By Apoorve Khandelwal and Nitin Bassi
The story of two wheat crops tells us a lot about why tackling climate change cannot be business as usual for India anymore. In 2023, unseasonal rains affected our wheat yields. In 2022, the heatwaves did it. This is the new normal. Analysis by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) shows that between 1970 and 2019, 560 extreme hydro-met events, such as droughts, floods, and cyclones, have been witnessed in India, with more than half (310) of them recorded only post-2005.
Further, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)’s latest update predicts that there is a 98% likelihood that at least one of the next five years (2023-27) will be the warmest on record, and the world will breach the 1.5°C warming threshold earlier than expected. There is now a need to strengthen climate governance, recalibrate existing approaches, and prepare better to collectively take effective climate action. What roles could key stakeholders play?
Also read: Sailing into choppy waters
First, governments need to become more proactive, responsive and accountable in the way governance is delivered on evolving green mandates. Some ‘first-mover’ states have already emerged in the fight against climate change. Gujarat was the first state to institute a climate change department in India. Tamil Nadu has launched the Tamil Nadu Green Climate Company to implement the Tamil Nadu Climate Change Mission. Bihar is implementing ‘green budgeting’ that highlights what portion of the state’s budget is linked to environment-positive activities and nudges departments to go greener. Rajasthan has initiated a process to prepare state institutions in the agriculture, water, and environment domains to take effective climate action. Whether local, regional or national, every level of government should create roadmaps to govern in a world with inevitable climate emergencies in the near future and prepare for them, rather than just react.
Second, people are developing climate resilience, but they need support. Our analysis shows that 75% of India’s districts, which is home to about 80% of the population, are hot spots of extreme hydro-met events. Many are adapting to this reality and building their own resilience. For instance, young citizen scientists in Uttarakhand have undertaken catchment treatment to recharge groundwater during high-intensity rainfall and revive springs, the only source of drinking water for the local community. Similarly, farmers in Rajasthan have rebuilt traditional water harvesting structures that provide them with water security, especially in years of low rainfall. Many more success stories of such ‘civilian self-adaptation’ exist in India and need to be brought out and integrated into awareness programmes. Every individual and collective must take inspiration from these and take deliberate and proactive steps for climate action. Government programmes and civil society organisations (CSOs) need to engage the citizenry not just as beneficiaries but as innovators, to further unleash their creative capacity and enable finding solutions at scale.
Third, businesses and financial institutions, small and large, must move towards low-carbon models and diversify supply chains. Disruptions such as Covid-19 and increased intensity and frequency of climate extreme events have already heightened the operational and reputational risks of businesses and banks. But effective solutions would require going beyond just ‘green washing’ one’s emission-intensive business activities and actually innovating supply chain models to make them more distributed (versus concentrated in a region), low-carbon and include local and closed loops. New ways of collaboration (e.g. industry leaders committing to procurement from sustainably managed landscapes/jurisdictions), supply chain traceability, and innovative financing models are critical for moving towards a low-carbon and resilient economy.
Fourth, CSOs need to deliver context-relevant evidence to shape policies on climate action and establish scalability of innovative strategies. An ongoing CEEW analysis covering selected states showcases incoherence in CSOs’ efforts at multiple levels. For instance, the CSOs’ seem not to be prioritising the regional hotspots of climate vulnerability for their climate-resilience building interventions. Further, the dissimilarity among the monitoring, evaluation, and learning frameworks used by various CSOs’ to assess and document the effectiveness of their interventions impedes the development of a regional evidence base to inform future interventions of CSOs and local governments. Establishing a common taxonomy and focused collaborative platforms can significantly address these incoherencies.
Also read: Indian Democracy is a global inspiration
Climate change does not know the boundaries between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the marginalised. Everyone will get affected and everyone has an important and urgent role towards climate action. We all need to recalibrate our thinking and actions ‘now’ to be ready for what’s coming ahead.
Writers are senior programme leads with the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW)