October 20, 2019
A climate strike in progress. Source: Extinction Rebellion India

NEXT MONTH, countries from around the world will meet for the 25th time to discuss and plan for climate crisis.

In an atmosphere already charged up with speeches of Greta Thunberg and climate strikers across the world, major decisions are expected this time around.

We talked to climate activist and policy analyst Soumya Dutta on the sidelines of South Asian People’s Action on Climate Crisis held in Hyderabad from September 18 to 21.

Dutta talked in detail about previous global climate summits, the misinformation around climate crisis, global and local power equations, technology, renewable energy and people’s governance as a solution.

Here are a few excerpts with detailed audio on selected subjects related to India’s policy on climate crisis.

Under the Paris agreement of 2015, 196 countries came up with nationally determined contributions (NDCs) which means efforts by each country to reduce emissions and undertake adaptation measures to climate crisis. 

India’s NDCs, however, fail to make any big commitments and may trample upon people’s rights over natural resources. India said that coal will remain our main source of energy and gives no limit or target date by which the peak emissions will come down. All other countries, including China, have given a deadline. 

It also says that 40 percent of electricity in India will come from non-fossil sources by 2030. This is usually projected as a huge commitment but the fact remains that we are saying non-fossil not renewable sources. This means that we will increase our dependence on nuclear and hydropower sources, both of which are damaging to the environment and life on earth.  

Another commitment made by India is to decrease emission intensity of its economy by 33-35 percent by 2030. This is a very modest target because it relates to greater energy efficiency. Every economy works towards increasing energy efficiency to save costs and we may even reach there before 2030.

India’s NDC also promises additional and enhancement of existing forest to sequester/absorb 2.5-3 billion tonnes of additional carbon vy 2030. This means increase in tree density in forest or in so called degraded forests. In India, 27-28 percent of people have fairly good amount of dependence on forest which provides fodder, water, forest food and medicinal plants besides many other services. Forest department is the biggest landlord in India with 21.4 percent land in its kitty.

Now, it is looking forward to this commitment as a money making opportunity and to throw out traditional forest dwellers.

In fact, soon after the Paris agreement, the India government declared that 40 percent of degraded forest land would be given to private industrialists for plantations. Most of this so-called degraded land is village commons, pasture land, and source of livelihood for many. There is already a push to prevent their access from forest resources because India needs to sequester additional carbon which will bring money to the country under the REDD plus scheme but also lead to conflict with people’s rights to access natural resources.

When it comes to renewable energy, we need to emphasis on its democratic distribution as compared to fossil fuel which is concentrated in particular areas. For instance dry areas has solar energy while tropics can bank upon biomass while northern latitudes have strong winds.

We should respect that democratic character by guiding every village, panchayat to have their own renewable energy plans instead of giving them away to big corporates who are grabbing lands and misusing other natural sources further alienating people from their livelihoods.

We also need to think beyond solar and wind energy as India has a huge potential in biomass. Biomass supplies 16-17 per cent of our primary energy requirements which is nine times that of solar and wind etc combined.

Our Constitution already gives control to people through local governance. We have to regenerate this people’s democracy in India. Article 38 and 39 talk about ensuring equality among different sections of the population. Article 39 talks about uniform distribution of resources and their use to serve maximum good.

The Constitution also ensures decentralisation and planning and implementation through rural and urban local bodies like panchayats and municipal councils. We need to reclaim those rights. Instead we are only talking about new things. 

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