Climate change adaptation: the urgent need for action


The severe impacts caused by hefty rains in Northern India have led to floods, landslides, and displacement. Has already been highlighted. While factors related to Climate Change may be a part of the problem, our poor adaptation and resilience to the crisis are also significant. The development of our cities over the years has led to a greater vulnerability.

Climate adaptation is a process that allows us to adjust to climate change impacts such as increased erratic rain patterns, droughts, and changes in average temperatures. It is a deliberate action taken to minimize the adverse effects of an emergency. In the past, climate adaptation has received less attention than climate reduction. Climate adaptation funding has also been much less.

According to a report, the ratio between funding for climate mitigation and adaptation in India is 1:8, with INR 37,000 per year for each and INR 3,09,000 per year for 2019-20. The funding gap for comfort is only 25 percent, less than the estimated need of 11 lakh crores per year. However, the funding gap in adaptation is higher at 8 percent or INR 4.4 lakhs crores per annum. The funding gap for adaptation is much higher, with only 8 percent of the estimated requirement of INR 4.4 lakh crore per annum being met.

The adaptation to climate change was not directly addressed in the Union Budget for this year. It was not allocated any funding. Some announcements, such as the plantation and the initiative to turn India into a millets hub, will likely reap adaptation benefits. However, this will depend on how these initiatives are implemented and who is in charge. Important aspects, such as accounting for physical climate risks and enhancing the resilience of communities and dwellings, have yet to be mentioned. This contrasts mitigation, which has been mentioned clearly in announcements about green mobility, energy efficiency, the Green Hydrogen Mission, and more.

Why is climate adaptation ignored?

Finding scalable business models takes time and effort.

Investors are often put off because many adaptation solutions do not guarantee a direct return on their investment. Contrary to mitigation solutions that are typically technology-driven, with scalable business models, such as solar panels or EVs, adaptation solutions are often highly local and socio-ecological, tailored to a particular region’s geographical, climatic, and social context. They could include increasing water percolation, rejuvenating wetland areas, and optimizing crops. All these solutions can take time to scale up as quickly as mitigation. The payback is indirect, difficult to measure in terms of money, and accrues on a longer-term basis. The result is that little capital from the mainstream flows into adaptation.

Innovation should be encouraged more.

Those most vulnerable to climate change, such as small and marginal farmers, rural and urban women, and communities without the infrastructure needed to protect them, feel the need to adapt the most. They may not have a lot of purchasing power, and the private sector might not prioritize them as a priority.

Hard to Measure

Adaptation has been challenging to quantify and standardize, even regarding climate benefits. How can resilience be measured? This is a local and contextual issue. While there are guidelines for how to do this, it will likely remain a challenge, especially in India.

Carbon is also easier to measure, and it is the same worldwide. It is, therefore, easier to monitor solutions that increase sinks and reduce emissions. This leads to a much more accessible flow of capital for mitigation. Due to the uncertainties, risks, and complexities of climate adaptation, the private sector has resisted financing it.

Skewed global discourse

The lack of international funding is due to the distorted discourse about climate change and because adaptation actions are seen as having more immediate global effects than mitigation. In 2019-20, the funding for mitigation solutions in India came from private sources.

However, a different trend has been observed in the domestic philanthropic sector, with more donors financing adaptation than mitigation and an overall increase in funding for climate-adjacent areas such as water and livelihoods. The scope of this capital will likely remain small, but it can be a catalyst for other means, such as private and public.

Only the public sector can build adaptive capacities at the scale required nationally. In fact, in India, almost 100 percent of funding for adaptation comes through public sources such as union and state budgets. This is only a fraction of what the country needs.

| Picture courtesy: Harsh Mangal / CC BY

What can the public sector do?

The private sector will continue to assist India in reducing its deficit. However, if the public sector steps up, India could be included in adaptation. The public sector must view adaptation as an investment necessary to ensure the safety of lives, livelihoods, and the environment. It also needs to invest in the economy to meet the country’s needs despite the climate challenges.

Given this strategic imperative, the government should adopt an ‘adaptation mission’ framework to catalyze adaptation actions. This approach was inspired by Mariana Mazzucato’s Mission Economy, which describes how the state can encourage and direct innovation to solve society’s complex challenges.

Mariana’s book explains how mission thinking should use “the idea of public purposes to guide business and policy activity.” Mariana points out that the public sector, in the past, has often stepped in to fund areas or goals that the private sector deemed too risky but which could have strategic importance or the potential to drive innovation. These ideas must be aligned to meet the challenges of climate change adaptation for a vast country like India.

Mission adaptation: a framework for climate adaptation

Mission adaptation can create an ecosystem that encourages innovation in the direction of transformation. All actors can co-create adaptation solutions relevant to local conditions, including the private sector, civil societies, research institutions, and ordinary citizens. To achieve this, it should also be aimed at igniting public imagination.

For this mission to succeed, funding should be directed at multiple programs and streams. It could support themes such as:

  1. Participatory appraisal and co-evolution are the focus of this workshop

It is essential to listen to the people living with the impacts of climate change, their responses, what works and what doesn’t, and what they expect from future effects.

The public sector can support citizen participation in climate resilience exercises by collaborating with civil society. Creating a heat plan in Jodhpur through civil society and government collaboration and the Spanish climate assemblies is inspiring.

Through our work, we have found that participatory exercises using systems thinking can help identify and respond to climate links. As part of our work in CInI and during an interaction with smallholder farmers from Dahod in Gujarat, we discussed various climate-related stressors, such as crop losses due to pest incidents and water shortages. Farmers shared less-known solutions which were effective, including solar-based insect traps, which attract pests with a solar-powered lamp, and floriculture, alongside vegetable farming which ‘distracts pests’ and saves vegetables. They contrasted these with other solutions, such as pesticides. Pesticides, they feel, harm good organisms and create mutated pests over time while increasing the farmer’s vulnerability.

There may be a large market for adapting to the needs of people, but it must be discovered with them.


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