At COP26 earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said not giving climate adaptation as much importance as climate mitigation “was an injustice to vulnerable countries”. While the West has been experiencing unprecedented weather events recently, the developing world has borne its brunt for years.

In the past decade or so, Asian countries have seen numerous floods and heatwaves; rising sea temperatures are causing powerful cyclones in the Arabian Sea; and unseasonal and extreme rains are wreaking havoc on vulnerable communities. In India, in 2019 alone, 19 extreme weather events reportedly claimed 1,357 lives, with heavy rains and floods accounting for 63 per cent of deaths. Over 5,300 heatwaves-related deaths have been reported in the past seven years.

How do we deal with this rise in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters? Considering the impact of this situation is still unfolding, the world needs to pay heed to climate adaptation and resilience building efforts significantly. A 2019 report on adaptation estimates that between 2020 and 2030, investing $1.8 trillion for global adaptation measures in five areas — early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dryland agriculture, mangrove protection and resilient water resources — could generate $7.1 trillion net benefits.

More funds needed

The key is to ramp up adaptation actions along with mitigation, and channel climate finance towards it. Compared to the total investments required to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change, the yet-to-be-fulfilled $100 billion pledge by the developed countries, is minimal. This fund needs to be gradually raised with more than 50 per cent diverted for adaptation action, preferably as grants. Mobilising private financing is also imperative.

In India, adaptation actions are still quite impromptu, inadequate and response-driven.

To rise above the current status and embark on a wider mitigation and adaptation pathway at the highest levels, a few strategies must be considered:

(i) The PM highlighted the importance of the Climate Disaster Resilient Infrastructure program at COP26. Drafting a clear-cut agenda and actions under this initiative could help systematically climate-proof India’s infrastructure. It is important to focus on coastal and other most-vulnerable States that are prone to heavy rains and floods first.

(ii) We must invest in agricultural research and development to tailor solutions that would help in sustaining food production despite the impacts from climate. We should not lose track of the existing repository of local knowledge embedded in our farming communities and find ways to bring synergies where possible to have tangible results.

(iii) India has vast experience and knowledge in managing its water resources, but they are inadequate given the scale of the problem today. Adaptation solutions rest both in improving hardware (technological issues guided by science) and software (training and awareness-raising needs).

(iv) Transformative solutions need systemic changes, in terms of how institutions adapt to changing realities, establishing flexible policy structures, building multi-level, innovative partnerships and capacities. For example, climate-proofing of district development plans including sectoral plans would be a good start to bringing changes at the local level. By doing this, the local governments will be empowered to generate relevant site-specific information and use their resources judiciously.

(v) The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme’s (MGNREGS) role in building climate-resilient ecosystems is being increasingly recognised. This could be used as vehicle to leverage adaptation actions. In 2020-21, the uptake of MGNREGS grew at district and gram panchayat levels, and about two-thirds of jobs sought were related to natural resource management. MGNREGS could be the perfect option to suit the country’s adaptation demands.

(vi) India is one of the first countries to create a public mechanism aimed at helping States adapt by allowing access to multilateral funding options. But today, the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change (NAFCC) needs to be made more effective and accountable. For interventions like flood-proofing, multiple States have to come together and implement actions by pooling available resources. NAFCC is well-poised to provide such support. Besides public investments, we must create an ecosystem for innovative private funding.

A concerted and systematic plan to boost climate resilience and adaptation, along with focused flow of funds over the next decade is important. If we don’t plan for this now, it could throw back our developmental gains by years.

The writer is Director, Climate Resilience Practice, World Resources Institute India. Views expressed are personal