Yoga may give inner peace but is not a solution to the global climate crisis – a green activist comments on Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s speech at the UN General Assembly

Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the world leaders to adopt an International Yoga day to fight climate change, during his address to the UN General Assembly on Saturday. (Image by Press Information Bureaur, Government of India)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the world leaders to adopt an International Yoga Day to help fight climate change during his address to the UN General Assembly on Saturday. (Image by Press Information Bureaur, Government of India)

In his first address to the UN General Assembly in New York, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the global crisis of climate change. He pointed towards ‘lifestyles’ being the essence of the problem. This is not the first time PM Modi has attributed the climate crises to changing lifestyles.

In his speech to millions of Indian children on the occasion of Teacher’s day he had made a reference to climate change saying that ‘it is not the climate but we who have changed’. Unfortunately, there is a recurring ambiguity in all his speeches about the course of action needed for the world to avert the climate crises.

While PM Modi is right in saying that the causal factor for climate change is primarily anthropogenic and that it requires ‘us’ to change our lifestyles, he misses the point on what the government needs to do in order to ensure that the lifestyle of one-sixth of the world population changes for the better.

Climate change and India’s poverty

Climate change is a serious threat to India’s development aspirations. While India is continually seeing an increase in natural disasters, the recent one being the floods in Jammu and Kashmir, there are many tell-tale signs that India is facing increasing threats from other impacts of climate change as well. From receding glaciers to rising sea levels, a gradual increase in average mean temperatures to high uncertainty in monsoon patterns, India and its people are bearing the brunt of the climate crises not just monetarily but with their lives as well.

The current government and the government before have deemed poverty eradication and economic growth as their top priorities but have not given the same attention to the issue of climate change. This is a blind spot especially because scientists across the world have made it evidently clear that climate change is and will continue to have a negative impact on both economic growth and poverty eradication. The climate crisis, if left unchecked, would only further denude any progress made on poverty eradication as well as eat away the country’s economic wealth. Therefore, it is in India’s interest to treat climate change as a priority crisis.

So why is the Indian Prime Minister not addressing the real issue? Why are we continuing to make remarks about climate change in passing as merely a lifestyle issue? Why is the government not saying anything about how it intends to ‘nudge’ people in India to change their lifestyles?

Lifestyles of people will not change out of the goodness of people. If that were the case, the government need not step in for issues on women’s safety, or putting taxes on life threatening products like cigarettes or asking pillion riders to wear helmets. These are some of the issues where people are well aware of the problems and dangers and yet need strong intervention from the government. The government needs to step in to speed up the change, to ensure that the risk is minimal, that people are not just acting out of self-interest but are also responsible towards others.

Indian government’s climate vision

While the Indian government has taken the first few steps in the right direction on climate change, there is a lot more left to be done to address a crisis of this magnitude. The government needs to look at the cost benefit analysis of various developmental actions and think about the long-term vision that India needs to take from the prism of climate change. While India would benefit if the government breaks way from the grasp of industry on issues like hydrofluorocarbons and vehicular fuel efficiency, a nationwide vulnerability index and a national adaptation action plan would ensure Indian people are protected from the impacts of climate change. These are just some of the actions the government could take, along with many other actions and policies across sectors to ensure long-term sustainability of India’s economic growth as well as eradication of poverty.

India and multilateralism

At the UN, Prime Minister Modi also made many references to a renewed understanding of multilateralism in areas of terrorism and trade. He encouraged the global community to come together to address these issues. However, he was not forthcoming on climate change, which is also a key multilateral issue.

Modi proposed an ‘International Yoga Day’ in his speech as one of the solutions to climate change. However, he chose to stay away from the UN summit on climate change earlier in the week where heads of states were invited by the UN Secretary General to address the issue.  While leaders from China and USA announced various initiatives they were implementing to address the climate crisis, India’s Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar made a bland speech about the country’s existing action on climate change and reiterated various principles which need to be adhered to while looking at global solutions.

India needs a global solution to climate change. We need to play a key role in constructing a global agreement on climate change. We need the Paris Agreement in 2015 to be successful. Why did this not figure in the Prime Minister’s speech at the UN General Assembly? While the government continues to stress on principles like common but differentiated responsibility, we have not made any progress to put forward solutions or engage with ideas on the table at these global negotiations. We keep reiterating the need for technology transfer but we do not have any technology needs assessment at a national or sub national level. We are just scratching the surface and merely posturing when we talk about climate change in international negotiations. We have so much academic rigour and expertise and yet we have not put forward any solution to address the issue of equity or the issue of global climate finance which are key demands made by India at these negotiations. We only talk about what India needs but have not really chartered a pathway on how India believes those needs could be met.

The people of India have vested a lot of responsibility on this government by conferring it an unchallenged majority. It’s time that rather than doing a shavasan on climate change, the government did what it has been brought to power for – India’s holistic development.

Siddharth Pathak is International Policy Coordinator, Climate Action Network International. The opinions expressed in this article are personal. 

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