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CLIMATE, COAL AND HUMANS


The Paris Agreement in 2015 had set the tone for an international consensus on the imperative to curb the rise in temperatures. Despite more than 190 countries have signed the agreement, much doesn't seem to have been done yet. As the nation belly-up for the forthcoming 26th Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, India stands in a tight spot with redundant policies to address the big climate questions. Whenever the notion of net-zero energy is brought up, India is keen to point out that its per capita emissions are low. Seldom does it realize that it can no longer afford to turn a blind eye? India, the world's third-largest carbon emitter after China and the United States, has maintained that it is on track to meet its Paris climate accord target to decrease its carbon footprint by 33-35 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. However, according to the IPCC study, the latter goal is quickly slipping away since governments are not lowering carbon emissions fast enough, leading global temperatures to rise. Taking these facts into consideration, India has not yet followed suit even after the major carbon-emitting countries have announced their neutrality plans.

Climate Change, and Human Rights:

The recently published IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report from the Working Group I calls out stridently for climate action. The report says that the impact of a 1.5°C increase in global temperatures will "disproportionately affect disadvantaged and vulnerable populations through food insecurity, higher food prices, income losses, lost livelihood opportunities, adverse health impacts, and population displacements".[1]The report further goes on to claim that, given the degree of ineptitude, the global warming threshold of 1.5°C is soon to be breached. Flavouring this viciousness is the truth of the scientific prophecies, that warned India against weather extremes, which the recent news reports stand testimony to. India has been ranked as the seventh most affected country in the Global Climate Risk Index, 2021.[2]Climate change induced by human activity has now in turn proven to have detrimental consequences for the full enjoyment of our rights. It has significant implications on an array of human rights, including the rights to life, self-determination, development, food, health, sanitation, and shelter. Global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change should be directed by appropriate human rights norms and principles, such as the rights to participation and information, openness, accountability, equity, and non-discrimination, and in accordance with the human rights framework.[3]

Human Rights, and Coal:

The awaited 26th COP will once again inevitably wrestle with the vexed questions of reduction in carbon emissions – from coal, oil and other fossil fuels. Coal continues to dominate India’s contribution in its energy mix. India relies on coal to meet over 70% of its power demand, therefore rendering India’s mining industry an increasingly important part of the economy. The industry employs hundreds of thousands of workers and contributes to broader economic growth. But at what cost?

The magnitude of illegality that prevails in India’s mining industry is impossible to overestimate. The fundamental issue is the lack of crucial regulatory institutions to guarantee that the law is followed and that human rights are upheld. Per international law, India's government is obligated to defend its citizens' human rights against abuse by mining corporations and other businesses. India has laws in place to achieve precisely that, but positive as they sound, they are so badly drafted that they are doomed to fail. Others have been effectively neutralised as a result of inadequate implementation and enforcement, as well as corruption by elected politicians and allied authorities .As a result, the current system is in effect geared to devour the worker and compensate him little, while the administrative departments employ the next wave of workers, amounting to an indefinitely appalling cycle.

Recently, India has been undergoing a coal crisis, as the stock of coal held in the country's thermal power plants has hit critically low levels. This has in turn afforded India an opportunity to consider the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and in doing so put an end to abhorrent instances of labour exploitation arising out of the subsequent mining activities conclusively.

Coal, Climate Change and Actionable Alternatives:

Coal directly adds to the carbon emissions, notwithstanding the modes of consumption. To such a degree, even extracting the resource from the dense ecological cover results in further emissions, as it requires clearing out forests and emptying the 'carbon sinks back in the atmosphere. Hence, to pause the temperature at the global threshold, per consensus under the Paris Agreement, emissions must be significantly reduced in all the sectors, regardless. It is in the common interest of all to end the reliance on conventional fossil fuels to help the environment and human health prosper and to further prevent catastrophic events from happening. The energy question is intrinsically linked with the economic growth, infrastructure development and competitiveness among nations. Even if climate talks make little progress on emission cuts and timelines, the only way forward is decarbonization.[4]

Further, the demand to accelerate mitigation and adaptation efforts is immense, and India to a great degree seems to be otiose in this regard. Even though India has a large number of important initiatives in the pipeline, such as the National Action Plan on Climate Change or the International Solar Alliance, it has to take a step forward in policy formation and execution. Otherwise, its economic and political endeavours would be overburdening and subject to criticism in the not-too-distant future. India’s current stand to seek compensation from the Developed Nations for expenses incurred as a direct result of their industrialization and urbanization adventures is a witty diplomatic and negotiable endeavour, but it must not be used to tuck away the lackadaisical approach towards this imminent threat to humanity. In this context, a policy framework is essential for accelerating the acceptance of emerging technologies and their subsequent deployment. For example, a portion of the budget may be set aside for research and development, or grants and subsidies could be granted to encourage the use of sustainable technology. It is critical to make concerted efforts to close research gaps, and cross-industry collaboration should be promoted.

By exploiting this opportunity and exploring other alternatives, not only would India stand true to its ratifications of the various Human Rights treaties, but also produce qualitative templates and quantifiable data to work upon there of .As a double-edged sword, this might aid in addressing both the egregious human rights breaches and a more temperate climate action plan. The question now is whether the delegates at Glasgow can rise above pessimism and surprise us all with truly meaningful steps.[5]


About the Author :~



Parikshit Chauhan

The author is a Law Graduate from Panjab University, Chandigarh. He is currently pursuing his Post Graduate Diploma in Human Rights Law from NLSIU, Bangalore. His interests include public policy and international affairs, and he writes on the same regularly.



__________________________________________________________________________________ [1] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,“Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group-I to the Sixth Assessment Report”. [2]GermanWatch, “Global Climate Risk Index, 2021”https://germanwatch.org/sites/germanwatch.org/files/2021-01/cri-2021_table_10_most_affected_countries_in_2019.jpg [3] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Understanding Human Rights and Climate Change: 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”. [4] Dinesh C Sharma, “Time to plan coal exit”, The Tribune (Chandigarh, 21 October 2021). [5] The New York Times.



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