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OPINION: The road ahead for State Action Plans on Climate Change in India

Sunder Subramanian, an independent climate change expert and advisor to Indian State Governments reflects on the opportunities and challenges for the State Action Plans on Climate Change.

The scale of India’s climate change challenge is huge. 65% of the country is drought prone, 12% floodThe overflowing of the normal confines of a stream or other body of water, or the accumulation of water over areas that are not normally submerged. Floods include river (fluvial) floods, flash floods, urban floods, pluvial floods, sewer floods, coastal floods, and glacial lake outburst floods ... prone and 8% susceptible to cyclones. The economy is dependent on those sectors that are the most sensitive to changes in climate – agricultureCultivation of the ground and harvesting of crops and handling of livestock, the primary function is the provision of food and feed., forests, tourism etc. And, those that are the weakest in society – the poor, women, elderly and very young – are the most vulnerable.

The Government of India has recognised that climate change is no longer a distant theoretical possibility or academic rhetoric but a very real threat. It is actively engaging in the UNFCCC negotiations calling for an effective, cooperative and equitable global approach based on the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’. The Government has also responded with national action. In 2008 it launched the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), with its eight national missions[1], which is designed to achieve sustainable developmentThe concept of sustainable development was introduced in the World Conservation Strategy (IUCN 1980) and had its roots in the concept of a sustainable society and in the management of renewable resources. Adopted by the WCED in 1987 and by the Rio Conference in 1992 as a process of change in ... with co-benefitsThe benefits of policies implemented for various reasons at the same time, acknowledging that most policies designed to address greenhouse gas mitigation have other, often at least equally important, rationales (e.g., related to objectives of development, sustainability, and equity). The term ... for tackling climate change. The focus of NAPCC is on promoting understanding of climate change, and action on adaptation, mitigationMitigation refers to actions that reduce our contribution to the causes of climate change. This means reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), through energy efficiency and using alternative forms of transport and energy.(UKCIP), energy efficiencyUsing less energy/electricity to perform the same function. Programs designed to use electricity more efficiently - doing the same with less., and natural resource conservation while pursuing overall economic growthIdeally, economic growth is decoupled from energy consumption. This can be achieved through different measures, one of them being energy efficiency or a shift towards less energy intensive sectors, such as services..

India’s immense geographic diversity adds to the challenge. There are 28 States and 7 Union Territories many of which are the size of European countries and which range from Himalayan and densely forested states in the north to the tropical southern states with their long and precarious coastlines.

Given that the impacts of climate change will vary across states, sectors, locations, and populations, there can be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ climate change strategy. India’s response to climate change is being tailored to fit specific sub-national contexts and conditions. Building climate resilience of communities and infrastructure, driving efficiencyUsing less energy/electricity to perform the same function. Programs designed to use electricity more efficiently - doing the same with less. in production and consumption, and preserving eco-systems needs to be planned and delivered by those closest to these subjects.

As such, all States have been asked to prepare State Action Plans for Climate Change (SAPCCs) in line with the NAPCC. The States are acting as the focal point for the country’s climate change response in their respective geographic area. Therefore, in India, making progress on climate compatible developmentClimate compatible development is development that minimises the harm caused by climate impacts, while maximising the many human development opportunities presented by transitions to a low emissions, resilient future. Charting a path towards climate compatible development will be a major ... requires working hand in hand with the State Governments.

Considering that capacities for developing SAPCCs at the State level is limited, technical assistance support is being advanced by bilateral and multilateral agencies such as GIZ and UNDP. Most States have leveraged this support and initiated action on developing the SAPCCs, and many have completed advanced draft versions. A few have actually completed the SAPCC preparation process, and have gotten approvals from the technical screening as well as steering committees established for such approvals at the Central Ministry of Environment and ForestsForestry is the management and care of woods, including fellings and plantation of new trees. (MoEF).

At the same time, the SAPCC process has had and continues to have its share of challenges. There is great variety in the relative overall importance placed on climate change and the SAPCC processes between different states. The selection/nomination of the nodal agency at the State level to anchor the SAPCC process has also been problematic. Because the nodal agency for the NAPCC at the Central level is the MoEF, many states have automatically nominated their Forest Department (FD) as the lead anchoring agency at the State level. However, this automatic choice is not necessarily the best choice in many cases.

The choice works fine in States that have significant forestDefined under the Kyoto Protocol as a minimum area of land of 0.05-1.0 ha with tree-crown cover (or equivalent stocking level) of more than 10-30 % with trees with the potential to reach a minimum height of 2-5 m at maturity in situ. A forest may consist either of closed forest formations where ... cover (and therefore where the State FD is relatively more important in the overall scheme of things in the state’s administration and governance) or where the FD has been exceptionally proactive in coordinating the entire process. Yet in others, it has proved to be a poor choice – the SAPCC process is necessarily multi-sectoral, spanning the work of many state department, sectors, and agencies. Thus where the FD is not relatively strong or proactive enough to drive the required coordination and convergence processes, the SAPCC processes have either floundered or have been considerably slow.

Even where the SAPCCs have been completed, approved, and recommended to the Planning Commission of India for financial backing/budgetary support, States also face significant and multiple challenges in implementation.

  • Many States do not yet have detailed climate vulnerability analyses available at the State level (both in general and for various sectors),
  • Awareness, and capacities in the States on climate change and its potential impacts are still minimal at best.
  • State specific climate research and evidence building including time series data mechanisms are absent in many states, and very little documenting of community voices and perceptions of climate change and its impacts has been carried out.
  • Significant and sustained financial resources will need to be found to implement many of the large-scale adaptation measures that are needed, such as retrofitting core infrastructure assets that are at risk from extreme weather eventsExtreme weather describes weather phenomena that are at the extremes of the historical distribution, especially severe or unseasonal weather. (UKCIP);
  • Based on vulnerabilities and risks, sectoral priorities, and programmes will need re-alignment as well as recognising and classifying existing action that it is already building adaptive capacityBuilding adaptive capacity includes creating the information (research, data collecting and monitoring, awareness raising), supportive social structures (organisational development, working in partnership, institutions), and supportive governance (regulations, legislations, and guidance) that ... and supporting mitigation as part of the climate change agenda.

At the core of the transformation in state governments that will be required, and perhaps the most difficult to achieve will be convergence and coordination between various sectoral line departments and agencies, especially considering that these have traditionally worked in vertically stratified compartments with very little operational lateral linkages with other departments.

The SAPCC process offers unique opportunities for Indian states to innovate, holistically converge existing initiatives, and make additional efforts to integrate climate concerns and response measures into all aspects of the development process, from policy and planning to implementation. While the road ahead to realising these opportunities looks full of challenges, there are enough committed and expert individuals in India able to lend a hand.


The author is an independent expert and consultant and has acted as an advisor to a number of State Governments in drafting their SAPCCs. He is a LEAD India Fellow, and lives and works out of Gurgaon, India. He can be reached at

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Picture courtesy of Michael Foley Photography @ flickr creative commons







[1]     National Solar Mission (renamed as Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission), National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency, National Mission on Sustainable Habitat, National Water Mission, National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan EcosystemA system of living organisms interacting with each other and their physical environment. The boundaries of what could be called an ecosystem are somewhat arbitrary, depending on the focus of interest or study. Thus, the extent of an ecosystem may range from very small spatial scales to, ..., National Mission for a Green India, National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, and the National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change.

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