Who owns forest carbon?

OM ASTHA RAI

As the government prepares its national strategy on Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), a debate over the ownership of carbon of community forests has now cropped up.

Who owns carbon of community forests? Or, more specifically, who deserves the money made from forest carbon trade? This is one of the key questions that need to be answered before the government finalizes the REDD+ strategy by 2014.

The government, in line with the Forest Act – 1993 and the Forest Regulations – 1995, has handed over altogether 17,808 forests to community user groups. Both the act and the regulations state that Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) can use all the forest products but forest land. The land, though covered by community-managed forests, will always belong to the government, as per the act and the regulations.

“Communities enjoy ownership over timbers, firewood and even leaves but not carbon,” says Resham Bahadur Dangi, deputy director general of the Department of Forest (DoF). “But, unless our act and regulations are revised, carbon of community forests is the government´s sole property.”

However, the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN) says carbon, just like timbers and firewood, should also belong to communities. “We own not just the trees but even their roots,” says Ganesh Karki, general secretary of the FECOFUN. “If we own all forest products, why do we not own the carbon?”

When the forest act and the regulations were drafted, the concept of forest carbon trade was yet to be established. At that time, not even the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding deal that would force developed countries to reduce carbon emissions, was signed. In 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was signed, the issue of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation was still not touched upon. Only in 2007, the REDD+ was agreed upon, paving the way for developing countries to earn money by conserving forests.

Deforestation and forest degradation contribute up to 20 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries, like Nepal, are expected to offset carbon emitted by developed countries by preserving forests. In return, developing countries can earn money for sequestrating carbon.

“If you look at the issue of carbon ownership from a legal point of view, it surely belongs to the government,” says Hari Dhungana, executive director of Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies (SIAS). “But, we should look at this issue from the point of view of justice.”

Published on 2013-11-15 12:56:33

Evaporating Euphoria

OM ASTHA RAI

“Save forest, make money.”
“Now forest carbon is on sale.”

These were the kinds of headlines that Nepali newspapers chose when they ran stories on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), a United Nations program which offers incentives, among others, for developing countries to conserve forests.

When the REDD+ was reported by the Nepali media with such oversimplified headlines in 2007, following a deal was struck at the 13th Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) to take meaningful steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation of forests, thousands of community forest users in Nepal were delighted.

In Nepal, where nearly 18,000 forests have already been handed over to community use groups, the oversimplified message of the REDD+ spread like wildfire. A majority of Community Forest User Group (CFUG) members hardly knew what the REDD+ actually meant. They did not even know what carbon trade was all about. All they knew was if they saved forests, they would get monetary rewards.

“In villages, some people even mistook carbon for some precious herb,” says Dharma Raj Uprety, an expert on forestry and climate change. “And there were rumors that they went into the wood to collect carbon. They probably wanted to pack carbon into sacks and sell them in the market.”

Over half a decade has elapsed after the CoP-13 agreed on the REDD+. However, none of the CFUGs, except for a few selected for a pilot project initiated with the support of the Norwegian Government in three districts of Nepal, is ready to fetch money by selling carbon in the international market.

As a result, the euphoria of carbon trade among the CFUG members is now fast evaporating. The enthusiasm with which the CFUG members used to talk about the REDD+ until a few years ago no longer exists now. “There is no longer the same level of enthusiasm,” says Ganesh Karki, General Secretary of the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN), an umbrella organization of over 13,000 CFUGs. “In villages, people are getting disappointed.”

Worse, the dream of earning money by selling forest carbon is unlikely to come true even by the end of this decade. The government is now just preparing a REDD+ strategy which is expected to outline, in details, how Nepal can benefit from this scheme. “We’re expecting to finalize the REDD+ strategy by 2014,” says Resham Bahadur Dangi, Deputy Director General of the Department of Forests (DoF).

According to Dangi, preparing the strategy is just one of the three lengthy phases of implementing the REDD+. “It is called the readiness phase,” explains Dangi. “When this phase is completed, we will still have to go through two more phases – demonstration and implementation – to start earning money by selling forest carbon.” Dangi, who leads the REDD+ cell within the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC), says, “Even if everything goes as planned, we will be trading forest carbon only after 2020.”

“We are yet not ready to benefit from the REDD+,” says Bhaskar Karky, resource economist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), one of the four agencies that collectively carried out the REDD+ pilot project in Dolakha, Gorkha and Chitwan. “However, we have learnt from our pilot project that the local people are capable of and interested in implementing the REDD+.”

The road to realizing the essence of the REDD+ is not as smooth as it now looks. With fresh issues and arguments cropping up in every new CoP, it would not be surprising even if any of the upcoming UN climate talks ends up further complicating the REDD+. “At every new CoP, the realization of the REDD+ looks more difficult,” says Karki of the FECOFUN. “This is also adding to our frustration.”

However, even if no new obstacle emerges in any of the upcoming UN climate talks, as anticipated by Karki, and if the government smoothly sails through all phases of the REDD+, it will still not be easy for Nepal´s CFUGs to benefit from forest carbon trade, say experts.

Bharat Kumar Pokharel, an expert on governance of natural resources, says the REDD+ contains a few preconditions that make it almost impossible for Nepal to benefit from it. For instance, according to Pokharel, there is a condition of permanence in the REDD+ which means that a forest, selected for carbon trade, needs to be preserved continuously for at least 30 years. “In such a long period, if a wildfire destroys some portion of the forest, people will not get money,” he explains.

Likewise, there is another precondition of leakage, which means that forests, whether inside or outside areas handed over to community user groups, need to be protected. “If a community user group protects its forest area but deforestation occurs elsewhere, they will still be deprived of carbon money,” explains he. “There are several other preconditions that make the REDD+ not so applicable in our context.”

Pokharel dubs such conditions of the REDD+ as the ´dishonesty´ of developed countries. “We cannot benefit much from the REDD+ in such conditions,” says he.
Upreti, another expert, adds, “For a forest area to be selected for carbon trade, it should cover about 10,000 hectares of land, which is difficult to be found in Nepal. We do not have a block of such a vast area of forest land. Our forest areas are divided by human settlements, national parks or wildlife reserves.”

Upreti says Nepal, despite all these constraints, can still benefit from the REDD+. However, he adds, “We need to create conducive environment for the trade of forest carbon. The existing conditions are not conducive for the REDD+ to be implemented. We have a carbon trade-friendly police. We also need to sort out the issue of carbon ownership.”

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Published on 2013-11-15 12:59:45

In UN Climate talks, Nepal faces greater responsibility

OM ASTHA RAI

KATHMANDU, Nov 11: As the nineteenth UN climate talks, known as a Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), began in Poland on Monday, Nepal faces a greater responsibility of securing climate finance not only for it but all the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

This is the first time that Nepal is participating in a CoP as the chair of the LDC group under the UNFCC. In December last year, Nepal had officially assumed the leadership of the LDC group for the year 2013-14.

“For Nepal, leading the LDC group in the UN climate talks is an opportunity,” said Dinesh Chandra Devkota, former Vice-chairperson of the National Planning Commission (NPC). “At the same time, it is also a challenge. A challenge to effectively raise the issues of all 49 LDCs at a global forum while serving our own national interests.”

As representatives of nearly 200 countries engage in hectic negotiations to pursue a new agreement in the place of the now-expired Kyoto Protocol, during the CoP-19, Nepal faces a tough task of securing climate finance for implementation of its National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA).

The NAPA, approved by the government in 2010, is a US $ 350 million program, which, under several sectors and profiles, aims at empowering the local people to adapt to climate change.

“For the NAPA´s implementation, we have to have an easy access to climate finance,” said Devkota. “Also, climate finance should be sufficient for us to implement the NAPA.”
Government authorities say the UN climate talks, which will last until November 22, could be the best forum for Nepal to secure climate finance for the NAPA.
“The NAPA is a product,” said Purushottam Ghimire, former chief of the Climate Change Management Division (CCMD) at the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology (MoEST). “We need to sell it at the CoP-19.”

However, Ghimire, like some other government officials, is least hopeful of Nepal securing climate finance for the NAPA´s implementation largely owing to the LDC leader´s weak participation in the CoP-19.

As the NAPA remains largely unimplemented due to budget crisis, Nepal has failed to send a top-level delegation team to the CoP-19, citing critical political condition in the country.

In addition to securing climate finance for the NAPA´s implementation, Nepal is responsible for raising common issues of the LDCs, too. While some LDCs, like Nepal, are mountain countries and face risks of climate-induced disasters, including Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), other countries, like Bangladesh, face threats from rising sea-level.

“Maintaining a balance while raising various issues of LDCs is a challenge,” said former CCMD chief Batu Krishna Upreti, before leaving for the CoP-19. “For Nepal, it would be good if we succeed in serving our national interests while raising the common agendas of the LDCs.”

Published on 2013-11-12 12:13:09

Khumbu folks face erratic weather

OM ASTHA RAI

KATHMANDU, Nov 10: In what could be dubbed as yet another assertion that climate change is real, and not just a myth as some skeptics claim, a recent study conducted in the Khumbu region has revealed that experiences of the people residing in the high mountains are same as what have been described as effects of climate change by scientific researches.

Various scientific researches and studies have pointed out erratic weather patterns as effects of climate change, which could have adverse impacts on people´s health and livelihood. However, there are some skeptics who believe climate change is just a myth. In what could probably help convince naysayers that climate change is a real threat to the planet, a study conducted in three villages of Solukhumbu district which are believed to be at high risk of climate-induced disasters, has revealed that the locals are actually experiencing erratic weather patterns over the past decades.

According to a preliminary report of the study, conducted as part of preparing Local Adaptation Plan of Action (LAPA) for the whole Khumbu region, the locals of Namche, Khumjung and Chaurikharka have experienced that rainy season is getting longer, winter is starting earlier and summer is getting hotter. Similarly, they have experienced that frost is starting earlier but there is no change in its duration and snowfall is beginning late but getting longer with cloudy season, too, getting longer than in the past.

“In an attempt to understand the local people´s experience of climate variability in the Khumbu region, we compared their past experiences with present experiences by using a scientific tool known as seasonal calendar analysis,” said Shailendra Thakali, who led the team that conducted the study in last September under the USAID-funded High Mountain Adaptation Partnership (HIMAP) project. “The results were as expected. The locals are experiencing changes in weather patterns, which scientists have described as effects of changing climate.”

Thakali said they also used another scientific tool known as timeline analysis to understand the occurrence and frequency of climate-induced disasters and the results were as they had expected. The locals have faced altogether 10 major water-induced disasters, including two Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), in the Khumbu region over the past decades. Incidents of landslide, windstorm, avalanches, forest fires as well as previously unknown pests and disasters are on the rise, the locals told the study team.

“The purpose of our study was to find out whether what various scientific researches have claimed about climate change can be correlated with experiences of the people especially living in the high mountains,” said Thakali. “And, our study established correlation between research reports and local experiences.”

Published on 2013-11-11 02:09:54

Polls to affect Nepal’s CoP-19 participation

OM ASTHA RAI

KATHMANDU, Nov 9: As the country braces for the upcoming Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, Nepal is likely to have a weak participation in the UN climate talks beginning next week in Warsaw, Poland.

The UN climate talks, popularly known as the Conference of Parties (CoP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), is usually attended by the heads of the states. In the past, Nepal´s delegation to the CoP were either headed by the prime minister or environment minister.

However, as Poland gears up to host the nineteenth session of CoP in its capital city of Warsaw, the government has asked its permanent representative to the UN Durga Bhattarai to lead the Nepali delegation team. Bhattarai will be accompanied by two joint secretaries from the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and one joint secretary from the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers (OPMCM).

“Nepal´s weak participation in CoP-19 will send a message that we have yet not given priority to issues surrounding climate change,” said Ganesh Shah, former Minister of Environment and Science and Technology.

According to Shah, who led the Nepali delegation to CoP-14, which was held in Poland in 2008, the content of the paper to be presented by Nepal in the UN climate talks will be the same, whether read out by the head of the state, minister or secretary. However, he added, “It gets weight if it is read out by the head of the state or a minister. If a secretary reads it, it will surely lose its weight.”

According to a senior official atOPMCM, MoE had submitted a proposal to the cabinet meeting to send either the environment minister or the environment secretary as the head of the Nepalese delegation team to the CoP-19. However, the cabinet rejected the proposal, stating that they must be present in the country until the CA polls, which will take place on November 19. The CoP-19, which will kick off on November 11, is scheduled to conclude on November 22.

“Our participation in CoP has never been so weak in the past,” said Batu Krishna Upreti, a former joint secretary who has represented the Nepal government several times in the UN climate talks. “If not the prime minister, we should send environment minister as the head of our delegation.”

Outcomes of CoP could be critical to how the Nepal government moves forward to protect its people from the effects of climate change. As the chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) coordination committee under UNFCC, Nepal is responsible for negotiating with developed countries for financial as well as technical assistance required for all 49 Least Developed Countries (LDC).

“We must work hard to turn the outcome of the CoP in our favor,” said Upreti. “We are facing the effects of climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions for which the developed countries are largely responsible. We must press them to provide necessary support to us so that we can put in place best plans and programs to help our people adapt to the impacts of climate change.”

However, as Nepal fails to send a high-level delegation team to CoP-19, possibility of LDC group leader being able to turn the tide in its favor looks slim in Poland, say experts.

Published on 2013-11-10 02:16:21

Big parties ignore climate change in poll manifestos

OM ASTHA RAI

KATHMANDU, Nov 9: In a glaring sign of indifference to one of the most burning issues facing the country, Nepal´s major political parties have left out the topic of climate change in their respective election manifestos.

The Constituent Assembly (CA) election, slated for November 19, is especially for writing a new constitution, and not for electing a new government. In addition to dwelling on key issues like identity, federalism and form of governance, all major political parties have outlined the ways and models of economic development.

However, the issue of climate change, which has already stared influencing politics of developed countries, has not featured prominently in any major political party´s election manifesto.

“It shows our major political parties are blissfully unmindful of the effects of climate change on the lives of common people,” said Ganesh Shah, former minister for environment, science and technology. “It also shows how detached our major political parties are from the common people, especially in the mountainous region, who are facing the effects of climate change in their daily lives.”

No doubt all three major political parties, the UCPN (Maoist), the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN (UML), have touched upon the issue of climate change in just one or two sentences. However, none of them has outlined what they plan to do in order to deal with the effects of climate change if they get to lead the government. They are also silent about how they want to raise the issue of climate change on global platforms.

In its manifesto, the UCPN (Maoist), which emerged as the single largest party after the 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA) election, has acknowledged that Nepal faces a high risk from climate change. The UCPN (Maoist) has also stated that it will take initiatives to deal with the problem. However, it has made no effort to explain it would deal with the effects of climate change.

“We did not dwell much on climate change as it is a technical issue,” said Khim Lal Devkota, a UCPN (Maoist) leader who was involved in drafting his party´s manifesto, adding, “But, it does not mean that we are not concerned about climate change.”

The CPN-UML, in its manifesto, has also stated that they, if in the government, will take the responsibility of empowering the people to adapt to the effects of climate change. However, much like the UCPN (Maoist), the CPN-UML has also failed to outline what they will do to protect people from climate change.

Politburo member of CPN-UML Bishnu Rimal, who also contributed to drafting the party´s manifesto, said they did not have enough space in the manifesto to outline ways to combat the effects of climate change. “There was a limit of space,” said he. “So, we did not go into the details of how we would deal with climate change.”

NC, in its manifesto, says it will look into how climate change is impacting the lives of common people and address the problem. However, NC, like the UCPN (Maoist) and the CPN-UML, has not dwelled further on the issue.

“Our political parties are dominated by the same old leaders,” said Ghanshyam Pandey, former president of Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN). “Most of them are ignorant of what the climate change is. So, they have not devoted their time and energy in thinking about dealing with climate change.”

Major political parties have failed to factor climate change into their manifestos when the country is already beginning to witness visible impacts of climate change. Patterns of rainfall are changing. Average temperature is on the rise. In the high mountain regions, farmers are dealing with new pests. A report suggests six glacier lakes are highly vulnerable in Nepal.

“Climate change has turned out to be an issue that none of us can afford to ignore,” said former environment minister Shah, adding, “I wonder why our big political parties are not bothered.”

Published on 2013-11-10 00:57:05

Water volume of Imja lake doubles in three years

 

OM ASTHA RAI

KATHMANDU, Oct 9: In yet another sign that exposes vulnerability of Imja Tsho, one of Nepal´s highly dangerous glacial lakes, a new study has revealed that the lake´s water volume has nearly doubled over the last three years.

The new study, conducted by the High Mountains Adaptation Partnership (HiMAP), coordinated by the University of Texas and The Mountains Institute (TMI) with support from the USAID, reveals that Imja Tsho now contains over 60 million cubic meter water — almost double the lake´s previously-stated water volume.

In 2009, a study by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) had stated that Imja Tsho, which glaciologists say was formed just half a century ago, contained about 35 million cubic meter water.

Contrary to what the ICIMOD report-2009 stated, the HiMAP study, conducted in September last year, says that the volume of water in Imja Tsho has increased alarmingly by 2012. The finding of the study was revealed for the first time at the inception workshop of Community Based Flood and Glacial Lake Outburst Risk Reduction Project (CFGORRP), an initiative taken to deal with the impact of climate change in the Khumbu region, on Wednesday in Kathmandu.

“Our study only reasserts the fact that Imja Lake is getting more vulnerable,” said Marcelo Somos-Valenzuela, a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, who was involved in mathematical calculation for finding out the lake´s water volume. “The increase of water volume in Imja Lake can be related to the rise in temperature in high mountain ecosystems.”

National Project Manager of the CFGORRF Top Bahadur Khatri says it is too early to conclude whether the finding of the HiMAP study is absolutely correct. “Other findings should validate what the HiMAP study states,” said Khatri. “But, we have no doubt that the lake´s size and water volume are both increasing constantly.”

According to the HiMAP study, the calculated volume of water that could get discharged from Imja Lake in case of a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) has also increased to 34 million cubic meters. Earlier, the GLOF water was calculated to be just around 20 million cubic meters.

Assessing the risk of potential GLOF events in the Khumbu region, government authorities are now accelerating efforts to lower Imja Lake´s water level by at least three meters under the CFGORRF. After Tsho Rolpa, this is the first time that a glacial lake´s water level is likely to be lowered in Nepal. Earlier in 2000, Tsho Rolpa´s water level was lowered by three meters.

Asked whether lowering of Imja Lake´s water level by three meters, especially in view of the HiMAP study´s new finding, is sufficient to avert GLOF events in the Khumbu region, glaciologist Dr Rijan Bhakta Kayastha said, “Reduction of Imja Lake´s water level by three meters is good enough for now.”

According to Dr Shrestha, an associate professor at the Kathmandu University (KU), the height of Imja Lake´s end moraine is just 30 meters, nearly 100 meter lesser than that of Tsho Rolpa. “Thanks to its low end moraine, lowering of water level by three meters is adequate for now despite the increase in the water level,” he explained.

More than 30,000 people could be affected if Imja Lake, located at an altitude of 5,000 meters just above Namche bazaar in Solukhumbu district, bursts, according to experts. The lake, surface area of which was just 0.03 square kilometers in 1960, has already developed into a 1.01 square kilometer lake.

As part of the CFGORRF, funded by the Least Developed Countries (LDC) fund of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), early-warning system will also be developed in the Khumbu region. “We will follow best practices of Tsho Rolpa while lowering Imja Lake and developing early warning system in the Khumbu region,” said Khatri.

Published on 2013-10-10 00:35:37

Lowering Imja alone will not prevent GLOFs, say experts

OM ASTHA RAI

KATHMANDU, Sept 22: A month ago, Keshav Raj Sharma, a hydrologist at the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DoHM), was about to sleep. His cell phone started buzzing. It was from an unknown number.

“Sir, are you sleeping?” said the caller, who introduced himself as a Dolakha-based journalist. “Tsho Rolpa Lake has just burst out; thousands of people are going to die. You must do something to save us, sir.”

Petrified by the potential devastation that Tsho Rolpa outburst might cause, Sharma restrained his fears; and just said, “Don´t worry; nothing is going to happen.”

As soon as he hung up the phone, Sharma contacted the field office, which was set up by the DoHM to monitor glacier activities in Tsho Rolpa. The field office dismissed rumors about Tsho Rolpa outburst. “Only then was I relieved,” says Sharma, recalling the night of August 15.

Although the news of Tsho Rolpa outburst proved to be a flash flood in the Tamakoshi River, the risk of Nepal´s most vulnerable glacial lake bursting and causing catastrophic devastation in the downstream valley still looms large. Om Ratna Bajracharya, former Director General of DoHM, believes Tsho Rola is still Nepal´s most dangerous glacial lake. “The risk from Tsho Rolpa is still higher than from any other glacial lake,” says Bajracharya. “It is getting bigger and bigger every year.”

In 2000, in a bid to avert the risk of a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in the Tamakoshi River basin, the water level in Tsho Rolpa was lowered by three meters through a 70-meter-long canal, which has been channeled into the Rolwaling River.

“That was just a temporary measure,” says Bajracharya. “Unless we lower the water level in Tsho Rolpa by 17 meters, as suggested by a study report in the 1990s, safety of thousands of people living on the banks of the Tamakoshi river basin cannot be ensured.”

According to Kamal Budhathoki, former Deputy Director General (DDG) of DoHM, even if water level in Tsho Rolpa is lowered by just nine meters, the risk of GLOFs in the Tamakoshi River basin can be reduced to a great extent. “There is another report prepared by an American glaciologist in collaboration with DoHM experts. The report says lowering of water level in Tsho Rolpa by about 12 meters is sufficient,” says he.

However, instead of further lowering Tsho Rolpa, government authorities, under a US$ 7.2 million project funded by the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) of Global Environment Facility (GEF), are now working toward reducing the water level in Imja, another dangerous glacial lake in the Khumbu region, some 163 km from Kathmandu.

Some experts argue that Tsho Rolpa is situated at a relatively low altitude, which makes it more vulnerable than other high-altitude glacial lakes, including Imja. “The lower the altitude, the higher the risk of GLOF events,” explains Bajracharya. “Impact of global warming can be felt more in low-altitude glacial lakes.”

Going by what Bajracharya argues, Tsho Rolpa, situated at an altitude of around 4,500 meters, is more vulnerable to the effects of global warming. At an altitude of over 5,000 meters, glaciers that feed Imja are less exposed to rising temperature.

An expert, unwilling to be named, says Imja was chosen just because it caught the attention of national and international mountaineers. “Imja is in close proximity to climbing and trekking routes in the Khumbu region. Therefore, many people see melting glaciers there,” says he. “But, there are other glacial lakes that are more vulnerable. But, very few have noticed them.”

According to a 2009 report by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), apart from Tsho Rolpa and Imja, there are four more glacial lakes which are at the risk of GLOFs. These lakes include Thulagi, Lumding, Lower Barun and West Chamjong. Apart from gradual degradation of moraines, fast receding of glaciers has also rendered these lakes vulnerable.

Since 1964, at least 10 GlOF events have been recorded in Nepal. As the Himalayas face threats from rising temperature, minimizing the risk of GLOFs by lowering water levels, developing early-warning system in the downstream human settlements and empowering local communities to adapt to climate change seems necessary, say experts.