Climate change is one of the three major driving forces of humanitarian emergencies across the globe

Of all the developmental challenges faced by the world, the biggest and most critical is the climate crisis today. In fact, climate change is one of the three major driving forces of humanitarian emergencies across the globe, with countries that have contributed the least to global warming facing the worst climate-related disasters.


Beyond international and national climate policies towards reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, climate change is forcing us to alter our day-to-day ways of living, affecting most development priorities, including livelihood, housing, water, and air quality. The seriousness, scale, and complexity of India’s development challenges, from rising inequality to climate change, are also quickly outpacing the ability of any single organisation or individual to address them. So, how do we continue with our development work in these trying times?


Re-imagining our development paradigm


To start with, we can stop viewing climate change and India’s other existing development challenges as separate, and re-imagine our development paradigm. Climate action is a crucial aspect of overall development, rather than an antithetical or parallel theme. The perceived antagonism between economic, social, and environmental aspirations is misplaced. Integrating climate considerations into development strategies is essential for sustainable and equitable growth.


The planet has a remarkable capacity for resilience and self-healing. However, as human activity continues to exert immense pressure on the natural systems, it is imperative that we take a proactive and holistic approach to addressing the climate crisis. Rather than simply treating symptoms of environmental degradation, we need to fundamentally reimagine our relationship with the planet and our impact upon it. This requires a deep understanding of the complex interconnections that exist within the biosphere and a commitment to creating a more sustainable future for all of its inhabitants. By embracing this paradigm shift, we can work towards a truly regenerative and symbiotic relationship with the planet, one that not only secures our own survival, but also that of future generations and all life on earth.


There are countless examples of how climate overlaps with existing development priorities in India, including livelihoods, agricultural distress, communicable and non-communicable health issues, or even access to early education. If we fail to factor in climate risks, and other climate adjacencies into our efforts to improve communities’ well-being, we might end up solving only for the short-term, and fall short of creating sustainable, lasting benefits in the long-term.


Further, in order to develop in a changing world, we need innovative solutions that can account for multiple considerations at the same time. Nature is a persistent teacher on the importance of interconnectedness, offering us timely reminders to stop viewing things in isolation — multiple parts make up a whole. For example, when we talk about farmer welfare, we also need to account for water and energy security, resilience to extreme weather events, and access to technology to support climate-smart agriculture. Conversations on urban or rural resilience are incomplete without including low-carbon growth and heat stress

management, among many other factors. The takeaway? We can no longer afford to focus on one problem without considering adjacencies. We cannot solve for development without addressing the climate crisis, and we cannot address our changing climate without looking at existing development priorities.


Visualising interconnectedness in our solutions


Sustainability and corporate social responsibility are closely linked, as acting responsibly is necessary for sustainable development, and sustainability cannot be achieved without responsible behavior.


Going forward, we can consciously embrace interconnectedness in development, one example being a programme to improve livelihoods and nutritional status for communities living in Palghar, Maharashtra. This programme began in Jawhar Taluka in 2014, with the goal of ensuring active engagement of community members. Interventions to address malnutrition, however, soon revealed that underlying water paucity had led to the erosion of even subsistence-level agriculture. This had resulted in migration-linked food insufficiency and insecurity, and deaths due to various reasons — intergenerational undernutrition being the most rudimentary one. Recognising that the underlying water paucity, if left unaddressed, could jeopardise the desired outcomes, the programme’s scope was enhanced by introducing an Integrated Watershed Programme, with the specific objective of increasing alternate livelihoods for the community and reversing migration.


What started out as a programme seeking to address malnutrition, evolved to incorporate other crucial, overlapping elements: watershed development; development of various crops that could be cultivated for subsistence; and the introduction of iron fortified millets, owing to their better nutrition value. This was backed up by desilting check dams that were constructed in 2007–08 and now operated at only 1/4th of their original capacity. The silt was also deployed in the neighbouring fields by the villagers as their ‘shram daan’, and the benefit of the rich soil further helped agri-livelihoods. This shows that, in making space for interconnected approaches, we can also open doors for more development co-benefits across sectors.


Solutions that account for interconnectedness between development challenges, like the above, can help us look at communities and development as a whole. When trying to address the climate crisis, we should not solve only for the immediate problem or symptom, but for the long-term health or well-being of communities, and of the planet. Given their multi-dimensional nature, such solutions will often require collaborative approaches.


Looking at geographies and communities as wholes while designing and implementing solutions can thus ensure we do not miss any crucial aspect of development while solving for climate; it can also help us align our development models and solutions with our planet’s needs.

Accelerating funding for inclusive, high-impact climate solutions


As they respond to the climate crisis, civil society organisations across India are already beginning to re-imagine their understanding of development. From heat-resilient housing programmes for the urban poor, to distributed renewable energy-powered cold storage chains for farmers, they are evolving an interconnectedness that we must support as funders invested in India’s future. But how do we accelerate funding towards these kinds of solutions?


Currently, climate mitigation, or emissions reduction, constitutes only 2% of global giving. Spending on climate is highly inadequate in India as well, and India’s climate finance requirements indicate the magnitude of our risks; India needs an estimated USD 2.5 trillion from 2015–2030 to implement its mitigation ambition, and estimated annual adaptation costs are USD 45.3 billion. While India is the world’s 3rd largest emitting country, over 75% of India’s districts are vulnerable to extreme weather events. Socially-minded funders have an opportunity to direct financing towards strategic interventions that support India’s twin goals of low-carbon, climate-resilient development.


While it is unclear how we will address our climate finance requirements, India’s growing social sector expenditure holds promise for on-ground development efforts, with a robust annual growth of 12% (from approximately INR 10 lakh crore to about INR 17.5 lakh crore) over the past five years. Since climate change and development are closely linked, funding for climate action can be allocated from current social sector spending to start with, then scaled up as results are seen. However, funders have yet to make climate solutions a priority in traditional development contexts, focusing instead on legacy sectors such as healthcare and education. Additionally, some funders’ understanding of climate solutions, such as corporate social responsibility (CSR), is limited to a few popular options like tree planting

and decentralised renewable energy like solar. With healthcare, education, rural development, and environment as the top four priorities for CSR funders in India, this is fertile ground to align diverse climate solutions with existing development priorities — mitigating climate change through small, immediate actions that lead to long-term results.


Navigating to suitable climate solutions


So, how can CSR funders better navigate to suitable climate solutions with development co-benefits? We need a mechanism or platform that understands the interconnectedness between climate and development, and drives funding towards multi-dimensional climate solutions. A mechanism like this should be able to communicate the universe of climate solutions with development co-benefits to funders, in a manner that allows funders to identify, understand, and measure solutions for high-impact. It should also be able to match funders with civil society organisations implementing such climate solutions, by aligning several factors, including the vision for community-development, suitability of interventions, and timelines for impact. This can also provide better opportunities for collaboration amongst funders, including co-funding, to generate wider impact, fill multiple gaps in the ecosystem, enable scale and replication, and distribute risk. Most importantly, this can encourage funders to bring a climate lens to their development efforts, weaving interconnectedness into the foundation of social and environmental work in the coming decade in India.


The coming decade calls for ambitious re-thinking on how communities can develop, while accounting for nature’s limitations and planetary risks, and how to collaboratively solve our challenges within the ecosystem. Learning from nature, today’s development efforts must find coherence in collaboration from all angles. Development is neither a sprint, nor a marathon. It’s a relay race. We must pass on the baton.

By Ashwini Saxena, CEO, JSW Foundation


Original article published in The Times of India on 17th February 2023.

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