The climate of the world is changing constantly due to global warming, which is being caused by both natural and man-made activities. These changes have an enormous impact on people’s lives and ecosystems. Developing countries, and particularly the poorest people in these countries, are the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate variability and ongoing climate change. Their economies depend heavily on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, a reliable water supply, and other natural resources. They are generally hindered by limited human capacity and limited access to technology and capital to invest in risk reduction. Thus, it is imperative that climate change adaptation is not separated from other priorities but is integrated into development planning, programs, and projects.
Mountains are rich repositories of biodiversity and water. Downstream flow of water is heavily dependent on mountains. Climate change can impact biodiversity and the flow of ecosystem services either directly or indirectly through many impact mechanisms. Changes in phonology, physiology, behavior, and evolutionary changes are the most often cited species-level responses. At the ecosystem level, changes in structure, function, patterns of disturbance and the increased dominance of invasive species is a noted concern. Following are the major potential impacts of climate change on species, landscape, water and human well-being.
The IPCC (2007a) defines ‘resilience’ as the ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances, while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning, the capacity for self-organization, and the capacity to adapt to stress and change. Resiliency can also be defined by a capacity to cope successfully in the face of significant future risk.
Ecosystem-based adaptation involves a wide range of ecosystem management activities to increase resilience and reduce the vulnerability of people and the environment to climate change. Ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation, or conservation, sustainable management and restoration of ecosystems – to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change – are gaining increasing attention, as they are accessible to the rural poor in developing countries and can be cost-effective.
Such approaches include, for example, sustainable agriculture, integrated water resource management, and sustainable forest management interventions that use nature to reduce vulnerability to climate change. The role of ecosystems in adaptation is recognised at the international level under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
Uttaranchal Youth and Rural Development Centre (an organisation working in the Himalayan region of India) has developed an integrated project titled ‘Coping with Uncertainty: Community Resilience and Ecosystem-Based Adaptation to Climate Change in the Indian Himalayan Region’ (CCwU).
The objective of the project is to deal with the risk of climate change in the Indian Himalayan region where the sensitivity of climate change is high. This adversely affects the natural resources as well as traditional ecosystem services. The main cause of the loss of ecosystem services is due to losing the traditional culture, habitation, resilient crops, foods, fodder, animal breeds as well as cropping patterns. Earlier, the cropping pattern and ecosystem services were very resilient but due to the high population growth, there has been increasing demands of food, water, natural resources and energy. Due to this pressure, unsustainable practices are being adapted to maximise the supply with limited natural resources where heavy use of chemicals, fertilisers, and pesticides are being practised that adversely impacts the ecosystem and the health of individuals. Changing patterns of lifestyle also leads to higher risk of climate change and loss of ecosystem services.
As we have seen, many ecosystem services are being affected due to different kinds of pressure and man-made practices. Based on the assessment, some key practices need to be exercised with the help of local communities to ensure resiliency and ecosystem-based adaptation. These key approaches are as follows.
To engage local communities in ecosystem-based adaptation, it is very necessary to define their roles in the planning of any initiative. Twenty community-based village development plans have been developed through community consultation, social mapping and planning for adaptation to climate change issues in the Balkila river basin, Uttarakhand.
This has been done in the light of changing climates and its socio-economic and environmental impact on respective villages. Concerning subjects such as migration, agronomy, livelihoods, disasters (man-made and natural), human-animal conflict, shrinking resources, invasive species in farms and forests, etc have been meticulously discussed.
The communities have further sought mitigation possibilities with approaches within their capacity or, they have worked in joint-support with the government. Participation has been very enthusiastic in every community.
Community nursery is a very new concept where a group of 15 self-help groups (SHG) members have established one nursery of 30,000 fodder trees in the project area. The objective of the initiative was to ensure the availability of climate resilient fodder for the community. Considering the importance of the initiative, around 400 square metre of land in Bairangana was provided by Mr Anil Rana (a local resident) for growing the nursery at the request of the community. Mr Rana was feeling enthusiastic to give his land for the auspicious cause.
To maintain the forest’s biodiversity, four different species of fodder sapling (the total amounting to 511 saplings) were distributed amongst the 63 different beneficiaries on a need and request basis. Forest biodiversity has been discussed for its sustainable management, ecosystem service proliferation and management of village resources. All the stakeholders (CBOs, the Forest Council (Van Panchayat) members and Mahila Mangal Dal) are committed to adapt climate resilient crops to conserve natural resources and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Organic agriculture is a way to fight poverty and get better quality products. Introducing the concept of caring for the soil to a community and helping them adapt vermi composting practices, prepare bio-pesticides, use water management practices, etc was helpful in making agriculture affordable to poor farmer families.
More than 70 farmers from four villages took the benefit of the initiatives. These farmers were using inorganic manure in their farmyard. High use of inorganic manure affects the cultivation of millets, especially some particular millet varieties, such as foxtail millet.
Quality seeds of foxtail millets were procured from within the state for promulgation and propagation. The same was done with other varieties of millets (Braynard, Finger and Little Millets), which was received with enthusiasm from the villages.
Today, the villagers have started to cultivate millets in the farms for themselves and for the future generations. It can be ascertained after various celebrations that the community is now growing millets with sensitivity to biodiversity nurture and keeping in mind the nutritional health of families.
They are advocating the government to promote organic inputs and discouraging promotion of inorganic inputs in its departmental activities within the region. Hence, the department has not only stopped promoting the inorganic fertilisers, they have also given back the lots that came to the department from the district office on farmers’ requests.
The initiative in water mill improvement and the establishment of micro hydro energy has been a very need-based intervention. Communities have responded very encouragingly to the efforts being undertaken. At Seroli, a 5kV water mill has been implemented. Presently, the generation of a 5kV microhydral is underway.
At Mandal, improvement of one Gharat (Water mill) is being undertaken. The SHG under the name of “Someshwar Mahadev” is being registered. The SHG has opened an account in the district cooperative bank. The Gharat is fully functional and readily mills the grains of farmers.
The effort of integrated approach has been appreciated and has had a positive impact on the society. People have been informed about the impact of climate change and they have become aware and responsible citizens of the state. They have willingly adopted the interventions that have been initiated for sustainable development. The adaptability and willingness to accept and sustain the practices is the achievement of the project.
Adaptation of climate resilient practices is very crucial. It allowed communities to start getting direct benefits. Not only that, but here, they also started experimenting with new concepts and practices to coping with uncertainty. There is an urgent need to scale up the above-mentioned pilot projects at a mass level to have wider impact on the environment. These interventions have been proved successful by the acceptance of the society and can be replicated on mass scale.
(This project of UYRDC is done in partnership with IUCN, with support from GB Pant and NMHS , MoEF&CC)
Ashish Kumar Singh is a doctoral candidate at the National Research University-Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia. He can be reached here.
Vidya Bhooshan Singh is a professional social worker with expertise in biodiversity conservation, water and sanitation and community development, environmental education, along with project implementation and management. He is currently working with Centre for Micro Finance-CmF, Sirohi Rajasthan, as a team leader, implementing a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project in the tribal community of Rajasthan. He can be reached here.
Siddartha Negi is the director of Uttaranchal Youth And Rural Development Centre, Chamoli, Uttarakhand. He can be reached here.