What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change

Environmental Justice and India’s Stand on Climate Change

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by Manish Gautam*

The last past weeks have observed a slew of activities on the front of climate change discussions. IPCC released the Synthesis Report AR5, that basically syntheses and integrates the findings and recommendations of the three working groups of the fifth assessment report, entailing a ripple of negations and affirmations on the findings, and the mitigation targets. Almost at the same time, the world witnessed the historic China-US deal to cut their carbon emissions, an immediate and necessary step, ending a long stand-off between the two leading and the biggest polluting economies.

The Indian government has been giving mixed signals to take action against this lurking threat. Indian government has recently reconstituted the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change that will inform and advise the government on domestic actions on climate change, indicating that it is determined to combat and take measures against Climate Change. Beginning 2008, the National Action Plan on Climate Change, a scheme well-informed with IPCC findings and recommendations, has been evolving; it paved ways for several State level Action Plans, and the Indian government claims to pursue voluntarily set targets with commitment and conviction. Moreover, there are plans to boost up solar power capacity five folds to 100 GW by 2030, highlighting significant step towards adopting renewable energy.

India has been asked, along with other countries, to announce its GHG emissions peaking year, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, by the month of June 2015. Interestingly at the same time, the government has been avoiding any involuntary commitment to set up a mitigation agenda. The ministers reiterate the growth mantra at the global fronts stating that the priority is to eradicate poverty, although the Indian government claims to pursue an alternative pathway for its growth that will curb greenhouse gases emissions and asserts that this growth will be equitable and fair.

Back home, however, the picture of this alternative growth pathway may not be that clear. The past and previous governments have long been criticised for neglecting environmental concerns while employing the growth agenda. The air and water is heavily polluted, and the forest cover of the country is diminishing in the quest of minerals and other natural resources.  In last few months, more than 200 projects got environmental clearance by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, and the manner in which this process has been expedited has raised many eyebrows. In addition to that, this energy deprived country has plans to double up its coal production in next five years. This somehow obscures the India’s mission of “clean air, clean energy and clean power balanced with growth” to combat climate change.

To drive home the point, India needs to take aggressive measures to tackle climate change and other environmental challenges that it has been facing and will face with the growth and urbanisation of the country. What will happen at the end of Lima COP-20 proceedings and what stand India will take is another matter of discussion; the crucial thing is to assess its own vulnerability to environmental issues and climate change and to plan its growth pathways accordingly, because it is a right, as given by the Constitution of India, of every citizen of this country to live and sustain in a healthy environment.

*Manish Gautam is a researcher in Indian Institute for Human Settlements and a member of Indian Youth Climate Network

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