Written by Ranjit Barthakur, Founding Director at The Balipara Foundation
NASA’s Satellite Aqua has recently captured haunting imagery of a blanket of snow and cloud over northeastern states of the US and parts of Canada, as the ‘bomb cyclone’ wreaks havoc with blizzards, thick snowfall, and rains, earning it the title of the ‘storm of the century’. Simply put, the natural disasters leading to the climate crisis have reached a tipping point in 2022, worse than scientists
and environmentalists could have envisioned. For anyone to grasp the extent of the emergency that we are in, and to comprehend the scale of the damage that we have incurred, the record-breaking natural disasters of 2022 should provide a clear message.
Scientists increasingly despair that the world will meet the 1.5-degree warming goal enshrined in the Paris Agreement. Current policies put the world on track to overshoot the 1.5 degrees warming goal within the next decade. Even with ambitious net zero targets, the world is on track to warm by 2 degrees by the turn of the century. The need for negative emissions has never been greater: and the
failures of sequestration never clearer than they were earlier this year, when an investigation by The Guardian, Die Zeit and SourceMaterial into carbon credits issued by Verra found that many of their issued credits were actively contributing to global heating.
Closer home, according to the latest synthesis of climate science, South Asia is one of the regions likely to be most affected by climate change – between unstable monsoons, floods, droughts and a temperature rise which will bring the region closer to the danger zone of a 35 degree Celsius wet bulb temperature.
Climate-vulnerable regions like low-lying Bangladesh and the economically vulnerable North East region in India will likely bear the brunt of these impacts. By 2050, the region is expected to lose over 20% of its GDP to climate change, unless urgent action is taken to change the trajectory – whether through natural climate resilience or through investment in climate-vulnerable regions.
Maintaining optimism about climate action in the face of these realities is tough. But there are glimmerings of hope on the horizon. The first of these was the historic agreement to establish a Loss and Damage Fund at COP27.
Developing countries, whose contributions to carbon emissions have been minimal yet bear the brunt of climate impacts, have been pushing for loss and damage-based funding to support them in mitigating the worst effects of climate change on their populations.
At COP15, for biodiversity, countries agreed on establishing a Special Trust Fund under the Global Environment Facility, to deliver financing to protect critical biodiversity globally.
Financing for adaptation and mitigation has historically fallen short, even with provisions under various climate agreements. The increasing recognition of the need to accelerate this funding is a move in the right direction.
While countries negotiate over meeting emissions targets, countries already on the frontlines of climate change need support to transition their economies and build
climate resilience. The Loss and Damage Fund will play an instrumental role in enabling developing countries to make that shift, while minimizing the huge losses many of their economies face because of extreme weather events, drought and changing weather patterns. Meanwhile, the Special Trust
Fund will facilitate greater natural climate resilience, by enabling biodiversity protection and the wide ranging benefits that protecting biodiversity brings: healthy soil, water systems, reduced erosion and more.
The second of these is the changing scenario at home. The budget 2023 rightly puts green growth as one of its seven priorities, pushing India towards a climate-resilient economy.
Its strong focus on the agricultural sector also defines the central role India’s rural economy has to play in greening and decarbonizing the GDP to meet net-zero goals. Critically, it provides much-needed impetus to the agricultural sector and support to farmers, to transition from small-growers into agri-entrepreneurs.
Changing the narrative at home: the sustainable supply chain opportunity
Agriculture currently accounts for 15% of India’s emissions and is the second biggest contributor to the country’s emissions after the energy sector. The natural farming initiative, which seeks to move farmers towards non-chemical inputs will facilitate decarbonization while being environmentally more sustainable.
Currently, India faces desertification risks and contaminated water systems because of the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Natural farming reduces these risks by eliminating and reducing pesticide and fertilizer use.
In 2022, India announced a push for agroforestry, with special support to encourage traditional agroforestry systems of ethnic communities. This was a step in the right direction, towards climate- resilient agricultural policy. However, the budget leaves a big void on the question of agroforestry and its uptake across the country. While natural farming is environmentally friendly, in monoculture forms it is not as climate-resilient as agroforestry which encourages crop diversification.
In an increasingly climate vulnerable country, climate-resilient agriculture urgently needs investment for the rural economy to grow. Funds under the Climate Change Action Plan and National Mission for Green India have not been utilized as much as they could – but this opens opportunity to leverage the existing funds to invest in a naturally climate-resilient rural India.
The budget’s current investment focus on youth, women and artisanal entrepreneurs also opens up new opportunities to tap into the growing global market for sustainable fashion and sustainably sourced produce. Youth skilling initiatives, particularly in the agri-sector, need to link with the global agenda for sustainable supply chains.
Similarly, the focus on agri-startups needs to capture global trends and interests in sustainable products and carbon entrepreneurship to be ahead of the curve and requires policy support through clarity on nesting in voluntary carbon markets.