The Honorable Prime Minister’s prioritization of climate adaptation is based on a dire reality: reducing carbon emissions and sequestering carbon are no longer enough to completely halt the effects of climate change. For most parts of the world, and India in particular, it is time to adapt to a warming world. India is expected to be one of the first places to experience heat waves that are beyond the survival limit for a healthy person sitting in the shade. Without targeted climate adaptation, millions of Indians could be exposed to a deadly heatwave as early as 2030.
Adaptation, while critical, will also be challenging as heat exposure is a pervasive risk and requires far-reaching changes in the lives and work of millions of Indians. For example, India’s construction, mining and agriculture industries may have to change their regular summer shift times within the next decade – as wet-bulb temperatures become too high to work outdoors. A particular challenge will be adaptation for the urban poor and homeless who are likely to need public support, for example in the form of emergency shelters.
Given the severity of climate change India is facing, we need a comprehensive and holistic plan to urgently address the climate adaptation challenge. Both public and private actors need to align on a climate adaptation plan that includes:
Accelerated adoption of cooling plans: The India Cooling Action Plan published by the Ministry of the Environment, Forests and Climate Change in March 2019 is a pioneering achievement in a global context. Other select states and cities have also released their heat action plans, but given the severity of the climate risk, almost all of India will need a heat action plan, with local governments prioritizing cooling.
Transition to indoor work: India’s agricultural, construction, mining and outdoor workers are most exposed to the immediate risks of climate change. At a time when India is rapidly accelerating its infrastructure and construction activities, it must simultaneously accelerate the difficult transition from outdoor to indoor (through advancement of services and indoor manufacturing sectors).
Air Conditioning and Other Cooling Measures: Given the impact of climate risk, India needs to accelerate the development and adoption of low carbon but lower cost air conditioning and other cooling measures. This includes the integration of five-star air-conditioning technologies into all homes, including affordable housing projects, as well as the potential construction of air-conditioned emergency shelters across the country.
Education and Awareness Raising: The Government of India, together with other non-governmental organizations, will need to carry out extensive campaigns to raise awareness and educate citizens about climate risks. This includes traditional information campaigns, but also more advanced climate warning systems that help citizens plan their work and life in a climate-appropriate way. For example, the city of Ahmedabad has already set up a seven-day probabilistic heatwave early warning system
this helps to raise citizens’ awareness of the dangers of extreme heat.
Adjustment Finance: India’s green finance requirements are substantial. India could need more than $ 15 trillion in climate change investments over the next five decades. One of the most urgent and critical components of these funding needs will be climate adaptation. Adaptation finance is focused on designing and implementing programs that help vulnerable communities adapt to the intensifying effects of climate change. While the adjustment is currently being carried out in a number of ministries and government agencies, the financial support available remains minimal. For example, India’s National Fund for Adaptation to Climate Change (NAFCC) was set up in 2015 to cover the cost of adapting to climate change for states affected by its effects. His budget allocation started at Rs 350 crore for 2015-16 and 2016-17 but has now dropped to Rs 60 crore for the current year. While the NAFCC is by no means the only government investment in climate change, the fund’s declining allocation reflects the broader funding challenge facing India as a nation. Obtaining urgent and material investments for adaptation finance should be a critical priority in India’s overarching green finance plan.
Climate Action: In addition to the specific actions outlined above, India needs a proactive political and regulatory framework to drive climate adaptation. In the short term, concrete policy measures could include mandatory shifts in working hours and the introduction of heat-resistant building codes and design standards. However, given the ubiquitous nature of the heat risk, policies such as shifting working hours are likely to have significant societal implications – and require extensive stakeholder consultation and system-wide adaptation prior to legislation.
Overall, climate adaptation is the most urgent of all measures in India’s response to climate change. With India exposed to the negative effects of rising wet bulb temperatures, we need a concerted mission-mode action plan between stakeholders, ministries, government agencies, NGOs, businesses and citizens to build resilience and readiness for the rapid onset of adverse climatic events.
[This is the ninth in a ten-part series of articles spread over ten days of the global COP26 conference, aiming to provide a macro perspective on how a green, low-carbon transition can transform and revitalize every part of India’s economy. This opinion was authored by Viswanathan Rajendran and Arun Unni, partners in Kearney India]