Missing in the campaign heat

Missing in the campaign heat

Asia earned the title of the second warmest region in 2023, with its mean temperature 0.91°C above the 1991-2020 reference period, according to the State of the Climate in Asia report released by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). While the report did not rank countries within the region, India was singled out for extreme weather events it faced last year, including heatwaves, floods, and a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF). The world is at a critical juncture, WMO secretary-general Celeste Saulo said, “where the impact of climate change intersects with societal inequalities”. Her statement is significant as nearly a billion people set out to vote in the general elections over the next few weeks, during which, incidentally, the India Meteorological Department has also predicted heatwaves. The climate, unfortunately, has yet to become a conversation in Indian elections.

IMD declares it a heat wave when the day temperature touches 40 degrees Celsius and it is at least 4.5 degrees above the climatic normal. (Representative Image)

Most poll manifestos have been muted on the climate crisis. While there are mentions of forest rights, rights for the indigenous people, and scaling up of the country’s renewable energy capacity, the true test lies in viewing ecological disasters in political terms, as questions of justice. The report spoke of the below-normal winter precipitation in the Hindu Kush region, which made news in January. Its impact in the form of near-dry levels in key reservoirs has become apparent now. In view of these weather extremes, promises by parties to reduce economic losses in the hills and improve irrigation systems in the plains would appear hollow if not viewed on a country-wide, even global, canvas. Disasters such as the GLOF in South Lhonak Lake last year in Sikkim can serve as a case study to help decision-makers. The report itself, Saulo claimed, could act as a tool for decision making at the regional level. But that can happen only if these disasters shape the debate during campaigns.

So far, extreme weather has only found cursory mention in the plans of the parties. The BJP, for instance, plans to launch a mission to make the country “weather-ready” and “climate-smart”. The Congress plans to appoint a committee to study landslides and protect coastal zones. The CPI(M) promises to initiate measures to prevent the degradation of riverbeds in urban areas. None of the parties has an overarching climate vision.

But the onus also lies on the voter, who must seek accountability from the candidates they elect. The challenge lies in electing a government that is not short-sighted in its climate preparedness and employs policies beyond the immediate and the populist.

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