Originally Published 2015-06-15 00:00:00 Published on Jun 15, 2015
Indian climate policy-making should 'mainstream' adaptation strategies into development planning to better address climate change. The Indian Government had formulated the National Action Plan on Climate Change in 2008.
Supporting climate resilient development in India

With the Paris Conference of the Parties (COP) in line, the global politics of Climate Change is taking twists and turns so that the negotiations done will be best fit to all the parties. The main agenda for the upcoming Paris agreement (COP 21) will be to effectively differentiate and share the remaining carbon space in order to avoid catastrophic warming caused due to climate change. The tussle between developed and developing countries over emissions cut off, complications attached with the formulation of respective INDCs, climate finance and technology transfer continues to make the complete scenario much more intricate in nature.

Since climate change is more of a behavioral and political issue, it requires a much wider approach. In context to India, although the Indian climate negotiations have made considerable progress in the last decade, serious measures need to be taken during the upcoming engagements. Paris deal especially will be crucial since emission cut-off and development goes hand in hand for India and for that national directive policies aimed towards mitigation and adaptation efforts are required. India's adaptation INDCs will need to be carefully formulated in order to highlight vulnerabilities and the financial and technological requirements for building climate resilience.

During the Lima COP, India made it clear that its approach will be a balanced inclusion of adaptation in the 2015 Paris agreement and less focus will be put on mitigation efforts. India demanded that the new climate agreement should fully reflect upon the key issue of adaptation. It is also being argued in Indian climate policy making that approaches including CBDR & RC and "co-benefits" needs to be emphasized in order to make a successful climate deal. But the important question that needs to be addressed is how adaptation to climate variability can be fully integrated into development policies and what are the funding instruments for adaptation?

Adaptation in a multilateral context

More attention has been devoted to mitigation in the past, both in scientific research and policy debate nationally and internationally, though both adaptation and mitigation measures should be pursued to create an effective and inclusive international climate change regime. The importance of the issue of adaptation has grown over only in the last couple of years, particularly after the Third Assessment Report by IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). As pointed out by Parry et al. 2005, Adaptation has now emerged as an urgent policy priority, prompting action both within and outside the climate change negotiations. Prior to this, policies related to climate change were mitigation driven since they originated through mechanisms that were basically scientific model based.

The adaptation driven approach has also gained credence since its being noticed that the effects of mitigation may take several decades to manifest, while most adaptation activities take effect almost immediately. Adaptation measures can be applied on a regional or local scale, and their effectiveness is less dependent on actions of others. Initially adaptation was viewed as a response mechanism for expected impacts including glacier melt, sea level rise, etc. but eventually was recognized both in international negotiations and policy making as a measure to address risk associated with extreme weather events, for example COP7 Marrakesh Accords in 2001, NAPA (National Adaptation Programmes of Action) came into existence, which was largely built to tackle adaptation challenges of least developing countries and also during COP11 at Montreal in 2005, a five year work programme on adaptation was agreed upon between different countries.

Nonetheless, concrete experience in applying an integrated approach to adaptation is limited. Adaptation to climate change is a new process for both developed and developing countries. The international community continues to grapple with the likely environmental and socio-economic impacts that shall result from changing climate, therefore, emphasis is laid upon the formulation of an adaptation policy that is action oriented, widely acceptable at all levels and that would target issues including compensation for loss and damages.

Coping versus adaptation

Based on different definitions of climate and non-climate related adaptation, IPCC in 1996 defined adaptability and adaptation as: "Adaptability refers to the degree to which adjustments are possible in practices, processes or structures of systems to projected or actual changes of climate. Adaptation can be spontaneous or planned, and can be carried out in response to or in anticipation of changes in conditions." Adaptation has also been understood in terms of a 'coping'. The difference between the two terms used interchangeably is important to understand. Adaptation can be learnt as proactive, aimed at promoting long-term ecosystem integrity and human well-being, while coping refers to ad hoc and reactive adaptations aimed at short-term survival, where social learning and institutional change are lacking (IPCC, 2001). Adaptation therefore, involves adjustments to climate variability and change in order to decrease the vulnerability of communities, regions, and nations. Coping is day to day exercise where community makes the best of available capacities and resources to live with impacts and changes while adaptation is a more planned adjustment to changes and new realities.

India's policy making on adaptation

Indian climate policy-making should 'mainstream' adaptation strategies into development planning to better address climate change. The Indian Government formulated the National Action Plan on Climate Change in 2008. The NAPCC identifies measures such as co-benefit approaches that can promote development projects while addressing climate change. It also hinges on the development and use of new technologies. The NAPCC comprises of 8 national missions with distinctive objectives. Based on the broad understanding of NAPCC, 22 states and union territories in India have also submitted a State Action Plan on Climate Change to Ministry of Environment and Forest. Though SAPCC is an important document which needs to be drafted under the umbrella of NAPCC, there appears to be lack of clarity and agreement on the framing of SAPCCs. There is less focus on the key challenges that different states are directly fronting. SAPCC only provides broad approach to tackle the problems related to weather variability. Non-inclusion of important local environmental issues, local perceptions, lack of conceptual framework, lack of definitive time frame, etc. makes it a weak document. Lack of participatory approach during decision making and implementation also adds to SAPCC's drawbacks. These shortcomings to an extent make the complete system fragmented where local issues have been ignored and strategies formulated without the incorporation of important issues. As argued by Dubash et al, 2014 in the report "From Margins to Mainstream? Climate Change Planning in India as a 'Door Opener' to a Sustainable future" the SAPCC's rather came out as a sustainable development document with business as usual approach, where need for climate resilient future planning was missed completely. However, there is consensus among national actors on treating adaptation as the main theme of SAPCC and that every state should come up with their specific adaptation strategy.

National policies & climate adaptation strategies

Development planning and adaptation strategies are inter-linked. In the absence of development, capacity of the vulnerable population to cope with the changing climate gets limited. Similarly, lack of adaptive capacity leads to severe fallouts including "significant deprivation, social disruption and population displacement, and even morbidity and mortality" (Downing et al, 2007). This clearly suggests that national policies on development and adaptation strategies cannot be divorced from each other and need to be integrated. However, the processes to arrive at a win-win situation, where national objectives of development and enabling communities to be climate resilient are complex in eco-sensitive areas like Sunderbans.

In the Sunderban, there is an absence of intensive agriculture potential and employment opportunities in industries: peoples livelihood choices are limited. Sunderbans are ecologically rich and diverse and are marked as a critical vulnerable coastal zone, both in the Indian Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 2008 and Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in 2007. While the striking geographical location of Sundarbans adds to its unique features, it also makes the area vulnerable. For example the Aila cyclone of 2009 killed approximately 300-400 people and displaced close to 1 million both in India and Bangladesh. Following the devastation, policy makers realized the urgent need to formulate a Climate Adaptation Strategy for areas like the Sunderbans that are highly vulnerable to climate impacts regions like the Sunderbans where life moves around land, water and forests and where livelihood vulnerability is a major concern. Also challenges including the emergence of climate refugees or climate induced resettlement has increased manifold in the couple of decades. It has been estimated that close to 70,000 people out of the 4.1 million living in the Indian part of the Sunderbans would be left homeless by 2020 due to extreme weather events. Unfortunately the central government allocated only a paltry sum of Rs. 100 crores in 2014-15 for the establishment of a "National Adaptation Fund" for adaptation projects in Sunderbans. Even the limited funds have not been effectively allocated and spent. Implementation is impacted due to fragmented planning processes.

Another example of this disjointed planning process is the Jharia coal field fire in Jharkhand, which is now nearly a century old. Famous for its coke grade coal, Jharia coal fire was first detected in 1916. The whole township is on the brink of ecological and human disaster with 42 underground coal collieries out of 133 on fire. The Jharia coal field fire has nearly affected 400,000 people by 2007 who reside in this area. According to a report by TERI, the basic reason for this event has been credited to the unscientific mining and extraction of coal in the past. The government has been criticized for ignorance and careless approach towards resolving this issue. This is classic examples highlighting policies and approaches that prioritizes development and ignore environmental realities. In fact, if we analyze the SAPCC report submitted by Jharkhand government - which is based on the common framework that draws largely on sub national planning, building capacities and identifying investment opportunities based on the state priorities - the Jharia coal fire is not mentioned anywhere in the report, which brings us back to the argument about how SAPCC have failed to address the local issue. Rather it has been marked in the report that ONGC further aspires to increase the 5,000 cubic meters of gas from the Jharia block to 15,000 cubic meters in the future. The trade-off between development opportunity in the block and the need for building adaptation capacity is not easy. Therefore, innovative mechanisms and processes will need to be devised in order to find the appropriate balance between adaptation and development.

Innovation as a mean of adaptation

Innovation and adaptation go hand in hand. Over the time people and Civil Society Organization's in the Sunderbans area have come up with different solutions to cope and adapt to the reoccurring situation, through traditional and local knowledge's. For instance, rice growers shifted to using salt-tolerant varieties of seeds in their fields after the cyclone Aila brought deluge of salt water from Bay of Bengal into the area. These varieties were traditionally used in the region and were brought back into practice with the help of a Kolkata based NGO, Energising Development. In some sense, re-invention of the old traditional varieties of the salt-resistant seeds helped the region adapt to climate-related challenge. Similarly, other community based innovative practices and processes have come to the fore in response to climate change. However, scaling up of these efforts has been a challenge, mainly due to the local specificity and diverse social realities. Still, these knowledge's need to be recognized. Opportunities must be created for the vulnerable societies to adapt to climate change. Opportunities can be in the form of increased participation in decision making, providing infrastructure for building resilience, and building awareness through sharing experiences and information.


Integrating climate change adaptation considerations into policy processes and decision-making across a range of sectors and scales is important in managing the impacts of climate change. The present situation is critical given the priorities related to development targets including poverty eradication, energy access, health and education and the increase in vulnerabilities due to climate change related vulnerability. The two cannot be dissociated from each other and innovative mechanisms need to be devised to address the trade-off between development and adaptation. Availability and access to finance and technology for adaptation is very important. Scaling up of adaptation finance and technologies need to be mainstreamed in order to build climate resilient societies. Besides demanding global support for finance and technology, strategies need to be devised to promote local, traditional knowledge's and innovation entrepreneurship.

(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation. The article is based on the conference proceedings of the COP 21 Series on 'Supporting climate resilient development in India' organised by the French Embassy and Observer Research Foundation in Kolkata on 23 April, 2015)

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