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FEATURE: Is India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change up to Scratch?

The challenge of climate change is a pressing one for India. Climate variability (an average 2 degree rise in global temperatures) is expected to lead to crop losses in India of 10-40 percent, equivalent to hundreds of billions rupees in lost revenue. The losses are much higher if one takes into account other effects, including damage to land and livelihoods due to sea level rise and coastal erosion, increase in incidence of disease, and forced displacement. The likely impact of climate change in South Asia will therefore be huge.

The need to address climate change in India is all the more urgent because it is home to one-sixth of the world’s population, a considerable proportion of whom are the poor and therefore even more vulnerable to climate change. Recognising that sustainable development needs to be the model for development and growth in India, the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council developed principles that need to form the bedrock of climate policy in India. It also rightly believed that at this stage with India having a large proportion of the world’s poor, reduction of GHGs would be a co-benefit and not the primary focus of the country’s climate policy. The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) developed eight missions in a number of areas, details of which were developed by individual ministries. However, the recent evaluation of India’s eight NAPCC missions raises many concerns including that if sustainable development is indeed a central guiding principle in India’s climate policy, it has not been prioritised in the approaches and outcomes of individual missions.

The evaluation was conducted by Sujatha Byravan and Chella Rajan, founders of the Climate Resilience Initiative. The goal was to analyse the design of India’s climate missions and thereby provide suggestions on how these could be improved. A highly innovative aspect of the study is that it was based on interviews of experts in particular domains who also understand climate change. Thus the eight missions were effectively evaluated by relevant experts. Furthermore, the report presents the broad cross-cutting issues related to the missions, as well as their individual strengths, challenges and weaknesses.

The study points to a number of areas of concern. The emphasis of India’s overall climate policy is expected to be sustainable development with a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, or mitigation as a co-benefit. The policies recommended will lead to avoided emissions, but there are no clear emissions reduction targets in the missions. Generally, there is therefore no mention of the level of mitigation or abatement expected in describing the climate action plans. Similarly, one of the main criticisms by experts is that sustainable development goals and targets have not been specified clearly or even prioritized in all cases.

The report also finds that some of the missions concentrate primarily on principles, while others establish clear strategies and specific modalities for implementation. Many of the mission documents read like a wish-list from which little has been left out. While this results in material that appears to please everyone, taking such a course sacrifices focus and clear strategies.

One starting point for the climate change policy might have been to paint a big picture from which medium-term goals and plans and the missions could have been derived. However, the current process and the design of the missions do not suggest that there is a long-term plan in place. Even integration among the missions was thought to be missing by most experts. The fact that the missions have been placed in ‘eight separate bins’, has led to viewing the problems and solutions with sector-specific lenses.

The multi-dimensionality of climate impacts makes it vital that India adopts an approach that is interdisciplinary in its character, breaks traditional ministerial boundaries, and learns rapidly from the effects of warming that are ongoing and our successes and failures in dealing with them.

While the PM’s Council on Climate Change provides broad oversight, what is needed is an interdisciplinary body devoted full time to overseeing decisions being made and ensuring that they follow the two principles of avoiding high emissions lock in and increasing resilience and equity. These principles, tacitly assumed in the framework document, need to be made explicit and employed as a screening tool for future economic policy.

It is hoped that the outputs of the evaluation will inform the government so that appropriate mid-stream corrections may be made. The results of the study will also be useful to hone the country’s strategic thinking on long-term economic development in the context of climate change.

The report – ‘An Evaluation of India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change’ – can be found at

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