For a while now — post the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit to be precise — the climate change story lost its way since most nations have been busy grappling with the economic downturn. Taking advantage of the lull — and a certain level of public exhaustion regarding the issue — climate change sceptics like the Copenhagen Consensus Center's Bjorn Lomborg upped the ante, claiming that certain aspects of global warming like overpopulation, declining energy resources, deforestation, species loss and water shortages are unsupported by analysis of the relevant data. But no matter which side of the climate divide you are on, the new report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Monday is a good enough jolt to make people sit up and take notice and re-calibrate the action plan against climate change. The report said that climate change is certain to have a disastrous impact on agriculture, water supply and society.
For a country that is perched precariously on the development curve and still trying to figure out how to balance growth and development, the signals from the IPCC report are ominous: Climate change can affect agricultural production, raise inter-state tensions over natural resources and cause a drop in GDP. Of course, then there are the fears of an increase in Phailin-like cyclones and rising sea levels, which could also affect economic hotspots along the coasts and gobble up settlements, increasing migration, which, in turn, will put enormous pressure on the already stretched hinterlands of India. To avoid such a catastrophe, the first thing that the new government, which will assume the reins after the elections, must do is to put the issue back on the agenda. Many not so economically strong countries have done so: Ethiopia has committed itself to carbon-neutral development; Bangladesh has invested $10 billion of its own money to adapt to extreme climatic events and Nepal is the first country to develop adaptation plans at the community level.
Despite the scale of the challenge and its ramifications, the issue has still not figured in the political discourse in the run-up to the elections. While the slick Congress manifesto has a section on the environment that talks about renewable energy and water conservation, it does not talk explicitly on a climate change policy, even though the UPA had set up a high-powered panel to tackle it. The BJP's manifesto is not out yet and its PM candidate Narendra Modi has spoken at length on the challenge. But it remains to be seen whether the party comes up with some manifesto promises on the issue. Climate change is a clear and present danger, but we seem determined to bury our heads in the sand on this.