Ability to harm brings responsibility to help

By Hira Bahadur Thapa, September 6, 2012

All participants in this Roundtable recognize the dangers associated with nuclear energy, and have discussed its expansion in terms of manageable risk. We all nonetheless agree that such an expansion is justified by the dangers of climate change. Given the consensus on nuclear energy that has emerged in this Roundtable, in my final essay I would like to explore the ways that a country such as Nepal, which is unlikely to develop a nuclear sector of its own, could contribute to climate change efforts — and the responsibilities that wealthier countries bear toward Nepal and other least developed nations.

Nepal's emissions of carbon dioxide are very low. Statistics from the US Energy Information Administration show that in 2010, on a worldwide basis, more than 31,780 metric tons of carbon dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere as a result of energy consumption. Of this total, Nepal was responsible for a mere 3.36 metric tons. But as I have detailed in my previous essays, climate change presents grave dangers to Nepal, in areas ranging from the productivity of agriculture to the physical safety of Nepalese citizens. In short, the damage that Nepal stands to suffer from climate change is out of proportion to its responsibility for the problem.

Many other least developed countries are situated similarly. Low-lying coastal nations like Bangladesh, island states like Kiribati, and dry countries like Niger whose precipitation levels might fall even lower as climate change progresses — all are justified in viewing the advance of climate change with alarm. Making matters worse, nations with low levels of development are especially ill equipped to solve the new problems that climate change will present them.

These countries can attempt to influence international behavior on climate issues, for instance through the Least Developed Countries Group, an association of 49 nations within the UN system. Nepal has chaired this group, and has campaigned in that capacity and others for action on climate change. But the political influence of least developed countries is limited. Ultimately, it is the more developed countries that must take the difficult steps necessary to contain the damage of climate change.

Still, even though Nepal's carbon emissions are negligible and its political influence is restricted, the country could make direct contributions to slowing climate change. Nepal, for example, is a good candidate to stage reforestation projects under the Clean Development Mechanism, an element of the Kyoto Protocol that allows industrialized nations to meet their carbon-reduction goals in part by funding emissions-related initiatives in developing countries. Nepal could also help other nations lower their emissions by further developing its own hydropower sector — as Wang Haibin mentioned in his third Roundtable essay, hydropower is a safe form of electricity generation that does not contribute to global warming. Nepal, with its abundant hydropower potential, could export significant amounts of electricity to nearby nations whose carbon emissions are greater than its own.

Initiatives such as these require the participation, financial and otherwise, of wealthier nations. Nepal cannot undertake them alone. But in any case, the heart of the climate-change problem is that countries more developed than Nepal release too much carbon into the atmosphere. I have argued that nuclear power could be an important part of reducing carbon emissions, but it is only one piece of a larger puzzle. And though Nepal can make a contribution to assembling the puzzle, more developed countries must do the bulk of the work.

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