Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier in the week launched the Vande Bharat train in Kerala. He also opened Kochi’s Water Metro services, a first of its kind in India, linking the islands around the city. The electric operated metro service, with German aid, has not come a day late. As debate on the environment mounts, country after country is setting targets to reduce the human carbon footprint on earth and racing to achieve them.
India is not far behind. Mr Modi had announced the country’s commitment to Net Zero at COP26 in 2021, setting itself to achieve Net Zero by 2070. The commitment is firm, with an ambitious charter, including through the five principles or commitments, Panchamrit as outlined by the Prime Minister.
Cities and regions such as Kochi are more at risk than others. All low-lying areas – places below sea levels – are vulnerable to being inundated by sea level rises owing to global warming, threatening everyone and everything. This is why the debate needs to go beyond international conference tables.
Participatory dialogue & action
Back from participating at a recent southern region Net Zero workshop of the School of Policy and Governance (SPG), TDP youth leader Naga Sravan Kilaru from Andhra Pradesh believes the debate and action has to go far deeper, to the grassroots, and in particular among farmers and fisherfolk, who are most affected and at risk by Climate Change and environmental challenges.
The workshop, a part of a pan-India fellowship program of the SPG, aims to sensitise political and public leaders to climate change. It evoked a keen interest and response from the 27 participants, who came from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.
SPG will organise such workshops in three more regions, including the north-east, and hopes to sensitise and galvanise action by political leaders and influencers.
Naga Sravan said states such as Andhra, “with over 790 km of coastline,” have every reason to be concerned. Beaches have eroded at several places with abnormal tides and perceptible rises of 2-3 degrees in temperatures.”
Fishermen’s livelihoods are at threat with diminishing catch and bird life and ecology have been adversely affected. Instead of politicising the debate, it is time that the narrative is made acceptable to all parties, so that changes in government do not affect policies. Along with political leaders, all constituencies – bureaucrats, academics and students – need to be sensitised to issues and the dialogue made wider.
The Net-Zero workshop has come timely. Leaders such as Naga Sravan attest to the key role of advocacy in the whole debate and how the narrative needs to change. With a focus on climate change and Net Zero, the program offers a comprehensive understanding of the issues and pathways towards achieving a sustainable future.
Through a series of workshops over the next few months, some 100 participants are being introduced to climate change issues and Net Zero, its impact, and ways to address them.
The dialogue is crucial for transitioning participants from viewing net zero as a trade-off with development to understanding it as an integral part of future development in India.
Discussions on the environment among emerging and young leaders are the key to informed public and political debates, feels George Lawrence, Chief of Staff to Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President. In fact, informed lawmakers are the key to taking forward climate change issues.
Being in the opposition, he said it is even more imperative to be “enlightened” on issues. The environment debate assumes more significance as countries and organisations deliberate on urgent tasks ahead to achieve Net Zero.
Climate change advance
The annual report of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released recently has raised alarm bells about climate change continuing its advance in 2022, from mountain peaks to the depths of oceans.
Concerns over droughts, floods and heat waves affecting communities on every continent are rightly justified. Antarctic sea ice fell to its lowest extent on record and the melting of some European glaciers was, literally, off the charts. And the cost to all this in millions of dollars calls for urgent action.
“It is not that there are no policies or laws in India,” says former Kochi Mayor Soumini Jain. “There are enough policies and it is enforcement that is the ‘need of the hour’, including firmer commitments and the will to do things.”
The workshop, according to her, offered the opportunity to discuss and engage with “colleagues and friends” on the work each is doing in their respective state. Of course, you cannot have answers to all questions, especially as each state has its own problems. Although only a start, a firm pathway has been created and a desire to do things, even be proactive, has been “ignited.” As a spinoff from her participation in the workshop, Ms Jain has engaged in conversations with a cross-section of people to advance the narrative and deliberate on issues.
In Kerala, and her city Kochi, there’s so much more to be done – from a biodiversity register to a bio-waste management plan. With recurring floods, the state lacks a proper disaster management plan for a “quick-response”. “No homework has been done” to offset the damage from such calamities.
SPG’s invite-only fellowship program offers a good opportunity for the emerging leaders in India to gain a deeper understanding of the path to achieving net zero, and as Jain says, is a good beginning.