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Why has climate change adaptation become more important than ever in India?

Juhu Beach, Mumbai

Heatwaves, floods, droughts, water crisis and what not! India has faced it all in 2019 and the year is only half way through. Such weather extremities have worsened progressively in the past few years. While the Indian Government acknowledges these changes, there is a long way to go when it comes to translating this acknowledgment into effective policies and their implementation. The recently released Economic Survey 2019 reveals that the biggest challenge to realisation of climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the lack of sustainable investment and funding. Even though the survey highlights the increasing contribution of renewable energy to India’s energy mix, the gap between the worsening impacts of climate change and adaptation efforts is widening. In such a scenario, India’s climate diplomacy should be geared towards mobilising finance and mainstreaming climate adaptation into the most vulnerable sectors.

Worsening Signs of Climate Change in India

2019 marked some of the hottest days in India’s history, with the maximum temperature touching 51 degree Celsius in Phalodi (Rajasthan) in May – the highest ever temperature in the country. The capital (Delhi) witnessed the highest-ever temperature in June, 48 degrees Celsius. The intense heatwaves are said to have killed over 100 people in the country, with just Bihar recording over 70 deaths in two days in June. Heat-related illnesses are also on the rise. Figures indicate that in India, the temperature rose by at least 1.2 degrees Celsius since the beginning of the 20th century, in comparison to a rise of global temperature of 0.85 degrees Celsius.

The heatwave coupled with the water crisis has led to an alarming situation in many parts of the country. While Chennai has reportedly run out of water, states such as Rajasthan and Maharashtra are drought-hit and face severe water shortage. Many reservoirs have dried up; groundwater levels are alarmingly low; crops yields are declining; and many parts of India are now completely dependent on water tankers. The monsoon has been below normal for five straight weeks, exacerbating the crisis further. At the same time, dozens were killed in the worst flooding faced by Mumbai in a decade.

India’s Commitment to Climate Change Adaptation 

Undoubtedly, India is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world, which is why it has, for long, raised the issue of adaptation at the climate change negotiations. Nationally, India has a dedicated National Adaptation Fund on Climate Change (NAFCC), launched in 2015. It is a federal grant that was introduced to fulfil the objectives of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and support state governments in operationalising the State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCC) and implementing adaptation projects.

However, it has been seen that adaptation efforts are being scuttled due to the paucity of financial resources and knowledge about adaptation requirements (based on the context) as well as the lack of coordination between various governmental agencies (including the lack of clarity in the role of states in implementing NDCs). India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) clearly states that it requires around US$206 billion (at 2014–2015 prices) between 2015 and 2030 for implementing adaptation measures in various sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, water resources and so on. Besides, India will need additional funding to build resilience and for disaster risk reduction. In such a scenario, the demand-supply gap on the climate finance front is massive. Yet, in the most recent budget, the allocation for climate change adaptation is meagre (around US$14 million for the adaptation fund).

Yet, there are examples of mainstreaming of climate change adaptation into vulnerable sectors, which have been able to overcome financial constraints and the barriers that generally plague project-specific mainstreaming – as found in the cases of livestock sector in Madhya Pradesh and forestry sector in Uttarakhand. Mainstreaming climate change adaptation needs to be done at both national and sub-national levels – through frameworks that facilitate alignment of climate considerations with sectoral policy planning, climate risk assessment, budget reallocation to address the risks, specific programmes/activities targeted at the sector, as well as evaluation and monitoring. In addition, there are also examples of transformational adaptation (as opposed to incremental adjustments), especially in the agricultural sector, through the introduction of technological innovations and traditional means such as climate-smart food production systems, although they are still limited in comparison to the scale due to the lack of information and financial resources available with the farmers. In the meantime, the status of adaptation in Indian cities – that have been victims of recurring intensifying disasters – is dismal, with the country’s urban growth largely being unplanned and misgoverned.

The International Scene on Climate Change Adaptation

Heatwave was not restricted to India alone. While developing countries are relatively/generally more affected by the climate crisis, no country is spared. Record high temperatures were experienced in most parts of Europe in June, with Gallargues-le-Montueux recording 45.9 degree Celsius (highest in France). While the focus on climate change mitigation continues to dominate the discourse of the climate change negotiations, the momentum on adaptation needs to be provided a huge fillip.

The sense of apathy towards raising finance for adaptation continues at the international level, despite the rhetoric of jointly mobilising US$100 billion per year by 2020 by the developed countries to support climate action in developing countries. For countries such as India, the demand for climate finance is massive. Therefore, India needs to focus on mustering domestic sources of finance for a sustainable financial flow, possibly through public-private partnerships, initiated by the governments at national and local levels. In addition, it needs to use climate diplomacy channels at bilateral and multilateral levels, such as the UN (and its various agencies), foreign policy stakeholders (in the form of bilateral and/or multilateral agreements/projects), international development cooperation organisations, and multinational actors (including the corporate), to turn the spotlight on adaptation requirements. For example, in Maharashtra, India’s corporate sector (including big players like Tata Power, Godrej Industries and Mahindra) is increasingly supporting the state’s adaptation projects through a ‘co-investment’ approach (under the “Action on Climate Today” initiative of the UK Government in South Asia).

Agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) are already involved in various climate change-related activities in India, but they are mostly project-specific. The need of the hour is to widen the gamut of actors and programmes to ensure mainstreaming of climate change, which reduces the risk of maladaptation and ensures continuity of the good work.

Dr. Dhanasree Jayaram is Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute of Political, Historical and International Studies hosted by the University of Lausanne, Switzerland; Co-Coordinator at the Centre for Climate Studies and Assistant Professor at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Karnataka, India


[The views expressed in this article are personal.]