The 2011 Climate Change talks in Durban were “a confused mixture of noises and voices” or “a scene of noise or confusion”—as in Babel. In stark contrast, the just concluded Paris agreement indicates that governments around the world have finally embraced the reality of climate change and decided to act to mitigate its terrible effects. As per science, though, the agreement is at least two decades late.
With the prevailing one degree rise in global average temperature compared to pre-industrial levels, the world is already suffering extensive damage. In India, the Chennai floods only exposed how tenuous our preparations are in dealing with climate change reality. For a nation constantly marked with disasters, the heatwaves that killed hundreds this summer, or the Kedarnath floods that killed thousands a couple of years ago, it’s all rather quickly been erased from public memory. Such lapses of reason in the collective consciousness appear to afflict PM Narendra Modi as well. For he comes back from Paris to announce that Rs 98,000 crore will be invested in building a ‘bullet train’, from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. Really? For who exactly? There is no money to provide forest guards, who toil day and night, with boots, torches and salaries, but the needs of the rich are served with urgency. No wonder then we continue to lose critically endangered tigers and bustards by the dozens.
For all the promise of taking India through the 21st century with environmentally safe and secure energy systems, and keeping global commitments on mitigating climate change, the Environmental Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015, proposed by the Modi administration speaks an altogether different story. It considers democratic decision-making a nuisance, favours rapid clearances for massive civil projects and subordinates human rights and environmental considerations to economic imperatives. True, India needs to spread the fruits of development, and the Paris Agreement endorses that too. But it is unlikely to happen if economic disparities widen, which is highly likely given the nature of economic policies that gives our environment a very weak chance.
(The author is coordinator with Environment Support Group, Bangalore) E-mail your columnist: leo [AT] esgindia [DOT] org