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India is terribly unprepared for the next climate disaster

India is terribly unprepared for the next climate disaster

Climate change is not explicitly on the voter’s agenda either. No one is willing to connect the dots between the promises of employment, electricity, and a booming economy to the ongoing and impending threats of climate change-induced disasters.
Last Updated 01 April 2024, 05:28 IST

As India gets ready for the general elections scheduled to be held in the middle of a scorching summer, experts have expressed concerns about the ‘boiling frog’ syndrome — complacency and recklessness — that could cause incidents like the tragedy at the ill-advised public rally in peak summer in Navi Mumbai in 2023, where 14 people succumbed to heatstroke. 

The good news is that the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has started generating climate data at the panchayat level via its new initiative, Panchayat Mausam Seva, under the newly-launched National Framework for Climate Services (NFCS).

On Mausamgram, you can now access weather forecasts tailored to every locality, providing information on an hourly, three-hourly, and six-hourly basis up to the next 10 days. This information should guide authorities in granting permission for public events and implementing rapid response measures during electioneering. 

The bad news is that hardly any candidate or political party talks about the searing heat waves, climate change, its impacts, or causes. The ‘boiling frog’ syndrome is most evident in political speeches that continue to ignore the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced.

Sadly, climate change is not explicitly on the voter’s agenda either. No one is willing to connect the dots between the promises of employment, electricity, and a booming economy to the ongoing and impending threats of Climate Change-induced disasters.

Even during the 2019 elections, climate change barely featured in the manifestoes of leading political parties — the Congress’ 55-page, 22,997-word “Congress will Deliver” manifesto had only 1,043 words (4.5 per cent) on climate change, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s 45-page, 18,327-word manifesto ‘Determined India, Empowered India’, had only 116 words (0.6 per cent) on climate issues. Surprisingly, both manifestoes did not mention the Paris Climate Agreement.

The electoral silence around climate change appears to be a worldwide phenomenon. This year, in the 60-plus countries that go to the polls, including big polluters like the United States, the European Union (EU), India, and Indonesia, climate change remains a relatively low priority for the average voter, seemingly less pressing than immediate economic concerns. Surprisingly, even in the EU, arguably the world leader on climate action, polling indicates a sharp move towards parties on the right that are less focused on climate action; this is a trend that could stymie Europe’s climate leadership and delay urgent international measures.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has warned that “2024 may be even warmer than 2023.” This year will also likely be the first to average 1.5C above pre-industrial averages. February 2024 was recorded to be the hottest February since the 1940s, marking nine consecutive months of record-breaking temperatures, thanks partly to the El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific, but mostly due to the relentless burning of fossil fuels.

India may have experienced more than 700 heatwave events that have claimed at least 17,000 lives over the past five decades, according to a 2021 study of extreme weather in the Weather and Climate Extremes journal. The truth is, India is ill-prepared to face the impending heat crisis. Multiple studies have found the much-publicised state heat action plans are inadequate, inappropriate, and in many cases, unimplementable. By 2050, India will be among the first places where temperatures will cross survivability limits, according to climate experts. 

According to the IMD, March temperatures have been above normal, crossing 40C in many parts earlier than usual, and April and May are expected to see abnormal spikes in temperatures. Yet there is an abnormal silence about it all in the pre-election public discourse, neither the citizen nor the candidate, is willing to call out how unprepared we are for the next disaster.

This must change. It is time for politicians to integrate climate action in their manifestos, and for voters to vet all promises through a climate lens. After all, the top five priorities of these elections — reducing inflation, creating jobs, providing healthcare, promoting equality, and economic development — are all intrinsically linked to climate change.

Voters cannot afford to resign themselves to the ‘boiling frog’ syndrome; elections are the best time to find out what the politicians are promising for the future.  Even if their promises are empty, this is the time to set the agenda — green jobs, climate-friendly investments, disaster-resilient infrastructure, and, most of all, find out how will the political class help us survive the next heatwave.

(Shailendra Yashwant is a senior adviser to Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA). X: @shaibaba.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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