For climate’s sake

Catalyst as well as participant, the India Climate Collaborative is pushing the partnership envelope to address the most alarming crisis of our times

Along with Covid, 2020 saw anxiety peaking around a global challenge carrying even more venom — climate change. With extreme events such as floods, storms, droughts and wildfires rising rapidly, the discourse on climate calamities has become even more mainstream, in India as much as elsewhere.

With a vast coastal belt and 700 million-plus people engaged in agriculture-based livelihoods dependent on the monsoons, India’s demographic is at high risk from climate disruptions. To focus on the climate impact buffeting the country, the Tata Trusts launched the India Climate Collaborative (ICC) in 2019.

ICC brings something new to the sustainability space. India’s first-ever collective platform for climate action has the mandate of bringing together a gamut of stakeholders — from government and businesses to research institutions and implementers — to help build the capacity of the country’s climate ecosystem.

One of the gaps the Collaborative addresses is the India perspective on climate change. “Much of the international narrative on climate is driven by the Global North, the developed world; ICC offers a platform for us to take charge of our own story,” says Shloka Nath, who heads the sustainability, and policy and advocacy verticals at the Trusts.

Climate change has been on the Trusts’ radar for a number of years. In the sustainability portfolio are several projects with climate-mitigation objectives. Programmes for clean air solutions, promotion of solar energy usage and groundwater recharge have been implemented in pockets across India. An example is the Foundation for Ecological Security, a Trusts-supported initiative that works to preserve shared natural resources that are collectively called commons (land or resources belonging to the entire community).

Funding for solutions

More needed to be done, though. As the climate change picture began to get sharper and grimmer, it became obvious that the challenge could not be tackled alone. “We needed the collective efforts and leverage of India’s greatest philanthropists and businesspeople, to work together and strategically fund climate solutions,” says Ms Nath.

This was the trigger for ICC’s formation. The response has been strong, with supporters including Wipro CSR, EdelGive Foundation, Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies, JSW Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Oak Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies. The knowledge partners are equally impressive, ranging from the homegrown Ashoka Trust and The Energy and Resources Institute to international consulting firm Dalberg, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the World Wildlife Fund. The Collaborative has also linked up with think-tanks and a cross-section of civil society organisations.

One of ICC’s goals is to attract philanthropic funding for climate action efforts. “Philanthropic capital is a resource here because of its ability to make patient bets and scale up strategies,” explains Ms Nath. “However, climate-related philanthropy in India is limited.”

Philanthropy in India has traditionally been targeted at areas such as education, health and livelihoods. That may be changing, if not fast enough, as climate-change crises threaten the lives of huge numbers of people, especially those from marginalised regions. ICC’s endeavour, in the context, is to highlight key spheres that need funding support and to optimise philanthropic impact. “We work closely with businesses and philanthropies to increase domestic funding for climate solutions,” adds Ms Nath.

Aside from the foundational strengthening of the country’s climate change ecosystem, ICC has pointed programmes on air quality, clean energy, water security and sustainable land use.

Air attack

Air pollution is a matter of particular concern given the growing evidence of its deadly effect. Reducing air pollution and carbon emissions go hand in hand, and ICC works to identify important organisations in the climate-change space. ICC recently launched the India Clean Air Connect (ICAC) campaign in collaboration with the Bengaluru-based Sensing Local and EdelGive Foundation. The campaign is aimed at mapping efforts to tackle air pollution across the country so as to understand how initiatives can be aligned and supported.

Another initiative is a field project in Delhi where ICC has partnered Sesame Workshop India to use the Sesame Street muppet characters in multimedia content aimed at children to get their perspective on air pollution.

A street in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh after a spell of heavy rain

A street in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh after a spell of heavy rain

Mapping the threat

W hether it’s Chennai facing the prospect of running out of water this summer, Gujarat dealing with increasing coastal salinity or Uttarakhand battling landslides and flash floods, India’s climate woes are on the increase. “Our country’s future growth is now intricately linked to climate risks,” says Shloka Nath, head of sustainability, and policy and advocacy at the Tata Trusts.

How can India invest in resilient infrastructure and governance systems to create climate change buffers? That’s the question the India Climate Collaborative (ICC) hopes to address through its work. An important initiative in its spectrum of efforts is the partnership with the Delhi-based Council on Energy, Environment and Water to build a ‘climate risk atlas’ that will identify hazards arising from climate threats across geographies and sectors.

The immediate output of this engagement will be a ‘districts vulnerability compendium’ that pinpoints regions most in need of support with climate action, and to design interventions based on informed climate risks.

Work on the atlas is being supported by various organisations, including the European Union, and is being developed in close collaboration with a panoply of experts, among them the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, the National Disaster Management Authority, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

ICC is also involved in furthering knowledge sharing. The first step here is to map the key players in the nation’s climate ecosystem and for this a survey is being carried out in partnership with the Ashoka Trust, a network of social entrepreneurs, and Green Artha, a climate innovation and investment firm.

The project will have two branches: ecosystem mapping and social innovation mapping. Ecosystem mapping takes stock of key influencers in the climate field, including potential funders, innovators and organisations. Social innovation mapping will analyse how new solutions are impacting the field.

The challenges are more complicated when it comes to water security. The country’s water woes are caused by a combination of uninformed urban planning, ad hoc industrial development and poor farm practices. ICC is trying to bring about a mindset change by developing a digital platform that will enable communities to implement water solutions without negatively impacting upstream or downstream flows.

The platform will share solutions, GIS maps and tools, training manuals, and a toolkit for problem diagnosis. The objective is to have this serve as a template for local governments and project implementers to achieve sustainable water and socioeconomic outcomes.

Like air and water, soil pollution is a huge environmental burden. Here, ICC focuses on nature-based solutions for climate change, and natural farming is one of the pathways to make land use more sustainable. This chemical-free farming model helps farmers reduce expenses on fertilisers and pesticides, and encourages growing of nutrient-rich local crops and traditional seed varieties. Apart from making farming more sustainable, it also leads to improvement in soil health, biodiversity and water conservation.

Convergence for impact

Scale and spread are crucial in all the work that ICC undertakes. To this end, the Collaborative is convening key players for collective action, not least the enormous network of grassroots organisations working with smallholder farmers. In December 2020, the ICC co-hosted a briefing on natural farming along with the Council on Energy, Environment and Water and the National Coalition for Natural Farming.

We needed the collective efforts and leverage of India’s greatest philanthropists and businesspeople, to work together and strategically fund climate solutions.”

Shloka Nath, head, sustainability and policy and advocacy, Tata Trusts.

“These solutions need to be implemented at a landscape level and in partnership with the government,” adds Ms Nath. “Otherwise, interventions run the risk of existing in silos. Additionally, philanthropy can play an important role in accelerating policy-level interventions.”

On the clean energy front, ICC has a ‘scoping project’ that identifies opportunities for philanthropic action across multiple areas such as clean energy access, sustainable cooling, electric mobility, and so on. There’s a farmer angle here as well: a pilot project in Odisha on solar-powered cold storages. Working with the Bengaluru-based SELCO Foundation, ICC aims to test community-based models to support small farmers with clean energy-based cold storage facilities.

Climate change and worse, climate shocks are here to stay. That much is certain. It can be said with as much certainty that it will take all of the world working together for this clear and present danger to be tackled. ICC is playing a crucial role as catalyst in the process.

People lining up for water is a common sight in many Indian towns and cities, and the lines will get longer in days to come
People lining up for water is a common sight in many Indian towns and cities, and the lines will get longer in days to come