First published at CPI (ML) Liberation.
1. We are currently living amidst a global environmental and climate crisis as experienced in the form of increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, global warming and several other consequences. On 28 July 2022, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the right to access to a "clean, healthy and sustainable environment”, with a message that nobody can take nature, clean air and water, or a stable climate away from us – at least, not without a fight. On the ground, we are witnessing serious episodes of climate change, destruction of natural resources & biodiversity, heavy pollution, uncontrolled dumping of waste and climate hazards. People are denied their rights over basic resources whereas big corporations are making huge profit out of those. The world is now about 1.1°C warmer than the 19th Century and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen by 50%. 2021 was the sixth-warmest year on record with surface temperature 1.04˚C warmer than the pre-industrial period (1850-1900). Given that global temperature is currently rising by 0.2°C (±0.1°C) per decade, human-induced warming reached 1°C above pre-industrial levels around 2017 and, if this pace of warming continues, would reach 1.5°C around 2040.
2. The impacts of climate change cannot be just reduced to mere increase in global temperature. It has now begun to affect every aspect of human lives by seriously disrupting our agriculture, fisheries, natural resources, food security, rivers, lives and livelihoods. Intermittent monsoons, no rains, heavy snowfalls or frequent natural disasters have become a common experience now. In some regions, as the water cycle is getting disrupted, extreme rainfall is causing historic flooding - as seen recently in China, Pakistan and many places. Catastrophic warming, devastating heatwaves, worsening droughts, deforestation, rising sea levels, coastal erosion and mass extinction of species are few among other manifestations. Extreme temperatures are increasing the risk of wildfires, as seen in Europe last summer. With further warming, some regions could become uninhabitable, as farmland turns into desert. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if global temperature rise cannot be kept within 1.5°C, the UK and Europe will be vulnerable to flooding caused by extreme rainfall, countries in the Middle East will experience extreme heatwaves and widespread drought, Island nations in the Pacific region could disappear under rising seas, many African nations are likely to suffer droughts and food shortages, Australia is likely to suffer extremes of heat and increases in deaths from wildfires.
3. People living in developing countries especially the poor and marginalised sections, the indigenous communities are in the most vulnerable state under this crisis facing serious challenges of unpredictable monsoon, water scarcity, poor air quality and situation like pandemic. Rising sea levels, combined with high tides, storms and flooding put coastal and island regions increasingly at risk. Coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas, storm surge and coastal erosion. For example, the Sundarbans is under serious threats causing the local fisher people and all inhabitants of the islands extremely vulnerable. The sea level of the Bay of Bengal is rising by 3-8 mm per year causing land erosion and inundation of the islands. The frequency of cyclones and intrusion of saltwater into cultivable land and upstream rivers has greatly increased. As per the reports, the coastal cities of the world including Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Bhubaneswar are susceptible to inundation. Pacific Ocean island nations have already begun to sink. 17 crore people in India live in coastal villages or towns. Around 230 million people in the world live less than 1 metre below the high tide level. In the worst conditions, it is the most deprived and poor sections who will be suffering the most. (Scientific evidence about Sea Level Rise: Global Mean Sea Level rose by 1.5 mm per year during the period 1901–1990, accelerating to 3.6 mm per year during the period 2005–2015. It is likely to rise 0.61–1.10 m by 2100 if global GHG emissions are not mitigated)
4. The urban poor and slum dwellers, fisherpeople, landless agrarian labour, adivasis dependent on land, rural women are experiencing direct impacts of extreme weather conditions, floods, water logging and bearing disproportionate share of the burden caused by the shifts in ecological balance. On one hand the inequitable distribution of resources and the denial of basic rights place them in a situation of extreme precarity, and it is this situation of precarity, which places them in a situation where they are disproportionately impacted. Those who are least responsible for climate change are the most affected.
5. Climate change also has an adverse impact on food security especially for a country like India. With an altering weather pattern, the entire crop cycle of farmers will get disrupted. In the absence of a proper safety network provided by the government, the worsening agrarian crisis in the country is going to impact the farming community as well the country’s food security massively. The Indian government has officially recognised the threat climate change poses to agricultural productivity. In order to tackle the problem, rather than changing the methods, policies and practices that have caused the issue in the first place, all efforts are being made by the government to hand over means of agricultural production to big corporations.
6. Right now, 3.3 -3.6 billion people globally live under extreme climatic vulnerability. As per UNHCR, an annual average of 21.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by weather-related events such as floods, storms, wildfires and extreme temperatures since 2008. These numbers are expected to surge in coming decades reaching up to billions of people who could be displaced globally due to climate change and natural disasters. According to Global Climate Risk Index 2021, India is included in the top 10 most climate change-affected countries. In December 2020, the 'Costs of Climate Inaction: Displacement and Distress Migration' report estimated that by 2050 over 4.5 crore Indians will be forced to migrate from their homes due to climate disasters and at present, 1.4 crore people in India are displaced due to environmental disruptions. Inequity, conflict and lack of access to basic services like healthcare not only heighten sensitivity to hazards, but also constrain communities’ ability to adapt to climatic changes. As effects are seen at both local and global level, along with combating the disproportionate impacts of the climate emergency there is a need to develop a responsible model that doesn’t contribute to the cause of climate change.
7. Tragically, we can see every day public denial of this capitalism induced climate change by right-wing and conservative forces. This has been amplified by head of nations like Donald Trump, Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, Václav Klaus and others who deny and spread conspiratorial theories over social media. Pseudoscience, myths and maliciously manipulated information is used to propagate anti-science temperament. It is important to note that some of these leaders like former US President Donald Trump, former Brazilian President Bolsanaro and others have been defeated by the people and leaders who recognise climate change as a threat to earth. It is commendable how Brazilian people rejected pro deforestation and pro big industry leader Bolsonaro by electing Workers Party leader LuizInácio Lula da Silva, who openly stood by the indigenous population's right to forest and livelihood and condemned the brazen effort to destroy the Amazon forest for the corporate thirst of profits. In India, the BJP government at Centre and in States where it is governing has been blatantly following policies that are not only unscientific towards dealing with climate change, but also leading to further degradation of environment and climate.
8. We need to build coalitions and alliances to fight against climate deniers and ensure pro poor policies are enacted to halt climate change. It is important to realise the class angle in climate degradation and exploitation of earth’s resources. It is beyond doubt that the industrial and developed countries have contributed disproportionately more than the rest of the world. It is also important to recognise that the marginalised and the poor in these developed countries are at the receiving end of the climate crisis more than the elite of the same nations. The need of the hour is to build environmental solidarities across borders with the real victims of climate change – with the poor, people of colour, marginalised and indigenous people who bear a vastly disproportionate brunt of the climate crisis.
9. Climate crisis is driven by inequality. Therefore, we must not forget the huge disparity in carbon emission among countries and differentiate between the ‘survival’ and ‘luxury’ emission. At 2.4 tCO2e (tonne carbon dioxide equivalent), India's per capita greenhouse gas emissions (including land use, land-use change, and forestry -- LULUCF) were far below the world average of 6.3 tCO2e as revealed in the "Emissions Gap Report 2022: The Closing Window", released ahead of the UN Climate Change conference (COP27) in Egypt. The US remains far above this level at 14 tCO2e, followed by 13 tCO2e in the Russian Federation, 9.7 tCO2e in China, about 7.5 tCO2e in Brazil and Indonesia, and 7.2 tCO2e in the European Union. Per capita emissions range widely across G20 members: emissions of India are about half of the G20 average, whereas Saudi Arabia reaches more than twice the G20, it said. India's contribution to historical cumulative CO2 emissions (excluding LULUCF) is 3%, whereas the US and the EU have contributed 25% and 17% respectively to total fossil CO2 emissions from 1850 to 2019. China contributed 13%, the Russian Federation 7%, and Indonesia and Brazil 1% each. Least developed countries contributed only 0.5% to historical CO2 fossil fuel and industry emissions between 1850 and 2019.
10. While holding the first world primarily accountable to reduce carbon emission, we must also hold the Indian government accountable to formulate environmentally responsible domestic policies. On the one hand, in the Glasgow Conference 2021, India has pledged to cater 50% of the country's energy requirements from renewable sources by 2030 and achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2070. While on the other hand, we can see completely opposite gestures in action. For instance, in December 2019, an estimated 40000 trees were felled after the Modi government granted permission to divert forest land for an opencast coal mining project in Talabira in the eastern state of Odisha, displacing hundreds of local people in the process. A new open cast coal mine is ready to be set up in Deocha Pachami, West Bengal which is reportedly going to be the largest coal mine in Asia and second largest in the world destroying the environment and completely evicting thousands of adivasi people from their land, livelihood and culture. An ordinance has been passed to amend the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act of 2015 to open up the coal sector for commercial mining to all local and global firms after easing restrictions. Under the new provisions, Narendra Modi recently launched the auction of 41 coal blocks, many of which are located in dense forests in Central India.
11. We need to actively promote the production of solar, wind and other alternative energy, demand availability of mass public transport, clean vehicular fuel, clean cooking fuel and clean electricity. Renewable energy can only be a meaningful solution if it is done in a decentralised way ensuring access to common people and not handed over to a few corporate players like Adani, Acme, Birla as their profit making ground. Introduction of electric vehicles (EV) is shown as a solution to fossil fuel driven vehicles in our country. While no greenhouse gas emissions directly come from EVs, but the electricity that they run on, in large part, still is produced from fossil fuels.
12. We also need to keep in mind that one cannot allow promotion of nuclear energy in the name of combating climate change. Pushing for nuclear energy is not just technologically dubious; it will inevitably have disastrous consequences caused by disposal of nuclear wastes along with horrific health impacts to industrial and mine workers due to prolonged exposure to radioactivity. In fact, even the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is mandated with the task of increasing nuclear energy production in the world, admits, “Nuclear power is not a near-term solution to the challenge of climate change…The need to immediately and dramatically reduce carbon emissions calls for approaches that can be implemented more quickly than building nuclear reactors”. In addition, nuclear power plants essentially privatise profits and socialise the horrific human costs and risks. Therefore, we have to continue opposing the push for nuclear power in Koodankulam, Jaitapur and elsewhere where new plants are being promoted.
13. We note, the Indian government has made a grave mistake by discarding the Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) (distributing the burden of emission reductions based on historical emissions) at the international negotiations by succumbing to the pressure of US and other developed countries in Durban in 2011. India rather than forging unity with poorer and other developing countries has managed to accept the proposal of allowing per capita emission as a parameter for deciding emission cuts thereby disproportionately shifting heavy burden on to developing and poorer countries alike. We need to reiterate that these negotiations have to be based on the twin foundations of equality and historical accountability. Efforts are being made to dilute CBDR principle through the Paris Agreement and mechanism of Voluntary Emission Reduction programme where countries independently decide commitment reductions, which are not legally enforceable unlike the previous setup under Kyoto Protocol. This shift from mandated reduction to voluntary cuts dilutes efforts to combat climate emissions. Also, the developed countries’ effort to penalise and vilify developing countries for not participating in emission reduction programmes has been resisted by developing countries. However, it is important that developing countries bring the class nature of exploitation where the rich and the privileged continue to be immune to historical emissions, whereas the poor are being made to adapt and accept the burden of reduction of climate emissions.
14. India along with developing countries need to condemn the most bizarre episode being the equation of greenhouse gas emissions from paddy farming and cattle rearing with luxury emissions from industries and cars in the heavily industrialised nations of the world. Developing countries, along with India have long held survival emissions cannot be curtailed and they need to be differentiated with luxury emissions. Any effort to categorise both under one framework is dangerous and needs to be resisted. It is important that India along with developing countries reiterate that negotiations should be based on per capita greenhouse gas emissions, historical contributions and CBDR principle.
15. It is important that the Indian government does not use international negotiations to relieve itself of its responsibilities to address climate change here. India needs to evolve a climate friendly and environmentally sustainable model of development that caters development, resources, energy requirements and ownership of change to the poor and marginalised unlike the corporate model that deals with exploitation of people and resources for profits.
16. In India, the BJP Government has left no stone unturned to manipulate and dismantle environmental and Forest laws in the name of ‘ease of doing business’ to fulfil its neoliberal agenda. Years of struggles had resulted into enactment of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 which recognizes the individual and community rights of the forest dwelling scheduled tribes (FDST) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) to forest resources, on which they have been dependent for their lives and livelihoods for generations. The new Forest (Conservation) Rules (FCR) 2022 blatantly violates the FRA and nullify the requisite to take consent from the tribals and forest dwellers before any ‘final’ clearance for any project in forest area would be given. We have also witnessed dilution of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) act, changing Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, multiple violations of FRA to avoid NOCs from Gram Sabhas for linear projects. The FCR 2022 have various compensatory afforestation schemes which are literally incapable of replacing centuries-old forests that would have been cut, uprooted and burnt in the name of 'development'. The entire design is to take away still existing powerful safeguard from the tribals and forest dwellers and streamline handover of forest lands to Adanis, Ambanis, Jindals and Vedantas to make profit out of the vast mineral and other natural resources of forests. Destruction of forest and environment by disempowering communities who have been living in sustainable relation with nature, only to promote profit seeking capitalism, shows the climate irresponsible policy regime of the Indian government. In the 2020 Environmental Performance Index, India ranks 168th out of 180 countries, behind all South Asian nations except Afghanistan, which scored 178th place.
17. An analysis by the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment shows that from January to June 2019, a key panel overseeing wildlife sanctuaries and parks approved 63 of 70 development proposals, resulting in reduced protection for 216 ha of land. Between 2016 and 2019, an estimated 7.6 million trees were cut in India. In the northern state of Uttarakhand, about 25000 trees were cut in an ecologically sensitive area to build highways to Hindu pilgrimage sites. Government data reveal that India’s environment ministry has given clearance to 2256 of the 2592 (87%) proposals it had received in the past six years. The government has also approved over 270 projects in and around India’s most protected environments, including biodiversity hotspots and national parks, since July 2014. In Dehing-Patkai National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) allowed North-Eastern Coal Fields (NEC) to conduct opencast mining in 98.59 hectares of Dehing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to numerous endemic species and known as the ‘Amazon of the East’. This will shrink the habitats and increase human-animal conflicts. The government has declassified eco sensitive salt pans as wetlands in Maharashtra which would eventually open them for construction and housing projects. The recent proposal to pursue a massive ‘development’ project involving a container terminal, airport, township, and a power plant in the high-risk seismic zone of Andaman and Nicobar Islands region would result in irreversible damage to the pristine rainforests, indigenous tribal groups and wildlife.
18. On the agricultural front, environmentally degrading agricultural policies are being intensified to favour corporate control. In the name of fighting hunger, environmentally destructive GM crops are being reintroduced by Indian Government-Corporate nexus.
Today, the solution for the adverse impact of climate change on agriculture that is being prescribed through the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organisation and Developed countries is to adopt “Climate Smart Agriculture” (CSA) policy. This will provide technology, seeds, finance, fertilisers and other inputs to farmers. However, the farmers and people cannot own these solutions as the ownership will remain with companies and industries that manufacture it. The example of the Green Revolution is in front of us. Though the policy made our country self-sufficient, it brought great misery to farmers and their families. Green Revolution benefited the landed farmers, thereby increasing inequality, use of pesticides and fertilisers, thereby causing massive soil pollution and adverse side effects to people in states like Punjab, Haryana and others. The after effects of the Green Revolution are still felt in Punjab, with massive groundwater depletion, soil degradation, massive dependence on fertilisers and pesticides. If this is the model CSA is wanting to replicate for fighting climate change, it would be a colossal disaster for not only the agriculture sector, but the country and earth in totality. The people who are pushing for CSA are the very fertiliser, pesticides, seeds and agro industries that first created the crisis in the agriculture sector. Now in the name of fighting climate change, they are reintroducing products and policies that have been fought and rejected by people and farmers across the countries.
19. Deteriorating air quality, water crisis, contamination in groundwater have posed serious survival challenges especially for the underprivileged sections. According to the IQAir 2021 report, India is home to 12 polluted cities out of the 15 most polluted cities in Central and South Asia. New Delhi has been ranked the world’s most polluted capital city for the second consecutive year. As per the 2019 NITI Aayog report, India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history, and almost 600 million of its population are water-deprived. 21 cities including Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai have significantly exhausted their groundwater resources by 2021. Despite spending thousands of crores of rupees for projects like Namami Gange and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, rivers are struggling with sewage and effluent contamination and several flow obstacles. Much hyped Jal Jeevan Mission could not ensure safe water supply and regular water quality monitoring and reports of Cholera outbreaks have surfaced again. Funds were drastically reduced for the Integrated Watershed Management Programme, crucial in fighting drought in the country by holistically conserving water, soil and forests. The programme has been phased down by making it a part of the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana.
20. The National River linking Project (NRLP) with far-reaching adverse impact on monsoon cycles and biodiversity, posing serious socio-economic challenges and disastrous ecological damage has started taking its shape. The Central Government has approved the funding and implementation of linking of the river Ken and Betwa, two tributaries of river Yamuna. According to studies, the proposed The Ken-Betwa River Interlinking (KBRIL) Project will lead to the submergence of a major portion of the core area of the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, triggering a major loss of the tiger and its major prey species such as chital and sambar. This is the first link being implemented under this project out of 30 identified links (16 under Peninsular Component & 14 under Himalayan Component). This will completely transform our river system and wreak havoc across the country through massive displacement and loss of livelihoods as well as through loss of forest space and biodiversity. Numbers of dams, diversion weirs, canals will damage the natural flow of river and compromise the estuarine dynamics. This expensive project will also exacerbate the climate crisis. Destruction of forests is essentially a destruction of precious carbon sinks. In addition, it is an established scientific fact that water reservoirs are sources of methane and carbon dioxide in tropical climates. This is an attempt to seize peoples access over river water and hijack it for corporate interests.
21. Recent reports indicate that disastrous landslides have increased manifold in the fragile Himalayan landscape especially in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. While landslides and flash floods due to cloudburst are common in physiological terrains such as the Himalayas, recent increase in the number and scale of such disasters are to be ascribed to the skewed model of development espoused by the ruling class. Rampant development of roads in the name of tourism, construction of dams, hydro power projects and effects of climate change are mainly to be blamed for the increase in number and scale of such disasters. These development projects are undertaken at the cost of life and livelihood of the local population and for the benefit of urban centric industries and tourists.
The recent crisis of the sinking Himalayan town of Joshimath, causing severe cracks in residential and other buildings and effectively displacing many residents out of the town without any proper rehabilitation by the government, is a glaring example of what reckless human intervention can do to the fragile physiology of the Himalayas. The ISRO had released satellite images (which were mysteriously deleted later from their website) revealing that the town had sunk 5.4 cm in just 12 days. The major cause of this disaster is the uncontrolled construction of roads and buildings in the town for tourism purposes. Several scientists, environmentalists and activists have pointed out that the underground excavation for Tapovan Vishnugad hydro power project in the vicinity has caused draining out of ground water and land subsidence causing Joshimath to sink at such a pace.
It appears the Indian ruling class has learnt nothing from the disasters caused by big dam projects adopted since early days of independence. Big dams have already caused much havoc displacing hundreds of villages in the vicinity of these dams and destroying local forests and ecology. Prime Minister Narendra Modi proudly inaugurated the Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada River in 2017 ignoring decades of struggle by adivasis, farmers and environmentalists against the project. While the project of dams on Narmada has been set up with the claimed aim to provide irrigation to farmers and electricity to the people of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharshtra, reports suggest that water from Sardar Sarovar Dam is actually been diverted to industries while farmers in the drought prone areas of Gujarat await water for irrigation.
22. Globally, voices of protests and organised struggles led by victims of climate change, vulnerable communities, civil society activists, students and youth are challenging the exploitative model and demanding action from the governments and corporations. We must salute the people in the forefront of resistance facing state terror and all atrocities at DeochaPachami, Aravali hills, Ayodhya hills, Buxwaha, Tilabani hill, Aarey, DehingPatkai, Vizhinjam and many other places. In a shameful way, Modi govt victimised 21 year old climate activist Disha Ravi for helping to “create” and share an online “protest toolkit” that outlined how to support the mass protests by farmers in the country. The charges include sedition, criminal conspiracy, spreading disaffection against the Indian state, and promoting enmity. At an international level, climate activists like Greta Thunberg, Licypriya Kangujam have drawn attention worldwide by their call for mass protests to urge governments to take definitive action on the issue of Climate Change.
23. We have to gear ourselves up to incorporate the climate change agenda into our daily activism and into specific demands and struggles. The role of the student and youth movement must include the agenda to develop consciousness about climate change. Adivasi, farmer and Agricultural labour organisations, trade unions and other mass organisations working in the hills, coastal areas and other ecologically sensitive areas, need to keep a watch on the forest-based policies.
The trade union movement must also play an active role in urban areas with initiatives to protect the environment and fight climate change. Trade unions need to frame demands regarding climate change and force reluctant industrial managements to incorporate far-reaching technological and factory level changes to address climate change. This could include demands for installing better pollution control equipment, demands for setting up infrastructure to conserve energy and water and so on. There is a need to ensure that industries do not flout laws and pollute air, water and the environment by releasing wastage. Blockage of water drainage and interruption in the natural water cycle is mainly caused by rampant concretisation driven by the interest of real estate sector. We have seen impacts of urban flooding on the lives of residents, especially the slum dwellers. The urban poor and the working class are mostly at the receiving end of environmental degradation visible in urban areas caused by industries and the urban elite. Organising the working class to claim their right to a clean city can be an important task to force the policy makers to formulate environmentally responsible policies.
24. There is a need to ensure that local forests and resources are not brought under the control of transnational corporations and governments, in the name of creating a market for carbon sinks and ‘countering’ climate change. Poor countries in Asia and Africa cannot be allowed to become dumping grounds for the rich, and their precious natural resources must not be allowed to be plundered to alleviate climate change impacts generated in the industrialised nations. We also need to recognize the importance of environmentally sustainable ways of life developed by local communities in forest and eco-sensitive areas.
25. We need to reiterate the importance of public control over natural resources. At a time when various governments in the country – both state governments and the Central government – seem hell-bent on privatising natural resources, we need to resist all such moves. Addressing climate change cannot be divorced from the larger question of democratic control over resources and democratic decision-making. The climate crisis cannot be mitigated under a regime of profiteering and corporate plunder of resources. The climate crisis needs to be addressed on multiple fronts. At the international level, we need to push for more democratic negotiations and more sustained solidarities with the working poor and indigenous people across the globe. At the national level, we need to strengthen campaigns to protect local control over natural resources and to encourage energy management and efficient technology. Government must consult all the stakeholders, especially the marginalised vulnerable communities and give topmost priorities to Gram Sabhas at the local level.
26. It is necessary that any response to the issue of climate change also addresses social and economic inequities. Above all, the struggle against climate change is a systemic struggle, a part and parcel of the struggle against capitalism. It is necessary to recognize that the production pattern and profiteering ways promoted by capitalism have been largely responsible for the growing havoc caused by climate change, and it is not possible to address climate change without addressing this fundamental problem. Addressing climate change cannot be divorced from the larger question of democratic control over resources and democratic decision-making. Labour, economic and environmental policies of the neo-liberal state that push people into such precarious living will have to be challenged. The struggle against climate change is inseparably connected with the agenda of anti-imperialist action and ongoing struggles for social transformation, especially struggles against injustice based on caste, class and gender.