The Communists, the Monarchists, the Centrists, the Conservatives or the Fundamentalists. The list might go on but has any political party in Nepal ever centred their debate on climate change and other environmental issues? Not yet! Everything is apolitical until it is made political and I guess Nepalese political class is missing on a big time opportunity. The environmental issue is like an untapped resource, the mining of which if monopolized will likely result in a political surge of the one who exploits it.
Gone are the days when environment was concern for scientists and academics alone. It has with time acquired a bold set of political colours which is out for everyone to have a look upon. It’s much in vogue. You can love it or hate it but cannot ignore. The issue has permeated the geographical limits of nations, the demarcated boundaries, and the political state and is standing as an imaginary monolith towering so high that there isn't a single corner in the entire world where it hasn't cast upon its shadow. I am not of the opinion that the mainstream issues carry no importance, I just want to emphasize that environment too has to be made a mainstream issue in Nepal.
Climate change is not a construct of the west and the detrimental effects aren’t going to be limited to a specific geographical area. Despite Nepal being one of the least contributor to the emission of greenhouse gases, it is bound to experience a disproportionate adverse effect of the degrading environment or the climate change. Nepal being placed on the lap of the highest peaks of the world and those peaks being covered with snow throughout the year, one can imagine the magnitude of devastation that might befall upon us in near future with gradual and excess melting of snow. The rate at which glaciers are melting is alarming. It’s not only the beauty of the mountains that will wither away but also their utility. A country so dependent on agriculture, Nepal is experiencing uneven weather patterns and the instances of flooding has certainly increased. Nepal being extremely vulnerable to ill effects of climate change is hardly a contentious issue even in the political circle but surprisingly little politics has been done over it.
Now one might ask "When we don't even have our basic rights addressed, how do you expect us to fight for something that has been a concern only for a few decades?" But shouldn’t breathing clear air and living a healthy life be our basic rights? Just because our constitution doesn't explicitly mention it as a basic right doesn't mean that it isn't one. If right to health is a basic right then the right to clean air, clean water and clean land inadvertently falls into the same category. In fact, access to clean air, clean water and clean land are essential prerequisites to good health. You might argue "How about addressing poverty first?" But isn't the lack of clean air or lack of quality drinking water also the attributes of poverty. I am not implying that we should deprive people of economic opportunities but we need to ruminate over ways to gradually replace the environmentally adverse income generating activities by a more sustainable and greener ones. Therefore we need innovation in ideas and must push others along as well.
Coming back to the political aspect, the question arises, who should champion the issue? Should it be adherents of a pre-existing political ideologies or a new one? It hardly matters but when we look at the trends in the west, the progressive parties have come forward to take the lead. However, I see no reason for only progressives to lead it in Nepal. The conservatives in Nepal are as likely as the progressives to champion the environmental issue. In fact, I think conservatives would reap an uneven political benefits if they choose to align their interests with environmental advocates. The last decade has seen a sharp decline in the political power of conservative parties in Nepal, it seems that their old rhetoric is not resonating with the disposition of the general public and I believe only a fresh start can revive their old grip on the power. However, it doesn't necessarily mean that only out of touch political parties have a chance with it. The four major political parties of Nepal can take it as an opportunity to further strengthen their grip on the minds of populace and ultimately increase the chances of their political survival.
However, I believe it would be hard for major political parties to adopt environment friendly agendas in their political manifestos. The reason being an intricate nexus between the politicians of major political parties and those profiteering from unrestrained exploitation of natural resources. The strings being attached, it would be hard for one to move ahead without disturbing the other. One recent case which came to light was the government's brazen U-turn on its previous environmental commitments by increasing tax on the purchase of electric vehicles. The corporate lobby has deep imprint over government's policy and this phenomenon will likely prevail irrespective of who assumes the responsibility of running the government. Therefore, it is more likely that the political underdogs will have better prospects if they vow to stick to implementing the environmental friendly policies.
I believe it is high time that environmental issues should find its place in political discourse and it is not for the sake of political benefits that I urge various actors to develop interest in the issue but if evoking interest in environment inadvertently translates to political benefits then it's only a boon. The beauty of human race is continuously evolving morality and we are briskly searching for faults in our way of living. To advocate for better environment is a new morality and the fault lies in our desire for excess material gain.