At COP26 earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said not placing as much emphasis on climate adaptation as climate change mitigation “is an injustice to vulnerable countries”. While the West has recently experienced unprecedented weather events, the developing world has borne the brunt for years.
Over the past decade, Asian countries have experienced numerous floods and heat waves; rising sea temperatures cause powerful cyclones in the Arabian Sea; and exceptional and extreme rains are wreaking havoc in vulnerable communities. In India in 2019 alone, 19 extreme weather events reportedly killed 1,357, with heavy rains and flooding accounting for 63% of deaths. More than 5,300 heat wave deaths have been reported in the past seven years.
How to deal with this increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters? As the impact of this situation is still being felt, the world must pay particular attention to efforts to adapt to climate change and build resilience. A 2019 adaptation report estimates that between 2020 and 2030, investing $ 1.8 trillion in global adaptation actions in five areas – early warning systems, climate resilient infrastructure, improved agriculture in drylands , mangrove protection and resilient water resources – could generate $ 7.1 trillion in net benefits.
More funds needed
The key is to scale up adaptation and mitigation actions, and to channel climate finance towards them. Compared to the total investments required to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change, the $ 100 billion commitment still to be honored by developed countries is minimal. This fund should be gradually raised with more than 50 percent diverted for adaptation actions, preferably in the form of grants. The mobilization of private financing is also imperative.
In India, adaptation actions are still quite impromptu, inadequate and response-oriented.
To go beyond the current situation and embark on a broader mitigation and adaptation path at the highest levels, a few strategies must be considered:
(i) PM stressed the importance of the climate disaster resilient infrastructure program at COP26. Developing a clear agenda and actions under this initiative could help systematically protect India’s infrastructure against climate change. It is important to focus first on coastal states and other more vulnerable states that are prone to heavy rains and flooding.
(ii) We must invest in agricultural research and development to adapt solutions that would help support food production despite climate impacts. We must not lose sight of the existing repository of local knowledge rooted in our farming communities and find ways to create synergies where possible to achieve tangible results.
(iii) India has extensive experience and knowledge in the management of its water resources, but this is insufficient given the scale of the problem today. Adaptation solutions are based both on improving hardware (technological challenges guided by science) and software (training and awareness needs).
(iv) Transformative solutions require systemic changes, in terms of how institutions adapt to changing realities, establishing flexible political structures, building innovative partnerships and capacities at multiple levels. For example, climate protection of district development plans, including sector plans, would be a good start to bring about changes at the local level. In doing so, local governments will be empowered to generate relevant site-specific information and to use their resources wisely.
(v) The role of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in building climate resilient ecosystems is increasingly recognized. This could be used as a vehicle to take advantage of adaptation actions. In 2020-2021, MGNREGS uptake increased at the district and gram panchayat levels, and around two-thirds of the jobs sought were related to natural resource management. MGNREGS could be the perfect option to meet the adaptation demands of the country.
(vi) India is one of the first countries to create a public mechanism to help states adapt by allowing access to multilateral financing options. But today, the National Climate Change Adaptation Fund (FNACC) must be made more efficient and accountable. For interventions such as flood protection, several States must come together and implement actions by pooling available resources. The NAFCC is well placed to provide such support. In addition to public investments, we must create an ecosystem of innovative private financing.
A concerted and systematic plan to build resilience and adaptation to climate change, as well as a targeted flow of funds over the next decade is important. If we don’t anticipate this now, it could delay our development gains by several years.
The author is Director, Climate Resilience Practice, World Resources Institute India. Opinions expressed are personal