No takers for climate change politics in India

December 10, 2009

Copenhagen summit

Climate politics is not much of a domestic issue in India even though it is perhaps more at risk from climate change than other nations.

In Australia, climate change and the politics around it even caused a political crisis recently.

Climate was mentioned in election manifestoes for the first time in India’s general elections this year.

No government or political party in the country has ever earned a mandate in the name of an environmental issue.

There are no equivalents of a ‘Green Party‘ here.

Probably the biggest environment related-movement in the country — the Narmada Bachao Andolan — chose to remain outside electoral politics.

Same may be said of the Chipko Movement.

The Maoist rebellion which affects 20 of the country’s 29 states claims to stand for tribal rights and relates it to depredation of forest wealth but the environment per se is not its focus.

All this seems to give the government of the day a remarkable free hand at negotiations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be one of the 105 leaders at the Copenhagen summit.

The situation is similar to India’s decision to enter WTO or the decision to liberalize the economy. Most of the debate is confined to the government, politicians, bureaucrats and experts.

A Nielsen survey has indicated that the number of Indian consumers concerned about climate change has gone up by 1 percent over the last two years.

But the people are only vicariously involved and have little idea of the cause or the effects or the challenges.

They may become more involved once the burden-sharing over climate change under the new regime becomes clear.

Till then climate change for most is in the air but not yet on the ground.

It’s too soon to gauge what impact the ‘Danish draft‘ would have or how any eventual deal would benefit the people.

In India with its 1000-plus registered political parties, every politician is remarkably on the same side on this issue. There are no climate change sceptics or critical political opinions.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led walkout from the Rajya Sabha seems to be more of an exception although it created some consternation for the negotiating team at Copenhagen.

Is this remarkable consensus a sign of maturity of our political discourse or mere apathy since there are no votes here?


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This subject needs a certain level of subject knowledge. In a country where education is itself a major problem it is a difficult subject for people to grasp. Moreover, for a country like India, in spite of all the talk of being a economic giant etc., there are more immediate bread and butter issues which people experience and understand and cause greater concern. It is thus natural the debate is limited to those who understand the subject – or pretend to do so anyway.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

There’s the correct point – bread & butter.It’s not only Indians who won’t pay much heed to climate degradation but almost all the countries will behave in the same manner.At the most some developed nations will debate and try to find out scape goat but the end result is known before the debate is over.
We humans have defied nature and now it’s time for our doom.

Posted by ashu_eureka | Report as abusive

Well, the Congress party didn’t get the chance other wise it would have sold the country. Anyhow India is still on mercy of likes of every tom dick and harry of world, including Pakistan. What’s new here? Only Climate, istead of other important things of life like right to lead a peaceful, honorable life. But this right has to come by mercy of Britain, America, Pakistan, Bangladesh… What freedom opportunists got for us… KUDOS!

Posted by UrghAllah | Report as abusive

It’s all about money. Once someone can show that going green can make them rich, they will embrace it.
In a country where survival is a daily struggle, climate change is the last thing they want to think about.

Posted by scheng1 | Report as abusive

There is indeed a huge level of ignorance amongst us about climate change and a very small section of people understand that it is a subset of sustainable development.
Recognition of environmental issues by the public is the most basic pre-requisite for it to become an integral part of the national politics.
From what I believe, it cannot enter or be reasonably conspicuous in the national politics through an election manifesto. It has to be an initiative taken by the ruling national party,
whichever it is and whenever it is; today or tomorrow. So, the “taker” has to be the national government and thats when and how I see it getting into the deep-end of mainstream politics.
On a related note, If the government can take initiatives for polio eradication (which is certainly for the future generation and a variant of sustainable development)
why cannot the ruling party become proactive and raise public awareness for issues like “recycling”and “greenhouse effect”?
For sure there are far bigger economic implications of environmental management and remediation than any other issues ruling the world at the moment.
Perhaps, the leaders themselves need some evening classes !!

Posted by Rupam | Report as abusive

In India, climate is still a luxury subject which generally is discussed by folks having leisure time. There is still a long way to go before we can convert it to a serious concern. Had China not been alongside us, we would have to succumb to whims of developed nations upon this issue.
Its hight time we should strengthen our individualistic stand on global map.

Posted by Gulati.Renuka | Report as abusive

Well. Let’s keep is simple. I think it is stupid to fight about Climate Change. It is be years before people will be able to embrace the changes needed to reduce the carbon footprint of the human race. By this time, we will have already peaked into some natural reserves like oil, Coal and Gas.
I do not believe that we cannot have an alterative to oil with a carbon neutral alternative such as Jatropa and / or Oil Derived from Algae. US can spend billions supporting a war outside it’s own territory, can bail out useless banks, but it is important to fuel and all important R&D, which should propel the use of Alternative Carbon Netural Technologies and should freely distribute the technology to the rest of the world.
Man will not be able to Run over Nature, because by definition, we are constraint with non-renewable resources and we have to simply focus on R&D to replace our dependence on conventional oil. A successful dependence on oil, with reduction is usage will only push out the Peak Oil a few years away. Finally, if alternatives are not found, oil prices will run away, only the rich will be able to afford it in 1 decade from now, economies will start to shrink.
Let’s think forward. Invest in Carbon Neutral Technologies like Algae oil which does not compete with resource used for growing food, otherwise, Man will Fight with Man for these limited resources
Let’s create Sustainable development principles which are solid. Let’s abandon Capitalism for a few Years !!

Posted by Amit_Saxena | Report as abusive

i think the climate issue is more economical then political. if you will go through latest happening at PMO you will easily find how the governmentbend the rules for the benifits of big corporate houses and comfertable to relate it with development. although the starta which actualy needs the benefits of development are ignored and only people with money get benifited.
the gap between poor and rich is growing with light’s speed and nothing is happening for the poor.

Posted by vibhisan | Report as abusive

It’s the leadership failure that lead to the stalemate at Copenhagen. Read more about it at my blog: 0/copenhagen-an-apology-for-leadership/


Posted by nara | Report as abusive

It is interesting to note that most writers here presume that people of India is too poor to think about environmental matters in general and the climate change issue in particular. This is another trap for the urban elite intellectual to blame it on the poor for all ignorance and environmentally irresponsible behaviour. These writers seem to ignore the fact that it’s the rich and the upper class – riding A/C cars and airplanes, living in A/C homes and wallowing in a lifestyle of luxury consumption of all greenhouse gas-emitting substances. If illiteracy and poverty is the cause of environmental ignorance, then high education (by academic degrees) and wealth are likely to make the rich and the urban elite highly environmentally conscious and responsible. It does not take much research to see the reverse among the great management degree holders and the corporate magnates – who are the most environmentally illiterate and irresponsible. It’s not poverty, but luxury consumption and the race for wealth accumulation that keep people too busy to think about the environment.

Posted by debal | Report as abusive