New Delhi: In a recent podcast discussion, Ulka Kelkar, an economist with a wealth of experience in climate and environmental issues, offered profound insights into India’s climate action plans. While the headlines often focus on ambitious climate goals and large-scale mitigation efforts, this article delves deeper into Kelkar’s discussion with Shreya Jai, exploring the broader context of climate change mitigation and adaptation, urban planning, the challenges faced by rural communities, and the path forward for India’s climate policies.
Mitigation vs. Adaptation: Striking a balance
Kelkar recognised a prevailing bias in climate action that leans heavily towards mitigation while underemphasising adaptation. Mitigation efforts, which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, often garner more attention and funding due to their quantifiable benefits and potential for job creation. Meanwhile, adaptation strategies, aimed at safeguarding communities and ecosystems against climate change impacts, especially in socially-oriented sectors, tend to receive less attention and funding.
The financial disparity between mitigation and adaptation is a major challenge. Vulnerable population often lack the resources to finance adaptation initiatives, in contrast to mitigation efforts that attract private investments. Kelkar stressed the urgency of increasing international adaptation funding to bridge this gap and urged India to prioritise adaptation in both government strategies and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
Redefining urban landscapes for climate resilience
Urban planning emerged as a critical aspect of the conversation, particularly the need to integrate urban ecology into planning processes. Striking a balance between urban development and ecological sustainability, especially in rapidly growing cities, is essential. Kelkar highlighted the importance of developing interdisciplinary skills within urban planning agencies to consider the broader ecological footprint of a city.
Coordination between different levels of government, from local to national, is vital in addressing climate challenges in urban areas. Kelkar emphasised that solutions should be context-specific, as international urban models may not always be suitable for India’s unique circumstances.
The impact of climate change on migration
The conversation also touched on the anticipated impact of climate change on migration, particularly from smaller towns to larger cities. As climate-related pressures intensify, more communities are likely to experience displacement, leading to increased migration.
Kelkar stressed that adaptation efforts can act as a buffer for these communities, but they may not always be sufficient. It is crucial to recognise the limitations of adaptation; not everyone can adapt their way out of climate impacts or quickly acquire the skills needed to cope with technological changes. Safety nets, welfare schemes, and measures to protect vulnerable populations are essential components of a comprehensive climate strategy.
Strengthening local agencies and coordination
When discussing how to enhance climate action and planning at the local level, Kelkar emphasised the need to elevate climate policies as a national priority. Specialised agencies, such as FaMe TN in Tamil Nadu, can facilitate the implementation of climate-related initiatives by coordinating with local NGOs and associations to provide training programs and information about accessing climate-related schemes.
Kelkar acknowledged the complexity of balancing specialisation and coordination in policy implementation, highlighting that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Focus areas for India’s climate action
As India endeavours to achieve net-zero emissions, Kelkar emphasised the importance of tailoring policies to different sectors and technologies. Established technologies like solar energy require meticulous attention to detail, such as rooftop solar adoption, to ensure widespread benefits. Emerging technologies like green hydrogen need time to develop but should be integrated into long-term climate plans.
Kelkar also stressed the need to protect micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and ensure that industries adhere to environmental and social standards. Innovative business models, public procurement practices, and technology partnerships with industrialised countries can accelerate industrial decarbonisation.
India faces multifaceted challenges in its pursuit of climate change mitigation and adaptation. The conversation between Shreya Jai and Ulka Kelkar underscores the need for a balanced approach that addresses both mitigation and adaptation, prioritises vulnerable communities, and incorporates innovative solutions into policies. As India charts its course in the realm of climate action, the focus must be on inclusivity, resilience and sustainability to ensure a just and equitable transition toward a greener and more sustainable future. Beyond the headlines, it is in these nuanced discussions that the true potential for positive change emerges.
(This is an excerpt from an episode of the India Energy Hour. Tune into the podcast for more conversations on climate and India’s green energy sector, where we uncover trends, challenges, and solutions. Available on all major podcast platforms and our website)