The phenomenon of climate change has transitioned into an urgent climate crisis with its effects being felt by each individual, community, and creature on earth. At a time when it feels like nature has turned against us, a recurring question is — who is going to save us (and how will they possibly do that)? The answer, essentially, is all of us.
Tackling a crisis, no less severe than a pandemic, requires support from all sections of the society — be it scientists, farmers, businessmen, sociologists, etc. What it also gravely demands is strong and empathetic leadership. For a layman, it only makes sense for our political leaders to face the challenges of global warming head-on and provide their citizens with sustainable solutions. However, failure to comprehensively tackle this crisis, which has been looming over all of humanity for decades now, forces us to ask another important question — Are our leaders doing enough?
Or to put it more accurately, ‘Is the gerontocracy equipped to handle a crisis whose reverberations will be felt comparatively less by them?’
India is particularly vulnerable to the atrocities of global warming; deteriorating crop productivity in Telangana, hazardous Air Quality Index in New Delhi, higher incidence of natural disasters in Aizawl — the impact of this crisis is far-reaching and has put the lives of more than 500 million Indians at risk directly, while the rest of the population faces harsh consequences indirectly.¹ Yet, an acknowledgement of these issues in the political sphere remains scarce. During the 2019 elections, climate-related issues comprised a mere 4.5% of the INC manifesto while BJP’s manifesto had only 0.6% words referring to the same.²
Ineffectiveness of action plans at the national level can be attributed to the complexity of dealing with climate change in a nation as vast as India. This forces us to shift our focus towards strategies adopted by state governments, with hopes of action being taken at the grassroots level. It is, however, disappointing to see scattered efforts at varying levels of governance which ultimately fail to combat this issue systemically.³
The rise of youth politics in India provides some respite in the face of these grim statistics.
As the former UN Secretary General is famously known to have said, “They (youth) are adaptable and can quickly make low-carbon lifestyles and career choices a part of their daily lives. Youth should, therefore, be given a chance to take an active part in the decision-making of local, national and global levels. And they can actively support initiatives that will lead to the passage of far-reaching legislation”, it only seems rational to put the youth at the forefront of this fight against global warming. The potential that youth leadership has to offer to this nation is massive — but how can a youth-led green political campaign be made to sound credible to a population which is still grappling to understand the facts of climate change?
A citizenry demands opportunities, equity, and security among other things, from its local government. Looking at these demands from the lens of a politically-active young environmentalist, it should be easy to make the link between the lack of opportunities, declining economic development, increasing health conditions, growing inequalities, and ever-increasing carbon emissions, unorganized waste management system, water table depletion, and soil erosion. Young politicians should, thus, aim to shift the paradigm of development towards one that provides sustainable solutions in the socio-economic and environmental aspect instead of quick-fixes to the problems of the citizenry. Such ambitious ideals, despite their clear intent of helping all — always, usually push a political party more distant from the population instead of becoming the popular choice.
It is hence vital for a youth-led green political campaign to not introduce the concept of ‘sustainability’ as a new innovative concept which promises better livelihoods for all but to take this concept to every household — without making big claims but by addressing existing issues with far-reaching solutions. The top agendas of a green political party at a state level should then include:
- Making adequate investments to help farmers adopt alternative methods of cultivation and restoring degraded land for productive yield cultivation. Hence, reducing the burden of large-scale production of crops on a few farms as well as rehabilitating the lost livelihoods of several small farmers.
- Making local manufacturing industries the drivers of change by putting emphasis on EPR laws⁴ and gradually shifting towards a circular economy. This promises employment for a large group of people concerned with sustainability on different levels of industry functioning.
- All infrastructural developments should be sanctioned only after addressing concerns of all sections of the society with special regard to systematically oppressed sections like — senior citizens, the indigenous population, the financially-disadvantaged, specially-abled citizens, women, trans folks, children etc.
- Starting engagement and intervention programs to reduce inequalities in our society through comprehensive measures. Such programs should have a well-established disaster management plan whose objective would be to prevent marginalised sections of the society from facing adverse impacts of natural disasters, health emergencies and/or economic crisis.
- Implementing decentralised waste management systems with an objective to reduce the burden on landfills, dignify jobs of sanitation workers, stop the practice of incineration and cause an overall reduction in toxicity of land and water bodies.
- Promoting the adoption of indigenous water conservation methods to restore ecological imbalance and provide a regular supply of clean water to all sections of society.
- Promoting skill-based education with a special focus on sustainability in curriculums to train students for the job market while also sensitising the upcoming generation to the hazards of unsustainable growth.
- Making concerted efforts for ‘ecosystem restoration’ — preserving natural forests and wildlife while empowering local communities. Most importantly, preventing development at the cost of environmental degradation.
These agendas just provide a starting point for youth parties to effectively transform governing strategies using an environmental political agenda. It is imperative to note, however, that it is not the ‘youth’ who will be the harbingers of change in our society but their ‘sustainable and all-inclusive policies’. Governance in the new age does not require a face of the youth but the essence of youth leadership to be felt all across the nation — which is only possible if mainstreaming of youth into local legislatures takes place uniformly in all parts of the country.
The objective of a ‘Think Article’ is to bring knowledge about policies in the sphere, in context to the youth of India and, if possible, influencing the policy process. The article has no motivation to pass any political judgments.
- Mani, Muthukumara. South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact Of Temperature And Precipitation Changes On Living Standards, 2018, p. 56. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/28723
- Prakash, Nives Dolsak and Aseem. “Are India’s Political Parties Ignoring Climate Change?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 17 Apr. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/prakashdolsak/2019/04/13/are-indias-political-parties-ignoring-climate-change/#5c9641bb62e9.
- Guha, Asi. “‘Environment’ In The Election Manifestos”. Economic And Political Weekly, vol 54, no. 9, 2019, pp. 13–16.
- ‘“E-Waste Management Rules Amended For Effective Management Of E-Waste In The Country”: Union Environment Minister.’ Pib.Gov.In, 2020, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1526177.