India’s Climate Change Action: Will It Go the Way of the World?

Posted on 05 December 2010 by admin

Wildlifers worry the Forest Rights Act will threaten India's last critical habitats, which include Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

Commentary by Keya Acharya

MEXICO CITY, Dec. 5, 2010 (IPS/TerraViva) While the parlaying at the climate talks in Cancún broke for the weekend, a group of 155 legislators from 16 of the G20 major economies met in the Mexican Senate to discuss how to influence their countries’ ministers to agree to an international commitment that obligated them to pass national laws on climate action.

The group, called GLOBE, or Global Legislators’ Organisation for a Balanced Environment, has been lobbying the major economies to pass national emissions reductions laws, a major barrier to agreement at the Conference of Parties (COP).

So far, Brazil, Germany, South Korea and India have passed national legislation for climate change abatement, while China, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa are in the process of doing so.

GLOBE points to India’s political action on climate change as a significant outcome.

Indeed, India’s initiative to enact national policies on climate change has been commendable. It says it will reduce its emissions by 20 to 25 percent by 2020.

In 2008, India rolled out a National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), dealing with initiatives in eight key areas till 2017: solar and energy efficiency; sustainable habitat; sustainable agriculture; water; Himalayan ecosystem; Green India; and strategic knowledge on climate change.

The policy has been amplified in various fields. Talks are on between industry research institutions and governance for a low-carbon growth strategy, the recommendations of which are to become part of Inda’s 12th five-year plan of national policies in 2012.

There are proposals for a carbon tax on coal consumption, and a national mission on enhanced energy efficiency has mandated 700 of India’s most energy-intensive units to reduce their consumption, with incentives for those who reduce more than their mandated percentage. The refrigeration and lighting industries have had mandatory efficiency standards in place since January 2010.

The Jawaharlal Nehru solar mission will produce 20,000 MW of solar power, 20 million solar collectors and 20 million lighting systems by 2022, and its sustainable habitat strategy will buttonhole environmental and energy efficiency in housing and transportation.

The country also has an ambitious eco-restoration programme under its Green India Mission, to develop 20 million hectares of land in the next 10 years, calculated to sequester 43 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually.

The reforestation programme has a REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) component that India is pushing at the COP in Cancún.

Jairam Ramesh, by far one of the country’s most dynamic environment ministers, says he takes pride in the fact that its network of scientists (Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment) was the first in developing countries to bring out a Greenhouse Gas Inventory early in 2010.

So far, so good: India is good at passing legislation when it has the political will to do so. The country already has one of the most comprehensive environmental laws, some of them, such as on air and water pollution, enacted decades ago.

It is the implementation of these laws that is its ‘Achilles heel’, so to speak. Its new climate change policies fall into a sea of existing laws on prevention of air and water pollution, yet toxicity from both is already rampant in the country.

With nearly 70 percent of India’s energy requirements being met by coal, imposing a carbon tax is already encountering political obstacles.

Its Green India Mission has encountered thus far the most criticism for its bureaucratic vision and controversial use of land for reforestation. With tribal communities already protesting that they are being forcibly thrown off community lands in the name of state forests, the mission’s aim of bringing in massive areas of other lands, such as those used for shifting cultivation by tribal communities, will only exacerbate the current conflict between local communities and state forest officials.

India’s Forest Rights Act 2006 officially recognises pre-existing rights of tribal communities living for aeons on lands that later were classified as forests. It is already encountering hurdles by conservationists and the forest departments in some cases, and faces further problems with the Green India Mission’s ambiguity over its usage of lands such as those used for shifting cultivation by tribal communities.

The central Indian states of Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and the eastern state of Orissa are already in the throes of violent unrest by village communities protesting their government’s takeover of lands they live on and handing them to mining industries.

The ambiguity of the definition of which lands can be used to ‘green’ India, and what afforestation techniques will be used to do so, falls into the current scenario of unrest and resentment. Activists are already protesting that the Mission’s promise of community participation is farcical, since its community groups are controlled by the Forest Department.

Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the complex web of difficulties that India’s climate change policy faces, it is laudable that the country has had a minister rooting – unusually hard – for the environment.

In today’s climate, hope for positive action is essential.

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