As India battles the implications of its climate crisis, a war of words broke out in Parliament’s upper house, Rajya Sabha, on Thursday with the Opposition accusing the government of giving priority to business over environmental concerns. Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar denied the charges, asserting that he would both ensure economic development and protect the environment. Can the government walk the tight rope?
The job of the Environment Minister is to work for the environment and not harm it to pave way for industrial activities, senior Congress MP Jairam Ramesh alleged. “[The] Environment Minister must stand up and say that climate change is more important than ‘Ease of Doing Business,’ Jairam demanded.
Samajwadi Party MP Revati Raman Singh initiated a calling attention notice to discuss the issue and steps taken by the country. Sixteen members raised their concerns over the impact of climate change and questioned the government over its strategy to tackle the crisis.
Instead of looking within, Javadekar held the developed world responsible for climate change and India as its victim. He asserted India will not bow down to any international pressure on the issue and safeguard its own interests first: “Over seventy percent of the greenhouse gas emission is due to the developed countries while India’s contribution is just three percent. There has been overconsumption by the people in the developed world. They had committed USD 100 billion and technology transfer for developing nations for dealing with climate change issue. But that has not happened.”
But the members held the government responsible for giving priority to development and ignoring the environment.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has warned all nations that an incremental progress is no longer sufficient to deal with the climate crisis. Rather, there is a need for transformational change. However, Jairam claimed the government continues to follow a policy formulated ten years ago, instead of formulating new policies to fight the menace which will impact India in the worst possible way. He wondered, “how the government could be serious on climate change if you are going to liberalise all environmental policies by weakening the Forest (Conservation) Act and Coastal Regulation Zone?”
“India’s greenhouse gas emission increased by 22 percent between 2010 and 2014. This was fuelled by the energy sector, responsible for 73 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating the climate crisis and leading to extreme weather conditions which killed 1,425 people across eleven states in 2018 alone.”
According to a report by Down to Earth, India’s greenhouse gas emission increased by 22 percent between 2010 and 2014. This was fuelled by the energy sector, responsible for 73 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating the climate crisis and leading to extreme weather conditions which killed 1,425 people across eleven states in 2018 alone. As an example, since 1992, more than 22,000 people have died as the results of heatwaves of the kind plaguing the nation this year.
Despite these dismal indicators the government thinks it is doing enough to combat global warming. The Minister elaborated how the emission norms have been changed; that vehicles would soon be BA6 Compliant; that Ujawala Yojana which provided free gas cylinders helped reducing air pollution; and how afforestation is seen as a major step towards a greener India.
“Dastardly effects of climate change are already wreaking havoc in India, manifesting in erratic weather conditions; natural disasters like dust storms and floods; soaring temperatures; diminishing groundwater supplies and dried-up reservoirs leading to catastrophic water shortages; and failing monsoons.”
Can changes in individual ecological morality alone make a difference? “Shouldn’t we but focus on global capitalism and the kind of havoc it is creating?” asked RJD MP, Manoj Jha. “So unless we look at the macro picture and find the reasons behind what ails us, we will not find the right solutions.”
KK Ragesh, a Communist Party MP, highlighted the issue of displacement of the tribal and rural population by allowing real estate giants to take over lands in the name of development. Agriculture land is being given to industrialists, he alleged. “Things are happening the other way round. We need to consider whether we should revisit our current development needs as destroying ecosystem in the name of development is not right.”
The negative impact of pro-business policy on tribal populations is borne out by previously uncovered evidence showing how coal companies were the beneficiary of money intended for the development of tribal peoples – potentially indicative of, as Health Issues India said at the time, “a pragmatic shift in government’s priorities, from protecting the tribals (who don’t form a big voter bank for the parties) to corporations who may help in political funding and influence.”
Dastardly effects of climate change are already wreaking havoc in India, manifesting in erratic weather conditions; natural disasters like dust storms and floods; soaring temperatures; diminishing groundwater supplies and dried-up reservoirs leading to catastrophic water shortages; and failing monsoons. These climate-caused crises are both hampering daily lives and pinching the economy. India needs a long-term plan to tackle the crisis – especially in view of global projections of temperature rises with the potential to inflict even more ecological disaster in the years to come.
The buck stops with the government and shifting responsibility to the western world or the individual won’t solve the problem. Every sector needs a strategic plan. Institutions need to be identified to facilitate a multisectoral response to the crisis and build a network to acquire a comprehensive, long-term mandate to fight the climate crisis for the wellbeing of the nation.