Writing to Modi, Repealing UAPA & Representing India @ MOCK COP-Lessons in how to prevent a 5'C rise


INTERVIEW WITH VIKRANT SRIVASTAVA, MOCK COP DELEGATE, INDIA


Q.How did you contribute to MOCK COP? What was that experience like for you?


Mock COP represents the power of youth. I was honoured to be chosen to represent India as a delegate, to demand more action from the world's leaders on climate and social justice issues.


Young people from all over the world gathered to amplify voices from the global south as well as those of minorities. The Mock COP 26 team showed adults that if we, the youth, want to bring change and demand action, we can.


In light of the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, an ambitious, inclusive COP26 in November was postponed. This news left many young people like myself disappointed because India is especially vulnerable to climate change. We are already seeing the effects of a changing climate and COVID-19 has further exposed the fractured structure of the government.


Q. How has climate change impacted indigenous communities in India? Is their experience getting enough publicity, if any?


It has made life more difficult for tribal people. Climate change has increased their costs of living. It's responsible for a decline in crop production and an increase in the incidence of crop diseases. It has also placed a lot of stress on our shared resources.


In recent years the evidence of climate change has also become visible in Jharkhand State. The incidence of drought has increased in the entire state. The tribe is mainly dependent on natural resources and rain-fed agriculture. Therefore, they have been adversely affected due to changes in the climate which disproportionately impact the economically vulnerable, especially in areas that are at high-risk to natural hazards.


Indigenous communities are amongst the most vulnerable as they are the most dependent on the natural environment. At a time when the world is trying to find ways to fight climate change, indigenous communities living in and around forests have a big role to play to mitigate its devastating impacts. Many indigenous communities preserve forests like their ancestors, and for this, they receive several benefits for their health, food, nutrition, water and income.


By driving them away from these villages we are essentially turning many of our natural biodiversity-rich forests into orphans.


Q. You wrote a letter to PM Modi about his handling of the climate crisis in India. What did you say and how did he respond?


I grew up learning and adapting with nature. After completing my Masters in Environmental Science I started learning more about climate change on the ground level and saw that India is facing climate change, malnutrition, inequality, poverty, ecological degradation, and many other complex interrelated challenges and it is also clear many of our fundamental systems are broken.


Unless we speak to the root of the problem, we won't be able to fix it.


I did write to him. I wrote the letter because being a citizen of a country that is very vulnerable to climate change, I can see that things are getting worse and that it won't stop unless we act on it together.


The report from Modi's ministries say that the global average temperature is likely to rise by nearly 5°C, and possibly more, by the end of the twenty-first century. Even if all the commitments (called the “Nationally Determined Contributions”) made under the 2015 Paris agreement are met, it is projected that global warming will exceed 3°C by the end of the century. This means that whatever we are doing right now is not enough and if it's not enough what are we waiting for?


We have a moral duty to take care of the planet and be kind to its inhabitants. That is our fundamental duty and our right. We all have a right to live in a healthy environment.


The pandemic has exposed the fractures and it’s a wakeup call to rethink the choices we make. Some of the points I raised with him were to implement the following points without delay:


  • National Focal Point for Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE): -Action for Climate Empowerment which plays a key role in promoting changes in lifestyles, attitudes, and behaviours needed to foster low-emission, climate-resilient, and sustainable development and to Communicate a Net Zero-emission plan with 2050 as a reference year


  • Preventing the impacts of warming above 2°C will be impossible unless we incorporate climate considerations and prepare a zero emission plan.


In response to my letter, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change sent me two letters to say that the letter got the approval of the competent authorities and was also forwarded to other parties with a request for appropriate action and that the issues flagged in the grievance were duly noted. However I have yet to see any appropriate action.


Q. Is the Indian government doing enough to meet their NDCs?


Yes, as per the government but is it enough to avert climate catastrophe?


India is an emerging economic powerhouse. It is also the world’s third-largest energy consumer and greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, although it's per capita emissions, and historical emissions are low.


India is also in the Top 5, ranking amongst the most vulnerable 181 countries in the 2020 climate-change risk Index. India ranks 168th, alongside Ghana, out of 180 countries on the biennial Environmental Performance Index, produced by researchers at Yale and Columbia universities. In 2016, it ranked 141st.


The nation has a large existing fleet of coal plants and there’s a mismatch between peak periods of demand and output from renewables. Coal India Limited is the single largest coal producer in the world and the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi reinforced its commitment to coal as part of the broader Covid19 stimulus package. This stimulus package includes more than $6 billion on coal transport infrastructure and offers 50 mining blocks for auction as part of a plan to revive the Indian economy which has taken a hit because of Covid-19.


We can't afford to forget that out of all fossil fuels, coal emits the most carbon dioxide per unit of energy, so burning it poses a further threat to the global climate.


Also, I want to point out that if a country fails to meet its NDCs, there is no penalty. The fact is every country is looking out for its own narrow interests and are therefore, committing to do as little as possible.


Q. What impact will increasing Palm Oil production have on climate change in India?


While the rest of the world boycotts palm oil, India wants to produce more of it. This is a disastrous environmental exercise which will be very costly.


By 2030, India is forecast to have only half of the water it needs and each palm requires more than 250 litres per day for a good harvest. Many have been critical of India’s strategy of pushing for the cultivation of the most water-intensive crop in states where there is no water.


Supporting this requirement will be unsustainable for India in the long term and will negatively impact the quality of life for populations in the regions that choose to grow irrigated oil palm.


Monoculture of any kind is damaging for biodiversity. Moreover, oil palm is an extremely water-intensive crop, which will impact groundwater availability, it will also impact land rights, food security, water table, and the social structure of the community.


Q. How has climate change impacted the Indian Agricultural industry and can it survive in a 2’C world?


The country’s food security may be placed under progressively greater pressure due to rising temperatures, heat extremes, floods, droughts, and increasing year to-year rainfall variability that can disrupt rain-fed agricultural food production and adversely impact crop yield. Climate change will have an economic impact on agriculture, including changes in farm profitability, prices, supply, demand, and trade.


The magnitude and geographical distribution of such climate-induced changes may affect our ability to expand the food production as required to feed the populace. Climate change could thus have far reaching effects on the patterns of trade among nations, development, and food security.


Q. India already has a problem with malnutrition, how will that intensify in a 2’C world?

Malnutrition is responsible for two-thirds of deaths under the age of five in India.


India faces severe levels of malnutrition and climate change will only intensify that. India ranked 94 among 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2020 and is in the ‘serious’ hunger category with a score of 27.2.


Although malnutrition has continued to decline in South Asia, it is rising in other regions due to factors including lack of access, availability, and affordability.


This can be exacerbated by climate change and change in crop yield potential. Climate change will definitely affect the quality and safety of food.


Q. What can you tell us about recent events in Mollem, Goa and Assam?


Over 5,000 odd protestors, including students, took to the existing railway track in Chandor, South Goa, on November 1 for a midnight protest against the double tracking of the railway line, which is part of three projects. These projects will cut through protected areas in Goa (Mollem) and the fragmentation will destroy an important tiger corridor and biodiversity.


Mollem is part of the Western Ghats, a global biodiversity hotspot and a lifeline for peninsular India. The government and concerned ministries have blatantly ignored the growing concerns regarding these projects passing through Goa’s sensitive protected regions and the inevitable damage that will be caused by them.


There is also a place in Assam named Baghjan that has been burning continuously for more than 100 days now and it's a kilometre away from the Maguri-Motapung wetland. The site of the incident is also next to Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. The oil well spill effected 60-70 hectares around the site, which includes crop fields, grasslands and swamps.


The blowout impacted 2,000 families belonging to Baghjan, who have shifted into temporary camps. The victims in the relief camps reported sleeplessness, difficulty in breathing, and dizziness but the government doesn't seem to care.


Q. You have first-hand experience of how floods devastate entire villages and cities. Can you talk to us about how flooding has impacted Gorakhpur?


I was born in Gorakhpur, a small city in the state of Uttar Pradesh and my native home was in Maharajganj.


These are districts adjoining Nepal which face floods every year. Growing up, I realised that because of these extreme weather conditions we would have to give up our agricultural land. I used to visit my grandfather's home which was in Maharajganj and the city used to face extreme floods which damaged people's home, property and wealth. Some people lost everything and they had very little to begin with.


In 2018, a close friend's brother along with two children died due to a high rise in water levels in Gorakhpur.


Gorakhpur is a high risk flood-prone area. 17 of its 19 blocks regularly face flooding. Despite massive relief and rescue operations, hundreds of people still struggle every year for food and water. As the water level become neck-deep, many people have to take shelter in high places. The unavailability of potable water forced many to boil the flood water and drink it.


Q. What will climate change do to India's already stressed water resources?


Our water resources are under severe threat of climate change in terms of changes in the magnitude and intensity of rainfall, groundwater recharge, floods, and drought disasters, including contamination of surface water and groundwater resources.


Niti Aayog reported that there are currently 600 million Indians who face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.


The crisis is only going to get worse. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people.


India is placed at 120th among 122 countries in the water quality index threat. Changes in a glacier due to increases in temperature can influence river run off and the availability of water in the Himalayan rivers.


India is currently suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat because of it.


Q. How does the UAPA impact climate activists?


Climate activists are not terrorists, however that didn't stop the Indian government from serving a notice under the dreaded UAPA - an anti-terrorism law which allowed for the arrests of young climate activists who had been accused of challenging the ‘sovereignty and integrity of India’.


This notice was invoked in response to a digital movement led by students and it was later withdrawn, but it should never have been forced on students who were fighting for their future rights.


Q. How is the youth activist movement in India shaping up? Is it making a difference and if so where?


In India, the movement is still fledgling but Indians are showing their solidarity with the ongoing global climate strike and today thousands of young people are standing for a clean and bright future.


People are starting to understand their duties for the planet and asking questions. This is the start of a change that we need to drive further.


The controversial Metro Car Shed from Aarey in the Western suburbs of Mumbai was shifted to Kanjurmarg in the Eastern suburbs. This switch left Aarey forest's 800 acres of land in tact.


Protestors were arrested for wanting to save nature but ultimately it was a victory of their relentless efforts of more than 5 years to save the jungle in the heart of the country's financial capital.