The climate challenges facing India’s next government

India, the world’s most populous country, is also among the most vulnerable to climate hazards. This is not only because of the heat and flooding that global warming has exacerbated, but also because many of the country’s 1.4 billion people are vulnerable to begin with. Most people are poor, by world standards, and have no safety net.

Early results from Tuesday’s election indicated that the party led by Narendra Modi, India’s two-term Hindu nationalist prime minister, is poised to win the largest number of seats in the Indian Parliament, but may have to join forces with smaller parties. to form a coalition government.

That government will face great challenges caused by climate change.

The voting process, which lasted six weeks, took place amid a scorching heat wave in several parts of the country. In the northern states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, at least 33 people, including poll workers, died last week from heat complications, according to government officials cited by Reuters.

Rohit Magotra, deputy director of Integrated Research and Action for Development, asked national election officials to reschedule elections in future to avoid similar calamities. He noted that workers of all political parties suffer in the heat, as do voters, who often have to queue in the sun.

“I definitely see momentum growing, and elections are unlikely to be scheduled in the summer in the future,” said Magotra, whose organization has advocated for heat solutions in Indian cities.

This year, the Election Commission created a task force to monitor weather conditions, but only after voting began amid abnormally high temperatures. He also sent poll workers a list of heat precautions prepared by the National Disaster Management Agency. However, according to a report published in Scroll, an Indian news site, political party activists were not told to do anything different due to the heat.

While parliamentary elections in India are traditionally scheduled in summer, climate change is making summers increasingly dangerous. This year, a weather station in Delhi broke the all-time temperature record with a reading above 52 degrees Celsius (127 degrees Fahrenheit) in late May. It was the third consecutive year of abnormally high temperatures in India, all worsened by climate change, according to scientific studies on heat waves.

Several cities and states have heat action plans, at least on paper. But, as an independent analysis concluded last year, they are largely underfunded and lack concrete ways to identify and protect the most vulnerable.

The Modi government has faced some of the strongest opposition in recent years from farmers’ organizations. And many of his concerns are rooted in climate issues.

Their agitation reflects deep unrest in agriculture, a major portion of the Indian economy. More than half of Indians depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Groundwater is scarce in many important agricultural regions. Farmers are deeply in debt in many parts of the country.

On top of that, extreme weather and unpredictable rains have repeatedly ruined crops in recent years.

In 2020, hundreds of thousands of farmers, mostly from the Punjab and Haryana region, India’s breadbasket, set up camps on the outskirts of New Delhi and took their tractors to the capital in protests that turned violent. Their initial complaint concerned Modi’s efforts to open up more private investment in agriculture, which farmers said would make them vulnerable to low prices driven by corporate profit motives.

Faced with the uprising, the government backed down, something unusual for Modi, but also a move that indicates the seriousness with which his administration took the protests.

Once again this year, farmers marched on the capital, this time demanding higher government-set prices for wheat and rice.

India’s global image is often associated with its fast-growing economy, vibrant cities and huge, young workforce. But the majority of its population still depends on agricultural income, most of its 770 million poor live in the countryside and the government has not been able to create anywhere near the number of jobs outside of agriculture that its growing youth population demands. . Fixing agriculture in the era of climate change is likely to be one of the most profound challenges for Modi in the coming years.

“Definitely, the increase in extreme weather events (floods, heat waves, storms) is the most important climate challenge facing the government,” said M. Rajeevan, former secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences and now vice-chancellor of the University Atria in Bengaluru.

Climate change is mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels, the dirtiest of which is coal.

At international summits, Modi has emphasized his push to build renewable energy infrastructure. At the same time, however, his government has continued to expand coal.

This is driven by both political and economic considerations. Coal is the predominant fuel. Public and private companies, many of them politically connected, invest in coal. The government’s main interest is to keep electricity prices low.

Coal remains the country’s largest source of electricity. Coal use grew this year, partly driven by climate change itself.

Higher temperatures increase the demand for air conditioners and fans, which increases the demand for electricity. Emissions from India’s power sector soared in the first quarter of 2024, according to Ember, a research organization that tracks emissions.

Coal provides more than 70 percent of India’s electricity, with solar and wind power accounting for just over 10 percent. And although the government has set an ambitious target of 500 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030, coal’s influence is unlikely to wane anytime soon. According to government projections, coal will continue to supply more than half of India’s electricity in 2030.

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