Are India’s Political Parties Ignoring Climate Change?
India is the 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, the US, and the EU. In 2018, carbon emissions rose worldwide, primarily due to increased coal consumption in China and India. Although both countries signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, they continue to rely on coal as an important source of energy. This poses a problem for climate change. After all, as the global salience of Asian economies increases, any solution to climate problems must include a massive switch over to renewables in these countries.
But India also needs to think about climate change given its extreme vulnerability. Some of these effects are already visible in changed monsoon patterns, higher incidents of heat waves, drought, migration, and so on. However, it is less clear if the Indian electorate has registered the climate threat.
India is a well-functioning democracy with competitive elections and regime change. It is holding parliamentary elections this year from April 11 until May 19. This is the largest exercise of democracy ever, involving about 900 million voters. And citizens are actively engaging in the electoral process, with about 70 percent expected to cast their votes.
How important are climate issues in the Indian elections? Some newspapers report that citizens are demanding climate action. If this is true, we should expect to see political parties talking prominently about their climate policies. We closely examined the election manifestos of the two leading national parties: the Indian National Congress and the BJP.
The good news is that both parties talk about climate issues: by some accounts, this is the first time that major political parties have done so. But what is revealing is how little they talk, and how even this modest climate talk does not feature prominently in their platforms.
Congress’ 55-page manifesto, “Congress will Deliver,” lists 52 action items, grouped in six sections: Employment and Growth (6 items), An Economy that Works for All (7 items), Pride in our Hard and Soft power (10 items), Good Governance through Independent and Accountable Institutions, (11 items), Self-esteem for the Deprived (9 items), and A Life of Dignity for All (9 items).
The last section includes item #49, “Environment and Climate Change” and item #50, “Climate Resilience and Disaster Management.” There is no mention of the Paris Agreement. In the section on Employment and Growth, item #3 (Infrastructure) talks about renewable energy. In this 22,997-word manifesto, only 1,043 words (4.5%) pertain to climate change.
The BJP’s 45-page manifesto, “Determined India, Empowered India,” lists 220 action items, grouped in 12 sections: Nation First (14 items), Agriculture and Farmer Welfare – Doubling Farmers Income (29 items), India as the World’s 3rd Largest Economy (22 items), Infrastructure – Foundation of a New India (34 items), Healthy India – Determined India (8 items), Good Governance (29 items), Tomorrow’s India (10 items), Education for All (15 items), Women’s Empowerment (14 items), Inclusive Development (27 items), Cultural Heritage (11 items), and Foreign Policy (7 items).
Here as well, there is no mention of the Paris Agreement. Climate change is noted in the section on Infrastructure (item #33 in the list of 34 items in this section), in the context of renewable energy capacity and the International Solar Alliance. Thus, in the BJP’s 18,327-word manifesto, only 116 words (0.6%) pertain to climate issues.
In America, the 2018 exit polls reveal that climate change does not figure among the top issues that motivated voting. The Indian story seems no different: climate policy is not dominating the political discourse, especially when it is placed alongside other issues such as jobs and national security. If election manifestos are a glimpse of voters’ policy preferences and a preview of the priorities of the next government, this is bad news for India and for the world.