KATHMANDU ( The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - Policymakers now recognise air pollution is grave enough to warrant a response
A proposal seeking a complete ban on the sale and distribution of fossil fuel-run vehicles in the next 10 years has recently been tabled at Parliament, drawing considerable praise from experts and the Nepali public. In the face of steadily deteriorating environmental conditions, this proposal, put forward by ex-health minister Gagan Thapa, could not have been better timed.
Last year, Numbeo, a crowd-sourced global database, ranked Kathmandu the third most polluted city in the world, and the Environment Performance Index listed Nepal among the top four worst performers in protecting human health and environment from degrading air quality. In the absence of any effective policy measures, one would be safe to assume that the conditions are much the same, or perhaps even worse than what they were a year ago.
Our policy makers have been decidedly slow on the up-take in regards to the deleterious effects of air pollution, perhaps because it is a particularly insidious and slow killer. Thus far, they have shown remarkable indifference to the brewing environmental crisis choking the Capital. But the introduction of this new policy to ban fossil fuel-run vehicles shows that policymakers are finally realising that the problem of air pollution is indeed grave enough to warrant a policy response.
The new proposal aims to prohibit the sale of petroleum vehicles in the Capital by 2027, and country-wide by 2031. Petroleum vehicles are to be replaced by electric vehicles. The proposal also envisages the utilisation of tax collected from petroleum products for environment protection and the provision of subsidies to promote the use of electric vehicles. Nepal, it seems, is finally jumping on the global bandwagon towards environment friendly electric vehicles. There is no doubt that these provisions are critical at this juncture.
But a great deal of work remains to be done in order to translate this ambitious proposal into concrete action. A work plan, required policies, structures and financial provisions for timely implementation of Parliament’s declaration and commitment is yet to be formulated.
The success of previous initiatives to curb air pollution via regulation of the transportation sector is questionable at best. For example, the ban of public transport vehicles that are more than 20 years old was introduced with remarkable zeal in February this year, with the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) claiming that it would strictly enforce the Cabinet decision to prohibit such old vehicles. However, updates on the current state of the prohibition have been noticeably absent, giving cause for doubt whether this ban is being executed at all. Policy continuity is thus a major problem the state has to contend with. In order to buck this trend, policymakers have to make sure that plans are made forthwith for the implementation of the recent proposal. Otherwise, it too could go the way of other previous government initiatives and peter out before it effects any change.