Putting CSOs at the frontline of climate action - Hindustan Times
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Putting CSOs at the frontline of climate action

ByHindustan Times
Oct 12, 2023 10:46 AM IST

This article is authored by Neera Nundy, co-founder and partner, Dasra.

Global warming and the climate crisis have emerged as the relentless forces that are continually stressing the global development ambitions outlined by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The increasing frequency of extreme weather events, including floods, droughts, heat waves and air pollution has broad ramifications on sustainable development sectors such as health, education, gender equality, and economic growth. Particularly in India, these challenges threaten to derail the development trajectory and impede the achievement of the SDGs. The situation is further complicated for marginalized communities, who are often most vulnerable. Their reliance on natural resources and limited ability to adapt to changing conditions heightens the risk, leading to significant economic repercussions. For example, multiple studies in India have shown that climate change and consequent natural calamities are driving down crop production and nutritional value, leading to food insecurity and malnutrition on an unprecedented scale.

Climate Change (Shutterstock/Representative image)
Climate Change (Shutterstock/Representative image)

As the world grapples with the multifaceted challenges of the climate crisis, understanding its intricate relationship with the SDGs becomes crucial. A telling example can be seen in India's rapid urbanisation; where over 30% of the population now resides in cities, a figure expected to rise to 40% by 2030. This urban growth has led to increased demands for energy and water, worsening air quality, and a host of health impacts. These complexities are explored in the comprehensive report, Our Uncommon Future: Intersectionality of Climate Change and SDGs in the Global South developed in collaboration with Dasra and Observer Research Foundation. Highlighting the interconnectedness of environmental, social, and economic issues, the report emphasises how climate change obstructs the achievement of SDGs, particularly in the developing regions most susceptible to its impacts. These interrelated challenges underline the importance of understanding the climate-SDG nexus in the Global South, and demand a multifaceted approach, keeping the vulnerable communities and people at the centre of the discourse. All stakeholders, including governments, civil society organisations, philanthropy, and communities, have the potential to scale inclusive and equitable climate action by exploring pathways of building resilient societies and systems.

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In our efforts to fight the climate crisis, the role of civil society organisations (CSOs) in building resilience within communities is paramount. Prioritising marginalised communities, including women, tribal groups, and low-income families, CSOs are already champions for the vulnerable in sectors shadowed by climate change like food security, conservation, and health. For instance, one of our partner organisations, PRADAN is working towards enhanced livelihood opportunities for rural families all by identifying agents of change within the community and by supporting the creation of market linkages for their farm produce. Over the years, PRADAN has supported over 165,087 small-holding farmers in building resilience to water variability caused by the climate crisis, through programmes and interventions such as small-scale on-farm water control measures, selecting crops that utilise residual moisture and are more adaptive to water stress and water surplus conditions, and encouraging the adoption of technology for weather prediction.

Tailoring interventions for local communities, especially those susceptible to climate impacts, CSOs foster community engagement and bolster grassroots-level climate resilience. Often guided by leaders from marginalised communities, their unique perspective enables systemic interventions and offers firsthand data, making them vital partners for government collaboration. During the trying times of the Covid-19 pandemic, Niti Aayog reached out to almost 92,000 CSOs, seeking their support in delivering services to people. This collaboration was emblematic of the agility and responsiveness of India's civil society. CSOs were pivotal in community mobilization and awareness campaigns, such as in Mumbai's Dharavi, where they played a significant role in controlling the spread of the virus. Their hands-on involvement demonstrates how governments and civil society can work together, especially in emergencies, to bring about positive change at the community level.

India's innovative civil society has been a crucial force in nation-building, acting as a ‘third sector’, with leading the charge in development and humanitarian efforts. As the need to move towards the delivery and integration of climate action across sectors such as health care, transport, food systems, ecology, and industry is intensifying, government institutions at the central, state, and city levels are seeking support from geographically spread-out CSOs in these sectors to operationalize the country’s climate commitments. SELCO Foundation is one such organisation that has been working with governments in remote regions towards addressing the need for last-mile health care infrastructure. Tackling the issue of unreliable energy supply, SELCO devises sustainable solutions like solar panels and energy-efficient medical appliances for health centers in India. In states with difficult terrain like Meghalaya and Assam, they have optimised energy use, resulting in substantial savings and improved healthcare delivery. In Meghalaya, their interventions are predicted to save more than 11 lakhs over 20 years per centre, enhancing the self-reliance and sustainability of health centres.

Navigating towards a new paradigm of balancing development with sustainability, tapping into CSOs' capabilities becomes vital. These organizations, grounded in local realities, have the dedication to foster inclusive climate action, making them a formidable force for a sustainable future. However, they often face challenges such as limited resources and focus, with much of the financing geared towards mitigation, leaving adaptation and community resilience in need of greater support. Climate action requires an integrated effort and approach, and] the work cannot take place with CSOs alone. The movement towards a sustainable and inclusive future for communities mandates the collaboration of all actors in the climate action space who need to build consensus and prioritise their climate action strategies around the welfare of vulnerable communities. Multi-stakeholder platforms can be instrumental in enabling collaboration and consensus among the stakeholder groups and can create common opportunities to drive deeper impact by leveraging collective resources, networks, and diverse skill sets across sectors and actors affected by the climate crisis. The key lies in adopting an intersectional approach, emphasising resilience and systemic strengthening.

This article is authored by Neera Nundy, co-founder and partner, Dasra.

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