Strategies to deal with climate change must have a pro-poor orientation
We are seeing more natural calamities than ever before,for a multiplicity of reasons. As human populations grow,they expand into more marginal and fragile areas. Also,as development and urbanisation proceeds apace,with more investment in infrastructure,the visible effect of a natural calamity is also more pronounced. But perhaps the new factor we now consciously need to take into account is the impact of a complex set of changes to the entire earth-atmosphere equilibrium which,unlike population growth or infrastructure creation,is not localised,but has assumed the shape of a global phenomenon called climate change now often called global warming.
There is direct evidence that in the last 100 years,average global temperature has increased by about 0.6 degrees Celsius. There is also sufficient evidence,over the last 20 years,to conclude that the number of storms,floods,cyclones,heat waves and other climate-related disasters have increased,and the events are becoming more severe when they occur. At the very least,the accumulation of this evidence over time and its consistency and correlation with other factors indicates that we cannot view climate-related disasters as chance events,but must treat many of them,at least in part,as a result of climate change.
It may not be possible to adapt in the face of catastrophe. But it is possible and necessary to adapt to the general incremental changes taking place as a result of climate change. Such adaptation will have to be built into public policies that incentivise climate proofing at a local level. This could imply geotechnically sounder alignments and better drainage for a rural road in an area where rainfall seems to be increasing,or it could mean more investment in soil-moisture conservation and watershed management in an area that seems to be more prone than before to recurring drought-like conditions,and so on. It could also include identification,development and propagation of farm inputs,practices and systems necessary to meet changes in soil-moisture,and humidity and temperature conditions. Assured access to safe drinking water is perhaps the critical requirement for successful adaptation.
Unfortunately,the effect of climate change will fall disproportionately on those who may have contributed the least to causing it: the poor,with few resources,already living on the margins,and so the most vulnerable. Living on marginal or degraded lands prone to water stress or soil loss and with few supplemental livelihood opportunities due to their poverty and educational standards,the poor,who are in the weakest position to deal with it,are likely to be hit hardest by the adverse effects of ambient climate change. Such adverse effects can hit them in multiple ways: reduced access to safe drinking water,damage to food crops,lower availability of biomass for fuel and fodder,loss of livestock,drop in soil fertility,reduced opportunities for wage labour,and increased mortality and morbidity due to thermal stress,and vector- and water-borne diseases. Climate change could well make poverty-reduction or sustainable achievement of the Millennium Development Goals impossible.
The basic adaptive interventions to climate change are likely to be fairly simple and manageable at the community level. It is important,however,to not only build adaptation policies and strategies into public programmes to deal with the effects of ambient climate change,but to do so with a pro-poor orientation. There will have to be a wide spectrum of technical and institutional support,and associated funding tie-ups. But at the end of it all,a pro-poor adaptive response has to also have,as a principle,two essential synergistic components: the capacity building and empowerment of local communities and panchayats,and building up of natural capital at the local level,which is accessible to the rural poor.
The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) of 2008 actually mentions protecting the poor and vulnerable sections of society through an inclusive and sustainable development strategy,sensitive to climate change. It also mentions effecting implementation of programmes through unique linkages,including with civil society and local government. Eight national missions have been formed to address a wide variety of sectoral issues for mitigating climate change and developing adaptation strategies. The ability of inter- as well as intra-mission mechanisms to address the need to incorporate a pro-poor orientation by focusing on capacity building and empowerment of local communities and community institutions is crucial to success. Inclusive adaptation is as necessary as,and indeed a part of,inclusive growth.
The writer is secretary,rural development,Government of India. Views are personal