Climate activists in India are taking the litigation route

Anandi Sharan, an independent researcher in Bangalore and a member of Desi Power Foundation board as well as Feasta’s Climate Group, prepared ‘Potential Impacts of a Global Cap and Share Scheme on India’ for Feasta in November 2008. A similar report was prepared on South Africa by Jeremy Wakeford. Both reports were invaluable sources of information for Feasta’s book Sharing for Survival.

Sharan also contributed a panel in the book on the application of Cap and Share in India. Since its publication last April things have moved on and Sharan has asked if, instead of putting her original panel on the Sharing for Survival website (as we’re doing for the rest of the book), we could publish the text below. The position was jointly elaborated with C.K. Vishwanath, an independent researcher.

The likelihood of an international agreement on climate change mitigation, let alone on cap and share, is looking very remote now.

In India, people’s movements, left parties, associations of the urban and rural unemployed, and marginal farmers, are all rallying around that question about civil society and human society and its hard realities posed by Karl Marx in an earlier century.

In this period of economic boom and business and political cronyism, the populist nation-making ideas are being represented through anti-party-party-movement-politics in new ways. The new anti-party party activism and its active citizenship politics is raising many questions regarding the rational-citizen framework and the state-party context. Fundamental questions about the activity of “politics” are being raised.

The post-Milton Friedman era is not throwing up new answers easily for thinking people across the world and the same is the case in India. An all-party coalition for nature and climate reconciliation in India as in all countries in the world may be a long way off. Pollution, unemployment and poverty in India as in all other countries are receiving only the most shoddy consideration at policy level.

India will be especially hard hit by the Annex 1 countries’ plans and in particular also the United States’ plans to expand their fossil fuel based energy production and supply – see the recent Reuters report on IEA’s monthly energy outlook, prepared for its 28 member country developed countries.

So what can be done? The political situation in India, as elsewhere, doesn’t seem hopeful.

As John Jopling recently discussed on this site, legal action may prove to be the most effective way to meet the challenge of achieving meaningful emissions cuts. This is the path chosen by Sharan and her colleagues, who are now initiating public interest litigation in India to get a Supreme Court Ruling banning activities that cause the emission of greenhouse gases, starting with Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemical Ltd.

You can read an early draft of material that the Indian team have prepared here. Two lawyers with experience on climate litigation are now involved. Their plaint is based on an exhaustive report by the UN with the goal of understanding and presenting the relationship between changing weather patterns, food security and human mobility in India. The report emphasised the correlation between erratic rainfall and rural-urban migration, with numerous adverse effects identified, ranging from the pollution of rural water systems to the undermining of childrens’ education.

This approach has much in common with that recently taken by climate action nonprofits in the United States and the Netherlands. It’s also advocated by some of those involved in the Cap and Share campaign, who are considering taking similar legal action in the UK. It’s something to be watched by anyone concerned about climate change.

We’re thinking of setting up a website to help build a network of organisations that are taking this approach and would very much welcome any suggestions or comments, especially leads about specific legal action that we haven’t come across.

Photos courtesy of Desi Power.

Note: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one ‘Feasta line’. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members.