Sustainable development holds the key: Elizabeth Gogoi

Elizabeth Gogoi
Elizabeth Gogoi
published by-November 24, 2014
Themes: Environment

How do you relate climate change with the increasing disasters like floods, landslides in one part of the country and drought like situations in other parts of the same country?

Elizabeth Gogoi: The IPCC’s latest 5th Assessment Report shows that global warming has occurred, at a country scale, across most of South Asia over the 20th century and into the 2000s. Across large parts of the region, heat waves are increasing. Rainfall trends are more variable, but there have been more extreme rainfall events across the region.  The world’s leading scientists have stated in this report that with 95% certainty, these observed climatic changes is the result of increased concentrations of greenhouse gasses (GHG) in the atmosphere due to human activities.

The increased number and erratic nature of extreme weather events causing floods, landslides, heatwaves and droughts etc. across the country are all part of this trend. This has a negative impact on lives and livehoods. For example, in 2008, the embankments of the Kosi River, a tributary of the Ganges, broke, displacing over 60,000 people in Nepal and 3.5 million in India, and disrupting transport and power across large areas.

But, there are also widespread non-climatic reasons for the transformation of an extreme weather event into a ‘disaster’ which causes tragic loss of life and property.

The Government of India’s 4x4 Impact Assessment Report tells us that within India climate change will be felt differently. For example, water yields are expected to increase in the Himalayas by 2030, but be variable in Coastal region, and decrease in some places.  How prepared we are for these risks and how much our economy and development is adapted to the changing climate, will depend on the extent to which it harms lives and livelihoods.

What should be India’s policies for a sustainable future when it already is in pursuit of development?

Elizabeth Gogoi: India has already declared its commitment to sustainable development. The 12th Five Year Plan has as its subtitle “faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth”’ and there are repeated references to the need to protect the environment, promote renewable energy and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and the related missions provide the specific detail of how India should move towards climate compatible development. More recently, the Government’s announcement of investing in smart cities, renewable energy and protecting the Ganga all indicate the commitment of the Government. However, the challenge is to translate these priorities and programmes into actual action on the ground.

The priority is to reduce the large numbers of people still living in poverty in India, and growth and development are essential to achieve this. However, this is not contradictory to addressing climate change. In fact, addressing the risks of climate change including natural disasters such as floods and heatwaves are necessary in order to tackle poverty. For example, A disaster micro insurance scheme in some districts in Odisha is helping to protect those whose homes and livelihoods were affected by natural disasters from falling back into poverty.

Efforts to grow the economy and tackle poverty can also produce co-benefits for reducing the amount of dangerous GHG emissions India puts into the atmosphere. As Navroz Dubash and colleagues state in their recent paper: “A systematic approach is required to consciously identify areas where development goals and climate mitigation objectives not only align but also reinforce each other, in other words, co-benefits.” For example, a shift from private vehicles to public and non-motorized forms of transports in our cities would improve access to transport for the poorest (due to it being cheaper), improve their health indicators (due to pollution levels reducing) and according to the National Planning Commission save approximately 24 million tons of CO2 by 2020.

Madhya Pradesh has been declared as being the state with the largest forest cover of 77,522 sq km according to India State of Forest Report 2013. What steps should Madhya Pradesh take to ensure that it increases with respect to the coal mining illegally happening all over the state?

Elizabeth Gogoi: The Government of Madhya Pradesh has already outlined what steps it needs to take to protect forest cover in their SAPCC. An assessment of the impact of climate change on forest ecosystems in Madhya Pradesh indicates that, in the short-term, about 23% of the State’s forested area could be affected; over the longer term, nearly 50% could be impacted. The changing climate in Madhya Pradesh is likely to affect the composition and distribution of its forests. This could take a heavy toll on forest biodiversity and the availability of forest resources, such as fuelwood, fodder and non-timber forest products, all of which are critically important to the livelihoods of local communities. In addition, climate change may lead to increased migration and conflicts between forest dwellers and wild animals over suitable habitats, as the animals search for water and more favorable environments.

The SAPCC commits to various actions to protect forest cover, which are related to increasing the capacity of forest managers, officers and workers, as well as the Joint Forestry Management Committees which promote people’s participation. Improving governance of forests also involves tackling illegal mining. However, this also requires a high-level political solution and commitment to improve monitoring and accountability of such activities.

Madhya Pradesh has come out with a State Action Plan for Climate Change along with 7 other states. According to you, how effective are the State Action Plans?

Elizabeth Gogoi: The nation-wide effort to develop SAPCCs was the largest exercise in sub-national climate change planning anywhere in the world. There is lot for other countries to learn from the SAPCCs.
Madhya Pradesh has shown true leadership in the design of the SAPCC and now the implementation. The Government has facilitated a cross-sectoral and participatory process for identifying the priority actions in the SAPCC. It is now preparing for implementation by developing the knowledge centre and building capacity across the departments on climate change.
The SAPCC is important in focusing minds on what climate change actions are needed, and putting together all the different activities each department will need to take in one document. It also sets the overall vision and strategy for the State on tackling climate change. However, even more important is to mainstream it within existing department annual plans and national and state development programmes. This requires a number of next steps which are already happening in Madhya Pradesh, such as prioritising which actions need to be taken now, costing these, and identifying who is responsible for implementation and how.

- OneWorld Foundation India