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By Sumesh Mangalassery
In recent times, climate change has captured the attention of scientists, policymakers and civil society groups. It is far less common that people's groups raise their voices and discuss the local level impacts of climate change and its implications to their lives and livelihoods. From 20th to 21st June 2009, some 100 activists from social movements, trade unions, and civil society organisations from across India met at Ranchi, Jharkhand, for a national consultation to evolve the people's understanding of the climate crisis.
At the meeting, hosted by the "Jharkhand Jungle Bachao Andolan" (Movement to Save the Forests of Jharkhand), they discussed the need to evolve equitable strategies for development that are low carbon based and incorporate improvement of social indicators such as education, health and environment. The gathering was a unique opportunity for groups to discuss their struggles and to formulate a common agenda.
Climate change in different parts of India
Indigenous (Adivasi) groups expressed that though they have not contributed to the climate crisis, they are being profoundly impacted by it. Recent drives for industrialisation in their areas have led to increased carbon emissions. Mining activities have been a prime cause of the cutting of forests. National and international solidarity is needed in their struggle to protect the forests, which will lead to a stabilisation of the climate. There is also a need for cross-country coordination efforts on adaptation. For example, the North East of India is also affected by policies pursued by neighbouring countries. In case of heavy rains in China or excess snow melting and water overflow in Chinese dams, villages in Assam get washed away. Flash floods in Bhutan have a similar effect in India. Weather patterns are already changing in the North East. There has been a steady decline in rainfall in all the seven North-Eastern states, while temperature has increased significantly.
In Himachal Pradesh, increased temperatures have caused several glaciers to melt. The horticulture economy has been adversely impacted and apple cultivation has been affected. Farmers are forced to move to higher altitudes for cultivation. The agriculture sector is already in the midst of a deep crisis and climate change could be the last nail in its coffin. The prevailing drought in regions like Bundelkhand has led to a total collapse of agriculture. Women, Dalits, and agricultural labourers are most affected.
Tourism as "climate killer"
The tourism industry is a contributor to the current crisis, especially through transport and aviation. Tourism also consumes water and energy and destroys natural environments (forests, mangroves). The proposed "solutions" are often displacing marginalised communities from their land and livelihood. In Kerala, an artificial reef in Kovalam is supposed to mitigate sea erosion. If they establish this, 500 traditional fisher folk's livelihoods will be at stake. So whether it is climate related disasters, false solutions or non-solutions, the prime victims are coastal people and Adivasis.
Contentious CDM projects
From an Indian perspective, the non-solutions for the global climate crisis include the so-called CDM ("Clean Development Mechanism") projects. They are financed by the global North, but as a rule the beneficiaries are not small environmentally friendly projects, but large corporations. All these projects actually end up justifying the increased emissions in the North. Moreover, 30 - 50 percent of the credits that are sold by the CDM projects to Northern corporations do not reflect genuine reduction. The struggles against CDM projects are very difficult, as these projects are presented as a clean alternative that is not only beneficial to the South, but also to the North. However, carbon trading is a method to shift the responsibility to others. In addition, the CDM projects that are being projected as alternatives often have serious effects on the environment and people.
In a case study presentation on a CDM project of a wind based power plant in Maharashtra, it was highlighted that land was acquired using political power, displacing more people than needed. The company has even used the land designated for the CDM project for other activities. The project involved the felling of trees on the Western Ghats, which may affect the monsoons.
In another project on bio-fuels, the hay that the project used for energy production not only produced fly ash that has its own health hazards, but also affected the local cattle-breeding, as it is traditionally used as fodder, and is not really biomass waste. The National Adivasi Alliance highlighted that the large number of CDM projects which have mushroomed in Jharkhand are not only engaged in the dubious carbon trade, but provide the excuse for exploiting and polluting natural resources and displacing the rightful occupants of these regions.
Strategies, demands and campaigns
Thus, there is a need for coordinated dissemination of such information, not just about individual projects, but also on the global implications of such projects. In Ranchi, several strategies were proposed to move the agenda of climate justice forward. These include the strengthening of campaigns on the ground and interventions in national and international processes with the aim of influencing government policies (e.g. energy, mining, transport, tourism). International negotiations relating to climate change need to be monitored. Furthermore, alternatives to conventional energy sources need to be developed and the issue of high consumption and use of energy in cities needs to be addressed.
Generally, the consultation concluded in an opinion that this is a crisis that has its roots in capitalism. At its heart, climate change is undermining the rights and access of the marginalised over common goods and resources such as water, land, air, forests, etc. The marginalised constitute the majority of people in India and many other parts of the world. They will be hugely affected by climate change and global warming. So it is essential that those struggling world wide for a better life and against inequality, injustice and exploitation of all kind, incorporate climate justice in their struggles.
Sumesh Mangalassery is a founder member of "KABANI - the other direction", a voluntary initiative working on tourism issues in India.
(988 words, 83 lines, September 2009)