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Summary of the National Consultation on Climate Change Adaptation in India

30 Apr 2015 - 09:00

The ASSAR-India team led by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore (IIHS) recently held its second national Consultation on Climate Change Adaptation in India on 17th and 18th April at the India International Centre, New Delhi. The consultation was attended by more than 40 leading academics, scientists, government officials and practitioners of the country who have been engaged with questions of climate change and development over several years. This consultation is the second in a series of stakeholder consultations, the first of which was held in October 2014 at IIHS during the ASSAR Annual Meeting. 

Over the course of the consultation, the ASSAR-India team shared preliminary findings of the regional diagnostic study conducted over the past year in selected semi-arid sub-regions of India - Bangalore in Karnataka, Moyar-Bhavani basin in Tamil Nadu, and Sangamner sub-region in Maharashtra. The findings were reviewed over three technical sessions by experts in the field, and key knowledge and information gaps were identified and discussed. The technical sessions followed the three main themes of the diagnostic report prepared by the ASSAR-India team. These were:

1. Climate Change: Trends and Projections

2. Risks, Impacts and Vulnerability

3. Adaptation - Development Spectrum

The consultation was opened by Aromar Revi with the session on ‘Emerging Issues in Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation: India’s response’. Through the session, noted speakers such as Nitin Desai and Rathin Roy shared their reflections on the precarious nature of decision-making at the complex intersection of climate change and public policy. Given how climate change issues are scarcely mainstreamed into long term development plans, one of the key challenges faced in the area of contemporary development and climate policy in India is that of multidimensional vulnerability, particularly in a local context. Research conducted by the ASSAR-India team therefore aims to generate evidence on measures that will lead to effective, sustained and widespread adaptation to climate change in India’s semi-arid regions (a climate ‘hot spot’) and thereby will respond to the existing and emerging challenges posed by anthropogenic climate change. Murali Kallur from IDRC argued that while climate change mitigation might have global currency, adaptation remains essentially a local issue, which requires fine-grained inquiry. Adaptation measures cannot be discussed in isolation from development, and a crucial task of the team would be to seek evidence towards operationalizing the co-benefits agenda. This requires bringing together adaptation and mitigation measures into existing policy dialogue, guided by robust scientific evidence.

Sumetee P Gajjar (South Asia Project Lead, IIHS) and Amir Bazaz (Lead Researcher- South Asia, IIHS) set the agenda and context of the technical sessions, aiming to receive critical inputs to the upcoming research phase of the project. The first technical session, titled ‘Climate Change – Trends and Projections’, highlighted the need for reliable data at different scales for the purpose of forecasting long-term risk. Uncertainties surrounding scientific observations are reflected in model-based projections of climate change trends. It was argued that since model-based projections are laden with uncertainties and biases, it would be useful to explore the possibility of using historical observational data to understand changes in the climate system and corresponding biophysical inter-linkages. It was cautioned that while doing so, care must be taken to base the analysis on reliable data; particularly at the local level. Agro-advisories (or dedicated climate information service) were discussed by Crispino Lobo from WOTR as potential game changers in mitigating climate-induced risks based on multiple stakeholder buy-in, as well as ease of communication with the end-user.

The second technical session, titled ‘Risks, Impacts and Vulnerability’, underscored the need to derive adaptation options that are based on contextual vulnerabilities. These adaptation measures have to be sustainable and incentive-oriented. Another key input from the discussion was that vulnerability reduction should be examined through the lens of livelihood security. Moreover, new forms of urban settlements, especially those on the fringes of cities are such that normal frameworks of governance are inadequate. Therefore, a cogent need to rethink existing and future structures in environmental governance, that can help respond to climate change risks and impacts, arises. 

The third technical session on ‘The Adaptation-Development Spectrum’ sought to understand how adaptation and development are understood and implemented. The spirited discussion that followed the presentations from the ASSAR-India team inquired into incentives for local adaptation measures, the potential and pitfalls of crop insurance as a risk management strategy, the importance of capacity building, as well as the pressing need for mainstreaming adaptation options into existing development plans as opposed to creating new institutions to manage local adaptation. The need to monetize the costs of adaptation was also discussed, since these costs often lead to maladaptation. Furthermore, the need for a comprehensive risk management system that integrates disaster risk reduction while also meeting developmental goals were also highlighted.

The panel discussions contributed to a better understanding of the research and policy gaps around climate adaptation in semi-arid regions of India and will help refine research questions for inquiry going into the RRP phase. The consultation wrapped up on a positive note with the effort to build collaborative institutional networks across scales and geographies that would enable the mainstreaming of climate change adaptation.