Despite having a vibrant civil society, India could not make climate crises a critical issue in the environment and development discourse. While the policy engagement on green technologies has gathered pace since 2008, the actions related to tackling climate impacts remain on the margins.
The response of both government and civil society to recent heat waves, drought and water crisis lays bare the country’s lack of preparedness. For decades, the Indian government fought a fierce battle at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to “protect its development space” so that it is not compelled to take inequitable emission reduction targets. Even though the civil society supported the government’s position in the international fora, it challenged India’s poor environmental protection record back home.
At the global platform, the government’s narrow focus on mitigation did not bring to light its vulnerability owing to climate sensitive economic sectors and fragile geo-climatic zones. It marginalized work on adaptation and addressing climate impacts (known as loss and damage under UNFCCC) such as sea level rise, drought and increasing extreme weather events. Few policy focused environmental institutions – both homegrown and international – prioritized clean energy and air pollution issues confining to cities, whereas adaptation came much as an afterthought, ignoring impacts on the other rural half.
To my observation the situation, however, is beginning to change as many development organizations and UN agencies have started integrating adaptation into their development and disaster risk reduction strategies. Lack of foreign funding due to government’s regulations means that majority of adaptation implementation work needs to be shouldered by Indian organizations with some policy and capacity building support from the international community.
Civil society must not only play a watchdog role in implementation of India’s ambitious mitigation targets but also assist in demonstrating and scaling up actions to deal with devastating climate impacts. Its need to start making a stronger case in favor of renewable energy options so that dependence on fossil fuels can be minimized and it needs to work to add resilience against 2-degree temperature change to have an inbuilt mechanism in development agenda.
Sanjay Vashist is Director of Climate Action Network South Asia interacting with
196 NGOs in South Asian Countries.
Civil society must not only play a watchdog role in implementation of India’s ambitious mitigation targets but also assist in demonstrating and scaling up actions to deal with devastating climate impacts.Sanjay Vashist
I see art and creative ways of thinking as having a central role in understanding the inter-dependence of ecosystem.Sonal Jain
India despite having rich indigenous knowledge has witnessed an erosion in the practices that sustain oneness with ecology.
There is a need to decolonize ourselves and relearn, re-align and regain these practices, and in turn begin to break military, neo-capitalist and technocratic models and discourses of top down development, poverty, progress and nationalism that brought on the climate crisis in the first place.
The climate crisis confronts us with a dual challenge firstly in itself and secondly in the way it is presented to us- it denotes an unsolvable crisis and apocalyptic future. However, instead of being confounded and incapacitated by the constant feed of the dystopian nightmare that awaits us, we need to act and step outside the older frames of reference in order to address a challenge that is complex, systemic, and long-term. This is something that the art community in India, has been unable to do. Understanding the scale and scope of crisis has been slow like in other disciplines. At most, responses have been around the understanding of the Anthropocene as being limited.
As desire machine collective’s practice, the project “Periferry” was a response to the crisis as a platform on a disused ferry for people to come together and form temporary communities to share their concerns about the larger environment one occupies, both human and non-human. “The Narratives of Brahmaputra” was a collection of different stories, tales, songs, sounds and maps of the river. “Inner Lines” was an audio-visual response to the plan of building 168 dams on the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries. The necessity to create a shift in oneself, one’s life and ways of thinking, and not only the content of thoughts, was a powerful motivation to reach a point where one is now.
I see art and creative ways of thinking as having a central role in understanding the inter-dependence of ecosystems. Connection, compassion and inclusion, rather than escape and immortality are the keys to a genuinely better future. Developing systems that are not just sustainable but also regenerative.
Ingenious methods and approaches, learning from indigenous knowledge systems and integrating them with art, design, system and critical thinking, ecology and science is required. A paradigm shift is needed in not just our thinking but in the very way we think about our relationship with the non-human world well beyond the Western discourse of the Anthropocene.
Sonal Jain works with the intersection of film, art, ecology, technology and activism.
Her practice spans film, video, photography, digital media, public intervention,
curation and writing.
Reference: Perspectives Asia, Issue 8, November 2019