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Govt proposes 100-day work scheme to fight climate change

According to a preliminary assessment by the Indian Institute of Science, drought-proofing activities under MGNREGA can at least achieve removal or sequestration of about 197 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, or 8% of India’s target.

india Updated: Dec 07, 2018 22:54 IST
Jayashree Nandi
Jayashree Nandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
climate change,MGNREGA,carbon dioxide
India is on track to achieving two of its three key climate targets — 40% electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030 and to reduce the emissions intensity of India’s GDP by 33% to 35% from the 2005 levels.(Bloomberg/Picture for representation)

The ministry of rural development has put forward a proposal to use the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) — the world’s largest wage-based social protection programme — to achieve India’s third climate target under the 2016 Paris climate change agreement. The proposal was submitted on the sidelines of COP 24 in Katowice, Poland.

According to a preliminary assessment by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), drought-proofing activities under MGNREGA can at least achieve removal or sequestration of about 197 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent by 2030, or 8% of India’s target. But if the work focused on climate change, the scheme has a far higher potential, IISc scientists said.

India is on track to achieving two of its three key climate targets — 40% electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030 and to reduce the emissions intensity of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 33% to 35% from the 2005 levels. But India has been lagging on the third target — to create carbon sinks of about 2.5 to 3 billion tons.

IISc scientists said climate-oriented activities like drought-proofing, which involves afforestation and creation of fruit orchards, can contribute sizeably to meeting the target. Centre is already piloting climate proofing works under the scheme in 103 blocks of three districts of Bihar, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, said Dharamveer Jha, joint director, ministry of rural development.

A team of scientists from IISc is conducting a pan-India assessment of potential from MGNREGA by dividing the area into various agro-ecological regions and carrying out field studies in sample villages in each state. In 2017-18, MGNREGA may have helped sequester about 61.96 million tons of CO2 equivalent. Activities with the highest potential was found to be drought-proofing, followed by land development, revival of traditional water bodies and water harvesting, among others.

“Drought-proofing will increase the resilience of community by helping them to cope with droughts, and with tree planting there will be improvement in soil fertility over time which in turn could help retain more soil moisture and better yields,” said Indu K Murthy, IISc scientist who is coordinating the project with Prof NH Ravindranath.

Under MGNREGA, at least one member of every rural household is eligible for at least 100 days of employment in the form of unskilled manual work at the statutory minimum wage.

“There are co-benefits of MGNREGA work. It is a welcome step that the government has proposed it. Planting of trees can benefit communities and local eco-systems. It will be dangerous if the government promotes trees with high carbon sequestration capacity and ignore its contribution to the local economy. For example, corporate afforestation projects are usually mono-cultures to benefit industrial needs while the needs of local communities will have to be prioritised to make progress on the poverty agenda,” said Sanjay Vashisht, director, Climate Action Network South Asia.

Environment ministry recently said it will focus on agro-forestry with private partnerships to achieve the third target. Meanwhile, scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been presenting findings from their report on global warming of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.

Joyashree Roy, professor of economics at Jadavpur University (on lien) and one of the Indian authors of the IPCC report, said the team has been briefing parties about climate science and about its economic impacts. “A 1.5 degree C rise in global warming climate will be a poverty-multiplier: makes poor people poorer, increases poverty head count. Most severe climate change impacts are projected for urban areas, some rural regions in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Climate change will negatively affect childhood under-nutrition and stunting through reduced food availability.”

Yet, current commitments made by 195 nations under the Paris agreement will not be able to meet the 1.5 degree target; the rise in global warming may be as much as 3.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels with the current commitments.

First Published: Dec 07, 2018 19:37 IST