In Uttar Pradesh, there is politics in the air but no air in politics.
Even as the world struggles with issues related to climate change and its impact, the most populous state of the country remains completely cold to rising temperatures, melting glaciers in neighbouring Uttarakhand that will directly impact Uttar Pradesh and other vagaries of weather that included erratic and out-of-season excessive monsoon.
Interestingly, a survey on voters’ perception by a climate conscious NGO, just before this year’s assembly elections, found that climate change and air pollution were important issues for the voters.
However, the poll manifestoes of all major political parties did not mention a word about these issues.
Climate change impacts the farmers the most but while political leaders talked extensively about increasing farmers’ income, they did not dwell on climate change.
Climate change does not appear to be a state-level priority for the parties.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently in power in Uttar Pradesh, believes so.
BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi said, “This is not a state assembly election issue; hence it does not find mention in the Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra 2022. But this does not mean that as a party, we are not concerned. At the national level steps are being taken to deal with the problem.”
For the Aam Aadmi Party, which has been in the news for its pollution control strategy in Delhi, the last page of its manifesto refers to generic issues pertaining to the environment and pollution control, but does not mention climate change.
AAP spokesperson Vaibhav Maheshwari acknowledged that the topic is missing from the Aam Aadmi Party’s overall public-facing election campaign as “we are focussing on issues that are of immediate concern to the people.”
He said, “I admit the issue of climate and pollution is missing. But once voted to power, we will ensure a better environment by framing, amending and implementing relevant policies with inputs of subject experts.”
The Samajwadi Party poll manifesto came up with 22 resolutions and none of them focus specifically on climate change. The party clubs environmental conservation more broadly with urban development.
Some time ago, SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary had said, “SP chief Akhilesh Yadav had studied as an environmental engineer and that “environment and better air quality is always an issue for us.”
“Our manifesto does speak about focusing on sensitising children about environment conservation as they will eventually champion the cause,” he said.
The Rashtriya Lok Dal, a key ally of the Samajwadi Party, fares relatively better. Its manifesto discusses environmental issues and sustainability – but still falls short of specifying any climate-centric priorities. “Our focus is on checking industrial pollution, promoting afforestation, and offering an attractive electric-vehicle policy,” said party secretary Anil Dubey.
The Congress manifesto did list climate change as a priority issue but the subject was missing from the party’s overall campaign.
“How could we have turned a blind eye to such an important issue of public concern? There is no need to shout from the rooftops but our leadership is concerned about the issue,” said Congress spokesperson Ashok Singh.
The Bahujan Samaj Party refuses to even comment on the subject.
In the absence of any political will on climate change, it is not surprising that the issue has not been raised even once in the state assembly and no political party has demanded a in-depth debate on the subject.
Seema Javed, an environmentalist, said, “Climate change mitigation may be a global problem but it has to be solved locally. There cannot be a nation versus state divide while tackling it. In fact, India cannot achieve its climate goals without the contribution of the states. It is crucial for it to be a priority at the state-level as well.”
The economy of Uttar Pradesh is predominantly agrarian, and UP is India’s largest producer of grains. The Union ministry of agriculture acknowledged in 2019 that climate change is expected to reduce the state’s output of wheat, maize, potatoes and milk.
Rapid warming in the Himalayas is melting glaciers faster and this also has a significant impact on the state, which lies in the Ganga basin.
An August 2021 study found that “melting snow and glaciers will swell the (Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra) rivers, and changed seasonality will affect farming, other livelihoods and the hydropower sector, while causing floods downstream.”
“In the Ganga basin, more than 70 per cent of its replenishable groundwater has been extracted to date, as the state is densely populated and intensely farmed,” another report in 2021 said.
In 2020, and for the first time in 27 years, Uttar Pradesh was one of the many states affected by a vicious swarm of locusts that originated due to unusually heavy rain over North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
A senior political analyst said, “It is a harsh reality that the political narrative in Uttar Pradesh is driven by religion. Our children deserve a clean and green planet. Political prioritisation of climate change is an urgent need, but that seems to be missing in Uttar Pradesh.”