'Matter of Necessity': Why Climate Change is Top Issue for Delhi's Gen Z Voters

A recent survey found that climate change, public health, and employment are at the top of their list of concerns.

5 min read
Hindi Female

Under the scorching sun, sweating through clothes, heaving to keep steady – this is how India is voting to elect its Members of Parliament amid a brutal heatwave.

While polling hours were extended in Telangana, in Punjab's Ferozepur, party workers offered cut watermelon and jaljeera near polling stations to encourage people to step out to vote.

The heat has been so bad in parts of North India that climate change has been attributed as a key reason for the low voter turnout.

If this doesn't paint a striking enough picture of the omnipresence of climate change looming over our everyday lives, what does?

The fact isn't lost on young first-time voters in Delhi, who say that climate change is going to be on top of their minds when they cast their votes on 25 May.


What is Delhi's Gen Z Voting for?

According to a survey conducted by the ASAR Social Impact Advisors, Climate Educators Network (CEN), and CMSR Consultants, youth unemployment, public health crisis, and climate crisis (in that order) are the top three priorities for first-time voters in Delhi between the ages of 18 and 22.

Data Source: ASAR Social Impact Advisors/ 'Perception of First-Time voters on Climate Education in India' Survey.

Himanshu, a 20-year-old BA Economics student at Aurobindo College, says, "This is the first time I've registered to vote. All of my friends are voting for the first time, and we are all excited to do so."

When asked what's motivating him to vote, Himanshu says, "I think political consciousness has grown in us in the past two years, and we want to exercise our right to choose our leaders based on the things that matter to us."

"To me, the most important issue is education and employment. Recently there has been a shift in the funding model of the public universities that has led to rampant fee hikes. Also, all the past promises of employment generation by the government have not been fulfilled."
Himanshu (20)

For 20-year-old Insha, a second-year undergraduate student of Sociology and Anthropology at Ashoka University, along with concerns of hyper-privatisation and the larger economic crisis, access to sanitation and basic facilities is also a major concern. "In Shaheen Bagh, where I'm from, there is a severe lack of civil amenities like supply of clean water," she says.

"Moreover, the precarious nature of its (Shaheen Bagh) existence as an unauthorised colony, is reinforced by the fact that it is a Muslim colony. At the same time, the lack of civil amenities relegates the Muslim urban population into an existence in the periphery and reinforces the idea that that is how it is meant to be."
Insha (20)

Interestingly, apart from the traditional pocketbook issues of sanitation, education, and employment, climate change is also something that the youth of Delhi, including Himanshu and Insha, say will impact their vote.

Speaking to FIT, 21-year-old Sania Rehmani, climate activist and head of the NGO, There Is No Earth B, says: "I have had asthma since I was little and so the pollution in Delhi among other sanitation issues have affected me personally. So for me, going into climate activism was less a matter of passion and more a matter of necessity."

"As much as we try to take individual steps like turning off the lights when not in use and using cloth bags instead of plastic bags, it won't make much of a difference unless there is systemic change. Which is why I feel like it's really important we speak about climate change in the election conversation."
Sania Rehmani (21)

Climate Change in the Election Dialogue

The word 'climate change' is featured in the Congress manifesto 10 times, while it has been mentioned all of zero times in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto.

That is not to say the issue itself is absent from the BJP manifesto, which mentions encouraging electric vehicles, renewables, and green hydrogen and reiterates the government's pledge for India to be net zero (bring down to zero or sequester all the carbon emissions of a country) by 2070. On the other hand, the Congress manifesto includes a push for green investments.

However, no detailed plans for these goals have been laid out by either party. Moreover, when it comes to election dialogue, climate change has been entirely missing, as has been the case in the past.

"In general, climate change has not been a part of the central discourse of this Lok Sabha elections. So it flies under the radar of even young people. We don't really get to know what bills are being introduced, what is going on in Parliament, and what decisions are being taken."
Insha (20)

Has there been any discernable action on the ground? The young voters of Delhi say, not quite.

"People around me, people my age are concerned about the environment. Especially in Delhi, we are constantly having conversations around pollution and the rise in temperature. However, I don't see much efforts by the government to tackle issues related to climate change. It seems like its one of their last priorities."
Himanshu (20)

Interestingly, the ASAR survey also found that of the 400 respondents from Delhi, 40 percent of respondents felt the same way.

Take the ongoing heatwave, for instance. When asked what the local governments have done to help mitigate the effects of extreme heat or help those worst affected by it, Himanshu says, "The local government leaders are all busy in their election campaigning and they have done no press conference, rally, or a statement about the ongoing heatwave."

Futhremore, the impact of extreme heat is disproportionately experienced by different socio-economic groups. Day labourers, gig workers, roadside-vendors, and people from low-income communities are most at risk.

Moreover, several studies on 'heat-stress inequality' suggest that even within cities, low-income neighbourhoods tend to experience higher temperatures.

"There haven't been any administrative measures taken to help those most affected by the heatwave as far as I know," adds Sania.

"There are times when governments have taken some measures like cutting down on vehicular emissions and trying to make the public infrastructure better, but if you don't address the root cause of the issue, how can you make any real change?"
Sania Rehmani (21)

"I was expecting this to be a much bigger point of discussion this election," she adds.


'It Doesn't End With Elections'

The survey also found that in Delhi, about 39 percent of the respondents are hopeful about the future, whereas a significant 61 percent expressed feelings of hopelessness, fear, anger, or anxiety towards climate change. Will this discourage young Delhiites from voting?

"I was excited to vote since I turned 18, but I'm not that excited about my options in this election," says Sania, but adds that her hope for change isn't pinned entirely on the outcome of the elections.

"What is going to bring change is what comes after the government is elected. I would much rather focus on showing them that, the public cares about climate change, and you need to address it, irrespective of which government it is."
Sania Rehmani (21)

Himanshu says, "Voting is important to me because it will give me the right to hold the elected government to account."

Insha on the other hand feels like this is a good opportunity to further spread awareness.

"What we learn in schools and colleges is also such a distant and detached-from-policy sort of understanding of climate change. There's so much personal effort you have to put in to know policy-wise what's happening at the local and national level," says Insha.

She goes on to say that making climate change a part of the discourse will help spread awareness and help younger voters make more informed decisions going forth.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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