One won’t be wrong to conclude that the winter session of Parliament wouldn’t witness even few serious words on climate change let alone an intense debate as our leaders conducted on intolerance in the beginning of session. At a time when Delhi’s toxic air and Chennai’s deluge was making even commoners sensitive about socio-economic impact of environmental changes, our political leaders were still tied up with outdated mudslinging. Undeniably, India is missing its own version of green politics, essential for the renewed policy articulations emerging out of choking and flooding of metros and Paris’ climate change convention.
Green politics should have stepped into our mainstream politics at least a decade before India participated in the global ecological negotiations as a significant member and started framing policies required for a new green governance. Environmental politics emerged in Europe in the 1980s and became extremely influential by early 1990s. The green parties did not do well in elections, but gradually began to decide political, social and economic agenda with renewed focus on environment protection. Despite being condemned as “green left”, green politics has successfully altered the agenda of mainstream politics and forced lawmakers to yield on green taxes, clean energy charges, congestion taxes in cities and debates on taxing over luxurious life. In fact, Europe’s laws and rules regarding environmentally safe business are now more modern than those of America’s.
Delhi’s smog is not a new phenomenon. Be it the introduction of CNG in mid-90s or the concurrent fire fighting of reducing vehicles on the road; Indian lawmakers paid heed to the green governance only after judiciary’s hammer. Had green politics been active in India, we would have been discussing more innovative ways like imposition of congestion tax, making parking costlier, curbs on keeping more than one car, or to heavily tax diesel cars and not the weird odd-even car formula that is to bound unleash chaos on the roads of the national capital.
At the time when political parties were busy picking up their own Ambedkars from history during the debate on the Constitution in Parliament; the PMO was finalising India’s most aggressive commitments to the global climate pact at Paris climate change summit. At the summit, India promised the world it would reduce its carbon emission (responsible for global warming) by 30-35 per cent by 2020. This is a tall commitment with a proportionately huge economic and political cost, given lack of proclivity among political parties to define the contours of a policy on climate change.
It is unreasonable to expect that our leaders will ever discuss complex issues of the cost of clean energy, when they never bothered about how and where the clean energy or the Swachh Bharat cess is being utilised. While India and France were making declarations about commitments of 100 countries for reducing carbon emission through solar energy production and use, a parallel discussion was going on in the corridors of the Paris conference regarding the cost of alternative energy sources. A research paper of Brookings Institution’s Dr Charles Frank, which grabbed the headlines last year, noted that solar energy is the costliest alternative to reduce carbon emission, followed by wind energy, hydropower and nuclear energy.
The technical debate on conventional versus non-conventional energy suggests that huge subsidy will be required to keep non-conventional energy affordable. That will increase the cost by reducing carbon emission. The current view is that governments should not promote any one or two energy sources to reduce carbon emission, which means coal or gas-fired electricity technology should be greened and upgraded. Introduction of improved technologies in these areas will certainly hike cost of energy. That is, we should get ourselves prepared to afford costly energy, which will affect the economic growth of developing countries.
Same is the case with insurance cost of environmental damages. Chennai has shown that India needs a strong insurance and health-care policy to meet the challenges of climate change. When the representatives of global insurance companies were presenting their perspective in Paris, worries were not only about the capabilities of insurance companies to pay compensation, but also about UN’s estimate that in developing countries only one percent of environmental damage is covered under insurance.
After the closure of Chinese industries following smog in Beijing and the slowdown in American economy because of a spell of severe cold last year, the world has adjusted to the fact that countries will have to frequently regulate their growth strategies to accommodate with the realities of climate change. Whether it involves reduction in the use of energy, or increasing the cost on clean energy, or making arrangements for safety of life – coping with climate will impact income and employment. For the Third World, which is still unacquainted with the good life, climate change is the greatest calamity.
We need a contemporary political governance to cope with the environmental challenges, which we do not have at the level of the Centre, much less in the politics of states, which have hardly any clue. If Chennai’s deluge and Delhi’s toxic air fail to make our politics modern and farsighted, be sure that even in a greater human catastrophe we will be busy debating alteration in history books rather than saving our future.