India needs to invest urgently in climate action
The government should engage with sector experts and increase participation of leading organisations in the field of climate finance
The phrase ‘new normal’ has become very popular in 2020. Often, one will hear it in the context of life during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. However, its usage is not exclusive to the pandemic. Climate disasters, especially in India, also form part of a new normal.
India continues to suffer the brunt of climate disasters like drought, floods, heatwaves, crop failures, landslides, tropical storms, and cyclones in 2020. It was not shocking when Germanwatch, an environmental non-profit think tank, reported in 2018, that India was the fifth most affected country by climate change, globally.
In the last two years, the country has been hit by at least one extreme climate event every month. According to the World Risk Index 2020, India is the fourth-most-at-risk country in South Asia, after Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is no doubt that climate change is real and its implications are disastrous.
Historically, internal migration in India occurred due to factors like ethnicity, kinship, work opportunities, or access to better healthcare and education. More recently, climate disasters also contribute to displacement (involuntary and unplanned) and migration (voluntary and planned) in India. In 2018 alone, nearly 2.7 million Indians were either displaced or have migrated due to climate-induced distress.
Climate disasters generally have a disproportionate impact on the lives of disadvantaged people who are least responsible for contributing to climate change but are most vulnerable to have their lives, homes, families and livelihoods destroyed by climate disasters.
Gender inequalities make things worse. Women and children are facing the brunt of climate-induced migration. United Nations figures suggest that about 80 per cent of people displaced by climate change are women.
A 2016 UN report found that only 0.01 per cent of the global funding was spent on projects addressing both climate change and gender. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established that environmental stress leads to an increase in gender-based violence.
This includes domestic abuse, sexual assault, rape, forced prostitution, forced marriages and an increase in human trafficking in naturally distressed regions. In India, when men are forced to abandon their farms and migrate in search of work, women are left behind to manage the household responsibilities and care for their families.
Women also make up for a significant share in the workforce of different sectors, like agriculture, that are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
Needs of the hour
Migrants are often considered a hot topic in Indian politics. Climate-induced migration and displacement, however, is yet to find the attention of political discourse and public policy. A good starting point to create effective policies is researching the reasons for climate migration and coping mechanisms adopted by migrants.
Political actors in India should divorce climate migrants from undocumented immigrants. An appropriate humanitarian response would be to recognise and define climate migrants as well as create legal frameworks to grant them their rights and entitlements to their recovery from climate disasters.
Public policy actors cannot remain gender-neutral particularly when climate change inflicts a disproportionate burden on women. A gender perspective is important to better understand the linkage between climate disasters and climate migrants.
Gender-based violence needs to be acknowledged to reimagine climate governance and to adopt gender-sensitive responses to climate-induced migration. Moreover, disaggregated migration data by gender will help in better understanding the inequalities and drafting suitable policies to support women and strengthen their resilience.
India’s ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions require strong political will, meaningful engagements and sustainable plans. Large-scale construction projects should be assessed for greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation and potential impact on the lives of local people and resources.
India should increase its spending on research and innovation to make housing more climate-resilient. It also needs long-term plans to construct rehabilitation centers for climate migrants, especially for 250 million vulnerable people residing along the 7,500 km long coastline of India.
Climate finance can prove to be a compelling financial tool to align India’s growth with various climate change measures. India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) estimated that $2.5 trillion is needed from 2015 to 2030 to reduce India’s carbon intensity by 33-35 per cent by 2030 from its 2005 levels.
The 2015 Economic Survey of India argued that international climate finance is necessary to meet the difference over what can be made available from domestic sources. Therefore, the government of India needs to recognise that there is an urgent need to invest in climate action.
It should engage with sector experts and increase participation of leading organisations in the field of climate finance to explore the possibility of leveraging innovative finance from global development finance institutions and philanthropic investors.
Mohit Saini is a Master of International Affairs candidate at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, U.S.A. Before Fletcher, he worked as an international development consultant across Asia and Africa for six years
Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth
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