Interview with Ugan Manandhar, WWF-Nepal
What is your role at WWF?
I currently head the Climate and Energy Program at WWF-Nepal. I’ve been working on the REDD+ program since 2007 when it was initially conceptualized, with funding from WWF-US, under the Carbonated Tiger program.
How did you get involved in this kind of conservation work?
You may be a bit surprised with my academic background – I studied electrical engineering in India, followed by an MBA, and initially worked for a hydropower company. This background actually helped me become the Alternative Energy Officer at WWF-Nepal in 2006, where I started out working with local communities living in conservation areas to build community-based micro-hydro programs. It was in 2007 when we started the Forest Carbon program where I started gaining my expertise in REDD+.
Being a part of WWF and working with communities really embeds the core values of conservation within you. I would say joining WWF was a real turning point in my life because as engineers we were taught to look at resources differently, not necessarily as natural assets for countries that need to be kept intact.
What are you currently working on?
There are a lot of large but connected projects, especially in terms of policy and funding. For the Forest Carbon program, we are currently developing an Emissions Reduction Program Document, or ERPD, under the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility with the government of Nepal. We work closely with the government on policies like the national REDD+ strategy and adaptation plans, providing technical and financial support and looking into how to make vulnerability assessments more scientific. We are also working on developing a proposal to the Green Climate Fund on adaptation, as well as looking into other climate finance regimes that can help benefit the country.
Working with the government is especially important now, as Nepal has just endorsed a new constitution, and the government will soon be implementing it. The country is going from a more centralized approach to a more decentralized approach, establishing new federal provinces that will have their own policies. However, the political situation is up in the air right now as the different political parties work out the boundaries of the new federal provinces.
Wherever the boundaries are drawn will affect how we work, because currently the landscapes we are working in are centrally managed, but soon they will be under new federal states and will be broken up in terms of jurisdiction. The Terai Arc landscape will be under five provinces, for example. This is something we are planning for and thinking about how we can best work with the provincial governments and the central government, and helping them come up with their policies on climate change, energy adaptation, mitigation aspects, and low carbon development.
I also work with the Government of Nepal as an official delegate to the UNFCCC, technically supporting the Ministry of Population and Environment, where I follow issues related to Mitigation, REDD+ and Adaptation on behalf of the Government.
Will the ERPD be targeting any specific drivers of deforestation?
The basic drivers are encroachment, resettlement and the development of infrastructure, and all of these can be sensitive topics to address. Sometimes the government needs land to make a hospital or a school; and encroachment is sometimes politically driven as people are migrating or given political asylum and then encroach on the forest as they settle.
These are the three main drivers, and it is difficult to address them directly because there are issues of safeguards and many funders don’t want to come near these sensitive issues. So, the core drivers we are going to address are actually those of degradation – grazing, forest fires, and illegal and unsustainable harvesting of timber and fuel wood extraction – with the basic drivers addressed as spill-off drivers less directly.
In terms of the drivers of degradation, grazing is a problem in Nepal because culturally people here don’t eat beef, so people don’t kill cows. Once the cows are too old for milking or farm work they are let out and end up in the jungles, driving degradation. Cows are also sometimes connected to forest fires, as people light fires to help grass grow quicker for grazing since there is a prolonged dry season. The conditions are so much drier than they used to be that fires spread quickly. We are also trying to address the demand for fuelwood through alternative energy like the biogas program and installing solar panels to create electrical energy for cooking, to reduce the demand for fuelwood for cooking.
We’ll look into those spill-off drivers by handing off more forests to communities, because then the government will have to negotiate with communities to cut down the forest. National forests are government property, so if someone migrates there illegally or wants to use it for infrastructure it’s very easy to just it cut down. We are also talking with the Railway Ministry and the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport and the Department of Roads to come up with smarter road designs so that kind of infrastructure development can happen with minimum negative effects on, or without being at the expense of, forests.
You mentioned working with communities – are there specific projects that you’re working on?
Much of our work with communities is actually focused on adaptation and helping train citizen scientists to support local data collection whenever possible. We started our adaptation programs in 2003 talking about water security, water shortages, and changing irrigation patterns, for example, helping communities build a conservation to pond to collect water for agriculture practices or domestic use – not consumption, but other uses. We also support automatic weather stations in local communities, to bring in the local data they are able to collect, depending on financial resources and the available technical capacities.
Climate change is cross-cutting and impacting everything, but the core themes with our community work around climate change adaptation are focused on the food, water, and energy nexus and disaster risk reduction; most of our energy comes from hydropower and agriculture is crucial for our economy. Being a “least developed country,” infrastructure is also a priority for Nepal. Infrastructure is probably going to get more attention in the future as it can be a key challenge in conservation if it’s developed in a business-as-usual approach without climate change taken into account.
What will your top priority be moving forward?
We plan to submit the ERPD by mid-February, and then we’ll be having a national workshop where we’ll roll out the findings of the ERPD and identify if anything needs to be altered or adjusted. But the core challenge is now funding. At least for Nepal, there has been a fallback of funding coming in for the forest sector. Many donors have currently pulled back or stalled in supporting the forest sector in Nepal, so it’s going to be a huge challenge.
WWF-Nepal has taken the consulting role in supporting the Government of Nepal in writing the ERPD, as well as researching funding for implementing actions on the ground, making sure we are scientifically grounded in our carbon accounting and determining the sequestration rate, and talking to core institutions and actors about the drivers. Soon, the government is going to announce the date for local elections so the idea is also to roll out the ERPD in the different provinces as they are formed, informing the state structure about the ERPD and how we implement programs on the ground to move forward.
Finally on behalf of WWF Nepal, I would like to thank WWF-Australia, WWF-Finland, WWF-Germany, WWF-Netherlands, WWF-Norway, WWF-Singapore, WWF-Switzerland, WWF-UK and WWF-US along with the bilateral donors like MFA Finland, MFA Norway, NORAD, UKAID, USAID, and World Bank including Earth Hour (Amazing Spider-man), LDCF, Linking Park, MyClimate, and Sal Foundation for supporting us in our conservations efforts in Nepal on forest, species, freshwater, and climate and energy and helping local livelihoods.