate action becomes an overarching priority throughout its policy cycle. More in-house expertise on climate change could be created through different modalities. A fellowship program may be introduced to attract brilliant graduates combined with cooperation agreements with bilateral and international organizations. These are just a few potential ways to help reposition climate change as the overarching priority of Nepal’s policymaking.

Assuming that such climate planning could be embedded in the existing framework by strengthening the premier policy-making institution in the country, we are still left with two more challenges.

The first is related to ensuring that, at the micro-level, there is the right expertise capable of localizing national policies while proposing new initiatives according to the local context. How can the governments at the ward, municipality and provincial levels be part of the equation and also have a voice and role in defining and implementing the right programs in terms of both adaptation and mitigation?

The provincial level’s planning commission could replicate the above-mentioned National Planning Commission’s climate-driven approach. At the micro-level, the metropolitan cities could have a unit or department focused on climate action, a sort of in-house think tank that could advise other departments on the right course to take to fight climate change head-on. The smaller municipalities could instead join hands and assemble units of environmental and climate change experts.

The National Planning Commission and its provincial sister organizations could enable and support the hiring and matching of such know-how with common planning funding. However, these propositions, even if built on existing mechanisms, are going to be challenging to implement on the ground.

Points to consider

Here are other dimensions to be considered. Nepal needs strong monitoring and evaluation capabilities in matters of climate action. Imagine a scenario in which an independent statuary body could be exclusively focused on providing assessments on what the state is doing to fight climate change.

Alternatively, a more realistic option would be expanding the functions and the responsibilities of the Office of the Auditor-General. This is already happening in Canada where there is a federal level figure, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, a climate change watchdog in all effects. The way that the Commissioner works could be an interesting model for Nepal because it acts within the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, a federal statuary body.

Very recently the Commissioner released a series of scathing assessments, basically audits, on the pledges taken by the Federal Government in Ottawa to ensure a zero net transition.

These reports clearly identify and spell out the weaknesses of the climate action blueprint, including an overstated role that technologies like carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology and hydrogen, can play in reducing the country’s carbon emissions.

Nepal needs strong monitoring and evaluation capabilities in matters of climate action. 

The role of the Office of Auditor General can be important. It is a cost-effective model that relies on the national auditing system and that’s why it should be considered by Nepal as an option to enhance its capability to assess the state’s performances in the fight against climate change. Here, the Office of the Auditor-General has already prepared some guidelines on environmental auditing and it has also expressed strong criticism against the lack of transparency on how the Federal Government is using the resources collected through the pollution control fee.

The Strategic Plan of the Office of the Auditor-General for 2021-2025, additionally, foresees the conduction of specialized audits in the fields of environment and sustainable development goals. The same plan also envisions a much stronger collaborative framework with the civil society for implementing proactive follow-ups and even partnerships with CSOs for citizens’ audits from July 2023.

The creation of an independent climate action commissioner within the Office of the Auditor-General could offer an easier to implement mechanism to assess and report on what the state, at all levels, is doing to fight climate change. Preparing Voluntary Local Reviews of the SDGs, a pillar to monitor the Agenda 2030 locally, should be prioritized by the new set of mayors.

Let’s not forget that this global blueprint already includes SDG 13 entirely focused on climate change while, importantly, all the remaining goals are instrumental to fight climate change. Enabling locally elected bodies to effectively carry out Voluntary Local Reviews can surely help the process of monitoring the climate action agenda and could feed into the data to be reviewed by the Office of the Auditor-General through a newly established Commissioner for Climate Action.

As you can see, there are a variety of options to be studied and analyzed in order to enable the creation of an effective governance system centered on addressing climate change.  The country does not need to necessarily reinvent the wheel. It can make the best use of the mechanisms already in place, bending them and shaping them to better respond to the existential stakes imposed by the climate emergency.

Even without entirely new structures and institutions, a Climate Action law might still be indispensable. This is the only way to create the conditions for effective coordination, monitoring and assessment of climate action in Nepal. Discussing the special features and measures of a climate action-centered governance should be a top priority for Nepal.

Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE. Views are personal.