Monday, 24 January, 2022

Promoting Green Mountain Economy

Dr. Dinesh Chandra Devkota

There is an enormous potential for promoting green economy in mountain regions of Nepal by adopting green and low carbon growth. Wise and sustainable use of diverse types of ecosystem goods and services offered by country’s rich biodiversity and ecosystems spread over different agro-ecological zones enable to enhance the green economy. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD, 2020) defines it as enabling component of the overarching goal of sustainable development. UNEP (2011) describes green economy as “one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”.

In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive (UNEP, 2011). The concept encompasses some of the most important challenges we face today including eradicating poverty, improving our relationship with the environment, addressing the potential negative impacts of global climate change, and creating a new path for sustainable development.

Mountain ecosystems
Resilient economy in the mountainous country like Nepal is made possible only through harnessing its natural resources with minimum cost to ecology and replenishment rate. Mountain ecosystems play a fundamental role in this endeavour of steering the existing grey and brown fossil fuel based economy towards a green and low carbon strategy based economy addressing common challenges of climate change as well as meeting the growing needs of fresh water, food and energy needs of people while responding to increasing natural hazards and risks as a result of climate change and variability. The mountain specificities such as verticality, diversity, niche, fragility and marginality offer both opportunities and challenges for enhancing socio-economic well- being of people and sustaining socio-ecological production systems.

Nepal's mountain ecosystems are highly sensitive to global and regional climate and environmental change such as temperature rise, extreme rain and drought events. The diverse and rich mountain natural resources provide more than 80 per cent of the population with different types of ecosystem goods and services (green and clean food, energy and water resources) that are indispensable to Nepal’s economic growth and development.

In Nepal, poverty has remained a persistent challenge for development initiatives. There is a pattern of poverty incidence across the ecological zones, erstwhile five development regions, proximity to urban centres, and ethnicity. A government report released by NPC (2018) shows that 28.6 per cent of the population is multi-dimensionally poor. This is further aggravated by increasing incidences of natural hazards some of which are climate-induced and due to political-economic factors. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic that has broken out for the last two years will have serious implications for the poverty status of mountain region mostly as a large numbers of people have lost their jobs and sources of livelihood.

Nepal is largely a mountainous country with over 83 per cent of area lying in hill/mountainous region. Broadly, the country is divided into three main ecological zones commonly called Himal, Pahad and Terai. Himal is the mountain region situated in the Great Himalayan Range, which makes up the northern part of Nepal. Pahad is the hilly region that does not generally contain snow and covers subtropical river valleys and "hills". The southern lowland plains or Terai bordering India are part of the northern rim of the Indo-Ganges Plain. The country’s mountain landscapes are mosaic of natural and cultural diversities. The mountains are a complex eco-systems characterised by bio-physical and ethno-cultural diversity, specific topography related vulnerabilities (landslides, snow and glacial melt, soil erosion), and vulnerability to water-induced hazards and climate change. Mountain economy is primarily based on harnessing of natural resources.

In spite of many development efforts, Nepal’s economy is mired with numerous problems, including declining or diminishing natural resource base; fluctuation in water availability with skewed spatial and temporal distribution; increased incidences of natural disasters, declining productivity with increased erosion and mass failures; increased cost of energy. Feminisation of agriculture and natural resources management, increasing outmigration from mountainous region, weakening of traditional structure of community strength and increased difficulty in mobilising local resources leading to increased burden on government resources for all development works are other issues.

These problems have compounded the challenges faced by the mountain economy. Although mountain areas have largely remained on periphery of the global system, the forces of globalisation have percolated in the mountain region substantially affecting the socio-ecological systems in mountain regions. The accessibility and quality of ecosystem services continue to shrink. As a result, mountains are being depopulated with over 5 million youths in the country (half of which are from the mountains) work abroad as unskilled migrant workers. This number is increasing every year.

Market potential
Furthermore, economic inequality and poverty are prevalent in mountain areas and Nepal’s smallholder farmers lack required information and reliable markets to sell their products. Mountain people rarely exploit the market potential and reap the benefits even to a minimum level. There is a high potential for promoting high-quality and high-value products of comparative advantages in the mountains. Proper harnessing of full potential of eco-tourism promotion can improve the socio-economic well-being of large portion of the population while generating enough natural resources and incentives to conserve the mountain socio-ecological production systems for supplying ecosystem goods and services in a sustained manner.

However, realisation of such existing potential requires development of appropriate and enabling policy, legal, and institutional framework by the governments at different levels. Poorly built and maintained infrastructure, fragmented production pockets, and different types of trade barriers also impact the potential for transiting to green growth and development. With the adoption of the federal system of governance in the country, new avenues have opened up to formulate policies and design institutional arrangements that are appropriate for multi-sector and multi-scale integrated development at micro, meso and macro levels with three tiers of governments.

(Dr. Devkota is the visiting professor of TU and former Vice Chair of National Planning Commission.