Written by Uttara Narayan in collaboration with Ananya Mukherjee
Even the staunchest climate deniers cannot shy away from human action led climate disruption anymore, and the risks that climate variability presents for a developing country such as ours. COP21 concluded last month with the adoption of the Paris Agreement by all members of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While the jury continues to be out on whether COP21 is an effective tool towards achieving global action on climate change, closer to home, Indian domestic politics cannot afford to be disconnected from the imperatives of our climate commitment any more. More than ever, we need to strengthen legislative action on climate change and here is why.
1) New Delhi’s pledges
India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) include:
India’s broad national policy framework on environment and climate change backed up by a national action plan and state action plans aim to stimulate the country towards low-carbon and resilient development. Yet these initiatives tend to fall short due to lack of depth in understanding and planning for our energy and climate future, which often leads to incoherent planning and policy making. For instance, decisions on urbanization-related economic activities may be ad-hoc when local legislators are incapacitated to comprehend the extent of energy needs in their areas of legislation and how to work within carbon lock-ins. Thus, our state level policies and actions of energy planning need to be climate-informed, to dovetail to our national commitments. The operational responsibility of India’s commitments percolates to the sub-national level, which also requires climate-informed legislative decisions.
2) Creating awareness and answering tough questions
Politicians of the developing world are often faced with tough decisions on balancing rapid economic growth with sustainable development. Furthermore, with the impact of climate change becoming increasingly apparent, there is greater need for countries to focus on developing climate resilient infrastructure that will simultaneously cater to the growth as well as sustainable development agenda.
Climate action has political, social and economic implications, and equipping legislators with a practical understanding of climate change helps them address these implications that also impact citizenry they represent. The fact that climate action can foster job opportunities, improve livelihoods, mitigate losses arising out of climate variability, apart from minimizing climate risks, can be effectively communicated when legislators mainstream climate imperatives along with other local development parameters.
Climate-aware legislators can also play a key role in keeping the public stay abreast of current developments in climate resilient technologies, initiatives being undertaken in enhancing renewable energy capacities, strengthening afforestation programs and using initiatives such as the Green India Mission for increasing the carbon sink.
3) Leveraging economic negotiations
New Delhi estimates its preliminary costs for climate change action between 2015 and 2030 to be above $2.5 trillion (at 2014-15 prices). While achievement of our targets is not conditional on international monetary support, India has made it amply clear that low cost financial assistance and technology transfers will be the way to move forward on the climate resilience and clean energy portfolio.
As we continue to push for international financing, technologies and support for capacity building, informed domestic legislators would be better positioned in economic negotiations for investments in this sector.
4) Vote bank imperatives
According to an American university survey, climate change seems to have emerged as one of America’s most polarising electoral issues, beating issues like the death penalty, gun control, etc. hands down. Other research also indicates a trend towards increasing popularity of candidates who
commit to climate action.
Participants in the world’s largest democracy are also attuned to this growing global trend and vote bank considerations make an even stronger case for the Indian polity to be a proactive stakeholder in climate action. Last year, over 30 lakh Indians participated in civil society activism to urge the government to seriously address the issue of climate change. With increasing awareness on the risks that global warming presents to emerging countries, the Indian public will soon start raising climate action commitments as an electoral issue. Local legislators, who truly understand climate issues, demonstrate a passion to bring change and are equipped to take climate-informed decisions, will become central to how the world’s largest democracy is governed.
This article is a part of a series on the Connecting the Dots programme. Connecting the Dots is a 2 year programme commissioned to Athena Infonomics by the British High Commission towards equipping legislators to strengthen local action on low carbon development.