Is a climate agenda on the horizon?

Between April and June 2024, nearly 1 billion people will be eligible to vote in the world's largest democratic exercise. India's election is taking place against a backdrop of extreme drought, melting glaciers, forest fires, deadly floods and a prolonged heat wave. Parts of the country have been battling sweltering heat since voting began. Although hot weather is the norm for the 1.4 billion people living in India, the intensity and frequency of heat waves are increasing, partly due to climate change. This begs the question: Do Indian voters care about climate change?

india climate declaration

In 2019, climate change appeared for the first time in the election manifestos of major national parties. Submissions in line with green policies, renewable energy targets and pollution-free directives. However, the word “climate” is barely mentioned in both declarations.

According to its manifesto, the Bharatiya Janata Party (the party led by India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi) is working towards achieving energy independence by 2047; achieving a target of 500GW of renewable energy by 2030; and establishing India as a global manufacturer of wind, solar and green hydrogen technologies. center. The party's strategy to achieve these ambitious goals includes reducing oil imports, focusing on electric vehicles, expanding charging stations, increasing renewable energy production and improving energy efficiency. The party also announced the launch of the National Atmosphere Mission to make India “weather-ready” and “climate-smart”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with the Indian community in Copenhagen in 2022
Prime Minister Modi. Photo: MEAphotogallery/Flickr.

On the other hand, according to its manifesto, the Congress party plans to set up two dedicated funds: a Green Transition Fund to finance the clean energy transition, and a Green New Deal investment plan focusing on renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure and creation . The party also pledged to establish an “independent” Environmental Protection and Climate Change Authority to monitor and enforce environmental standards at national and state levels. The party said the transition from the National Climate Change Action Plan to the National Climate Resilient Development Mission will help embed climate positivity in all areas of development.

India's leadership in the Group of Twenty (G20) and prominence in international forums such as the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) influence India's domestic political narrative and national policies to achieve India's own climate goals. However, while both parties included climate issues in their manifestos, neither party has been able to promote climate commitments as a core issue on the speaking circuit and at rallies throughout the campaign season.

climate change in india

India has been battling the devastating consequences of man-made climate change for years and currently ranks ninth among the 50 countries in the world most affected by climate change.

According to the National Center for Science and Environment's 2023 climate analysis, India experienced its hottest August and September in 122 years. Last year, the country also suffered from 318 days of extreme weather events in which 3,287 people lost their lives, 2.21 million hectares of crops were affected, 86,432 houses were damaged, and nearly 125,000 animals died. All 36 states and Union Territories were affected, with Himachal Pradesh recording the highest number of extreme weather events (149), followed by Madhya Pradesh (141). Kerala and Uttar Pradesh follow with 119 days each.

The country also experienced 208 floods and landslides caused by heavy rains and heat waves, lasting a total of 49 days. In December, the country's eastern region was also hit by Cyclone Michang, which killed at least nine people and left parts of Chennai submerged.

Another study published last year also noted that extreme weather events lead to unstable and informal working conditions, domestic violence, child marriage and further inequality among low-income groups. In the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, people living in slums and informal housing face greater extremes of temperature, inequality and an increase in heat-related deaths. Bengaluru, India's Silicon Valley, is facing widespread water shortages after receiving very little rainfall last year due to climate change and rapid urbanization.

In 2021, the country is also one of the most polluted countries in the world, with an annual average PM2.5 of about 58.1 micrograms/cubic meter.

More information on this topic: 5 major environmental issues in India in 2024

What are the top priorities of Indian voters?

India is the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter and fastest-growing major economy after China and the United States. Unlike elections in Western countries, which can be significantly affected by candidates' climate agendas, climate issues have not become a major issue in Indian elections.

Ahead of the 2023 Lokniti-CSDS polls, voters said unemployment and inflation were the most important issues. Data from the Indian Economic Monitoring Center showed that the unemployment rate and inflation rate in March were 7.6% and 4.77% respectively.

However, urban voters do become increasingly sensitive to climate change mitigation efforts and commitments to sustainability, knowing that life is closely intertwined with environmental issues such as extreme rainfall, heat and pollution due to waste management and pollution issues together. The same is true for the younger generation. This year, 18 million young Indians will vote for the first time. According to the 2023 Gen Z and Millennials Survey released by Deloitte, climate change is the third most important social issue for them.

air pollution in capital region of india
Every winter, India's capital region is shrouded in thick smog. Photo: Raunaq Chopra/Climate Vision Countdown.

Researchers also believe that many of the issues that Indian voters consider urgent, such as unemployment, education, health care, economic growth and caste inequality, are related to the climate crisis. For example, previous research has shown that frequent heat waves in India place an increasing burden on its economy and public health resources. It is estimated that the climate crisis in 2022 will cause a loss of 8% of India's GDP.

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Awareness and understanding of the climate crisis also depends on where people live. For example, greater levels of concern have been expressed by people living in coastal areas such as Kerala, which are regularly hit by excess rainfall, floods and landslides.

“My wishes are simple, I want clean water, cheap electricity and affordable health care,” said Khairul Nitha, a single mother and seamstress who lives in a small settlement in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Khairu Nisa) told Earth.Org. In December, her home was flooded during Hurricane Michang. Every summer, she complained about the unbearable heat in her home. “There are not enough fans and I can't afford air conditioning. It's very difficult to work and make a living in this bad weather,” she said.

Extreme weather events have also been shown to affect political outcomes.

A 2022 study by Political Participation in India found evidence of “increased voter turnout and changes in the composition of candidates running in areas with cumulative exposure to extreme temperatures.”

In particular, the study found that the negative impact of climate change on agricultural productivity affects voter turnout, particularly in rural areas, and increases the chances that winning candidates will have an agricultural background and invest more in mitigation measures aimed at protecting the agricultural sector. .

All eyes are on India

The results of the Indian elections are of great significance not only to the citizens of India but also to the international community. As the world's largest democracy, all eyes are on how the country's new leaders will respond to the urgent challenges posed by the rapidly worsening climate crisis. As environmental concerns reach critical proportions, the decisions made by India's elected officials will have far-reaching consequences, not just within its borders but on the future of our planet.

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