We are fortunate that a matter as grave as climate change is starting to be given due importance without being limited by the boundaries set by politics. The current and former Ministers for Environment, including Mr Prakash Javadekar and Mr Jairam Ramesh, have realized this gravity and initiated action. In the present day, Prime Minister Modi has taken the lead globally with the International Solar Alliance. During the tenure of the UPA, the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had introduced eight core missions for climate change action. This had come at a time when the enormity of the threat posed by climate change had not been acknowledged by other prominent world leaders.
In the current times, there are two major goals that India is working towards. The first among them are the net zero target for 2070 and the one-billion-tonne emission cut by 2030. There are a few pragmatic questions that need to be addressed in this regard. These include the progress made thus far, the evaluation structure put in place and periodic assessment of action taken. The Government should realize that the time is ripe to come up with a new environment legislation. It was in the 1980s that most of the major climate laws in existence now were first drafted. The Air and Water Acts were created with the knowledge and vision possible in those times. Contemporary conditions and challenges should prompt the Government to think about a new legislation, framework and/or nodal agency capable of managing them. The one-billion-tonne cuts in emission is not to be achieved from a single sector, and it cannot be achieved through the isolated efforts of the Union Government. The concerted efforts of the Union, state and local governments are required. This is why a new administrative and legislative thought process needs to be initiated.
The present Government lays much stress on solar panels and electric vehicles. But we cannot limit ourselves to solar panels and electric vehicles. The Prime Minister has initiated the International Solar Alliance and our solar production is commendable. For solar power to be useful, solar fields need to be connected to transmission and distribution networks. But that is not the case in present day India. It is crucial that we expand our horizons beyond solar panels and electric vehicles and explore what more can be done.
The transition demanded by the new climate revolution and the new green revolution will not be an easy one. In fact, it is going to be a very difficult one. For instance, the Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Mr Bhupender Yadav pledged to phase down coal in Glasgow. But there is no clarity on how the workers associated with polluting sectors like coal will transition to a green economy. They are a low-skilled workforce who require adult skilling and education programmes to maintain a job. The prospective loss in jobs and unemployment is a cause for great concern. The desired just transition should not be replaced with an unjust and disruptive transition.
Even as ambitious targets have been set, India is in need of much infrastructural growth. The Government has acknowledged this need through the recent Budget where several lakh crores were allocated towards PM Gati Shakti. The construction of airports, highways, railways and other related infrastructure as envisioned in the scheme will require large amounts of coal, steel and high emission technologies. Lower-emission green-technologies must be ensured at each step. It is pertinent that an emissions framework and a system of checks and controls be put in place for a scheme of such large dimensions as PM Gati Shakti. The Minister for Environment should coordinate with his peers in Road Transport and Highways, Ports, Shipping and Waterways and other departments to arrive at a green solution.
The gravity of air pollution is gradually dawning on the authorities and the people. There is still a need to spread social awareness regarding the challenges of air pollution and climate change. In an attempt to do so, several Parliamentarians have come together and formed a Group on Clean Air. But above and beyond such informal groupings, there is a pressing need to constitute institutions capable of executing the schemes of the Government. In the absence of proper funding to institutions such as the Central and State Pollution Control Boards, there is little that they can do to run the schemes.
One of the most important stakeholders in the climate change discussions should be the farmers. The farming community is dependent on rains. While timely and adequate rains are a boon to farmers, irregular and extreme rainfall can spell doom for them. The Government should initiate comprehensive schemes and insurance policies that are equipped to deal with the uncertainties facing farmers as a result of climate change.
There is much dialogue around emissions trading and carbon accounting. But active legislative effort from the Government is lacking. The Government should consider a future legislation on emissions trading.
It is a reality even in this era that India has not attained the industrial development that most countries in the West boast of. We possess large reserves of natural beauty and biodiversity. Yet, the indigenous communities engaged in conserving and preserving it are not receiving the Governmental aid that they deserve. As a member of the Parliamentary Committee on the Biodiversity Bill, I can say that things are not the way they should be. Access benefit sharing is not executed in its true spirit. Our villages and their indigenous inhabitants need to be given economic benefits for their invaluable services. The Ministry needs to put serious thought into this.
The North Eastern Region constitute India’s most biodiverse spots. Yet today, the region’s biodiversity is under serious threat from oil palm monoculture. If the Ministry has truly recognized the value of biodiversity, a measure as harmful as populating the North East with oil palm would never have been permitted.
India should aim to stay ahead and not trail behind the rest of the world in the new climate revolution. India should not be intimidated by the dictates of the West but should instead design its own laws to take forward the fight against climate change. Several countries in South Asia and elsewhere look towards India for leadership. It is up to the Indian government to take them along in our march towards a greener and more equitable world. Rules and taxes imposed by the West, such as the European Union’s Carbon Border Tax, will badly affect industries like steel in India. The West will continue to impose measures that will make our economies bear the brunt. India too should actively consider imposing counter measures on the West because historically, it is the West that has contributed to greater emissions.
Capacity building is of utmost importance to initiate and sustain climate action. The Union Ministry has shown greater understanding on the matter in recent times. But a sensitization effort among State governments, their legislators and officers is felt to be lacking. Often times, State Action Plans are half-hearted attempts at copy-pasting. Disasters too continue to be on the rise and hence, a robust disaster management system and a prevention mechanism too should be in place.
India’s climate action should not be limited to isolated acts of mitigation. Instead, it should be defined by a comprehensive strategy of adaptation and mitigation that offers equitable solutions to all the stakeholders involved. It is a whole of government approach that India should endorse in combatting climate change.