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Gandhian Ideals And India's Stance On Climate Change

13/10/2016 3:00 PM IST | Updated 14/10/2016 8:21 AM IST
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What is the connection between the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi and the climate stance India has taken? This question is worth asking with India's decision to ratify the Paris agreement on 2 October, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi—the father of the nation who led us to freedom from colonial rule. The independence struggle may be long over, but Gandhi's ideals, especially those of satyagraha and ahimsa, continue to have great relevance in today's world. India's climate stance too draws a great deal from Mahatma's vision and philosophy. The Government of India's decision to ratify Paris agreement on October 2nd has to be much appreciated in this context.

India's unwavering stance in support of equity of carbon space certainly shows the country's close allegiance to the philosophy of the Mahatma.

One of Mahatma Gandhi's most widely quoted sayings is, "The world has enough for everyone's needs, but not everyone's greed." This succinct statement highlights not only the importance of sharing global resources equitably, but also to the fact that it is the responsibility of each of us to ensure the protection of intergenerational resources. In global climate negotiations, "equity" of carbon space is often discussed as a critical element. India's unwavering stance in support of equity of carbon space certainly shows the country's close allegiance to the philosophy of the Mahatma.

Gandhian thoughts have played a major part in making the wider world aware of the core Indian philosophical tenet of ahimsa, or non-violence. This, too, has immense significance in humanity's fight against climate change. Vegetarianism is an integral part of the practice of ahimsa, but its import is greater than the mere non-harming of animals. Numerous studies have showed that the commercial meat production industry is a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. Eating less meat, in effect, is essential to curb climate change.

While the US accounts for the highest quantity of meat consumption (about 322 grams of meat per person per day), current trends suggest that Asian countries are picking up pace in meat consumption too. Still, the consumption in China is about 160 grams per day while it's only 12 grams in India.

In less developed economies, where the most disadvantaged people are most vulnerable to climate impacts, Gandhi's philosophy can provide the guiding principles for shaping a pro-poor environmental policy.

Gandhian philosophy is certainly a source of pride and prestige for India and it's also of practical value to the government, especially in the context of environmental policies and actions. Gandhi represented the poorest of the poor sections of society and he lived his life in a way that mirrored their living conditions. The sacrifices he made deserve a great deal of respect and following in today's world. His championship of the underprivileged should also make us question how inclusive our global economic policies are to the poorest sections of society. Gandhi argued that India lives in its villages; his focus was on self-sufficient villages. The inclusive development agenda that the Indian government has been promoting certainly draws valuable lessons from the Gandhian philosophy of Swaraj. The current Modi government's very famous slogan of "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" (Together With All, Development For All) reflects a Gandhian policy outlook for inclusive growth.

Gandhi's famous Talisman notes:

"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?

In effect, Gandhi says that when one is faced with a dilemma, a decision must always be taken considering what positive impact it can bring into the lives of the poorest. In less developed economies, where the most disadvantaged people are most vulnerable to climate impacts, Gandhi's philosophy can provide the guiding principles for shaping a pro-poor environmental policy. The development policies and economic ambitions of some members in the global community must also take into account what good they can bring to the developing economies facing adverse impacts of climate change on account of the accumulated GHG emissions in the environment. The Talisman is a good reminder that inclusive development must be given importance by the global community.

Is India's choice of date for ratifying the Paris deal only about Gandhian philosophy? As experts have pointed out, there are several political implications too. Keeping itself away international pressure while China and the US ratified the Paris deal certainly helps India stand out in the international political context. India tactically avoided the pressure of ratifying the treaty under duress by keeping a relatively low profile on the public debates. Though many experts were critical of this "procrastination" of ratification, the delay was strategic. India's announcement to ratify the deal during Gandhi Jayanti not only helped New Delhi demonstrate a clear message of not succumbing to international pressure but also showed the commitment of India to the environmental cause, which is embedded in the very DNA of Indian philosophy.

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