Nepal | June 03, 2020

Climate change impacts: Ways forward for energy

Devendra Adhikari
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The government should coordinate adaptation efforts at the local and sub-national levels urgently. Local governments and the private sector are increasingly recognised as critical elements for progress in adaptation

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Our climate is changing, and it’s a fact. It is affecting the world and Nepal is not an exception. In this context, Nepal too has been implementing sustainable development agenda. There are policies and strategies related to climate change, water resources and energy sector development. Various activities have been planned, and many others are being implemented. Nepal’s energy base is mostly renewable. Hence, most of the activities contribute to mitigating climate change impacts. But can Nepal’s energy sector adapt to changing climate?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the Open Working Group of the General Assembly of the United Nations recognise the importance of the natural environment and its resources to human well-being. SDG-7 aspires to increase access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for all.  The targets for 2030 are to achieve 99 per cent households with access to electricity, 30 per cent households using solid fuel for cooking and generating 15,000 megawatts of electricity.

Changes in climatic conditions put pressure on snow cover, glaciers and change in river run-off.  Factors such as extreme topographic relief and fragile and dynamic geological composition contribute to increased soil erosion, which in addition results in snow and glacier melt, giving rise to high sediment impacts to Nepal’s rivers during high summer flows.

The anticipated changes in Nepal’s water systems affect the various water usages such as irrigation, drinking water and hydropower generation. Electricity generation based on hydropower shall be affected by the change in climatic conditions. The run-of-the river hydropower systems are likely to be much affected by change in climatic conditions.  The influence of heavy rains during monsoon may cause a wide variation in the river flow, as well as land erosion and landslides.  Flash floods may result silt that will affect the dam, reducing its storage capacity and tearing apart the hydro-mechanical equipment such as turbine blades.

There are proven relationships between climate change and supply and use of energy resources. People depending on biomass as a fuel are much more likely to be affected by the change in climatic conditions.  Natural hazards such as landslides may interrupt the supply of fossil fuel by blocking the roads affecting fossil fuel transport.

Nepal’s economy is and will be highly dependent on water and energy. The energy sector is seen as a driver of economic growth. Nepal’s dependence on water for energy is certain to increase in future. Climate change may risk the water resources and the energy sector in one way or the other.  The main risks that may crop up are change in water availability, change in energy supply and damage to infrastructures.

There are direct interrelationships between the economy and the use of electricity. Nepal’s electricity sector is and will be dominated by hydropower. Nepal aspires to become economically self-reliant on energy. Given the water resources the country is bestowed with, hydropower is seen as a vehicle to achieve that goal. Nepal’s economic development is, therefore, sensitive to water and energy sector because this particular sector is highly vulnerable to the climate change.

Water use is largely determined by demographic structures, agricultural practices, drinking water needs and diversion of water for hydropower generation and economic activities. There are four distinct groups of energy resources: hydropower, biomass, fossil fuels and new renewables (solar and wind).  As of today, the country’s energy sector is heavily dominated by biomass.  Hydropower is considered as a major energy source that can fuel the national economic development. Use of renewables is increasing but not significantly. Nepal has no fossil fuel resources and all of the fossil fuels used in Nepal are supplied by import, and their use is in increasing trend.

Adaptation to climate change is largely applicable in the production process (generation), transportation and use of energy resources. Climate change is a complex phenomenon.  Climate change may cause a) changes in precipitation pattern, b) changes on temperature and c) extreme events.

Understanding how climate change affects the energy supply and its use is essential for the design and planning of adaptation measures. Adaptation should contribute to well-being of the people, in securing the assets and maintaining the ecosystem. Adaptation is also place and context specific.  A first step towards adaptation is to reduce vulnerability to climate variability. It should start with analysing the existing adaptation deficit and considering the future development plans that influence the development goals.

It is already late to plan adaptation measures in the energy sector. The government should coordinate adaptation efforts at the local and sub-national levels urgently. Local governments and the private sector are increasingly recognised as critical elements for progress in adaptation. The newly instituted local governments and provincial governments should be made aware and capacitated to address climate change impacts and adaptation measures on their plans and policies. It will, then, lead country to take the sustainable path in development.

Adhikari is an energy economist

A version of this article appears in print on March 01, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

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