People’s Movements for Climate Justice in India: The Need of the Hour
India’s capital and financial capital – Delhi and Mumbai – are witnessing massive farmer marches. It’s also election season with state assembly and local body polls in various states and campaigns for the general elections next year are in full swing. People’s movements of various kinds are becoming more common across the globe. With India listed as one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change, pollution and poverty crises as well as exponentially growing income inequity fuelled by jobless growth, there is a growing need for climate justice to be mainstreamed and focused on.
Climate justice is all about looking at global warming and climate change through ethical and political lenses instead of framing it only as an environmental issue. Like environmental and social justice climate justice movements encourage systemic changes, or as an environmental activist and one of climate justice’s pioneers in India Sunita Narain puts it, “new paradigm of de-colonialism” that can redress the unequal burdens on communities and realign the economy with natural systems – a true form of sustainable development”. Sunita Narain, the director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) made an impact when she appeared in Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary on the impact of climate change Before the Flood (2016) and called out the irresponsibility of the developed world with regard to their overconsumption and emissions maximized lifestyles as well as centuries of polluting unsustainable development. She rightly featured on Time’s list of 100 Most Influential People and has come to become one of the most recognizable voices in the call for environmental and climate justice.
The Constitution Day or Samvidhan Divas is observed on November 26, the day the Indian Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution of India in 1949 which then came into effect on what’s observed as our Republic Day. During the inauguration of the Constitution Day celebrations in India this year, President Ram Nath Kovind emphasised on the expanded scope of social justice and the need for environmental and climate justice. Together with the gathering momentum of the global Sustainable Development Goals regime, the stark warnings of the latest IPCC report that gives us a 12-year deadline to halt irreversibly climate change and keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, peoples movements for climate justice across India and beyond are becoming essential to shape pro-environment and low-carbon policies.
The intersection of poverty, climate change and supersized natural disasters we face today makes it imperative that a holistic approach to climate adaptation and mitigation as well as emissions reduction is essential. Economic dependence on fossil fuels, power grids still mostly dependent on coal-powered thermal power stations and the inability of the state to put a realise the cost of the environment and social harm of fossil fuels needs to be transformed with disruptive and mainstreamed green tech and renewables as well as a low-carbon growth model. Civil society and people need to come together to foster this change and policies to support truly sustainable development.
Trees, old forests and eco-zones such as the Aravalli, Sundarbans, Sakkarkotai bird sanctuary and the Gulf of Mannar marine national park are priceless and need to be prioritized over roadways, highway and fuel exploration projects. Similarly, the rights of the poor, the rural and the tribal populations to human security is on par with all others and their access to safe harbour from “the interplay of disaster risk, climate change and uncertainty.”
Indigenous tribal communities have been living braving the natural uncertainties for centuries whether it’s precarious living in forests, deserts, on seashores or facing ‘natural’ disasters. However, the anthropogenic intrusions into their lives by ‘contacts’ ‘integration’, ‘development’ led to diseases, displacement and despair in their lives. It is the task of our times to pursue the imperative of climate justice by empowering these at-risk communities with the skills and assets is to build resilience to climate uncertainty and associated risks.”
Delhi: Farmers from all across the nation hold protest for the second day over their demands of debt relief, better MSP for crops, among others; latest #visuals from near Barakhamba Road. pic.twitter.com/Po5aGAhuSk
— ANI (@ANI) November 30, 2018
As the #kisanmuktimarch gathers momentum, it is also essential to remember that the farmers and those dependent on agriculture still are a majority in the Indian economy and this community is perhaps most at risk to impoverishment and displacement due to climate change and climate change–exacerbated natural disasters. Vandita Morarka, Founder, One Future Collective and recent graduate of the first batch of the Executive Education program from O.P. Jindal Global University People, Power & Change in describing the farmer’s march in the national capital region aptly frames it in the call for social justice and her powerful words demonstrate how urgent and essential it is for a disruptive development that will get sustainable development, social justice, environmental justice and climate justice to the forefront:
How can I explain to you that people deserve to earn decent wages, have a decent lifestyle, and a life of dignity? How can I explain that farmers deserve this? Not out of some sense of placing them on a pedestal but because they are people, and equally deserving of the rights you and I seek as rights.
[Facebook post about #kisanmuktimarch in New Delhi where the Farmers in large numbers marching towards Ram Lila Maidan from Bala Sahib Gurudwara]
About the Author & Curator:
Raakhee Suryaprakash is a Chennai-based analyst who focuses on highlighting developments in finding and implementing the use of alternatives to plastics; renewable energy technology; sustainable development goals; women’s empowerment; environmental protection and climate action. She has a master’s in International Studies and an undergraduate degree in Chemistry. Raakhee was one of the South Asia fellows of Climate Tracker in 2016. She is a volunteer with the storytelling wing of the Red Elephant Foundation and an Associate Member of the Chennai Centre for China Studies.