Consultation on Climate Change Adaptation in India: first steps towards stakeholder engagement
Written by: Amir Bazaz and Chandni Singh (Indian Institute for Human Settlements) with input from Tanvi Deshpande, Ritwika Basu and Andaleeb Rahman
The Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) hosted an International Consultation on Climate Change Adaptation in India and Africa at its Bangalore City Campus on the 9th October 2014. The event brought together national and international participants from government, academia, civil society, research and practice to deliberate on the challenges and opportunities of adaptation at scale in India and Africa.
Currently, ASSAR is nearing the end of its regional diagnostic studies (RDS), which is the first phase of this multi-year research program. The RDS phase takes stock of the current state of knowledge on extant and emergent climatic and non-climatic risks in semi-arid regions of India and Africa. It also explores why different people are differentially vulnerable to these risks and how people, governments and other stakeholders at various scales are responding to current and future (projected) climatic and non-climatic challenges.
The stakeholder consultation in October aimed to:
Opening plenary: Challenges to Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in India
The day-long consultation started with a plenary that introduced the CARIAA project and ASSAR consortium, followed by national-level discussions on the nature of climate change adaptation and mitigation in India. Dr. Aromar Revi, Director of IIHS, set the tone for the event by discussing India's decarbonisation history and emphasised the need for engaging in mitigation and adaptation strategies that benefit India's long-term development and economic growth goals. Dr. KJ Ramesh, Senior Scientist & Adviser at the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), discussed how multi-dimensional challenges need to be incorporated in India’s overall disaster risk reduction framework.
Prof. Ravindranath, eminent scientist from Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, elaborated on the process of India's National Communication on climate change, which covers all aspects of climate change – from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, climate projections, and mitigation strategies, to sectoral vulnerability assessments, impacts of interventions and the current emphasis on enhancing local level understanding on climate change issues. Wrapping up the opening event, Dr. Purnamita Dasgupta (Associate Professor, Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi), deliberated on how economic growth, sustainability and climate change interact and inform each other. She emphasized that while India has actively considered and adopted several mitigation efforts (low carbon pathways), there is an increasing need to incorporate adaptation strategies at multiple scales to ensure the sustainability of India’s development process.
The key takeaway messages from the session were that proactive, planned risk management is crucial to climate resilient development, understanding how to scale up local adaptation is vital, and it is as important to focus on what does not work as it is important to highlight success stories.
Subsequent to the plenary, the day was divided into three thematic working groups, each of which involved presentations from key speakers followed by discussions.
Session 1: Recent advances in climate science
The Climate Science session was chaired by Prof. Mark New (Pro-Vice Chancellor for Climate Change, University of Cape Town and Principal Investigator of ASSAR) and Dr. J. Srinivasan (Chairman of the Divecha Centre for Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science).
Dr. R. Krishnan (Senior Scientist, Indian Institute at Tropical Meteorology; IITM) discussed how the Centre for Climate Change Research at IITM has built an earth system model (ESM), which uses high-resolution coupled ocean-atmosphere modelling to explain attribution and projection of global and regional climate change. The centre has also developed the CORDEX South Asia data at 50km x 50km resolution (available on the CCCR-IITM web portal), which feeds into CARIAA’s work with CORDEX South Asia that aims to understand how impact assessment models can quantify future risks and help adaptation planning. Dr. Jagdish Krishnaswamy (Senior Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment; ATREE), discussed how monsoon dynamics drive spatial vulnerability. He demonstrated that overall monsoon rainfall is predicted to increase and increased frequency of very scarce (<25 mm) and very heavy (>150mm) rainfall events might impact rain-fed agriculture and cause recurrent urban flooding.
Advances in climate science research have reduced biases and uncertainty attached to predictions but producing reliable downscaled data with current models is a continuing challenge. While climate projections are useful, in India predictions regarding the monsoon are still poor and several interactions such as the impact of wind velocity on monsoons have not been modelled accurately. Thus, it may be better to rely on empirical/statistical models looking at past monsoon events than forecasting techniques.
Session 2: Climate change adaptation
Dr. Roger Few (Senior Research Fellow, University of East Anglia) opened the session by emphasising the use of an interdisciplinary perspective to study climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation assessments. He highlighted how some trade-offs in adaptation and developmental pathways may create ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ and that these must be explicitly explored to avoid the marginalised becoming more vulnerable. Dr. Arivudai N. Appadurai (Strategy Head, Vulnerability & Adaptation Programme, World Resources Institute) noted that while there are several tools to analyse vulnerability, one must use them with caution and with relevant attention to the scale of assessment. “Models do not provide answers but help gain insights.”
Dr. Soora Naresh Kumar (Principal Scientist, Indian Agriculture Research Institute) noted that to address climate change impacts on agriculture the Indian Council for Agricultural Research initiated the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) in 2011. While adaptation to climate change can improve farm yields and productivity from 10-25%, in the long-term, temperature variability is a key factor. It is crucial to estimate adaptation costs and how these costs and benefits are distributed across society.
Dr. Srinivas Rao (Director, Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture; CRIDA) pointed out that assessing the vulnerability of Indian agriculture to climate change is crucial to prioritise resource allocations and adaptation interventions. The real challenge is to develop region-specific adaptation strategies to extreme events. Prof. Geethalakshmi (Tamil Nadu Agricultural University) gave examples from her research of promising adaptive strategies in agriculture such as the use of early warning systems, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), and other "climate smart” farming techniques.
Various cross-scale factors affect local adaptation and evidence shows that context-specific strategies work. Adaptation may create winners and losers and can either deepen existing inequalities or create new ones. Thus, the multi-dimensional nature of impacts of certain adaptive pathways must be understood and factored into adaptation planning.
Session 3: Urban climate change adaptation
Dr. Gina Ziervogel (Senior Lecturer, University of Cape Town) and Dr. Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar (Lead - Practice, Indian Institute of Human Settlements) opened the session by noting that to assess gainers and losers of an adaptation response we need to critically question who benefits from the adaptive response and whether it undermines marginal groups. In her talk, Dr. Ulka Kelkar (Economist, TERI), noted that rapid urbanisation is driving resource degradation and exacerbating existing inequalities and vulnerabilities. Since cities are coupled ecological systems, their governance needs to be more adaptive and city development plans need to be flexible and iterative. Cities that are highly homogenous are also highly vulnerable. Therefore, diversification in terms of livelihoods, ecological systems, and governance structures is an essential component for adaptation.
Assoc. Prof. L. Venkatachalam (Madras Institute of Development Studies) noted that economists argue that dealing with current externalities is more crucial than future issues since current actions will make people more resilient in the future. A key concern is that there is a failure of translating climate change awareness into behavioural changes. Surabhi Rajagopal (SELCO) shared her insights from working in urban slums in Bangalore. Since slums are at the interface of urban migration and an outcome of increasing vulnerability of rural livelihoods, she noted that they provide an opportunity to carry out interventions that potentially help households leapfrog into more climate-resilient development trajectories. Also, innovative livelihood strategies in Indian cities may help to reduce acute vulnerabilities and help address equity issues.
Leadership in cities must transition by changing public perceptions, reducing spatial and temporal negative externalities, and adjusting policies. Development pathways and adaptation responses must be analysed with equity in mind.
The consultation ended with a closing plenary where the key messages from individual sessions through the day were re-emphasised.
Key Conclusions and way forward
Climate change science has made advances but caution must be exercised when interpreting model projections and using them in adaptation decision-making. Also, understanding historical long-term trends, as well as community responses to these events, is valuable for future adaptation planning.
Vulnerability to the threat of climate change needs to be framed with an understanding that in developing countries such as India, climate change is one of many drivers. An interdisciplinary approach can help frame vulnerability (and responses such as adaptation) as embedded in larger development goals. This integrated focus is necessary to ensure that ongoing development trajectories are resilient and sustainable.
Understanding adaptation enablers and barriers as well as winners and losers of different adaptation pathways is crucial for adaptation investment. Understanding how different stakeholders and institutions mediate risk management (adaptive and mitigation) is key. There are several examples of successful local adaptation that need to be scaled up.
Several organisations and actors are working in the climate change adaptation and mitigation space, and building networks that can complement existing research and practice activities is critical. Increased awareness about ASSAR amongst a range of stakeholders will potentially develop synergies for future work.
Under the ASSAR research consortium, stakeholder engagement is envisioned as a mechanism to ensure incorporation and sharing of multiple perspectives and knowledge sources. The Consultation on Climate Change Adaptation was one such event in an ongoing process of building research synergies with various stakeholders working in the climate change space in India.