In light of the recent IPCC report outlining the consequences of unprecedented climate change, SIDDHARTH CHATURVEDI recommends changes in Indian policy to cope up with our present reality.
INDIA’S Climate Change Policy can be traced back to the year 2008 when the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was announced by the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change (the Council). The NAPCC has eight missions, namely:
- The National Solar Mission,
- The National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency,
- The National Mission on Sustainable Habitat,
- The National Water Mission,
- The National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem,
- The National Mission for a “Green India”,
- The National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, and
- The National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change.
The missions mentioned above are implemented by different ministries, and there is no statutory body to check their progress. Precious time has passed since the policy was announced.
On the international front, a slew of measures have been announced by various countries in order to combat climate change. These measures have thus far proven to be insufficient to tackle the problem, as demonstrated by the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report.
The IPCC Report categorically states that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the global temperature is expected to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next 20 years.
Though the NAPCC is headed by the Council, there is hardly any accountability on the Council’s part. Apart from a report on its reconstitution in November 2014 and one meeting held in January 2015, there is no further information available in public domain on subsequent meetings held or decisions taken therein, by the Council.
This is especially concerning given that the Council is required to focus on a) evolving a coordinated response to climate change issues at the national level, b) providing oversight for formulation of action plans in the area of assessment, adaptation and mitigation of climate change, and c) periodical monitoring of key policy decisions.
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This is in contrast to Section 56 of the Climate Change Act 2008 of the United Kingdom, wherein the Secretary of State is responsible for presenting reports before the Parliament, containing an assessment of the risks for the UK of the current and predicted impact of climate change.
India may be hesitant to set up a carbon budget now, but it is only a matter of time before it is required to.
One of the arguments put forward by policymakers is that being a developing nation, India cannot be put in the same bracket as developed nations like the USA, which has committed itself to become carbon neutral by 2050. However, this argument does not take into consideration that as a developing nation, India will gradually evolve into a developed one, thereby leading to an increase in demand and consumption levels.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) is the concerned union ministry dealing with climate change in India. Whereas, in the UK, a statutory authority called the Climate Change Committee has been established with the mandate of providing reports to the Parliament on the progress made by the Government in tackling climate change. It is also tasked with recommending changes and new policies to the Government.
The Government of India must also aim at setting up a body on similar lines in order to comprehensively tackle the challenge of climate change.
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Recommended changes for incorporation
In the coming decades, India is likely to face extreme weather patterns due to climate change. Therefore, any policy decision must take into account regional needs while making a national strategy.
Many Indian states have submitted their own State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCCs). However, these APCCs, at best, outline a vision for tackling the problem of climate change. There is no prescribed oversight mechanism (like the UK’s Climate Change Committee) to ensure implementation of the policies mentioned in the APCCs.
It is the need of the hour for India to incorporate new changes in its climate change policy. Though the Government of India has not made any specific climate change legislation, it would be recommended to incorporate at least two of the provisions mentioned in a private bill tabled by Kalikesh Singh Deo, Lok Sabha MP of the Biju Janata Dal, in 2015. This was titled the Climate Change Bill of 2015 (the Bill).
Chapter 3 of the Bill covering ‘Carbon Budgeting’ prescribed a mandatory duty upon the union government to present carbon budgets for every budgetary period, commencing from the years of 2015-2020. The Bill also envisaged that it shall be the duty of the government to present before the Parliament, “a report setting out proposals and policies for meeting carbon budgets for the current and future periods”.
The second proposal which could be incorporated as mentioned in the Bill is the setting up of a “Carbon Trading Scheme” to be monitored by a Carbon Trading Authority.
Before the commencement of any such initiative, it will be the responsibility of the states to first comprehensively chalk out the objectives that they envisage achieving in a particular year according to their own regional needs. These objectives could be submitted to the union government, which could then activate a live dashboard with the number objectives a particular state has achieved.
At the end of any given year, the union government could release a nationwide ranking of the states called the “State Climate Change Ranking Mission”. This would also help in raising public awareness about the issue, and in enforcing accountability.
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Courts in India and beyond
While the legislature and the executive are trying to mitigate the damage through relevant laws and policy measures, courts all over the world, too, have shown a keen interest in taking up issues related to climate change. In its judgment in the case of Massachusetts versus Environment Protection Agency (2007), the US Supreme Court held that the US state of Massachusetts had the locus standi to sue the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). The majority opinion ruled:
“EPA’s steadfast refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions present a risk of harm to Massachusetts that is both “actual” and “imminent”.”
In 2015, the Lahore High Court, in Asghar Lehari versus Federation of Pakistan, held that:
“Right to life, right to human dignity, right to property and right to information under articles 9, 14, 23 and 19A of the Constitution read with the constitutional values of political, economic and social justice provide for the necessary judiciary toolkit to address and monitor the Government’s response to climate change.”
These two judgments demonstrate that courts can have an active role in addressing the issue of climate change, irrespective of whether the nation is a developed one or currently deemed in the state of development.
The Supreme Court in India has played a transformative role in the realisation of the rights of the citizens. Courts may soon be faced with ‘climate change litigation’, and may have to give due recognition to climate change as a problem that seriously curtails the fundamental rights of the citizen.
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Climate change is one of the most pressing issues that currently concern humanity. It is expected that with the further worsening of the environmental situation in India, drastic changes are urgently required in India’s climate change policy.
It is high time the union government consider adopting significant changes in its current climate change policy in order to meet the changing realities of our time.
(Siddharth Chaturvedi is an undergraduate law student at Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur. The views expressed are personal.)