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How climate change is a ‘poly-crisis’

We need an integrated approach at a multi-tier level from federal to provincial and local level for enhanced understanding of climate change as a poly-crisis.

Climate change is posing an enormous challenge to socio-economic and environmental wellbeing, globally. The Climate Risk Index statistics shows that Nepal falls under the ten most affected countries in the world, which is a major concern.

Climate change has impacted us at various levels, especially for the most vulnerable and resource poor- among the developing countries, communities dependent on natural resource-based livelihoods, geographically remote areas, ultra-poor, people with disabilities, and women and children due to gender and social inequality. Furthermore, children are at high risk of being trafficked. All these consequences are likely to trigger conflict among the communities in the coming years, especially when it comes to resource utilization, tensions in relocation, child trafficking, violence against women and gender-based violence cases in transitional shelters, among others. Conservationists have started using the term ‘poly-crisis’ to understand this phenomenon as a potential for the occurrence of multiple simultaneous and linked catastrophes.

In Nepal, the adverse impacts of climate change on livelihoods, food security and water availability are likely to exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and increase overall levels of migration in the coming decades. Attention towards disaster-induced displacement, especially in the context of Nepal, is a fairly new agenda, as internally displaced persons (IDPs), previously in Nepal have been studied and understood mostly from the lens of armed conflict induced displacement. A study on disaster displacement in Nepal mentions that on an average, 96,000 people could be displaced in any given year in the future by earthquakes and riverine floods. Likewise, another review report highlights the need for integration of internal displacement provisions of the 2007 National Policy on Internal Displacement into the legal and policy framework relating to disaster risk reduction and management and climate change adaptation.

Conflict sensitive climate adaptation in Nepal is an aspect that has been undermined or not prioritized in policy discourses. An analysis of climate resilience policy frameworks highlights that climate resilience policy instruments namely National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) 2010, National Forest Act 2019, Land Act 1964 (Eighth Amendment, 2020), Local Government Operation Act 2017, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act 2017, National Forest Policy 2019, National Land Policy 2019, National Environment Policy 2019, Environment Protection Regulation 2020, Local Adaptation Plan of Action (LAPA) Framework 2019 and National Climate Change Policy 2019 do not sufficiently consider social vulnerability and conflict dynamics. These policy instruments fail to examine the integration of conflict resolution that can contribute to fragility resilience. 

While peacebuilding initiatives have been recognized in natural resource management practices, they have not been integrated into climate change adaptation interventions. It is to be realized that climate change-induced resource scarcity could weaken social cohesion and trigger communal conflict and lack of trust. This has also been emphasized in the ‘Climate-Fragility Risk Brief: Nepalreport, which talks about climate change resulting in pressure on natural resources and increased competition over natural resources, leading to marginalization and exclusion, thereby exacerbating resource and identity conflicts.

Another concern is the lack of comprehensive understanding of risk assessment tools and frameworks as they tend to overlook the risk of conflict and violence, and are mostly concentrated on immediate environmental, economic or security related risks. Climate change risks and fragility are interconnected and emerge when climate change interacts with other political, social, economic, and environmental pressures, such as rapid urbanization, inequality, economic shocks, and environmental degradation. Thus, there needs to be an integrated approach at a multi-tier level from federal to provincial and local level initially for enhanced understanding of climate change as a poly-crisis; followed by detailed capacity development initiative through socio-technical assistance for policy formulation and implementation.

These complexities of climate crisis, displacement and conflict suggest the need for a deep dive into the Nepali society and communities to understand the triggers that have led and could further lead to communal violence, rape, and other forms of gender-based violence, among others. Thus, there is a need for governments, responsible authorities, and communities to come together to foster and sustain communal harmony through non-violent, peace strategy. 

Sudeep Uprety is a development professional. Views are personal.