Climate Change: A Tough Challenge for Next Government in India
According to a BBC poll last year, 39% Indians have not even heard about climate change.
That probably includes the Mr. Ajit Pawar, the nephew of our agriculture minister, who could only think of solving India’s drought problem by peeing in dams.
And this ignorance is indicates that its not a big surprise that in one of the fiercest election battle, political parties are promising the moon the voters – but not many talking about a crucial issue which is going to be the toughest challenge to who-so-ever forms the next Government in India.
Most political parties do not talk about environmental issues because the issue does not help them get votes. Majority of Indian population, specially the large number of marginalized people, who will be the worst affected by climate change, are mostly unaware about it, though it is an existential issue for them, for us, for the country as a whole. The political class is disengaged with the environment because the issue does not get votes. That is probably because its consequences are financially invisible and not loud enough. An individual forced pay a higher electricity bill to use the geyser in March will not blame it on climate change. The same person will however cringe when he has to pay a bribe. Even though the poor will be most affected by climate change, the lack of awareness and public debate about the issue in India is very disturbing.
Notice something strange about the weather reports this March?
In mid-March, there were hail storms in Maharashtra, heavy rains in Delhi and the highest snowfall in decades in Jammu and Kashmir. Its not only in India that we are facing these strange weather patterns. Just a week before that, sudden snow storms broke all records and shut down the entire East Coast of the United States.
Climate change is an existential issue for not only country, but for the whole planet Earth.
Since the last century, the world has succeeded spectacularly at the cost of the environment, and we have only just begun to grapple with the consequences of our actions. However, between the repeated arguments on secularism and corruption, the pre-election discourse in India has no time for a debate on an issue that is the single largest threat to our long term national well-being.
There are few political parties who are willing to explain their stand on the challenges of climate change and what they are going to do about it. There is a need to clearly spell out the vision to mitigate the impact of climate change. We are well beyond the stage where we could reverse it.
No debate on development models, agriculture, price rise or even national security should be considered as holistic without a conversation about the environment.
Agriculture in India primarily depends on the quantum and timing of rainfall we get, and any disruption of the monsoon cycle will be disastrous for the sector.
- Rising temperatures will result in unpredictable farm yields
- Increase in the frequency of extreme weather conditions like droughts, heat waves and floods lowering of the underground water tables because more than 60% of our ground-water is rain fed.
- An increase in the aridity of land, reduction in soil fertility
- In Assam, the production of tea – a highly weather sensitive crop and one of India’s largest exports – has declined over the last few years even though the area under cultivation has expanded
It’s more than just an Agriculture Issue!
- Impact of El Nino weather phenomenon on the monsoon would also have a bearing on inflation
- There are risks to the central forecast of 8% CPI inflation
- Other risks to inflation are uncertainty on minimum support prices for agricultural commodities and other administered prices, especially of fuel, fertilizer and electricity, the outlook for fiscal policy, geo-political developments and their impact on global commodity prices.
- Fall-outs of climate change e.g. water scarcity, tropical cyclones – Cyclone Phailin, for instance, caused an estimated $4.15 billion of damage to the agriculture and power sectors in Odisha
- Contamination of drinking water and ground water, deaths due to heat waves and cold waves
- Disruption of life in port cities and an increase in vector-borne diseases.
It could also turn into a National Security Issue!
- According to a report by Asian Development Bank, our region, South West Asia is facing acute water-stress – Pakistan being one of the most water-stressed countries in the world
- Influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, a problem which will only aggravate with climate change.
- Even if only few of those grim predictions by the environmental experts comes true, climate change still remains an existential threat which needs to be urgently dealt with, using sound policies in the present.
Actions that the next Indian government needs to take swiftly action?
- A transparent and environment friend Mining policy
- Clear rules, guidelines for housing/ construction section
- Revisits the ban on drought resistant GM crops
- Builds Rural and Urban infrastructure to deal with natural calamities
- Most importantly, chooses the Environment minister and Agriculture minister carefully
It is our duty to look carefully into the election manifesto of the political parties vying for our votes, and check their views on the environmental challenges and how they are planning to take on these challenges once they form the government. This will force them to give this issue the critical importance it deserves. There are some good pointers mentioned in the BJP’s manifesto for 2014 election (read in detail here
https://bhuwanchand.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/a-framework-for-converting-dreams-into-reality-bjpmanifesto/ ). Hope they are able to take them forward constructively when in power. We will be watching them closely.