“If we have to live in harmony with nature, it has to have a space in democracy, and how can nature have space in a democracy when people who live close to nature don’t have the right to live with dignity? Climate Change isn’t just an issue, it’s a democratic dilemma” – Dr. Mahesh Rangarajan, Environmental Historian, at Nature in Focus Festival, 2019

The global community recognises the Paris summit in December 2015 as a historic turning point in the effort to fight climate change. At the event, 195 countries pledged their combined forces to limit the increase of average global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius. India, the fourth largest carbon emitter in the world, has made its role clear in the movement by making a bold commitment to reduce its emissions by 33–35 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2030.

Despite being a signatory to COP21, does India’s battle against climate change remain to be a political turf game? 

Presently, our national institutions who are answerable to the global community, the Nation and of course UNFCCC, are hesitating to own the National Action Plan of Climate Change (NAPCC) formulated in 2008. This, even though the NITI Aayog itself considers the NAPCC as a crucial policy document for tackling climate change in India, keeps the debate alive. At the same time, as per several studies, the NAPCC as a document lacks clarity in terms of details of programmes/ schemes, adaptation measures, and detailed analyses of how these address vulnerabilities to climate change in India.

As per the NITI Aayog and CBGA (Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability) India, about two thirds of Indians derive their livelihoods from climate-sensitive sectors such as farming, fisheries and forestry and the changing climate is adversely affecting their livelihoods base, especially in rain-fed and flood–prone areas. The recent press release of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) on its report “Climate Change and Land, an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems” emphasised on the climate criticality of these sectors. The report also emphasises on the importance of locally appropriate policies and governance systems, which should ideally be proposed and provided for in the Union Budget of a COP21 signatory Nation.

This is because Union Budgets in India play a crucial role in addressing the challenge of climate change. The Government of India is the dominant stakeholder; more than 50 percent of public expenditure in India is provided through the outlays in the Union Budget.

It also holds the Constitutional obligation to meet the requirement of the Fundamental Rights (under Article 21) of ‘Right to life’ and the concept of “Public Trust Doctrine” in which certain common properties such as rivers, seashores, forests, and air are held by the government in trusteeship for their free and unimpeded use of the general public.

The recent report of IPCC on Climate Change and Land is going to be a key scientific input for the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14) this September in New Delhi, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP25) in December in Chile. This report, coupled with India’s participation in COP21 brings back the Union Budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of the newly elected NDA Government, on 12th July 2019, in the limelight of critical analysis, with a perspective of achieving India’s commitment to the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). 

The highlights of Sitharaman’s budget from the SDG perspective are:

  1. More than 8 crores of free LPG connections have been proposed to be distributed under the Ujjwala scheme – this could reduce stress on fossil fuel consumption;
  2. Under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan, 1592 critical and overexploited blocks are identified. There is a proposal for creation of local level infrastructure for rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge and household wastewater management;
  3. The rural electrification scheme will continue; 35 crore LED bulbs have been distributed so far under Ujjwala scheme;
  4. Every rural household will get access to clean cooking fuel and a new scheme in line with Ujjwala will promote solar stoves and battery chargers;
  5. Private initiatives to support and develop renewable energy as an alternative income for farmers will be launched;
  6. It is proposed to expand Swachh Bharat Mission to include sustainable solid waste management in every village;
  7. Electric vehicles (EVs), will be promoted through exempting custom duty on certain EC parts, deducting income tax and interest on loans for EV purchase, and commencing Phase 2 of FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles) scheme;
  8. Agro-rural industries will be boosted through cluster-based development under SFURTI scheme with focus on bamboo, honey and khadi clusters – this will help tackling climate criticality associated with land degradation;
  9. The budget allocation to the environment ministry (MoEFCC) has increased from Rs. 26.83 billion (Rs. 2,683 crore) to Rs. 29.54 billion (Rs. 2,954.72 crores). It targets control of pollution through providing financial assistance to Pollution Control Boards/Committees and funding the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) as well as other programmes such as the National Water Monitoring Programme, National Ambient Noise Monitoring Network etc.;
  10. The “Vision for the Decade”, puts a pollution-free India with green Mother Earth and Blue Skies at the 3rd position, ahead of Make in India, while water management, clean rivers come fifth.

Ironically, the budget which envisions a “green Mother Earth and blue skies” is silent on all the key missions under the NAPCC, and that has further raised eyebrows of sustainability pundits across the nation.

Arnab Basu

Arnab Basu is a Sustainability Consultant, with 15 years of experience in advising industries and institutions on sustainability governance, environment and safety performance and complaisance.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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