India’s 1.5 degrees challenge: Mahatma Gandhi’s ultimate fight remains far from over, here’s why climate change calls for the next freedom struggle

Srividhya Iyer
The agricultural ministry also said that in the next few years, the decrease in productivity of major crops will be marginal but in a few more years, it could go down even more if the farming doesn't adapt to climate change-induced changes in weather.

Mumbai, Apr 28: In the past few decades, countries and societies across the world have woken up to the fact that average temperatures are following an alarmingly increasing trend. Despite the best efforts of deniers, the culprit seems to have been clearly identified as global warming and the subsequent climate change. The current international endeavour is to limit the rise in temperature to a maximum of 1.5 degrees celsius. India has been increasingly caught up in the epicentre of the battle against nature’s wrath, with aspirations for development, international pacts and climatic realities all pulling it in different directions. With disasters striking repeatedly, defensiveness among lawmakers and citizens has become the norm. However, for the sake of survival, it has become clear that it is time to launch the next struggle for independence. This time against climate change.

While South Indian states, such as Tamil Nadu, constantly alternate between droughts and floods, northern and western regions are facing the brunt of a relentless heatwave. The increasing volatility in average temperature demands drastic action. This would mean that present plans for economic development be put on halt and reframed. Such a course correction, would be of great benefit in alleviating the suffering of people in the long run and even lending India certain geostrategic advantages. However, the growing resentment against nations whose policies such as industrialisation and colonisation led to the present global predicament, would require a Gandhian approach in overcoming.

This sentiment, that prevails quite extensively among Indians, was clearly put forth by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the UNFCCC’s COP 21 summit in Paris. Addressing over 150 heads of states, the Prime Minister said quite emphatically that India did not create the climate change menace but was suffering its consequences. He then went on to deliver a stern message to affluent nations by saying, “those with the luxury of choices should sharply reduce emissions.”

Ever since the independence from the British colonial rule in 1947, the country has felt an almost suffocating need to develop and outlive the legacy of the imperial experience. With the aspirations reaching a zenith in the present, restrictions on the usage of coal, a source that India has in abundance, plays a dampening role on the existing economic growth rate. However, if we were to heed the UNFCCCs warning of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, the words of the father of our nation might provide us a clear direction in our struggle against climate change.

Mahatma Gandhi had made his case for environmentalism very clear and said, “God forbid that India should take to industrialism after the manner of the west. The economic imperialism of a tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million (India) took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.” The warning has indeed touched our hearts, a fact that reflects in India’s choice to ratify the climate deal on the Mahatma’s birth anniversary.

Apart from the obvious advantages of restricting climate change, the move would give the country a significant upper hand against economic rival, China. The geographic boundaries of India encompass over 1,300 islands. These provide an ideal base for the Indian navy to counter grand Chinese geopolitical strategies such as the ‘String of Pearls’ and ‘One Belt One Road’. However, a study conducted by the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE), rising sea levels pose the direct threat of submerging one of our greatest naval assets,  island group of  Lakshadweep.

While defending India’s coastlines against natural disasters is important for national security, the discomfort caused to residents within the mainland due to calamities is even more immense. In a recent report, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has estimated that recent natural disasters, right from the Gujarat earthquake of 2001, to the recent floods in Jammu and Kashmir, have affected over 9 million people. Such a huge impact leaves a significant dent on the economy. The UNDP has proposed that sticking to the goal of 1.5 degrees celsius would largely assist in achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The country has indeed taken some steps in the right direction such as launching the International Solar Alliance (ISA) at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) along with France in November 2015.

Many challenges confron the country in taking the movement forward and India’s vast  cultural and geographical diversity is one among them. It is, however, important that they be overcome successfully if India is to fend off the looming threats of food, water, health and energy risks as well as, the increasingly occurring natural disasters. For the world’s next superpower, overcoming the bitterness of the past and following the path of Gandhian ideals seems to be the only way to confront climate change.