India’s environmental issues behind the COP 26 commitments


The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow has launched discussions to tackle the long-overlooked impacts of climate change.

The Glasgow commitments are equivalent to a reduction of 2.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide or the combined emissions of Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom. India is the third largest contributor of GHG emissions (in CO2 equivalent). New Delhi has pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2070.

But India’s engagement seemed motivated more by political considerations than by an environmental objective. Seventy percent of China’s energy imports come from maritime trade crossing the Strait of Malacca. To reduce the impact of New Delhi’s naval plans on the Nicobar Island overlooking that strait, China is investing $ 700 million in its controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will link China’s Xinjiang to the Pakistani coast of Gwadar .

Likewise, China is limiting its dependence on coal vis-à-vis Australia with the AUKUS agreement putting economic pressure on India. This decision by the economic giant of Southeast Asia made coal more expensive on the international market.

In September-October 2021, relentless monsoon rains rendered coal mines across India unproductive, leading to a shortage of coal at its thermal power plants. Since September 2021, 50% of our energy has been produced by burning coal. To escape the shackles of the geopolitics of hydrocarbons, India must turn to renewable and nuclear alternatives. This will also limit the country’s GHG emissions. Amidst these energy uncertainties comes India’s “pro-green” energy commitment at COP 26 in Glasgow.

At COP 26, where 100 countries agreed to reduce “methane emissions” by 30% by 2030, India made no such commitment.

Agriculture employs two-thirds of the country’s population, contributes 17% of GDP and 23% of national GHG emissions. Of this total, 83 percent of the national methane production comes from its agricultural sector. The one-year nationwide protests by farmers to revoke the three contentious farm laws – Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation Act) , 2020, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 an amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 – lobbied the central government to repeal them, ahead of big state-level elections across the country.

The application of environmental reforms in the agriculture and livestock sector may alienate the farming community which constitutes the bulk of the electorate in the next elections. This embodies political pressure on India’s environmental commitments.

The territory of the capital suffocates from stubble burning and severe pollution. According to 2020 estimates, 46 of the 100 most polluted cities are in India. According to WaterAid’s water quality index, India ranks 120 out of 122. The country’s major rivers are clogged with pollution. Arsenic pollution in groundwater is devastating the lives of millions of people in its eastern corner. India ranked 177th out of 180 countries in the Transnational Environmental Performance Index (EPI), demonstrating its incompetence in dealing with environmental issues.

Why the third sector is a major obstacle

In the context of COP 26, in 2020, the nation attempted to modify the “Environmental Impact Assessment” guidelines in favor of the faster elimination of industrial cases, without taking into account the protection of forests. virgins. The recent Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2020 (FCRA) aimed to suffocate the “third sector” with several “bureaucratic” regulations giving more oversight power to the government. This bill can become a tool to quell the “green noise” of NGOs that hamper the nation’s rapid development plans. According to a recent update, 12,000 NGOs, including Oxfam, could lose their foreign funding license.

The third sector is a major obstacle to the adoption of pro-industrial and anti-environmental policies. In 2015, an NGO-led petition to the Supreme Court of India resulted in the revocation of mining leases from 88 companies in Goa that were disrupting the pristine Western Ghat ecosystem, a biodiversity hotspot.

The issue of deforestation was also put aside at COP 26. A report indicates that India lost 38,500 hectares of tropical forests between 2019 and 2020, which represents about 14% of tree cover loss. Prior to India’s commitment to COP 26, around 2 lakhs of trees had to be felled for the diamond mines in the Buxwaha Forest in Madhya Pradesh. It was only with the intervention of the Deputy’s High Court in response to the PIL filed by lawyer Sudeep Singh Sainy that this environmental catastrophe was avoided.

This contradicts the claims of the Indian government of an increase in forest cover to 24.56 percent of its geographic area. Proposed amendments to the Biological Diversity Act 2002 may worsen the situation by giving unrestricted access to researchers working on ethno-medicines and may also deprive traditional forest dwellers.

There is a disparity between our nation’s environmental “commitments” and its implementation on the ground.

Only the commitments and publicity of environmental programs are not enough. An appropriate climate change policy is needed to protect the rapidly deteriorating environment in India. Good environmental governance and transparency are essential to tackle climate change issues and meet the commitments of COP 26.

(The author is Associate Professor at the Jindal School of Environment and Sustainability, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India, and conducts research on environmental pollution, wildlife conservation issues of the subcontinent. He is involved in mangrove restoration initiatives in the Sundarbans in India. and writes regularly on socio-political-environmental issues.)

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