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What Will It Take To Prioritise Climate Change?

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WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

By Moutushi Sengupta

India ranks third in terms of absolute levels of carbon emissions after China and the United States. In a business as usual scenario, by 2030, emission levels are predicted to reach more than 4.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GTCO2) equivalent of greenhouse gas—up from 3 GTCO2 today—overtaking the United States as the second-largest emitting country. At the same time, India’s per capita energy consumption levels are about one-third of the world average and in 2018, central government data indicated that 17% of households did not have access to electricity.

climate-change
To meet the dual objectives of environmental sustainability and economic growth, the path of development must focus on being clean and green. Representational image.

To meet the dual objectives of environmental sustainability and economic growth, the path of development must focus on being clean and green. This is more of a necessity than a matter of choice for the country.

We, at the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, have been working on climate change in India for the last five years and we have seen this space evolve considerably.

Several international development agencies have come forward to support policymaking and action aimed at enabling India to achieve its climate goals. There has also been a substantial increase in the number of research institutions working on issues related to climate change mitigation.

Moreover, the role of market-linked interventions has expanded considerably, as evidenced by the rapid spread of distributed renewable energy networks, addressing issues around access and efficiency.

We are also seeing citizens becoming more concerned about climate change and wanting to do more. All this represents significant positive developments, but the sheer magnitude of the challenge requires us to do much more.

Before we analyse what can be done, it’s important to call out for whom this can (and needs to) be done. All the measures we take in our work on climate change need to first be rooted and built within the values of equity and social justice. Our efforts to create a clean and green future can be fully endorsed only if and when they become a reality for everyone in India, including those households and marginalised communities that currently exist on the fringes, or below the boundaries set by official poverty lines. This will require special attention at the stages of design and execution of climate change policies and practices.

As we move forward to strengthen action on climate change mitigation, here are four critical areas—each worth a separate study, in my opinion—that philanthropies, nonprofits, policymakers, and corporates need to consider.

1. Engage New Champions For Climate Change 

It is critical to bring in new actors to expand and deepen the climate movement in India. So far, research and knowledge generation on ways to mitigate the adverse impact of climate change has remained largely limited to a small group of think tanks located in and around Delhi—the policymaking centre for India. These think tanks have closely engaged with policymakers at the centre to establish a framework of policies that have pushed India to invest in renewable sources of energy.

Going forward, the country needs sub-national level actors, beyond the public infrastructure, to effectively execute the centre’s renewable energy policies.”

Going forward, the country needs sub-national level actors, beyond the public infrastructure, to effectively execute the centre’s renewable energy policies, and where necessary, refine them to make these policies more contextual.

State-based think tanks, progressive corporate houses, social opinion-makers including youth leaders, activists, environmental and social scientists, and research institutions must feature prominently among potential partners to take this discourse forward. Identifying and engaging champions in these institutions and in communities, will provide the much-needed tailwind to India’s mitigation movement.

In the recent past, we have seen a set of new champions adding their heft to the movement. Notable examples include Extinction Rebellion, the Fridays for Future movement, and the People’s Climate Movement where youth leaders are taking to the streets to shine a light on the issue.

2. Support Technology Innovations For Clean Energy Adoption

The BP Energy Outlook 2019 mentions, “India’s share of total global primary energy demand is set to roughly double to 11% by 2040 [from 2017 as a base], underpinned by strong population growth and economic development.” To fulfil its growing requirement for energy while meeting its climate mitigation goals, the country will need to identify and adopt technology innovations that address both these objectives.

Work is underway in research and development centres that the government has established, including in national institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technologies, the National Institute of Solar Energy, the National Institute of Wind Energy, and the National Institute of Renewable Energy, to test and develop technologies that will enable faster adoption of clean energy and/or reduce energy consumption through higher levels of efficiency.

As a key member of the global Mission Innovation (MI), India has several successful innovations to showcase. For example, with support from the MI secretariat, in 2018, a Swedish company, Aili Innovation, collaborated with Tata Trusts to develop efficient solar-driven water pumps for small-scale farmers in India. Replacing diesel pumps, the solar pump system provides water for irrigation, and power for lighting and charging of smaller devices such as cell phones or fans.

There is no planet b_Fridays for Future
While there are many promising clean energy technology options available today, most are too expensive to access, lack the technical reliability needed for widespread deployment, or both. Picture courtesy: Fridays for Future

Recognising the importance of technological innovations in the clean energy space, several private incubators have also come forward to nurture ideas and interventions that rely on state-of-the-art technologies. Incubators such as Social AlphaCentre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship, and Villgro have supported early-stage ideas and interventions that use technology as the key tool for disruption.

However, while there are many promising clean energy technology options available today, most are too expensive to access, lack the technical reliability needed for widespread deployment, or both. Currently, comparatively high costs, inadequate supply chain support, and insufficient operating experience constrain the deployment of these technology options at the scale needed for climate change mitigation. Future funding strategies should focus on resolving these constraints to enable these technologies to reach the right audiences.

3. Strengthen Support From Domestic Funders To Step In And Expand This Movement

Action on climate mitigation by nonprofits in India is currently largely supported by the international philanthropic community. To sustain the movement, it is essential that domestic funders come forward and strengthen the mitigation efforts that are so acutely required. They can help by designing and executing interventions—at an ecosystem-and institution-level—that aim to expand the funding pool for nonprofit players.

The establishment of the India Climate Collaborative is an exciting development in this respect. Over the last few months, the collaborative has managed to leverage commitment and support from a diverse group of domestic philanthropists in providing a strong push for action against climate change.

“While philanthropic support has helped support a range of research organisations, most climate think tanks are still in the early stages of evolution.”

While philanthropic support has helped support a range of research organisations, most climate think tanks are still in the early stages of evolution. If the discourse on climate change mitigation has to sustain beyond the life of individual projects, building capacity is critical. This requires continued support to these institutions to define their purpose; running audits of existing technical, analytical, and behavioural skills, identifying gaps, and finding creative solutions.

Helping create narratives based on local values, norms, and customs and where possible, local languages, will prompt many more to take personal responsibility for change. Representational image.

4. Build, Share, And Promote Local Narratives

To quote a 2017 study jointly conducted by Climate Outreach, Climate Action Network- International, and Climate Action Network-South Asia, “…people need to understand climate change as a narrative, containing their own language and shaped by their own values and experience. Most climate change language, however, is dry, technical or too based in the campaign culture…

There is available evidence to indicate growing levels of awareness and concern around climate change in India. For instance, results from a recent 12-country-based survey by IPSOS indicate that there is, “widespread support for government actions to prioritise climate change in the economic recovery after COVID-19 with 65% globally agreeing that this is important.”

In India, 81% of participants from the same study said that they would support a ‘green’ recovery package, much higher than the global average of 65%. The survey provides interesting insights on behavioural choices that individuals have either made or are willing to make, in support of their conviction that a lot more needs to be done to reduce the adverse impact of climate change in the future.

Going forward, helping create narratives based on local values, norms, and customs and where possible, local languages, will prompt many more to take personal responsibility for change.

We Need To Act Now

The good news is that most likely, the tipping point is yet to be reached, affording us a tiny window of opportunity to take decisive action. The not-so-good news is that the window seems to be rapidly disappearing. It is no longer a matter of choice on whether we should attend to global warming or not. The question forward is how hard and how persistently can we push on the pedal to achieve our objectives?

This article was originally published on India Development Review

About the author: Moutushi Sengupta heads the India office of the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation. Her primary focus is on the effective execution of the foundation’s climate change mitigation strategy for India. Prior to MacArthur Foundation, Moutushi was Director, Programs and Advocacy, Oxfam India, and has also been associated with Government of United Kingdom’s Department for International Development in several roles. She holds two Master’s degrees in Applied Environmental Economics and in Business Management, respectively.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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