Poll campaigns in India must reflect climate issues

Political parties should recognise that elections in India have the potential to generate the momentum for climate justice

April 03, 2024 12:08 am | Updated 02:08 pm IST

‘The anxiety over climate change should motivate parties across the political spectrum to make their action plans clear’

‘The anxiety over climate change should motivate parties across the political spectrum to make their action plans clear’ | Photo Credit: AFP

The State of the Global Climate report that was released recently is cause for concern. The report, by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) of the United Nations, states that 2023 was the hottest year in the recorded history of the planet. Moreover, the average temperature rise from pre-industrial levels has been 1.45 °C, with a margin of uncertainty of ±0.12 °C. The temperature rise is tantalisingly close to breaking the agreed limit of 1.5 °C by different nations. Such a rise in global temperatures, also popularly known as global warming, is definitely alarming.

The WMO report states that 2023 was not only the warmest year by a clear margin but also one where many records were breached. For instance, records for a rise in ocean temperatures, glacier retreat and diminishing Antarctic ice cover were also broken. Moreover, evident sea level rise around the planet has also been observed. Consequently, the frequency of extreme weather events such as heat waves, torrential rains and tropical cyclones has increased. It is said that public memory is short. However, every reader of this daily and also article is sure to recall extreme weather events. Such events have disrupted many activities including agriculture, and are having a significant impact on socio-economic developments around the world. The WMO report is, therefore, extremely worrisome, making it imperative to trigger collective public action — something similar to what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Progress and mitigatory steps

As is well known, industrial progress since the mid-18th century has improved the quality of life significantly.

The principal drivers of this progress have been mechanisation and technology-led innovations in all sectors. Among other things, exploitation of natural resources to drive progress has grown considerably in the post-Industrial Revolution period. Unfortunately, the apparent progress driven by the use of natural resources has also had an adverse impact on the environment. Dependence on natural resources for energy requirements has had enormous bearing on the climate. The use of fossil fuels, for example, has led to large emissions of greenhouse gases, leading directly to the rise in global temperatures.

Recognising the gravity of the climate situation and the urgency to address it comprehensively, has led to all nations agreeing, in what is famously known as the Paris agreement, to holding the temperature rise to well below 2 °C from that in pre-industrial times, and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 °C. Entered into force on November 4, 2016, it became a legally binding international treaty. Since then, many nations have taken steps to limit carbon emissions, with some notable examples in the renewable power sector.

In the power sector in India, for example, the government announced the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). The National Solar Mission was one of the missions that came under the NAPCC. India has also announced the National Green Hydrogen Mission, making a strong commitment to the energy transition plan. Thus, although the Paris agreement has seen a positive intent of action from different nations, the latest WMO report raises fundamental questions. Have we acted too late? Or, are we doing too little? Or, have public commitments fallen short of expectations on such action plans?

Election season as opportunity

It is election season in many democracies around the world. In India, the election season has expectedly brought in festivities, enthusiastic audiences to televisions, passionate debates in every corner of the country and hope that the outcome of the elections will change lives. Indeed, the hope that every political party plants in the minds of voters and the promises that are made in every election, make people anxiously anticipate the outcome of the elections. The State of the Global Climate report, therefore, has arrived at the right time to initiate discussion across the political spectrum.

In this election season, the WMO report should result in an awakening not only for all of humanity, but also, specifically, for all political parties. The anxiety over climate change expressed by the WMO, the UN and scientific fraternity should motivate parties across the political spectrum to make their action plans clear. People will wholeheartedly welcome stands taken by political parties on such an important issue.

Political parties, for example, must commit themselves to enhancing public awareness on climate change and clearly defining steps to reduce global warming. Political differences in approaching both these questions may persist, but the larger public interest would be served by addressing these issues, thereby giving voters a chance to assess these views. Political parties may also wish to spell out the steps that they would undertake to reduce the impact of global warming on India. If India were looking to find its rightful place in the global order, and be counted as a true world power in the “Amrit Kaal”, the demands on its leadership on climate change actions will be watched. All political parties are pitching the agenda of shaping India’s economic prosperity and the well-being of its people. This is an agenda which would be incomplete without addressing the core issue of a climate change action plan.

Shekhar Mande is former Director General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and Secretary, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Government of India

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