India’s share of global CO2 emissions has sharply risen to 7.3%, making it the world’s third-largest carbon emitter. However, the country’s population share is 17.7% globally, with over 65% residing in rural areas. Notably, 85% of the poor population lives in rural India, where per capita emissions are significantly lower. This indicates that, while human activities are major contributors to emissions, rural areas are likely to bear the brunt of climate change.
Since the Paris Agreement, India has submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) with a common and differentiated responsibility. However, there is a need to strengthen adaptation strategies, which will be challenging given India’s ranking as the second-largest global user of coal in electricity generation. Hence, balancing the need for electricity in rural areas with emission reduction goals remains a complex task.
Despite India emerging as a global economic growth engine, with 60% of GDP generated in rural areas, the Energy and Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sectors contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. The ‘National Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI): A Progress Review 2023’, published by NITI Aayog, reveals concentrated poverty in these regions, particularly in central and eastern parts, including Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh. These areas face higher climate risks and have experienced historical deprivation of endowments, investments, and growth.
Climate change is often viewed as a highly scientific field, predominantly influenced by the Global North. Consequently, rural discussions may not fully encompass global perspectives. Rural dialogues worldwide are significantly shaped by local culture, religion, contexts, values, belief systems, and geopolitical situations. Rural communities interpret climate change either as a regional hazard or as seasonal weather shifts, with interpretations varying across different geographical locations.
Therefore, facilitating annual conferences such as COP28 or regional dialogues can not only aim to incorporate local insights into the global discourse but also seek to contextualise global discussions for diverse rural settings. For instance, holding basic COP sessions at regional or even Panchayat levels and integrating them into the democratic processes of Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDP) can be beneficial. Just as the COP is where Parties come together to assess and drive climate action, it needs to happen at the Panchayat Level as well. Just as the Gram Sabhas are held and GPDP are being prepared, climate action must be integrated at the level of Gram Panchayats. Important stakeholders and communities vulnerable to climate change must take part in it and ensure dialogues, assessment of the climate change in the Gram Panchayat and ensure a plan of action.
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Meanwhile, the impact of climate change on the food value chain and nutrition is also influenced by production systems that vary from place to place, coupled with the nutrition choices made by the population. Women are more vulnerable to climate change, especially natural disasters and extreme weather events. Women’s access to livelihood assets, entitlements, and services is limited or curtailed. They also bear a disproportionate burden and expectation of caring for and securing food, water, energy, and other resources, leading to increased and worsened drudgery and a significant gap in the division of labour. Women are often excluded from decision-making, particularly regarding income, assets, and other resources within the household, as well as in various local decision-making forums.
Additionally, gender norms directly impact social rules, skills, behaviours, and activities, specifically in livelihoods, leading to further inequality and poverty that affects the health and nutrition of women. For example, in many rural areas of India, women bear the responsibility of livestock care and management, exposing them to increased risks at the human-animal-environmental interface, leading to higher mortality and malnutrition, which further affects their children. The deprivation, inequity, and the vicious cycle that women are trapped in are not only multi-dimensional but also intergenerational; it is almost genetic.
Going forward, UN conferences such as COP should focus on a myriad of adaptation options available for rural areas, including limiting risks to naturally managed ecosystems related to health, livelihoods, food, and water. Interventions should encompass economic growth, the management of local and indigenous knowledge, water efficiency, social safety nets, disaster risk management, and community-based adaptation. Achieving net-zero emissions requires changes that are more extensive than many realize, and these changes need to occur as the world is trying to recover from COVID-19 and other crises.
There is an urgent need to promote gender-focused public interventions such as Nutri-Climate Linkages and One Health, where intersectionality serves as the linchpin for all climate change solutions. For example, on the supply side, measures such as phasing out coal and adopting a value chain approach to food, along with energy-efficient rural production of consumables, are necessary. On the demand side, integrating socio-economic development with the management of rural consumption habits and carbon pricing is crucial. Addressing the impact of nutrition decisions on climate change requires localised interventions in nutrition, agriculture, food technology, economics, marketing, value chains, consumption patterns, and more.
Changes are needed beyond the energy sector, with long-term strategies backed by investment commitments and measurable impact. There is a need to facilitate a dramatic scale-up of clean technologies, support the transitions of fossil fuel companies and energy-intensive activities, and bring low-cost capital to the countries and communities that need it most.
Activating rural citizens and influencing the choices they make will be crucial in terms of daily practices. Governments, too, need to activate their unique capacities by providing a strategic vision, stimuli for innovation, incentives for consumers, policy signals, public investments that catalyse action by private actors, and the creation of a supportive ecosystem for communities affected by the rapid changes of climate change. The local ‘place-based identity, experiences, competence, perspectives,’ formed through regional experiences of climate change, in combination with strong cohesion between government, markets, agencies for regenerative development, media, and NGOs/CSOs/CBOs, can help address climate change.
Neeraja Nitin Kudrimoti is the Associate Director and leads the Community Action Labs in Chhattisgarh at Transform Rural India, a development design practice, working for democratised and regenerative development.
Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisation.