In the follow-up of the IPCC's AR6 Working Group II report on Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, the concerned experts have discussed various nuances and lesser discussed aspects related to the gaps, challenges, limitations and solutions for adaptation in India. Finance is one of the biggest weak links and the capability and window to adapt, both of which come with their limitations.
Dr Chandni Singh, Senior Research Consultant, Indian Institute of Human Settlements Emergency for Adaptation, said, "IPCC WG2 Report has focussed on solution space, bringing adaptation and development together. his is the key for India."
While touching upon the issue of compound risk & adaptation strategy, she said, "We are now seeing simultaneous impacts taking place, causing compound risks which are layering of risk in a particular place or for a particular sector. Also, while these impacts might occur at one place or affect a particular community, they can cascade across locations and sectors."
She gave an instance of what happens in our coastal cities is not confined there or food insecurity because changing rainfall patterns in rural areas will also be transferred to urban areas, as our food systems are so interconnected. Hence, there is a need to adapt to multiple risks happening simultaneously so that they can jump sectors and jump locations. Thus, the adaptation strategies have to be developed accordingly.
On the issue of adaptation plans covering multi-hazard risks, she said, "There is evidence to show adaptation action has increased. Planning has picked up, but implementation parts need to be focussed on. However, the progress is uneven depending on the finance and capabilities every sector has. Secondly, most of the adaptation is happening very sectorally. The agriculture sector will have particular strategies or cities would have different strategies, which are risk-focused like adaptation to floods, cyclones, etc. That is missing is the multi-hazard aspect of the risk," she said.
As far as the need for a targeted-adaptation action plan is concerned, we are not adapting fast enough, and emergency is yet not linked with adaptation plans, she said.
"Evidence shows an increasing gap between current adaptation action and what is needed for the changing regime. These gaps are not equally felt by everyone. Low-income populations and existing marginalised communities are facing these impacts more than others, so there is also the need for targeted action and targeted closing of the adaptation gap. We don't have the luxury for adaptation sectorally. Thus, we have to think about systems," Singh said.
Adaptation feasibility has also emerged as a big concern. She stressed that developmental priorities are more pressing for countries like India than climate goals. Although it is changing now, we need to map adaptation options with sustainable development goals. Assessments have shown that several adaptation options are feasible. Climate adaptation finance is competing with mitigation as there is only a set pot of money.
These are the negative consequences of adaptation. She gave a classic example of building hard infrastructures like sea falls, dams, etc., to protect coastal areas from coastal flooding and sea-level rise. They might give short-term relief, but they tend to negatively impact marine life, mangroves. Also, in the future, this hard infrastructure can lock one into a system, and that can have unintended consequences going into the future.
She explained the limit to adaptation by saying, "Everybody cannot adapt, and there are hard and soft limits to adaptation. Talking about extreme heat in India, cities have gotten more attention than rural areas. Still, the problem is equal in rural areas as well in terms of agriculture labourers. The hard limit is the wet-bulb temperature of 35 degrees, beyond which humans cannot survive. The soft limit example is that although there are adaptation strategies, they are not available to everyone. However, adaptation options can open up in the future. So, in future, certain people will be able to adapt. But certain populations, like construction labourers, people living in informal settlements, who don't have access to green spaces around their houses, will face much faster."
According to Prof Raman Sukumar at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, most of India's forests are secondary forests. A very large part of our population depends on forests for various products, including timber products, which has come down because of cessation of logging but more on a variety of biomass products - food, fibre, etc. Therefore, it is essential to view and conserve our forests as a storehouse of carbon and as a resource to meet the needs of our vast population.
With regard to high sequestration potential, he said, "The latest State of Forest Assessment by the Forest Survey of India came up with the figure of 21.7% land area under forests and 2.9% under tree cover. The positive news is that India's forests have a sequestration rate of 0.3 tonnes of carbon/hectare/year. This could be slightly higher, according to the recent report. This is despite the many disturbances such as droughts and fires and warming over the years; the sequestration potential seems to be high, especially in conserved forests - national parks and sanctuaries."
India has a large number of schemes for increasing the forest cover with the involvement of private participation in adaptation.
Sukumar said, "Several decades earlier, we set ourselves a goal of ensuring 33% land under forest cover. However, only 15-20% is under government control. Therefore, to achieve the said target, some must come from community-owned or community-managed or privately owned lands. Therefore, adaptation needs to ensure the participation of private landowners."
"The IPCC WGII Report makes strong references to equality, social justice and indigenous knowledge systems. We need to recognise that when we talk about people's participation, the most marginalised sections, including the tribal populations, need to be at its heart. If you look at the FSI report, the average tree cover is 21.7%, but in the tribal-dominated districts, it is 37.5%. Therefore, it is important to make them partners in increasing forest cover towards adaptation," he said.
Prof Purnamita Dasgupta, Chair, Environmental Economics and Head, Environmental and Resource Economics Unit, Institute of Economic Growth, expressed views that the climate science in IPCC's Working Group II report has made it unequivocally clear that adaptation is the need of the hour. It brought out the important dimension of "how" to address climate risk management which became the enabler for change. The IPCC reports are the gold standard, but there is scope to consider catalysing conditions where climate and non-climate realities from developing countries intersect to enhance the solutions for financial gaps.
While talking about adaptation finance, she said, "There are two parallel narratives ongoing. Firstly, adaptation finance was pitched as a global dialogue earlier, acknowledging that $100 bn as climate finance is insufficient and especially to cover adaptation costs for developing countries. If the negotiations at recent COPs are indicators to go by, there is a shift in this narrative where the responsibility for raising adaptation finance is being imposed on developing countries."
"Secondly, with this shift, there is a need for a secondary narrative on internal finance. We need our financial institutions, both public and private, to leverage their portfolios to bring returns from these investments and play a crucial role in this change. COP26 was a major disappointment to the scientific and climate community regarding adaptation finance. This ever-widening gap for adaptation funding requires external finance, which will help strengthen our internal frameworks," she said.
The trust deficit on this issue between the North and South needs to be bridged. Multilateral and bilateral financial institutions can play a unique role as catalysts for this change.
In the realm of capacities on climate finance, she believed that we need to address the gap in capacities on climate finance, which implies the need for strategy, operationalising and execution. On the question as to how can capacity be improved across multilateral, bilateral and domestic financial institutions, she gave out example, where private institutions launching adaptation programmes like the Mahindra Hariyali programme or a Tata scheme would be packed with resources, but stakeholders who would be impacted by these need to be engaged. Fintech can be a possible solution for these issues.
"We also need to address what's in it for the business model – what kind of regulatory environment can be made available, compliance frameworks and incentive structures to support industry and sectors. So that climate finance doesn't remain a niche, but everyone can get engaged," she said.
There is an entire continuum of development and adaptation. Dr Ashish Chaturvedi, head of Environment, Energy & Resilience, UNDP, said, "We need a developing country perspective. Based on the science that has emerged, many pragmatic things can be done on the ground, such as how we can use this information on climate science to advise different levels of government. For example, for planning at the village panchayat level, we can incorporate information related to historical data, models, projections, vulnerabilities of the communities. This same model can be applied at district, state and national level."
He said that we need institutions (closely related to development and finance at different levels) to incorporate climate information in development finance. And how are we mainstreaming the use of climate information when we start thinking of allocation of development finance.
For better channelising of climate information, Chaturvedi suggested simple structures of making climate information available to local communities that can guide the planning process. However, this needs to be systematised within the government process.
"Simplified vulnerability assessments that can be understood by policymakers as well as communities. Science has to be localised, simplified and understood by all, especially the policymakers. You will have to find pathways to incorporate climate information at different levels of governance and planning. In the absence of this, development plans will overturn and lead to mal-adaptation and inefficient things."
Domestic finance remains a challenging issue. Chaturvedi said that 97% of adaptation globally comes from public finance. There is a need to channelise some of the public finance for adaptation. The kind of budget that the agriculture ministry has, adaptation funds, will be pale compared to national budgets. The kind of needs we have won't be fulfilled by specialised funds, especially for a country like India. The trick lies in how the specialised funds are used to unlock much more capital.
He recommended a flagship initiative.
"There is a need to develop some flagship initiatives, for instance, the great green wall initiative etc. At least one big initiative in each ecosystem, using substantive domestic resources and international ones. Also, stakeholders for public finance like NABARD need to start funding these initiatives. Bankers also need some kind of model which can unlock."
Sukumar threw light on sustainable landscape planning to facilitate adaptation. He said, "Given the rate of change spatially and geographically, it will change rainfall patterns in the coming decades. We need to recognise that plant and animal species will have to migrate to cooler temperatures - the Western Ghats and the Himalayas- to adapt. That's the only way in which we can maintain our rich biodiversity. Migration of both plant and animal species in the context of climate change is extremely challenging, given the high degree of fragmentation. We need to plan sustainable landscaping, which has become crucial to facilitating adaptation."
"Our landscapes are very complex - national parks, sanctuaries, reserve forests, agricultural lands, coffee and tea estates. Unless we are able to maintain the integrity of landscapes in some form for plant and animal species to migrate, adaptation is not going to happen. It is critical to understand what to plant with a clear understanding of the principles of ecology rather than just planting native species, where to plant, in what proportion these are planted. We are very far from our understanding of restoration ecology. Can we also do anticipatory planting with the understanding that species will migrate to a higher alleviation? This is where landscape planning becomes very important," he said.
Chandni Singh also discussed the best practices in adaptation.
"There is an apparent call for adaptation, and we need to make deep and clear cuts in GHGs. Adaptation, mitigation and development together will be considered climate-resilient development. We have to have our vision of climate resilience development that will not undermine our development goals. Higher levels of warming will make it very difficult for us to move forward for greener spaces."
About climate finance, she said, "As per the report, 92% of global finance is used for mitigation and 8% for adaptation. Finance is the most critical part when we talk about solution building. The good part is that there is no climate denial today in terms of impacts and climate variability across the country. However, looking at the changing patterns, decision making should be long term and flexible at the same time. I feel this is missing right now across the governance and institutions."
The writer is a Chandigarh based freelance journalist who tweets @seema_env. The views are personal.