In a recent episode of The India Energy Hour Podcast, discussion between hosts and Ulka Kelkar, a range of topics related to India’s climate action plans and their implications were explored. Kelkar, an economist with extensive experience in climate and environmental issues, offered valuable insights into India’s climate challenges and potential solutions. This article aims to summarize and delve deeper into the key points raised during their conversation, focusing on the broader context of climate change mitigation and adaptation, urban planning, the plight of rural communities, and the way forward for India’s climate policies.
Mitigation vs. Adaptation: Striking a Balance
Kelkar acknowledged a prevailing bias in climate action, both in India and globally, that primarily prioritizes mitigation efforts over adaptation. Mitigation measures aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, often through the adoption of cleaner technologies, and they tend to garner more attention and funding due to their quantifiable benefits and potential for job creation. On the other hand, adaptation strategies aim to safeguard communities and ecosystems against the impacts of climate change, often in sectors like agriculture, water, and health, which are considered more socially oriented.
The challenge lies in the financial aspect of adaptation. Adaptation efforts often benefit vulnerable populations who may lack the capacity to pay for these initiatives, unlike mitigation efforts that can attract private investments. Kelkar highlighted the need for a significant increase in international adaptation funding to bridge the existing imbalance between adaptation and mitigation financing. She also stressed the importance of making adaptation a priority within India’s climate policies, not just in government strategies but also in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
Redefining Urban Landscapes for Climate Resilience
The discussion shifted towards urban planning, specifically reimagining urban landscapes to enhance climate resilience. Kelkar acknowledged that she was not an urban planner but emphasized the importance of integrating urban ecology into urban planning. Balancing urban development with ecological sustainability, especially in rapidly growing cities, is critical.
Kelkar also pointed out the need for urban planning agencies to develop interdisciplinary skills that consider the broader ecological footprint of a city. Coordination between various levels of government, from local to national, is essential in addressing climate challenges in urban areas. She noted that solutions should be context-specific, as international city models might not always be suitable for India.
The Impact of Climate Change on Migration
The conversation also touched on the impact of climate change on migration, especially from smaller towns to larger cities. As climate-related stresses increase, it is expected that more communities will be affected, leading to increased migration.
Kelkar highlighted that adaptation efforts could provide a buffer for these communities, but they may not always be sufficient. It is essential to recognize the limitations of adaptation, as not everyone can adapt their way out of climate impacts or upskill to cope with technological changes. Safety nets, welfare schemes, and measures that ensure the protection of vulnerable populations are necessary.
Strengthening Local Agencies and Coordination
When discussing how to strengthen climate action and planning at the local level, Kelkar emphasized the importance of making climate policies a national priority. She also mentioned the need for specialized agencies, such as FaMe TN in Tamil Nadu, to facilitate the implementation of climate-related schemes. These agencies can coordinate with local NGOs and associations to provide skilling programs and information about accessing climate-related schemes.
Kelkar recognized the complexity of balancing specialization and coordination in policy implementation, emphasizing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Focus Areas for India’s Climate Action
As India embarks on its journey towards net-zero emissions, Kelkar highlighted the importance of tailoring policies to different sectors and technologies. Mature technologies like solar energy require attention to details, such as rooftop solar adoption, to ensure widespread benefits. Nascent technologies like green hydrogen need time to develop but should be integrated into long-term climate plans.
Kelkar also stressed the need for safeguarding micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and ensuring that industries adhere to environmental and social standards. Innovative business models, public procurement, and technology partnerships with industrialized countries can accelerate industrial decarbonization.
India faces complex challenges in its efforts to combat climate change, from mitigating greenhouse gas emissions to adapting to the impacts of a changing climate. The conversation between Shreya Jai and Ulka Kelkar highlights the need for a balanced approach that addresses both mitigation and adaptation, prioritizes vulnerable communities, and incorporates innovative solutions into policies. As India navigates its climate action journey, the focus should be on inclusivity, resilience, and sustainability to ensure a just and equitable transition toward a greener future.
(Access the complete interview by tuning in to the TIEH podcast available on our website and other major podcast platforms.)