The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the most authoritative scientific body advancing knowledge on climate science, has in its recent Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) pronounced Code Red on climate change. For those following the scientific literature on climate change, the conclusions do not necessarily come as a surprise. Every Assessment Report has, with greater certainty, established anthropogenic climate change and, with greater urgency, advocated for scaled-up action on climate change.
There is enough evidence on growing climate impacts. The focus must now be on transformative on-ground actions.
The priorities of policymakers for action are consistently shaped by contestations in the discursive and material arenas on any policy-relevant issue. In the discursive arena, the predominant contestations are between ideas, ideologies, and normative questions of whether to act or not, should we move forward on acknowledging a priority, and at what speed. We see all these questions playing out in the context of climate change, domestically as well as internationally. The IPCC report and the current discussions on whether India should achieve Net Zero, and when, are both instances where the discursive arena have been dominating discussions on climate policies and politics.
Such contestations can continue to toil and exhaust themselves in their own energy. In some cases, the exclusive focus on the discursive arena has the potential to delay action in the material arena – on the realpolitik of action. Especially when we are dealing in capacity-constrained environments where the same set of limited actors play a dominant role in both the material and discursive arenas. However, for those who are already suffering the impacts of climate change, what matters is the contestation on the here and now of the real world. Their lives depend on the messy processes and politics of decision-making and the real challenge of finding solutions that make a telling difference in their lives. Those ideas and models must be developed, pilot tested, and then scaled up with the urgency which the IPCC report demands.
Implement climate plans in a cooperative approach
Take the example of the implementation of the flagship instrument of domestic climate policy at the sub-national level, the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC). With the latest revisions of the SAPCCs, we now have a policy document and action plan which is ready to be implemented in a mission mode. Such implementation has the potential of making a transformative change in the lives of the most vulnerable at the state level. The possibilities are immense. Having been involved in the development of eighteen and revision of seven action plans, we believe what is needed is embedding the implementation of the SAPCC with the local action plans at the village, block, and district levels. This requires the allocation of administrative and financial resources by the state governments and the involvement of local governance structures.
However, such alliances would not be formed automatically. They would need a conductor, a convenor with adequate convening power with requisite administrative and financial muscle which has been missing thus far. As a result, even well-crafted SAPCCs have not been implemented effectively. The recent announcement by the Government of Tamil Nadu to establish a State Mission for the Implementation of Climate Change takes this challenge head-on and is a step in the right direction. In our cooperation with the Government of Uttar Pradesh, there is a similar desire for taking the SAPCCs to the Panchayat as well as the village development committees. And to facilitate this process train PRI officials to ask the right questions and channelise resources for enhanced resilience for their communities. There are many other such efforts taking place in other states around the country. We need to evaluate these positive efforts, share experiences, and scale them up or scale them out.
It is all very well to generate more evidence that anthropogenic climate change is real and demands urgent attention. But equally urgent, if not more, are the needs of action benefiting communities at risk or already suffering climate change.
For that, we would need all hands on the deck, especially the support of those in favour of transformative climate action on the ground. We would need evidence to not only engage with why we need to act on climate now but on who will act and when and also the financial and human resource support is required to move the action forward. For that, we would need detailed action plans, standard operating procedures which will emerge as soon as there are funds and functionaries allocated to back such action. Such efforts have already been initiated in certain areas, notably in renewable energy, but now need to be broad-based especially on mainstreaming climate action at the district, city, and panchayat level.
The real messy politics of day-to-day implementation can then inform the next steps and potentially create fertile ground for the emergence of alliances for transformative change. We will also learn about the challenges of implementation on the way and not only debate emerging evidence for action. We should move in that direction at the earliest – Code Red beckons us.
About the author: Dr. Ashish Chaturvedi is Director-Climate Change and Circular Economy at the German Agency for International Cooperation, GIZ, India.
(Disclaimer: Views expressed in the article are personal)