Policies and People | Unlock the power of climate action plans

  • States, cities, and districts have been making their climate plans. This thrust on climate plans is good, but there must be consistency 
In the last year, India has suffered a spate of flooding and landslide disasters in the high mountains of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and floods and intense cyclones in other parts of the country(File Photo) PREMIUM
In the last year, India has suffered a spate of flooding and landslide disasters in the high mountains of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and floods and intense cyclones in other parts of the country(File Photo)
Published on Jan 12, 2022 04:06 PM IST
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Last week, there were news reports that the Delhi government will soon share its climate action plan (2021-2030). The plan, the report added, will focus on eight critical sectors: Energy, transport, water, forest, health, agriculture, disaster management, and urban development. In addition, it will include the city’s climate profile, historical trends and projections, vulnerability assessment, mitigation and adaptation strategy, financing road map, and monitoring and evaluation.

In the last few months, several states, cities, and districts have announced that they are working on their climate action plans. This is an encouraging sign because India has been facing climate whiplash for years now, and therefore, needs to have a solid multilevel plan to tackle the challenge.

In August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis warned that heatwaves and humid heat stress would be more intense and frequent during the 21st century over South Asia. In the last year, India has suffered a spate of flooding and landslide disasters in the high mountains of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and floods and intense cyclones in other parts of the country.

Unfortunately, some climate impacts in India are irreversible.

“Some of the changes are locked in— these include an increase in sea-level rise, melting of glaciers and thawing of permafrost… In India, the increase in heat waves is masked by aerosol emissions, if these emissions are cut down, further increases in heat waves are likely. A very strong increase in heat waves, heavy rainfall events, further melting of glaciers can be expected and are very important for India. In addition, sea-level rise will cause flooding when tropical cyclones hit,” Friederike Otto, associate director, Environment Change Institute, University of Oxford, said after the launch of the IPCC report.

Climate action plans

The Union government launched its National Action Plan on Climate change (NAPCC) in 2008. States were asked to prepare their plans; later, the Union ministry of environment, forest, and climate change directed states to revise their plans for 2021-2030.

Since NAPCC was focused on resilience and adaptation, most state plans had the same focus. But after a few years, the focus was on mitigation because states realised that it was becoming difficult to attract finance for adaptation or resilience projects.

The lack of funding in adaptation projects was recently highlighted in UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report 2021. The report found that adaptation costs are likely to be at the higher end of an estimated $140 billion to $300 billion a year by the end of this decade, and $280 billion to $500 billion annually by 2050.

Furthermore, the cost in developing countries is estimated to be between five to 10 times greater than the current public adaptation finance flows. In comparison to the finance gap indicated in an earlier report in 2020, the latest report said the gap was widening as costs of adaptation had increased but without matching fund flow.

Regional climate planning

“As we move forward on climate planning, we see a lot of action is being undertaken at the regional level and sub-regional level in India. Many cities and districts are formulating their plans. This is a positive development but there is a long way to go,” says Chirag Gajjar, head, Subnational Climate Action, WRI India.

It’s not just big metropolises such as Delhi and Mumbai making city-level plans. Even districts such as Satna in Madhya Pradesh and Aurangabad in Maharashtra are planning their climate action plan.

“Earlier, districts were responsible for primarily managing natural disasters, but they are now slowly taking up climate action because both are interlinked,” adds Gajjar.

“A disaster management plan is focused on a particular aspect, say drought. If a district is prone to drought, then the district is focused on that challenge. But a climate action will be an overall plan and its impact on the entire ecosystem,” explained Gajjar.

Strengthening district response

Districts are critical in the fight against the climate crisis.

A study by the Council for Energy, Environment, and Water, released in 2021, said that 75% of the Indian districts, including 95% of coastal ones, are extreme climate event hotspots. Moreover, around 45% of these districts have undergone unsustainable landscape and infrastructure changes, a reason for the increase in climate vulnerability of these districts. The study, based on climate vulnerability mapping of 640 districts, said that 80% of Indians live in these climate disaster-prone districts.

“The states have had 10 years of lead time in developing climate plans. Cities and districts must learn from them,” says Gajjar.

WRI India is helping several districts to develop their climate action plans, and a key part of the process is “capacity building”, which means training officials on the different facets of the climate crisis, the process of applying for climate adaptation/mitigation projects, and loans, implementation, and understanding the needs and requirements of the local communities.

“There is a capacity challenge in districts,” says Anjal Prakash, research director, and adjunct associate professor, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad.

To avoid “box-ticking and uploading of plans”, Prakash adds, districts must integrate these climate plans into their development frameworks, allocate resources, ensure programme execution, and take people along for a shared understanding of the challenges.

In addition, there has to be consistency among the various state, city, and district climate plans.

This, Prakash has been arguing for a long, cannot happen without a structural change in the climate governance structure of the country.

“India has four agro-climatic zones, and states, cities, and districts fall into these categories. The climate challenges of each of these regions are unique and varied. Therefore, India requires a separate ministry at the central and state levels to roll out a comprehensive and cohesive plan nationwide plan on the climate crisis,” he argues. “A unified approach will be the best way forward.”

The views expressed are personal

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    KumKum Dasgupta is with the opinion section of Hindustan Times. She writes on education, environment, gender, urbanisation and civil society. .

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