It is commendable that the committee awarding the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for journalism, the most prestigious recognition in the field, has decided to award the staff of The Washington Post in the Explanatory Reporting category for their writings on the effects of extreme temperature on the planet.
Unfortunately, I would say, there is no better time to think about climate change than now with the pandemic we are going through.
Though there is so far no scientific evidence linking the COVID-19 outbreak with climate change, there is an undeniable mountain of scientific facts showing how rising temperature could bring not only devastating natural calamities but also public health emergencies.
The link between climate change and public health is undisputable.
The dengue outbreak last year in the Kathmandu Valley was induced by the fact that mosquitoes are forced, due to higher temperatures, to migrate toward cooler climate, like hills and mountains.
The number of casualties during the dengue outbreak was low and no one really was overly concerned about it.
A bit like if COVID-19 would have remained just a “Chinese” problem.
Perhaps in a post-COVID-19 era, people will start to take notice of the next mosquito induced outbreak in the Valley.
We all know that Nepal is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world.
Citizens are aware of it and yet does a mass consciousness of the problem exist?
Are citizens being sensitized and made aware of the calamities that might upend their lives in such a way that would lead them to take actions for a more sustainable future?
If you live in an urban area, especially within the Kathmandu Valley, you are aware that air pollution takes a toll on your health.
While it might not count too much on the global gas emissions, definitely air pollution defines, for the worst, the way you breathe. And it’s bad!!!
Before the lockdown, were there any actions for better air being driven by citizens?
Globally you can see some leadership recently in matter of climate change: amid the COVID-19 pandemic, world leaders had time to think about climate change.
Under the auspices of Germany, the Petersberg Climate Dialogue from 27 to 28 April offered a new opportunity not to lose track on the global commitment to fight climate change.
Are we entirely sure that is only up to the leaders to address climate change?
What are the responsibilities of the citizens? What’s about our common leadership?
Many are attempting to forecast how the future will be after the COVID-19.
Those most hopeful are imagining a rebooting of the global order with a more inclusive, just and sustainable globalization.
Surely a post-epidemic era should be centered on citizens’ activism and more conscious decision making.
Activism will imply stronger forms of community organizing to keep the governments at all levels more accountable and compliant with the international obligations in matter of sustainable development and fight against climate change.
For a country like Nepal, the citizenry will have a chance to help the new federal model work from the ground.
Engaging local governments in the most pressing issues will help create new forms of civic engagement that “naturally” must be tuned toward eco-sustainability practices.
Each single project, including the smallest ones, being planned locally, should include an environmental audit where citizens are enabled to be in charge.
Community organizing means also for citizens to come up with their own small scale projects, for example, a sustainable tree plantation or small scale renewable plans.
In these cases, the local governments should not become a hindrance, a red tape nightmare but rather facilitators and enablers.
Local schools, now under the purview of the local governments, should be turned into linchpin for a new environmental consciousness.
Starting from the teachers, local administrations could identify local champions among them, recognizing and awarding those educators who are particularly keen to work on creating new level of consciousness in matter of environment, climate change and social justice.
Each teacher, even the less engaging and enthusiastic, should be persuaded to try to embed a new environmental consciousness in their lesson plans.
They should do it out of their sheer survival instincts because their future will depend on how their current students will take decisions in a few years to come.
Extra-curricular classes could be run in order to talk about sustainability and environment.
Each student could make a personal pledge, for example, not throwing any plastic, including the candies' wrap, on the ground, something very common right now, even among adults.
In the month of April, a series of events should be organized by students leading to a main celebration to be held on the 22nd, Earth Day.
The provincial and federal governments could put resources, also from donors’ money, to invest in local so-called mini “new green deals”, local strategies to chart the future development of local communities, putting environment, equity and gender empowerment at the front.
Moreover a much bigger effort should be made to involve citizens in the key strategic planning of the country.
Singapore, despite being very hierarchical and top down, is attempting at engaging citizens to design its future.
Envisioning Nepal in 2030 should become a mass exercise, an exercise of true nation building where everybody can contribute with ideas and suggestions.
For example, in the past, documents like the Sustainable Development Goals, Status and Roadmap: 2016–2030 were surely written after broad consultations but perhaps we should ask ourselves how far, to what extent, such consultations went.
How many citizens from remote and inaccessible areas were involved?
How many school children were actively engaged in the discussions?
A post-pandemic world could lead to rethinking of the role of citizenry in the way we are governed.
Ideally we should have more direct democracy, more power on the people’s hands, partially replacing representative democracy though this might imply certain difficult trade-offs to make.
Much simpler and immediate would be encouraging higher levels of civic engagement.
Instead of having just a few eco-warriors striking on the streets, we should have entire communities engaged and involved not only in lobbying and advocacy but also in taking the lead on “greener” decision making.
The governments at central and local levels should do their utmost efforts, for example, in giving a voice to the citizens in reviewing the national climate action plan, formally the National Determined Contribution (NDC) that Nepal prepared back in 2016.
This would give them a sense of agency, motivating them and embedding in them the urgency for a change in the way they think and conduct our lives.
In short, all of us should “do” and “promote” those not so abstract Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs.
We are all responsible to get out of our comfort zones, change our habits and promote better practices and change the way the government works.
This might be the new governance imperative in a post COVID-19: more and better citizenship engagement.
(The author is Co-founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths to promote social inclusion in Nepal. He can be reached at [email protected])