Amid extreme weather events, where are the political manifestos on climate change?

Currently, India ranks 9th among the world's top 50 states most at risk from climate change hazards and is also one of the world’s most polluted countries.
Representative Image.
Representative Image.(File Photo | PTI)

India is facing the impacts of climate change more intensely lately than ever before. According to a report released by the Union Health Ministry recently, a total of 143 people have died due to heat wave while nearly 42,000 suspected heatstroke cases were reported in parts of the country as of June 20.

Last year alone, the country experienced extreme weather events on 318 days, resulting in 3,287 fatalities, affecting 2.21 million hectares of crop area, damaging 86,432 houses, and causing the deaths of nearly 125,000 animals. Additionally, there were 208 days of floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains, alongside heatwaves lasting a total of 49 days.

In 2022, the climate crisis has incurred a cost of about 8% of our GDP back.

Since the start of summer in April 2024, the country has battled unprecedented heatwaves, flash floods, droughts, and landslides.

The national capital New Delhi saw temperatures soar above 44°C on several days forcing the Centre to issue advisory to hospitals to establish special units for heatwave affected patients. Currently, RML Hospital in New Delhi is the sole government facility equipped with a Heatwave Unit, featuring bathtubs, icemakers, and ventilators.

Against this backdrop, the country witnessed the longest-ever elections, held over a span of two-and-a-half months.

Being a multiparty federal democracy, elections in India is a political carnival hosting 6 national parties, 57 regional parties, and over 2,500 unrecognized political entities. But climate change is hardly an election issue.

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North India heat wave claims 143 lives between March and June; nearly 42,000 heat stroke cases

In a developing country like ours, where poverty alleviation, infrastructure development, and job creation rightly takes centre stage, climate change is yet to grab the attention it deserves.

Researchers from Azim Premji University and The Snow Leopard Trust in Seattle have found that climate change was a minor topic, comprising approximately 0.3 percent of the total parliamentary questions asked between 1999 and 2020. Meanwhile, according to Deloitte's 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, climate change snagged the third-most crucial societal issue for 18 million first-time Indian voters this year.

This apart, it is worth considering that campaigning for general elections resulted in a surge in fuel demand as candidates hit the road, burning rubber and emitting carbon dioxide.

If each Lok Sabha constituency deployed an average of 1,000 vehicles over a month, consuming about 15 litres each day, the grand total would be staggering: 244 million litres of fuel burned, emitting approximately 660 million kilograms of CO2. To clear the air, roughly 20 million trees would be needed. Let's not forget the sky-high impact of campaign flights and helicopters, which soared a third higher than in 2019 as they raced through the skies.

In response to environmental concerns, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has been advocating against the use of non-biodegradable materials during election campaigns since 1999 and introduced the concept of 'Green Elections.'

The commission laid down guidelines to ditch single-use plastic, set up separate bins with clear signage for each type of waste, ensure proper disposal practices, collaborate with local waste management entities, reduce paper usage by printing double-sided and optimizing layouts, and promote digital communication methods.

However, despite these efforts, Green Elections remain more of a suggestion than a strict mandate.

During the 2019 general election, a shift towards sustainability was evident when the Kerala High Court prohibited the use of flex and non-biodegradable materials in campaigns, promoting eco-friendly wall graffiti and paper posters as alternatives.

In collaboration with the district administration in Thiruvananthapuram, government bodies ensured a green election by conducting village-level training sessions to promote sustainable practices.

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Similarly, in 2022, the Chief Electoral Office of Goa partnered with the Goa State Biodiversity Board to create eco-friendly election booths using biodegradable materials, crafted by local artisans from Sattari and Ponda. Each green polling station featured uniquely designed decor, with eco-friendly selfie points.

In the neighbouring Sri Lanka, the Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party in 2019 pioneered the world’s first eco-friendly election campaign, tallying up the carbofootprint from campaign vehicles and electricity use, then offsetting it by rallying the public to plant trees in every district.

Currently, India ranks 9th among the world's top 50 states most at risk from climate change hazards and is also one of the world’s most polluted countries, with an annual average PM2.5 level of about 54.4 µg/m³.

The situation is indeed dire.

To cut a long story short, it's high time that Green Elections become a must-have.

More than that, the government is duty-bound to sit up and take note of the crisis we're in. Instead of propagating rampant development our political parties should apply their minds to coming out with 'green' manifestoes that calls for sustainable development.

(Persis Farooqy is currently working at Big4 consulting while nurturing a deep love for environment, wildlife, and heritage)

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