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From Policies to Ballots: The Challenge of Making Climate Change an Electoral Issue in India


Despite India's vulnerability to climate change and commendable government initiatives, the challenge lies in transforming climate concerns into electoral priorities. This article explores the disconnect between impactful policies and public awareness, delving into the reasons behind the absence of climate change as a significant electoral issue in India and the crucial steps needed to bridge this gap.


Global Climate Scenario

The Jan-Dec 2023 average global surface temperature was the highest since global records began in 1850, according to the ‘Annual 2023 Global Climate Report’ by the Nation Centres for Environmental Information. The temperature rise is just the origin of the far reaching consequences of climate change, ranging from extreme weather events to shifts in precipitation patterns to even mortality. This calls for urgent and collective action that is essential to mitigate such adverse effects, adapt to the changes that are already underway, and transition towards a more sustainable and resilient future.


Fighting issues such as climate change is not something an individual or a group can do. It requires efforts at the national as well as international levels along with global cooperation. A lot has been done to date at the global level. There are multiple organisations that have been set up to promote unified efforts on climate mitigation and adaptation by bringing different nations under the same umbrella. A few of these initiatives are: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, it hosts annual conferences known as COP), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the World Bank - Climate Change Group, the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol (it is an international agreement linked to the UNFCCC) and many more.


But as far as citizen involvement is concerned at the national level it calls for the importance of the emergence of climate change as an electoral issue given its massive adverse impacts at the national level in different countries. This can happen only when people have awareness about climate change, enough to affect their voting behaviour and choose a governmental candidate based on not only economic, educational, and health policies but also climate change policies. This has emerged to be the way in many countries now. As stated by Steve Akehurst, a polling analyst specialising in attitudes to climate change, said tackling global warming has been a ‘consensus issue’ in the EU and UK for voters for years. Also, a recent study suggests anxiety about global warming might be what kept Donald Trump from a second term in the White House in 2020, and it could deny him again this year as he claims climate change as something mythical, nonexistent or an expensive hoax. Furthermore, EU voters frequently cite climate change and energy as the 3 most important issues to them. And in Finland the last election campaign in 2019 was dominated by how to tackle climate change. All these instances show civic engagement regarding climate change and how it is a huge electoral issue in these countries. The urgency of addressing climate change is pertinent for India too, as it is vulnerable to its impacts like other countries. 


Indian Climate Scenario

Moving closer to home, let's examine the situation in India. It is also a victim of climate change. A World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report titled ‘Status of Mortality and Economic Losses Due to Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2021)’ shows the global assessment of the impact of extreme weather and climatic conditions, where India was second in death toll at 1,38,377. There’s no denying that India is experiencing extreme weather conditions and is  heating up. Between 1901 and 2018, temperatures rose by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit (0.7 degrees Celsius). The Himalayas which are said to be the protectors of India are at risk, too. A 2019 report predicted that by 2100, at least one-third of the glaciers in the region will be gone due to rising temperatures. Glacial melting eventually leads to flooding and drought. In 2005, 37 inches of rain hit Maharashtra state in under 24 hours, flooding the city of Mumbai and killing almost 900 people. The heavy rain was traced back to warming in the Arabian Sea, which is thought to have contributed to the moisture surge. In the past decade, flooding attributed to extreme rain events resulted in losses of approximately $3 billion each year. The uncertain climatic conditions in India could cost the Indian economy 2.8 percent of its GDP and depress the living standards of nearly half of its population by 2050, RBI’s Department of Economic and Policy Research (DEPR) says in its report on Currency & Finance 2022-23. India may lose anywhere around 3 to 10 percent of its GDP annually by 2100 due to climate change in the absence of adequate mitigation policies. Furthermore, the most vulnerable to climate change are the poorest in India. In 2021, cyclone Yaas left an estimated 1,50,000 homeless in eastern India after destroying at least 25,000 homes. Farmers or people involved in agriculture are also severely impacted by the uncertain weather patterns. Approximately 70% of households in India rely on agriculture for their livelihood but are now facing challenges such as reduced crop yields due to recurring droughts and diminished rainfall.


Government Initiatives

Given the massive effects of climate change that India has experienced, the government has been very proactive in the area of climate mitigation and adaptation policies. The government has also been very engaged on an international level. Several initiatives that have been taken are: the International Solar Alliance (ISA), One Sun, One World, One Grid Project and the Indian government’s call to host COP shows their willingness to fight climate change. Besides this India is also a part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and its Kyoto Protocol (KP), the Paris Agreement (PA), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), all these organisations are associated with combating climate change. Furthermore, the Government of India has also taken a lot of initiatives and implemented certain policies and programmes at the national level for mitigating climate change. A few of these initiatives are:

  1. Achieving Net Zero by 2070.

  2. India will meet 50 percent of its energy requirements from renewable sources by 2030.

  3. India will decrease the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030.

  4. India will take its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by the end of 2030.

  5. The nation will reduce carbon intensity by more than 45% by 2030.

  6. India plans to replace its railway system operated by Indian railways with "green railways" and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. It includes electrification of the railways and switching to renewable sources of energy.

  7. Introduction of ‘Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana’ (PMUY). A scheme to make clean cooking fuel available to the rural and deprived households.

  8. The Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, prohibiting identified single-use plastic items, which have low utility, high littering potential, and are harmful to the environment.


The Indian government has undertaken several commendable initiatives to combat climate change, including setting ambitious renewable energy targets and promoting clean energy sources. However, achieving these goals requires robust implementation plans and significant investments in infrastructure development. Furthermore, widespread public awareness campaigns are crucial to ensure public participation and behavioural changes that complement these efforts. By addressing these aspects alongside the existing initiatives, India can maximise the effectiveness of its climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.


Challenges in Making Climate an Electoral Issue

Though India is suffering from severe climate change consequences and though the government is taking the first steps on national as well as international level, climate change is still not an electoral issue in India. Elections here are not fought on the basis of climate change or its policies. And there are several reasons behind it:

  1. Priority issue: Climate change is not a priority for people in India. As it is a developing nation its citizens' priority or primary issues are food security, poverty, economic stability, employment, pollution, water, education, healthcare, and many more. Climate change comes way below the list of priorities.

  2. Economic trade-off: The call for climate action and economic growth poses a problem of economic trade off. The former requires significant investment and potential job losses in certain sectors, whereas the latter promotes economic growth at the cost of climate change.

  3. Affected demography: India is a large country, in the north there is the Northern Plains and in the south, there is the Deccan Plateau surrounded by the coastal region. With such diverse geographical conditions, the impact of climate change in India is also very varied. Not all parts of the country and citizens experience the same intensity of suffering from climate change. Therefore, the people whose lives are not affected enough to be suffering are indifferent towards climate change and its electoral importance. Whereas the severely affected demography which majorly comprises the poor, suffers.

  4. Lack of awareness: There is a lack of awareness and education about climate change and its impact especially among the people most affected by it (that is the poor segment of society). According to statistics nearly one in five do not perceive climate change as a potential threat in India.


Possible Solutions to Fight These Challenges

While the challenges in making climate change an electoral issue in India are formidable, there are strategic approaches that can be employed to shift the narrative and prioritise environmental concerns on the national stage.

  1. Propagating Awareness and Civic Engagement: Investing in widespread awareness campaigns is crucial. Efforts should be made to educate citizens about the immediate and long-term impacts of climate change, emphasising its interconnectedness with issues such as food security, economic stability, and public health. For example, local events or gamified workshops can be organised occasionally to promote social engagement and learning about sustainability and climate action.

  2. Climate Education: Incorporating climate education into school curricula can foster a future generation with a heightened environmental consciousness. However, these days education is not confined to the bounds of a classroom. Social media is an incredible source of educating oneself. There are always online campaigns going on and content available around climate action and awareness.

  3. Intersection of Climate with Varied Policies: Policymakers should strive to integrate climate-related considerations into economic policies, showcasing the potential for green initiatives to create jobs and stimulate sustainable growth. By fostering a sense of shared responsibility and demonstrating the economic benefits of climate action, it becomes more plausible for voters to prioritise climate change in elections. For example, if we shift to generating any kind of renewable energy. It will require labour, leading to increase in employment. Thus, adding to economic growth.

  4. Participation of Affected Demography: Ensuring that vulnerable demographics are active participants in the conversation is vital. Empowering marginalised communities with knowledge and resources can amplify their voices in the political sphere. This can be done through targeted outreach programs, workshops and training. Thus, increasing the chances of climate change becoming a central electoral concern.



These challenges urge us to question the possibility and feasibility of the emergence of climate change as an electoral issue for the general election in India any time soon. However, its adverse effects call for quick consideration, which can be seen in the actions of the government. but there is a lack of considerable civic engagement among citizens regarding this. While the challenges are significant, they are not insurmountable. By acknowledging the urgency, fostering public awareness, and implementing effective climate action strategies, India can pave the way for a more sustainable future. The potential for change lies within each individual, every community, and every level of governance. Climate change becoming a kingmaker in India or fades into the background depends upon several factors like collective action, unwavering commitment, level of awareness and education about climate change, and the impact of climate change in people's lives because more the impact more will be the civic engagement and need for it to rise as an electoral issue.




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