Home truths on climate change

There is a gap between what the goverment says on the international stage and what it does at home

Published - December 14, 2021 12:15 am IST

At the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the developed countries, which continue to be the most responsible for the destruction of the biosphere, resorted to their usual tactics of bullying the less developed world to accept higher targets for controlling greenhouse emissions when they haven’t done so themselves. In fact, they have failed to even implement their earlier commitments towards funds and technology transfer.

The reasons for the climate crisis affecting the world can be found in the reckless drive for profit maximisation by global capitalism led by the U.S. and its developed country allies. This has resulted in ecological destruction in the name of development. The effort in Glasgow was to push ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050 as a standard across countries, without taking into account the cumulative emissions for which the Global North is mainly responsible. The effort by some to equate India and other developing countries with the U.S. and Europe as the worst “emitters” is also misplaced precisely for this reason of cumulative emissions. In its model of country-wise cumulative emissions, carbonbrief.org uses population as a factor in its report of October 5, 2021. It finds that “the U.S., Russia, the U.K., Japan and Canada account for 10% of the world’s population, but 39% of cumulative emissions”, while China, India, Brazil and Indonesia account for 42% of the world’s population but just 23% of cumulative emissions.

Looking inward

To find sustainable solutions, in addition to resisting the imperialist mindset of the developed world, we have to also look at the internal policies of the governments of developing countries. Most of these governments are committed to capitalist appropriation of natural and national resources. For example, the official delegation from India may have fought hard to protect sovereign decisions on the use of fossil-based energy requirements from the hypocritical demands of the Global North for additional commitments against use of coal. But in India, the government’s coal use policy is driven by its determination to hand over mineral resources, including coal, to the corporate sector. Even as India boasts of switching to solar energy to meet its emission control targets, it is privatising the coal industry, auctioning coal mines and encouraging open cast mines without the guarantee of end use, but for commercialisation and export. Thus, on the Glasgow stage, India’s ruling regime wears the crown of a developing country fighting against the aggression of developed countries on climate change responsibilities, but policies at home reflect the interests of domestic and foreign capital — coal is used as a commodity for profit, not necessarily for any development purposes.

It is a similar story on the declaration signed by over 140 countries to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.” India did not sign the agreement on the ground that the declaration linked trade to land use and trade falls under the purview of the World Trade Organization. However, within India, the promotion of policies towards corporatisation of agriculture and the encouragement to contract farming on conditions set by big agri-businesses undermines food security. The pursuit of such policies domestically damages the credibility of India’s stand on international platforms.

The same declaration has important commitments to “recognise and (extend) support to smallholders, indigenous peoples and local communities.” It was convenient for the government not to sign this since it is following policies that are opposed to these commitments. In a slew of amendments proposed to existing laws and policies, the government has moved to monetise, privatise, commercialise and even militarise forests, trampling over the recognised rights of forest communities and specifically tribal communities. These measures are reflected in the proposed Forest Policy of 2018, the suggested amendments to the Forest Act of 1927, the amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act of 1957, the changes proposed to the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act of 1957, and the adoption of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Rules. All these changes strip the Gram Sabhas of any voice in decision-making processes, even though they are affected directly, and make it easier to handover forests to the private sector. These policies have accentuated the diversion of forests for a variety of projects. From 2013-2019, it is estimated that 96% of tree cover loss occurred in natural forests. On the other hand, the Forest Rights Act of 2006, which recognises the rights and duties of Adivasis and traditional forest-dwelling communities, is being diluted with a high rejection of claims.

Setting an example

In the 2015 COP in Paris, the Government of India had promised that it would develop carbon sinks to the equivalent of 2 billion to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2030. The government set up a Green Mission for the regeneration of forests, afforestation, additional forest and tree cover, and so on. The Estimates Committee of Parliament in its 2018-2019 report on progress towards these goals slammed the government stating that it “deplores the way that an issue pertaining to the existence of the earth is being handled.” The report stated that to fulfil the promise of sequestering the CO2 target, 30 million hectares of land are required to plant indigenous trees, not monocultures or plantations as is being done at present. Where will this land come from? Planting trees along national highways or along railway tracks as is being planned will be a very small component of the required target. At present, the lands of forest-dwelling communities are being forcibly taken away and used for plantations. The Gram Sabhas are not being consulted. The method of making those communities which have the least responsibility for carbon emissions pay with their lands and livelihoods is embedded in India’s climate change strategies as far as forest policies are concerned.

The clear gap between what is portrayed as a nationalist fight on the international stage and what is followed at home is even more stark with the present regime. The government must reverse its pro-corporate policies reflected in privatisation. It needs to call off its undeclared war on the Forest Rights Act and constitutional provisions that protect Adivasi communities. It is only with the cooperation of those who have protected forests that India can make a real contribution in the efforts to control climate change and be an example to the rest of the world.

Brinda Karat is a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau and a former Rajya Sabha MP

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