Climate Change Yet To Be Part Of Political And Public Discourse In India: Evidences From General Elections 2024 – Analysis


The General Elections of India, 2024 are going on and this will continue for another month. Meanwhile, long-term climate-induced heatwaves keep intruding into socio-economic and political aspects of human lives as several cities of Odisha — a province of India have touched new heights of day temperature and some of them have recorded all-time high with global ranks of second (Baripada), third (Balasore) and tenth (Bhubaneswar) on 30th April 2024. The news that was covered by almost all the leading Indian newspapers in their front page.

Amid this unprecedented cycles of heatwaves, people and the polling officials are ironically observing the festival of democracy. The climate consciousness among Indians and among the political parties is certainly growing. However, Indians increasingly view climate change as a potential threat but not as an imminent threat which could take the form of a discourse in the public sphere nor has it featured in the speeches of political leaders contesting in the ongoing elections.

Greater Consciousness about Climate Change Issues

The growing consciousness about climate change issues among Indians and how these are going to impinge on their lives are evident from the data compiled from the Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll in 2021 which projected approximately three in five Indians (62%) perceive climate change as a threat to the country in the next 20 years — with 37% seeing it as a “very serious threat” although the threat perception varied from one region to another.

Similarly, a careful survey of the election manifestos of the two prominent National Parties of India – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC) makes it clear that the leaders of the parties factored the growing consciousness about climate change issues among Indians into their political agendas. 

Manifestos of the National Political Parties such as BJP and Congress for this General Elections have been mentioned below pointing to their commitment to environmental and ecological protection.

BJP’s Manifesto 

“Prime minister Modi’s vision of “lifestyle for environment” is complemented by a focused execution of all dimensions of environment management. We stand committed to lead the world in sustainable living. We will use both traditional wisdom as well as modern practices to contribute to a healthier planet. Due to our focus on the environment, we have reached 44% of our electricity generation capacity from non-fossil fuel sources. We will continue on this path and increase the share of non-fossil fuel sources in line with Panchamrit (Modi’s net-zero pledge at Glasgow). We will work towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2070″.

Indian National Congress’s Manifesto

“Congress re-affirms its profound commitment to rapid, inclusive and sustainable development, and to protect its ecosystems, local communities, flora and fauna. Congress will address the issues of environment and climate change with the seriousness they deserve”.

It is worthwhile to mention here while India accounts for nearly 18% of the world’s population, it contributes 7% of the world’s annual carbon emissions making India’s carbon emissions per capita lower compared to many countries. However, the country cannot be complacent with the lower per capita carbon emissions as the overall carbon emissions are high and India is a country with the highest population in the world.

Prime Minister Modi’s Government does not present a Paradigm Shift in Climate-Sensitive Approach 

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has earned reputation for himself and soft power for the country by making significant commitments at several international platforms on behalf of India to reduce carbon emissions and towards making swift transition to renewable energy resources. Most notably, India and France founded the International Solar Alliance (ISA) on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in 2015 underlining India’s proactive approach to global climate issues. The initiative aimed at promoting solar energy and reducing dependency on fossil fuels. This was considered a milestone in projecting India as a leader to champion renewable energy resources and as a votary of sustainable development. Moving a step forward in this direction, in 2021 at COP26 India significantly increased its climate mitigation commitments by pledging to reach net-zero emissions by 2070 and in 2022 it updated its Nationally Determined Contribution.

Despite the pledges that India is committed to at the national and international levels, data suggest that India’s economy as well as its citizens’ everyday life is still overreliant on coal and imported crude oil. While coal is its primary source of fuel, accounting for approximately 70% of electricity generation, much of its transport is powered through imported oil. As a result, India is the world’s third-largest emitter of Carbon Dioxide in spite of the reality that it still emits lower percentage of carbon per capita. Second, the commitments and their implementations fall far short of the immediacy of the climate needs and population bulge. For instance, India’s pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2070 is like aiming to attain a goal when climate would have been damaged to such an extent that it would have significantly impinged on the lives of every Indian leave alone the vulnerable sections.

To quote India’s Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav’s response to a question in a Press Conference on December 19, 2023: “India is committed to meeting the energy needs of its people and will also have to rely on coal power until it achieves developed country status.” He was further quoted saying: “But the developed countries are pressuring developing nations to end the use of fossil fuels. We did not accept it (at COP28). We said efforts to (limit temperature rise to) 1.5 degrees Celsius should be seen in light of national circumstances.” The implications of what the Union Environment Minister Yadav said represent the views, orientation and values that political leaders in India generally carry towards climate issues. 

They still argue that developed countries owe more responsibility towards climate preservation for their long-term damage to the environment since industrial revolution and they have updated technology and capital to make a swift and successful transition to renewables. The principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities were stressed by the Union Environment Minister which in a way represented the views of political leaders in general. While this line of thinking maybe logical and the Global South has pursued these arguments at international platforms but India can pursue this argument only at its own peril. India is more developed than many countries in the Global South and if resources are properly distributed among the masses, they can meet many of their material needs. India’s need for advanced green technology and capital can be mobilised from developed countries of the West and International Financial Institutions such as World Bank and IMF through diplomatic efforts.This apart, the country can explore and expand the base of its indigenous green technologies and resources.

Political and Public Discourse Yet To Be Formed on Climate Issues

If contents of speeches of political leaders during the election campaigns are analysed, the issues that the candidates consider significant to mobilize people and garner votes do not figure in issues pertaining to climate challenges. The major issues for election campaign apart from some local contents are:

1. Price Rise of Commodities in general and of Oil and Natural Gas in particular.
2. Poverty, Underdevelopment, Employment Generation and Empowerment of Youth.
3. Extension of Water Supplies, Irrigation Facilities and Farmers’ Security.
4. Women Welfare and Empowerment 
5. Reservation and Welfare of Masses belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes categories.
6. Corruption and Incapacity and Inefficiency to Deliver Services Effectively.
7. Social Security Measures for Different Sections of Population 
8. Food Security Issues 
9. Construction of Roads and Bridges.
10. National Security from Adversarial Powers in the Neighbourhood 
11. Internal Law and Order 
12. Contents designed to exploit religious feelings among masses and status of minority communities and contents which disparage these, promote a sense of secularism and also seek to appease minorities.
13. Concentration of Wealth, Privatisation and Redistribution of Wealth

Political leaders do not view climate issues as significant as these issues primarily because the climate issues do not form a part of public discourse. Despite a spur in the temperature of atmosphere and heatwaves, the issues that affect people more on a daily basis in their perception are not climate-induced challenges. Even though uneven weather, shortfall of or heavy rains and droughts are climate-induced, farmers are more worried about Minimum Support Price (MSP) and lack of irrigation facilities than climate change. Many people in India think that they cannot do anything about changes in weather. Many others ascribe some extra-terrestrial reasons and some attach religious beliefs to such changes in weather pattern. 

Amid extreme heatwaves in many parts of India during the election campaigns, people are seen rallying around their leaders on a regular basis and the cavalcade contributes to carbon emissions as people mostly use motorbikes powered by petrol and leaders travel by large vehicles powered by either petrol or diesel. Some of the people also did/do not mind to fire crackers when their preferred candidates were selected, filed nomination and many will not shy away from doing the same later on when their leaders will win. The people are yet to integrate climate-sensitive values into their behavioural pattern and leaders are yet to encourage them to do so. This will require a shift from climate consciousness to engagement in climate-sensitive discursive practices both at political and public spheres.

Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra

Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra has a PhD in International Relations from the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad. He is currently working as a Lecturer in Political Science, S.V.M. Autonomous College, Odisha, India. Previously, he worked as the Programme Coordinator, School of International Studies, Ravenshaw University, Odisha, India. He taught Theories of International Relations and India’s Foreign Policy to MA and M.Phil. students.

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