Is this climate justice?
During his address on September 3-5, 2015 “Samvad”—Global Hindu-Buddhist Initiative on Conflict Avoidance and Environment Consciousness, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated, “Climate change is a pressing global challenge. It calls for a collective human action and a comprehensive response. In India, faith and Nature have had a profound link since ancient times. Buddhism and environment are deeply co-related.” He also went on to say, “In this context, I want to say that we, the present generation, have the responsibility to act as trustees of the abundant natural wealth for the future generations. The issue is not merely about climate change; it is about climate justice. Again I repeat, the issue is not about climate change, it is about climate justice. We can’t let climate change keep affecting people in this manner. This is why I believe the discourse must shift focus from climate change to climate justice.”
The nuanced position and repeated emphasis to move the conversation away from climate change to climate justice is a sophisticated comment from the prime minister of a country that is being talked about as a rapidly-growing economy and hence, potentially a large carbon emitter. The position has the significance given that in around three months, world leaders will meet in Paris for the United Nations climate talks (yet again) to discuss the future of the planet. Is this articulation the foundation on which India’s climate change strategy is going to be built? Is India going to be a bold leader and alter the course of the deliberations in Paris? Not so fast!
Juxtapose the comment on “climate justice” with an announcement made in the press by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (a ministry whose policies will have strong implications for climate change) on the same day—September 3, 2015. The Indian government has decided to allow exploration of all types of hydrocarbons—oil, gas, shale (oil and gas), coal bed methane. It has decided to auction 69 marginal oil and gas fields of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Oil India, thus opening up the oil and gas sector to investors from across the globe.
Included in this list are shale (oil and gas) and coal bed methane (CBM). These hydrocarbon resources are located both, onshore and offshore. It is well established scientifically that extraction of both these fossil fuel sources (shale oil and gas and CBM) is ecologically damaging. The processes of extraction of these fossil fuels are <g data-gr-id="50">resource</g> (water and energy) intensive and filthy both in terms of water and soil contamination. Their impact on groundwater resources and therefore, the dependent life forms (human and non-human) are likely to be severe. No information has been released regarding the environmental regulatory mechanism that has been put in place to address these issues. Do the existing regulations have the capacity to understand and seek accountability for the potential impacts? How is India’s climate change strategy positioned in the context of this decision to explore and extract shale and coal bed methane? How is this decision going to ensure “climate justice”? These are questions that will have to be pursued assiduously and posted to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change as this process moves forward.
The pattern unfolding in India is not very different from what is happening in the United States. President Obama is visiting Alaska to highlight the dangers of climate change on the Arctic, its inhabitants and ecosystem. At the same time, the US administration has cleared explorations by Shell in the Arctic Ocean. The response to this doublespeak in the US has been massive protests by indigenous communities in Alaska and by civil society organisations across America.
In both cases – is this climate justice? All this is happening just ahead of the Paris meeting on climate change. What does this mean in terms of India’s and the US’ official position at Paris? What climate justice are we going to see there? What is our response to civil society in India to our Government’s doublespeak?
(Radha Gopalan is an environmental scientist and educationist. The views expressed are personal)