How India can protect its communities against climate change, ET EnergyWorld



Climate change impacts and vulnerability drivers in India

Over the past few years, India has witnessed a spike in the intensity and frequency of climate change induced extreme weather events. In the absence of adaptation measures, extreme river floods are likely to affect an additional 13-34 million people by the 2040s [1] and expose 18 million people to sea-level rise induced flooding annually [2]. Climate extremes could intensify droughts and increase volume of precipitation during heavy rainfall events. With projected increase of over 1.1-4.1 Degree Celsius by the end of the century, heat waves could affect 160-200 million people annually and heat stress induced productivity decline could result in 34 million job losses [3]. The annual investment in adaptation measures alone is estimated at $46.3 billion for India [4].These outcomes will have far reaching implications on India’s economic growth and productivity, health of its communities and availability of natural resources. The impact could be cataclysmic for poor and marginal farmers, coastal communities, forest communities, minority groups, assetless population, and especially women. India ranks 127 th out of 182 countries on vulnerability to climate change impacts as per the 2020 ND-GAIN Index. There are various socio-economic and geographic factors that drive or aggravate these vulnerabilities.

Socio-economic factors

About two thirds of India’s population is directly or indirectly dependent on the agriculture sector for livelihoods. With rainfed agriculture constituting 60% of the cultivated area, significant variability in monsoon patterns will strongly influence agricultural production [5]. Climate change will affect food production and crop productivity due to changes in water availability, disease and pest profiles and soil organic matter, among other factors. Increased heat stress will also impact livestock rearing affecting their productivity levels. This could translate into severe losses in income and livelihoods of marginal farmers and communities dependent on agriculture. Heat stress induced decline in working hours, productivity, and wages will disproportionately affect 90% of India’s labour force which is engaged in the informal sector [6].

Other factors such as high levels of multidimensional poverty (nearly a quarter of the population), 150-200 million undernourished people, an overburdened health infrastructure, unplanned urbanization, and pressure on energy systems amplified by rising heating and cooling requirements will also affect the ability of communities to cope with the adverse impacts of climate change. Women in India will be at a higher risk given 80% of rural women are employed in the agriculture sector, have lower asset ownership and credit access than men, have child caring responsibilities which prevent migration and are exposed to heightened violence especially during conflict. Studies also suggest potential out-migration from the northern regions of the Indo-Gangetic plain and coastal areas around Mumbai and Chennai, driven by migrants dependent on rain-fed croplands for livelihoods [7].Geographic factors

India’s six physiographic regions have varying climate profiles and vulnerabilities. Land loss and erosion owing to sea-level rise are likely to threaten the communities living along India’s 8000 km long coastline with many densely populated and low-lying areas. The river delta regions which are critical for national food security, are among the most vulnerable to climate change-induced sea-level rise. Loss of Himalayan glaciers remains a significant threat to water resources. This is a major concern in a country where 70% of the geographic area lies under arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions [8].

Scaling climate adaptation technologies in India to reduce vulnerability to climate change

Adaptation technologies and solutions in India should be developed and customized to address the existing climate-induced vulnerabilities especially around agricultural production and food security, disaster risks, access to resources (water, power, coastal resources etc.) and human health. A few existing and emerging technologies are presented in the table below:

Despite the urgent need to scale adaptation technologies and solutions, their adoption remains slow. Limited awareness of these solutions among the communities is one of the biggest challenges in their scale up. There is also a need to customize these solutions as per the local context and adaptation needs of the different communities. Often there is a limited participation of local communities and attention to local context in adaptation design and implementation.

Many of the solutions require upfront investment and become prohibitive in the absence of appropriate financing solutions. For instance, structural approaches to protect against destructive flooding from sea-level rise, micro and drip irrigation systems to reduce crop water demand, construction of flood proof drinking water wells to prevent contamination of water supplies, desalination to increase water quantity, grey storm water management systems to prevent inland flooding etc. are expensive solutions and may need financing. However, the financing for climate adaptation interventions is grossly inadequate. There is a 5-10 times greater adaptation finance gap in developing countries than the current international adaptation finance flows [9] .

Other factors that impact scalability of adaptation solutions include lack of data to inform adaptation strategies, retrofitting development activities as adaptation actions which do not address climate risks, inadequate focus on long term viability of adaptation solutions, and narrow definitions of successful adaptation outcomes [10].

The learnings and outcomes from several interventions highlight that adaptation technologies and solutions can be scaled if we focus on the following aspects:

● Transforming agriculture extension services for climate adaptation: India has a strong multi-tier agriculture extension system with a proven track record of increasing productivity of Indian farmers. This extension system needs to be reimagined and reinvented to ensure that it focuses on building the resilience of Indian communities by creating awareness and driving demand for adaptation solutions and practices.

● Making adaptation technologies more user-friendly and in sync with community needs and local practices: This requires assessing the target community’s needs, creating awareness about these solutions, and matching relevant technologies to the beneficiaries. This should be based on consultation with various stakeholders who bring together local knowledge perspectives along with technical expertise. Our work with farmers collectives and small-holder farmers in Maharashtra, Odisha, Jharkhand, and other states highlights that engaging communities in a consultative process that involves understanding of their adaptation needs and identification of the best possible solutions from the bouquet of offerings, has been successful in driving adoption of these solutions by farmers and their collectives. The technologies (which had a strong focus on enhancing adaptive capacities) were shortlisted based on feedback from 50,000+ farmers in the state. The consultation made farmers aware about the benefits of these solutions and revealed critical adoption barriers to be addressed by technology providers.

● Building capacity of Financial Institutions (FIs) and de-risking them: High risk perception of adaptation technologies and solutions and limited understanding of their economics prevents FIs from proactively investing in them. Building the capacity of FIs in India on adaptation priorities, scalable adaptation solutions in the market and their impact potential is the first step to accelerate adaptation financing. De-risking FIs through instruments such as first loss default guarantees, dedicated credit lines, interest subvention etc. would build the confidence of the financial sector and create a business case for investing in adaptation technologies, enabling more capital inflows.

● Supporting adaptation solution providers to develop and scale solutions contextualised for India: Dedicated incubation and acceleration support to innovators on solution design and commercialization approaches, investment in building the right kind of public data infrastructure and promoting collaboration among the government institutions, academia and innovators should be prioritized to bolster the supply of relevant adaptation technologies and solutions in India.

[This piece was written by Santosh Kumar Singh, Managing Director, and Prachi Seth, Partner at Intellecap]

References:
1 Climate Risk Profile India, World Bank Group, 2021
2 Ibid
3 Climate Investment Opportunities in India’s Cooling Sector, World Bank, 2022
4 Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Asia-Pacific Disaster Reports 2021 and 2022
5 Climate Risk Profile India, World Bank Group, 2021
6 Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work, ILO, 2019
7 Climate Risk Profile India, World Bank Group, 2021
8 Ibid
9 Ibid
10 Adaptation Gap Report 2022, UNEP, Nov 2022

  • Published On Jun 8, 2023 at 07:25 PM IST

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