In Nepal’s Himalayan region, the total estimated ice reserve between 1977 and 2010 decreased by 29 percent. With climate change, it is likely that the glaciers will continue to shrink under increasing heat, threatening to burst 20 glacial lakes. Energy will be one of the main sectors affected. At present, about 90 percent of the country’s electricity comes from hydropower, which will be impacted due to both floods and water scarcity as a result of climate change. This is occurring in a country where one fourth of its 26.5 million people do not have access to electricity. In 2016, UNDP continued to provide ongoing support to help the country to adapt to climate change and strengthen disaster resilience, including initiatives to reduce the risk of large flood outbursts from glacial lakes and to expand the country’s renewable energy capacity.
In 2015, Nepal was struck by two near simultaneous earthquakes that killed nearly 9,000 people, destroyed more than half a million homes and affected over 8 million people. UNDP’s support to Nepal has therefore included early and long-term recovery efforts.
Build-Back-Better After the 2015 Earthquakes
The 2015 earthquakes destroyed or damaged nearly 800,000 homes and government buildings including schools, water infrastructure and health facilities. Overall damage and losses totalled $7 billion. The massive recovery process required surpassed the capacity of the country and international assistance was critical to support the effort. Following the earthquakes, UNDP’s response included efforts to ensure that national recovery and reconstruction would be undertaken in a manner that helped ‘build-back-better’.
This included ensuring that infrastructure was stronger and more resilient. Some 2,000 local masons and engineers participated in UNDP-supported training. A mason training course was also institutionalized within a national vocational training institute.
Awareness-raising campaigns helped to reach more remote areas with radio broadcasts promoting safe construction practices and a new UNDP initiative, ‘Mobile Video Van’, offering demonstrations to guide over 18,000 homeowners on earthquake-safe housing construction.
Two innovative housing designs were introduced by Nepal’s Institute of Engineering and with the National Centre for People’s Action in Disaster Preparedness of India in collaboration with UNDP. One design technology uses block built from the debris of damaged buildings, thereby decreasing building costs, and the other uses rough building stone set in mortar and contained with wire, which improves safety and reduces the use of timber and water.
Another resource is the Catalogue for Reconstruction of Earthquake Resistant Houses, which was produced by the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction with support from UNDP. The publication illustrates 12 alternative materials and technologies with 17 model designs that are cost-efficient and environmentally friendly.
UNDP also provided direct support to communities. Over 12,000 earthquake-affected microenterprises were revived and some 60,000 new jobs created. About 310 essential community buildings were rehabilitated, benefitting 23,000 households. Given that the earthquakes destroyed many public buildings, UNDP built 14 temporary government offices to enable authorities to deliver urgently-needed public services.
These recovery efforts were set on a foundation of years of UNDP support to strengthen the capacity of the Government in disaster risk reduction, for example through technical support to the National Planning Commission to mainstream DRR into the national planning process. Since 2012, UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Home Affairs has established a network of 56 Emergency Operations Centres in Nepal, to serve as the main coordination hubs for disaster preparedness and response in the country. When the earthquakes strike, the centres facilitate decision-making related to earthquake response needed within the first vital hours. They also function as coordination centres to plan search, rescue and emergency relief operations such as setting up transit shelters and facilitating the entry of humanitarian assistance into the country.
Mitigating Flood Outbursts from the Imja Glacial Lake
As warming continues, downstream communities are at risk of large-scale flooding from Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs). Working in partnership with Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, UNDP has been helping to holistically reduce these risks, particularly around the Imja Glacial Lake. One strategy has been to lower the water level of the lake, which in turn alleviates the hydrostatic pressure in the moraine dam, thereby reducing its risk of failure and the potential of a GLOF event. Already, the project has succeeded in lowering the water level of the Imja Lake by 3.4 metres, protecting communities living downstream.
New early warning systems are in place around the periphery of the lake, and local task forces have been formed, trained and equipped to ensure their proper use and maintenance. Over 12,000 people residing in the area are now safer with these measures in place, as well as 74,992 tourists, porters and guides who work in the Everest region.
Injecting Renewable Energy into the National Grid
In Nepal, 25 percent of the population lacks access to electricity and in rural areas this increases to 40 percent. The Government of Nepal is committed to accelerating use of renewable energy sources. Policy work in 2016 saw UNDP working alongside Nepal’s Ministry of Population and Environment to develop a Renewable Energy Subsidy Policy that introduces subsidies for the first time in the country. It also provides grant support to the private sector for the development of off-grid clean energy projects.
To connect large solar and wind energy plants to the national grid, a government priority, UNDP supported a task force to achieve this goal. Also in 2016, the project worked alongside the Central Renewable Energy Fund to establish financing mechanisms such as soft credit, credit guarantees and credit insurance. Financial assistance was provided in 2016 to install 36 small-scale solar irrigation systems that help farmers to avoid crop losses when rainfall is scarce.
Another idea related to the Renewable Energy Subsidy Policy is to promote small-enterprise development in the renewable energy sector and to assist communities to form cooperatives to operate and manage clean energy schemes. In 2016, 443 enterprises were established using the newly available subsidy that not only promote clean energy but also increase access to electricity and generate income.
Renewable energy projects also support the earthquake recovery process. Through a new government Relief and Rehabilitation Package, more than 120 solar PV systems were installed in public buildings, bringing the benefits of energy services to more than 250,000 people affected by the earthquakes.
Governance for Climate Finance
UNDP is working with the Ministry of Finance as well as other ministries to integrate climate finance into Nepal’s core planning and budgeting processes. The emphasis is on the cross-cutting nature of climate change and the need for better coordination among ministries to respond to climate change and disaster risks.
A climate change budget code was established under the leadership of National Planning Commission. Nepal is one of the first countries to do this. Other achievements include creation of a baseline to understand climate-related expenditures through the Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Reviews, and the institutionalization of reporting on climate-related expenditure. Planning and budgeting formats, together with the planning and budgeting guidelines, are circulated to line ministries to help prepare annual plans and ensure that budgets include climate change dimensions.
UNDP has been assisting the government to create a Climate Change Financing Framework, which is a whole-of-government road map that engages all relevant stakeholders towards the mobilization and use of climate change finance. It includes costing of planned climate change response actions in the medium term and long term, and ensuring accountability in the use of climate change finance to address the needs of the most vulnerable people in Nepal.
Taken together, all of these efforts are producing results for Nepal. The new Renewable Energy Subsidy Policy will help the country to achieve, by 2050, 80 percent electrification through renewable energy sources and to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels by 50 percent, as expressed in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement. Stronger policies and practical measures in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction will safeguard development advances and post-earthquake recovery efforts, and help achieve the priorities of the Sendai Framework. Policies and programmes to improve energy access and disaster risk reduction contribute to Nepal’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
This is an extract from the "Resilient: Zero-Carbon, Risk-Informed, Sustainable" report on UNDP's Work in Climate Change, Disaster Risk Reduction & Energy (2015-2017) published by UNDP Asia-Pacific.