As Heat Waves Scorches India, Let’s Examine Political Parties’ Climate Change Commitments

Sakshi Srivastava,

New Delhi: India’s scorching heat waves coincide with political pledges on climate change in the world’s largest democracy. As parties unveil ambitious plans, a closer look reveals the nation’s evolving stance on environmental challenges.
As India awaits the results of the world’s biggest-ever democratic election, it also grapples with more than just political tensions — severe heat waves have people across the country sweltering under a scorching sun.
Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) is enduring an intense heat wave, with a weather station in the capital reporting an astonishing 52.9 degrees Celsius on May 29. However, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has yet to verify the reading’s accuracy, as officials suspect it may be “due to a sensor error or local factors” given its significant disparity from temperatures at other stations.
According to an IMD press release, the severe heat wave in Northwest and Central India is expected to gradually ease from May 30. Severe conditions have affected regions like Haryana, Chandigarh-Delhi, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh since mid-May, with Churu in Rajasthan recording 50.5°C.
Maximum temperatures ranged from 46-50°C in many areas. A decrease of 3-4°C is anticipated over the next few days. Heat wave conditions will persist in parts of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, with a gradual reduction from May 30.

Support TwoCircles

What Do Political Parties’ Manifestos Say?

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s election manifesto, spanning 69 pages, marks a significant shift in focus towards environmental and climate concerns. In contrast to the mere paragraph, addressing environmental issues in the party’s 1999 Lok Sabha elections manifesto, the current document dedicates three pages to these topics under the section titled ‘Modi Ki Guarantee for Sustainable Bharat’.
Notably, the term “climate change” was absent from both the 1999 and 2004 BJP manifestos, highlighting a notable evolution in the party’s priorities over time.
Central to the BJP’s environmental agenda is the ambitious pledge for India to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2070, a commitment echoed by short-term goals aimed at strengthening non-fossil fuel-based energy sources. The party aims to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in the energy mix to 50% and reduce the emissions intensity of the economy, while simultaneously enhancing carbon sinks such as forests by 2030.
In its pursuit of diversified energy sources, the BJP manifesto underscores a renewed focus on expanding India’s nuclear energy capacity, alongside a robust push for renewables.
Notably, the party champions its rooftop solar scheme, offering increased subsidies for households adopting rooftop solar modules and plans for the establishment of mega solar and wind parks, albeit acknowledging the challenges inherent in their implementation.
Given the acute air pollution crisis witnessed in Delhi and other northern Indian states during winter months, the BJP commits to achieving National Air Quality Standards in 60 cities by 2029 through the National Clean Air Program (NCAP), recognizing the significance of addressing this pressing issue.
The manifesto also outlines plans to enhance the electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem, citing the successful induction of over 30 lakh EVs on Indian roads and pledging to expand EV fleets while establishing more EV charging stations nationwide.
Additionally, the BJP places emphasis on ethanol blending in petrol and green hydrogen as key components of its environmental strategy, despite acknowledging challenges such as potential implications for food security and the nascent stage of green hydrogen technology.
Amongst its array of promises, the BJP vows to launch a National Atmospheric Mission, dubbed “Mausam”, aimed at enhancing India’s weather readiness and climate resilience.
Other commitments include flood management initiatives in the North East, measures to mitigate the impacts of floods in Himalayan rivers, and comprehensive efforts to improve the health and cleanliness of major rivers, along with the introduction of the Green Aravali Project to combat desertification and preserve biodiversity in the region.
In the Congress party’s 2024 election manifesto, a substantial portion is dedicated to addressing environmental concerns, climate issues, disaster management and water and sanitation-related matters.
Past Lok Sabha election manifestos from the party reflect a consistent emphasis on climate change and environmental sustainability, according to an analysis conducted by the Centre for Policy Research in 2022 .
The manifesto outlines the Congress party’s intention to launch a Green New Deal Investment Programme, focusing on renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure and the creation of green jobs.
Additionally, it emphasizes the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) and proposes the establishment of a Green Transition Fund to facilitate India’s transition to a green economy, with the goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2070.
Recognizing the significant loss of forest cover in India, the manifesto pledges to work with state governments to increase forest cover, redefine ‘forest’ and ‘forest cover’ based on modern scientific standards and involve local communities in afforestation efforts.
The vision document also addresses the issue of landslides in hill districts, promising to evolve measures to prevent landslides and constitute an independent Environment Protection and Climate Change Authority to establish, monitor and enforce environmental standards.
However, some earlier promises, such as green budgeting and the launch of Green National Accounts, have been dropped from the 2024 manifesto.
Additionally, the grand old party refrains from making claims regarding the addition of forest cover, a statement included in its 2019 manifesto.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M)’s manifesto presents a comprehensive stance on environmental issues, emphasizing the need for effective, transparent and time-bound processes in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Clearances.
They advocate for the repeal of the EIA Notification 2020 and the issuance of revised guidelines to ensure accountability and the absence of conflicts of interest.
Furthermore, the manifesto underscores the importance of economy-wide measures to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with a focus on promoting renewable energy sources like solar and wind.
It proposes the development of a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) through a participatory approach, involving all stakeholders, particularly states, to address the impacts of climate change on various sectors such as agriculture, urban infrastructure and coastal areas.
In addition, the CPI(M) calls for the formulation of sustainable and climate-friendly development strategies for ecologically fragile regions like the Himalayas, Western Ghats and the North-East. It highlights the need for a thorough revision of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to swiftly and effectively reduce air pollution in urban areas.
Lastly, the manifesto stresses the urgency of implementing measures to prevent the degradation and destructive development of riverbeds and flood plains, particularly in urban areas.

Current Climate and Environmental Trends in India

India’s climate action faces challenges despite progress in renewable energy. As per the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) report, India’s targets and actions are rated “Highly insufficient” for the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal. Current policies, while improving, still fall short.
The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) 50% non-fossil capacity target, conditional on support, is deemed insufficient as India may surpass it without additional efforts.
Plans for coal expansion conflict with climate goals. India’s 2070 net zero target is rated “Poor”. To align with 1.5°C, India must phase out coal by 2040, strengthen targets and seek international support.
The State of India’s Environment Report 2023, jointly launched by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Down to Earth (DTE) magazine, provides a comprehensive assessment of various environmental and developmental issues plaguing the country.
One alarming finding of the report is the rampant encroachment on water bodies across the country, with over 30,000 water bodies being encroached upon. Additionally, India generates a staggering 150,000 tonnes of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) daily, with more than half of it ending up in landfills or remaining unattended, aggravating environmental pollution.
Air pollution emerges as a significant concern, with the report highlighting that on average, individuals in India lose almost five years of their lives due to air pollution-related health issues.
Surprisingly, rural India is experiencing a higher toll from air pollution compared to urban areas, underscoring the urgent need for improved healthcare infrastructure in rural regions.
The report also sheds light on the prevalence of environmental crimes, with courts grappling with 245 cases daily to clear the backlog.
Moreover, India has witnessed an alarming increase in extreme weather events, with over 2,900 lives lost between January and October 2022 alone.
In terms of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), India’s overall global ranking has slipped over the past five years, now standing at 121. The country faces challenges across various SDGs, including zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, gender equality and sustainable cities.
Plastic waste management remains a pressing issue, although the report notes positive developments in cities adopting waste-wise practices such as source segregation and plastic minimization.
On the agriculture front, there is growing evidence of the efficacy of traditional and regenerative farming methods, offering a ray of hope amidst environmental challenges. However, the report highlights the dark truth of forest losses, even as communities demand rights over forest resources, which are gradually being granted.

What’s the Way Ahead?

Sunil Kumar Aledia, executive director of the Centre for Holistic Development and a social worker working with Delhi’s homeless population for years, critiques the government’s approach to climate and environmental issues, highlighting concerns about its preparedness for future.
He points to the recent Delhi floods as evidence of the government’s lack of readiness for such occurrences. “The government fails to address environmental concerns, as evidenced by the unchecked conversion of urban areas into concrete jungles and the alarming decrease in the Yamuna River’s water levels,” he stated.
Aledia further stresses the growing homeless population, particularly in the face of urban poverty and extreme weather conditions. Despite these issues, he observes a reluctance on the part of the government to address criticism and take decisive action.
He suggests that while the government prioritizes superficial beautification projects, concrete actions to address pressing environmental and social challenges seem lacking.
Aledia doubts the government’s capability to address the situation effectively because it focuses more on talking than on implementing practical solutions.
The elections for the 543 seats in Lok Sabha have been completed, spanning from April 19 to June 1, conducted in seven phases. The results are scheduled to be announced on June 4.