India must step up efforts to tackle climate change
The climate crisis is damaging the ability of the land to sustain humanity, according to a landmark United Nations (UN) report that was released on August 8 in Geneva. Explaining the process, the report — Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas houses in territorial ecosystems — said that land is heating up faster than the oceans. The average surface temperature is now 1.5C higher than in the late 19th century. This is affecting food security, as heat, drought, and changes in rainfall damage crops.
The UN report will be a key scientific input into forthcoming climate and environment negotiations, such as the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14) in New Delhi in September, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Santiago, Chile, in December. The UN report also provides the solution to reverse the trend. Ending the degradation of land can play an important role in securing a liveable planet by cutting emissions, providing sustainable food and reducing poverty. The threat of land degradation is real for India. Nearly 30% of the country’s land is degraded. An analysis by TERI, a New Delhi-based think tank, suggests an economic loss of 2.5% of gross domestic product due to land degradation in the country. India had, in 2015, voluntarily committed to restore 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land as part of its “Bonn Challenge” pledge. Apart from meeting the promises made at the global high table, India has to step up its fight against land degradation simply because we have many more mouths to feed.
One of the most effective ways of degraded area development is conservation and an efficient use of natural resources, and this can best be achieved through watershed development adopting ridge-to-valley approach. Yet an analysis of the watershed management plans shows that there has been a dip in funding of the programme. In 2014-15, the government allocated Rs 2316.61 crore; but by 2018-19, it came down to Rs 1,826 crore. This needs to be looked into. The other important pointer of the UN report is that global meat consumption must fall to curb global warming, reduce growing strains on land and water and improve food security, health and biodiversity. This means going for much more climate-sensitive food, and less wastage. Scientific studies have shown that alternative grains like millets and sorghum could help the country cope better with the impact of global heating on agriculture and variations in supply, than continuing to rely on water-intensive rice and wheat.