The Supreme Court of India had to suggest last week to temporarily impose lockdown in Delhi as air pollution level has crossed critical level. This is not the first season for that to happen. Even schools were declared closed and officers were given option to work from home. Several parts of Chennai continue to be under water after last week’s heavy downpour. This is not the first time either. Ghat road to God on Seven Hills was closed to pilgrims last week in apprehension of rock fall. What more evidence is needed to remind India’s vulnerability to climate change is far more explicit and the effects are much more evident as in terms of intensity and frequency of rainfall, floods, cyclones, landslides, drought, etc. They signal what is in store for India. India continues to be ranked very low on its performance on environment year after year for over a decade even after the commitments at Paris COP in 2015.
But our Ministers continue to claim that India is on track since Paris meet and that our performance is much beyond as if we believe in green rhetorics on critical parameters! For, the Climate Protection Performance Index by a German watch showed India for 2021 between10 and 16 position out of 60 countries. It also noted that India is the “seventh most vulnerable country”. But going by Govt. claims, it is observed that India is performing well for a third year in a row. Ground realities within, impact and implications of local developments do not seem to matter global meets as the just concluded Glasgow conclave of global leaders as if COP has become a routine and ritual. After the hectic parlays the UN Secretary General too expressed disappointment with the outcome. A positive outcome, however, is that the key target of 1.5 degree is kept alive.
Heads of countries at the COP26 were prompt with ambitious announcements pledging with targets for 2030, 2050 and 2070 as if they had discussed these propositions in their respective country and had some backing. This obviously is critical as most of these leaders are on tenure and for sure will not be around next decade or two to hold on to the claims and policies. That former US President Trump disowned Paris COP commitments of his country and threatened to withdraw from this forum itself reminds why it is important that commitments should have reasonable backup of the people of the country. Official delegation of many countries, as of India, did not include even symbolically even the industry reps, for example, of the Tatas as they came up with a zero-emission mass transport solution. Have we heard any public debate at any level on any of these contentions and commitments? The fact that the gap between announcements earlier and ground realities now is glaring adds to apprehensions on the seriousness of Glasgow COP26 targets within the countries. This is even more pertinent now because there is no disagreement of the fact that human activity is responsible for altering earth’s climate. This is also important because without change in the lifestyles of people no climate change could ever be expected to the extent desired and countries would ever achieve promised targets. That is relining on pledges of leaders could only mean complacency. This however does not mean leaders and nations should not have a vision, targets and commitments.
Even the Assessment Report of the UN Panel on Climate Change released a month before Glasgow meet has reminded that climate change and quality of life are intimately related and that “human induced climate change is the main driver”. But the announcements and targets do not indicate taking cognisance of that fact. The focus continues to be more on climate-financing and manufacturing capacities. Neither of the earlier targets and pledges made a dent or changed national policies nor have those commitments restrained deregulations or stopped deforestation. India was not one of those countries that agreed at Glasgow to end deforestation and stop felling of trees.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is good with his articulation any time anywhere on any issue. At Glasgow too he made headlines with his Panchamrit, a five-point action proposition. In fact, much before UN panel report a month before Glasgow meet, Modi had called for relook into lifestyles in his address in 2019. He even went beyond to remind about “unique way of living of Indians over the centuries to sustain environment”. Now at Glasgow, he went further by making a more relevant statement, but that was not highlighted. How come? While calling for global push of lifestyles, Modi reminded what Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s foresighted remarks two decades ago by saying that “instead of mindless and destructive consumption, we need mindful and deliberate utilisation”. This should have been the take-home message of COP26. Much earlier, in 2000, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had pointed that the “linkage between human development and protecting environment” and reminded about “mindless consumption and destruction model” as responsible and even forewarned that without shift from “flawed development strategies,” nothing better could be expected. This is Modi’s best proposition which India itself should take on. This is a better proposition to pursue as a more reliable and sustainable way.
Sustainable development is relegated
Thirty years ago, in 1992, Rio convention of UN had adopted climate change as an integral part of sustainable development. A quick analysis of key speeches of leaders and conclusions of Glasgow COP26 gives the impression that “sustainable development” is now relegated. This is perhaps because of the myth that environmental pursuit stalls development. My new book this week, “Green Puzzle : Missing links in India’s crusade to sustain environment”, brings out that disconnected view of public policies and hidden adversaries who are behind deregulations, commercialisation of forests, liberal exploitation of natural resources, etc. This book brings out that “environment recovery is guarantee for an economic recovery, not vice versa” and suggests reviving our own traditions, rituals and lifestyle as a better proposition to rely on. This was what Prime Minister had put forward last week at Glasgow. The idea of micro level vulnerability assessment is good if it is robust and transparent. India should have its own strategies to mitigate climate change and action plans which are widely participative across regions and going beyond electoral politics.
(Dr N Bhaskara Rao is a New Delhi based public policy analyst)