India elections: Candidates pledge action on climate change

8 May 2009

The Climate Group's Damandeep Singh reports

The world's biggest democracy, India is in the throes of a mammoth exercise to elect representatives that will govern its one billion plus populace for the next five years. Beyond the heated political exchanges, environmentalists are raising concerns over the candidates' green credentials.

Many have asked: Do environmental issues matter in Indian elections? There are encouraging signs.

"For the first time perhaps climate change has been explicitly mentioned in election manifestos," notes Preeti Malhotra, India Director of The Climate Group. "This clearly shows that, irrespective of which political parties form the government at the centre, there is now a strong recognition that climate change is one of the core issues that the government will need to address, both domestically and internationally.

"This also demonstrates a clear recognition that energy security while safeguarding the environment is on the voters agenda and deserves attention at the highest political level. No longer can the issue be relegated to a single department or Ministry."

The 15th national election since India's independence in 1947 will take place over five phases, spread over a month starting on April 16th with the results to be declared on May 16th.

The major contenders in the race are the United Progressive Alliance, the current ruling coalition led by the Congress party; the opposition National Democratic Alliance, led by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); along with the Third Front and even a Fourth Front, led by the smaller regional, left-wing and some caste-based parties.

The Indian National Congress, the BJP and the CPI (M) (communists) are all promising to check river pollution, protect the environment, and invest in renewable energy systems for a low-carbon economy.

Discussing energy security needs, Congress has announced plans to add at least 12,000-15,000 megawatts of capacity each year through a mix of sources, including coal, hydroelectricity, nuclear power, and renewable energy, although the pace of oil and gas exploration will also be intensified.

Not to be outdone, the BJP has stated that it will "pursue national growth objectives through an ecologically sustainable pathway that leads to mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, recognising that containing global warming is essential to protecting [the] life and security of people and [the] environment." The party also notes that "mitigating this threat by building a low carbon economy is the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century".

To boost India's energy infrastructure, the BJP proposes investing heavily in non-fossil fuel clean energy sources. Their stated goal is to add at least 120,000 megawatts of power over the next five years, with 20 per cent of this coming from renewable sources. The BJP manifesto also includes measures to create incentives for afforestation, wildlife conservation, environmental education, energy efficiency, low-water, low-chemical, and high-diversity agriculture.

The current government has taken some steady, if slow, steps with its National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). Will the next government continue to deliver on this, and on campaign pledges? It is one thing to make impressive election pledges and another to put them into practice; like elsewhere in the world Indian electoral history is strewn with high-minded promises that have been quietly forgotten once the victors take office.

The world will be watching. India is one of the world's fastest growing economies. It is also a region likely to face some of the worst impacts of climate change, according to the IPCC. By making climate change a clear priority in its domestic agenda, the Government of India would send a clear and positive signal to world leaders striving to achieve an ambitious global deal on climate change this December.

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