A man rows a boat on the Ganga near Bithoor town, Uttar Pradesh. Photo: Midhun George/Unsplash
- Climate change is affecting Uttar Pradesh in many ways, from reducing its agricultural productivity to increasing its vulnerability to floods.
- Assembly elections in the state began on February 10, and the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party is seeking reelection.
- However, the election manifestoes of all major political parties in the fray but one don’t list climate change as a focus area, and sideline other related issues.
Elections are underway in the world’s largest subnational entity, Uttar Pradesh, which is also home to some of the world’s most polluted cities.
A recent voters’ perception survey by Climate Trends found that most of those surveyed in the state believe climate change and air pollution are important poll issues – yet neither topic features prominently in the poll manifestoes of the major parties in the fray. (Note: the poll was biased towards the urban population.)
Air pollution and climate change are, as the UN Environment Programme put it, “two sides of the same coin”.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently in power in Uttar Pradesh and is seeking reelection, is also in power at the Centre. Climate change for it is a national issue and found mention in the national polls in 2019. However, climate change doesn’t appear to be a state-level priority for the party.
BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi confirmed as much: “This is not a state assembly election issue, hence it does not find mention in the Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra 2022.”
However, Seema Javed, an environmentalist, said, “Climate change mitigation may be a global problem but it has to be solved locally. There cannot can’t be a nation v. state divide while tackling it. In fact, India can’t achieve its climate goals … without the contribution of states. So it is absolutely crucial for it to be a priority at the state-level as well.”
The economy of Uttar Pradesh is predominantly agrarian, and the state is India’s largest producer of grain. 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 Himalaya, in turn melting glaciers faster, 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% 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 many states affected by a vicious swarm of locusts that originated due to unusually heavy rains over North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
For the Aam Aadmi Party, which gained some prominence for its pollution control strategy in Delhi, “the immediate concern is to give some kind of financial comfort to the COVID-hit unemployed people of Uttar Pradesh,” said. So amid promises of freebies and cash doles, the last page of its manifesto refers to generic issues pertaining to the environment and pollution control, but doesn’t mention climate change.
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. 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 is similar. None of the 22 resolutions in the document focus specifically on climate change. It also bundles environmental conservation more broadly together with urban development.
Last year, Senior party leader and spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary had told The Wire Science that party chief Akhilesh Yadav had studied as an environmental engineer and that “environment and better air quality will certainly be an issue … in the upcoming elections.” This time, he only said, “Our manifesto does speak about focusing on sensitising children about environment conservation as they will eventually champion the cause.”
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,” party convenor Anupam Mishra said. “All of this will help fight climate change.”
Only the Indian National Congress’s manifesto lists climate change as a priority issue. “How could we have turned a blind eye to such an important issue of public concern?” Party spokesperson Ashok Singh asked.
The Bahujan Samaj Party has announced it will not issue any manifesto at all. This said, the party’s legislator from Azamgarh, Azad Arimardan, had called the state’s air quality “a matter of grave political concern” last year.
“It is largely religion that has been defining the political narrative of late,” V.K. Tandon, a retired academic, said. “But our children deserve a clean and green planet. Political prioritisation of climate change mitigation is an urgent need, but that’s missing in the Uttar Pradesh elections.”
Suresh Nautiyal, founder of India’s only ‘green’ political Party, the India Greens Party, said he was keen to field candidates in the state but couldn’t for want of funds. “It is regrettable that the environment and climate crisis – the most important things in today’s life – have been ignored by most of the political parties in their election manifestos,” he told The Wire Science.
“We, as voters and politicians, must talk about issues like the environment, the climate crisis, global warming, pollution, plastic, agriculture and soil moisture, GMOs, poverty, unemployment, population, illiteracy, women, marginalised people, minority communities,” he added. “But it’s religion that’s defining our politics.”
Nishant Saxena is a Lucknow-based science communications professional and a journalist with over 15 years of experience.