Climate Politics

The New India and Fight against Climate Change

This article is written by Neeshad V S.

As a large, emerging economy, India faces big challenges relating to energy and climate change. On the one side, the country has hundreds of millions of people without access to electricity and an economy demanding more energy to power growth. These pressures mean that energy use, and emissions, are likely to grow substantially over the next coming decades.

Still India has never been on a denial mode over the devastating effects of climate change and always called for steps to deal with global warming. This stand will now get new impetus under the new government evident from the new nomenclature that the green ministry has got under the leadership of New Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi. Keeping the above facts in mind, presenting an Environment and Development Agenda for the BJP government that took charge on May 26, 2014, ahead of the World Environment Day. The ministry of ‘environment and forests’ is now ministry of ‘environment, forests and climate change’, signaling the importance of the issue at the time when India is expected to play a key role in reaching a global climate deal in Paris later this year.

This makes New Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the dynamic chief of India’s now ruling BJP party, one of the most powerful players in fight against climate change. Dubbed the “Development Man” during his mammoth election campaign, Modi pushed a vision of prosperity to India: more power, electrified cities, and wealthier citizens. How he chooses to deliver on such a promise has profound implications for the planet over years to come.

 10796932245_7dbf8f84fe_zIndia’s New Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Every new government comes with baggage and opportunity.
The problem is since the government is new, it wants to undo what has been done in the past, make new schemes and start again on the learning curve. The opportunity is that there is a new drive to do more, to deliver and to push for change. Whether the new PM and his government depends on fossil fuels or renewables to top up electricity supplies in India, a country where around a third of people are still not connected to the national grid could determine the planet’s chance staying within safe limits of global warming. Delve deeper into the BJP manifesto, and Modi’s climate policies remain mysterious. The focus is not how, but how much energy they are going to be able to produce.

Following in the footsteps of the US, India looks ready to adopt a strategy when it comes to energy that the manifesto promises to “maximize the potential of oil, gas, hydel power, ocean, wind, coal and nuclear”. This includes exploring for and producing more coal, at the same time as advancing India’s solar mission. Recently, India had adopted the mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, popularly known as REDD+. The then Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has made public its draft policy to implement the mechanism that aims to provide monetary incentives to forest communities for protecting forests, which are major carbon sinks.

Some are optimistic that Modi and his pro-business attitude mean that he will be a force for good in pushing India’s rapidly developing renewables market. An agenda centered around development could indeed be a boon for the planet, if the government succeeds in linking this up to a complementary climate agenda.

Modi’s stint as chief minister in the Indian state of Gujarat provides something of a backstory to what can be expected from him now that he has the whole of India in his hands. Under his governance, Gujarat became India’s leader in solar energy, pre-empting the national government by releasing its own solar policy in 2009, a year before the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission was issued. Of the 1000+ MW installed in the country over the period 2010-2012, over 70% of this belonged to Gujarat. Modi also launched Asia’s first ever government department dedicated to climate change, and even followed in the footsteps of Al Gore, becoming the second politician to pen a book on global warming.

Canal_Top_Solar_Power_PlantSolar power plant in Gujarat

But from thereon, the tale loses some of its glory. Local reports from last year suggest that the climate change department has all but collapsed, and as other states have caught up on Gujarat’s solar revolution, its share of India’s total solar capacity has fallen to around 40%. This has raised some doubts about his ability to replicate his success in one state across all 29. Modi will also have to familiarize himself with the international politics of climate change his tenure will overlap with the UN’s attempt in 2015 to sign of a global, legally binding climate deal. India’s stance at the talks so far has been less than conciliatory, with many issues still remained to be smoothed out between them and other big emitters such as the EU and US.

Raise your voice, not the sea level

What we hope is also our belief that people’s aspirations have changed. They want more. They should get more. They should not be short-changed, once again, in the name of development, which benefits only some. The new prime minister has famously and rightly said that toilets are more important than temples, which gives hope.

It also outlines some projections that could lead to a reasonable emissions trajectory for India and one that is consistent with global efforts at addressing climate change. Looking at the role of trade in climate change, it concludes that the outcome will be messy if the trading system is burdened with the task of settling environmental problems. The impact of climate change on the weather is not an easy subject, but more emphasis could be put on it to raise awareness of people. With a large pool of youngsters the largest democracy in world can make there voice heard with the current year’s slogan of the World Environment Day – ‘Raise your voice, not the sea level’.


About the authorNeeshad V S, holds a Master’s degree in Energy and Environment from VIT University, India. Currently, the Global Community Manager position at CliMates, an international student think-and-do tank and association aiming to find new and innovative solutions in the fight against climate change. He is an environment advocate and campaigns extensively on social platforms to raise the awareness about Climate change & Global warming.
Follow him on Twitter @ineeshadvs & Facebook page NeeshadVs.

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