Ecology. Development. Disasters. Climate Change. These buzzwords have become a part of our everyday discourse. With frequent occurrences of floods, droughts, cyclones, hailstorms, untimely rains and their devastating effects on the economy, and people’s health and livelihoods, it is time we accept that climate change is happening. We no longer have the luxury to prioritise development over ecology. Rather, we have to ensure that both trajectories progress in a parallel manner and most importantly, in tandem.
In 2008, the Government of India (GoI) released the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and in 2009, it directed the states to draft their own climate action plans to amalgamate climate goals with development strategies. The Maharashtra State Adaptation Action Plan on Climate Change (MSAAPCC) adopted by the state government in 2014 explains climate change and its effect on eight sectors, namely water, agriculture, forests, biodiversity, livelihoods, health, energy and infrastructure, and focused on one highly vulnerable region — Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).
With the Paris Agreement coming into force in 2016, India, along with other ratifying countries, formed Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to carry out responsible developmental activities in the country. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, as a result, has asked states to revise their State Action Plans to align them with the country’s NDCs.
The revised version of the Maharashtra State Action Plan would include four additional sectors — industries, transport, tribal development and tourism — and two sections, finance and planning, that would cut across all 12 of them.
Climate change affects all — all sectors of the economy, all communities, all people around the globe. But the effect is disproportionate depending on the socio-economic factors of the population. Every person’s experience of dealing with climate risks is different. Thus, taking into account the diverse experiences becomes all the more pivotal for developing comprehensive climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. Such strategies should have a multi-stakeholder approach with participation, advocacy and dialogue being at the heart of it.
In Maharashtra, the four river basins namely Krishna, Godavari, Tapi and Narmada are monsoon-dependent and together, they support 92% of the agricultural cultivation and more than 60% of the rural population. Groundwater is an important water source due to the integral role it plays in agriculture, industries and domestic purposes. Sadly, it is depleting in central and western Maharashtra due to excessive sugarcane cultivation.
To top it all, 40% of the area in Maharashtra is drought prone and 7% is flood prone. About 90% of the land in the State has basaltic rock, which is nonporous and prevents rainwater percolation into the ground, thus making the area prone to droughts. Floods are a result of damage to the dam embankments, excessive water release from dams, improper storm-water drainage systems and unplanned urbanisation.
Rainfall patterns have undergone drastic change (decreasing rainfall witnessed in July and increasing rainfall seen in August) due to climate change. There is an increase in projected rainfall in the 2030s, with a projected decrease by the 2050s. This fluctuation can result in water scarcities of varying intensities for rivers Tapi, Narmada, Godavari and Krishna.
With respect to droughts, the frequency is predicted to increase in the future through changes in the hydrological cycle viz. precipitation, evapo-transpiration (ET), soil moisture etc. and additionally, land cover changes may decrease recharge. Rising sea levels will allow saltwater to penetrate further inland and upstream in low lying river deltas. An overall increase in surface runoff is projected in specific catchment areas as well.
The state action plan puts forth points of action for developing sustainable groundwater management mechanisms, retaining and conserving the riparian buffer around the wetlands for improved surface runoff management, conserving and re-naturalising rivers and water bodies, and enhancing water storage and groundwater recharge.
The plan does not speak about a few significant aspects. It does little to ensure equitable distribution of water and water security for poor communities. Instead, it could lead to construction of more dams, which might further worsen the conditions of rivers. Steps to tackle industries and power plants that consume a lot of water and are responsible for pollution are not mentioned.
Additionally, adaptation measures for communities that are at a high risk of flooding are absent. Urban areas are not getting much attention in the plan either. Concerns of the urban poor and the gendered impact of the water crisis remain unaddressed.
Forests And Biodiversity
Deforestation and forest degradation are major threats to the forests and biodiversity in Maharashtra. There has been a decrease in dense forest cover in Western Ghats by more than 10% and an increase in the area under water bodies (including dams). Land cover changes owing to expansion of human settlement and agriculture has worsened the problem.
The northern and central parts of Western Ghats are vulnerable to climate change while the southern part appears more resilient. Increased fire risks in savannah woodlands, increased aridity, reduced fodder availability, fragmentation of habitats and extinction of specific species from evergreen forests, severe threat to the flora and fauna already under threat currently, and increased salinity in coastal zones affecting local fish species sums up the impact of climate change on ecosystems.
Likewise, sea-level rise, developmental activities, changes in frequency and levels of high water events and storm events, along with rise in temperature, altered ocean circulation patterns and changes in precipitation would have an impact on mangroves and will continue to do so unless we take remedial steps.
The action plan states action points for enhancing quality of forest cover and improving ecosystem services, diversifying livelihood options, and promoting scientific monitoring and research for improved decision-making. It also includes launching a Green Maharashtra Mission 2020 for biodiversity, developing buffers, conserving biodiversity, promoting ecosystem research on climate variability and reducing the non-climatic stressors on the mangrove ecosystem by formulation of Regional Monitoring Networks.
However, the plan does not address land acquisition and deforestation caused by government development projects or industrialists. The violation of rights and existing climate vulnerabilities of tribal communities have not been acknowledged. Their activities are seen as “threats” to forests, completely nullifying their role in conservation efforts.
Soil And Agriculture
Maharashtra is predominantly still an agrarian state with 56.5% of the land being cultivated. However, only 19.64% of the cultivated land is irrigated, while the remaining land is directly dependent on rainfall. A shift from cultivation of foodgrains and forage crops to cash crops has been observed with the area under cultivation of pulse crops and horticulture still being high. There has been a growth in the use of crucial inputs such as irrigation, chemical fertilisers and high-yielding variety seeds, but productivity of crops in the state has not improved much, rather, it has decreased in some cases.
Lack of irrigation facilities along with issues of soil erosion, salination of irrigated lands, degradation of pastures, water pollution and overexploitation of forest stocks remain a challenge for the State. Changing temperatures, pests and pathogens, moisture changes, water availability and CO2 concentrations have led to changes in crop growth cycle and stunted growth of crops.
Climate change effects are seen to escalate the vulnerabilities of the farmers who already suffer from a low risk coping capacity and have to navigate through unorganised agricultural markets and food supply, unavailability of sufficient cold storage, and post harvest losses regularly. In case of perishables, horticulture crops that fetch high commercial returns, lower quality produce results in losses. Due to weather changes, the arrival patterns of the crop in the market is affected creating demand-supply discrepancies.
In the case of livestock, increased temperatures lead to high body temperatures of animals, resulting in decline in feed intake, disturbed reproductive functions and low milk yields. This increases their susceptibility to a number of diseases and makes them more prone to vector-borne diseases and severe weather events.
Fishing as a livelihood option is also impacted due to temperature rise, sea level rise, salinity and acidification. The abundance of certain species as well as overall harvests and resultant incomes are facing a threat with fishing stock and distribution, infrastructure and operations taking a severe hit due to extreme weather events like floods and storms. A macro-effect here would be the impact on food security and culture that could push the fishing communities to migrate and force them to change their livelihood option.
The Action Plan throws light on the urgent need to secure farmers through improved access to climate services and risk management strategies. Enhancing resilience of farming systems through diversified cropping patterns and farming systems, soil conservation, increased access to markets needs to be the central idea behind adaptation strategies. Securing food supply chains through enhanced access to cold storage infrastructure, warehousing facilities and urban food zones should also be taken up.
However, the Action Plan does not prioritise discontinuation of chemicals used in agriculture and the need to shift to organic or natural farming. Intensive tillage practices that worsen soil quality have not been addressed well. Monocropping methods have not been acknowledged as detrimental and multi-cropping has not been highlighted as an important adaptive measure.
With global temperatures only rising, the demand for cooling facilities would soar especially in the urban areas. Thus, with more urban development, this demand is only going to rise further. The Action Plan does little on the energy sector front, but it does put forward a few action points.
The Energy section of the plan speaks in the context of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and suggests ‘building green roofs atop settlements’ to safeguard the rich flora and fauna that urban areas boast of. To push for its implementation, the plan suggests making necessary amendments to the Building bye laws to make it mandatory for the developmental projects to build green roofs. Additionally, the plan also mentions promotion of cleaner forms of energy, encouraging shift to energy efficient systems to conserve energy, and most importantly, climate proofing of new public infrastructure.
The plan fails to state the impacts of increasing temperature on power grids and on transmission losses. The chapter does not address other applications of fossil fuel energy such as transportation. The limitations of being highly dependent on coal and fossil fuels have not been addressed well. Infrastructure has been very poorly covered and poor households that would need assistance with climate change adaptation have not even been mentioned.
Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Dr Sheeva Yamuna for her inputs and feedback on this article.
About the author: Vindhya Jyoti is an active member of the South Asian People’s Action on Climate Crisis (SAPACC), a rainbow coalition of organisations and individuals that was formed in May 2019 to bring together youth, women, farmers, workers, fisher folk, scientists, and people of all walks of life who are concerned with the climate crisis.
Note: The SAPACC Maharashtra team is trying to make the MSAAPCC revision process both comprehensive and inclusive by bringing in diverse views and recommendations from people across sectors and regions in the state. You can share with us your thoughts, suggestions or details about the ongoing work related to any of the above-mentioned sectors via email at email@example.com. To know more about SAPACC, visit their website.