NREGA may help In­dia bat­tle cli­mate change

IISC sci­en­tists say drought-proof­ing can help re­duce car­bon emis­sions

Hindustan Times (Bathinda) - - Nation - Jayashree Nandi let­[email protected]­dus­tan­

NEW DELHI: The min­istry of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment has put for­ward a pro­posal to use the Ma­hatma Gandhi Na­tional Ru­ral Em­ploy­ment Guar­an­tee Act (MGNREGA) — the world’s largest wage-based so­cial pro­tec­tion pro­gramme — to achieve In­dia’s third cli­mate tar­get un­der the 2016 Paris cli­mate change agree­ment. The pro­posal was sub­mit­ted on the side­lines of COP 24 in Ka­tow­ice, Poland.

Ac­cord­ing to a pre­lim­i­nary assess­ment by the In­dian In­sti­tute of Sci­ence (IISC), drought-proof­ing ac­tiv­i­ties un­der MGNREGA can at least achieve re­moval or se­ques­tra­tion of about 197 mil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide (CO2) equiv­a­lent by 2030, or 8% of In­dia’s tar­get. But if the work fo­cused on cli­mate change, the scheme has a far higher po­ten­tial, IISC sci­en­tists said.

In­dia is on track to achiev­ing two of its three key cli­mate tar­gets — 40% elec­tric power in­stalled ca­pac­ity from non-fos­sil fuel sources by 2030 and to re­duce the emis­sions in­ten­sity of In­dia’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) by 33% to 35% from the 2005 lev­els. But In­dia has been lag­ging on the third tar­get — to cre­ate car­bon sinks of about 2.5 to 3 bil­lion tons.

IISC sci­en­tists said cli­mate-ori­ented ac­tiv­i­ties like drought-proof­ing, which in­volves af­foresta­tion and cre­ation of fruit or­chards, can con­trib­ute size­ably to meet­ing the tar­get. Cen­tre is al­ready pi­lot­ing cli­mate proof­ing works un­der the scheme in 103 blocks of three dis­tricts of Bi­har, Odisha and Ch­hat­tis­garh, said Dharamveer Jha, joint di­rec­tor, min­istry of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment.

A team of sci­en­tists from IISC is con­duct­ing a pan-in­dia assess­ment of po­ten­tial from MGNREGA by di­vid­ing the area into var­i­ous agro-eco­log­i­cal re­gions and car­ry­ing out field stud­ies in sam­ple vil­lages in each state. In 2017-18, MGNREGA may have helped se­quester about 61.96 mil­lion tons of CO2 equiv­a­lent. Ac­tiv­i­ties with the high­est po­ten­tial was found to be drought-proof­ing, fol­lowed by land de­vel­op­ment, re­vival of tra­di­tional wa­ter bod­ies and wa­ter har­vest­ing, among oth­ers.

“Drought-proof­ing will in­crease the re­silience of com­mu­nity by help­ing them to cope with droughts, and with tree plant­ing there will be im­prove­ment in soil fer­til­ity over time which in turn could help re­tain more soil mois­ture and bet­ter yields,” said Indu K Murthy, IISC sci­en­tist who is co­or­di­nat­ing the project with Prof NH Ravin­dranath.

Un­der MGNREGA, at least one mem­ber of ev­ery ru­ral house­hold is el­i­gi­ble for at least 100 days of em­ploy­ment in the form of un­skilled man­ual work at the statu­tory min­i­mum wage.

“There are co-ben­e­fits of MGNREGA work. It is a wel­come step that the govern­ment has pro­posed it. Plant­ing of trees can ben­e­fit com­mu­ni­ties and lo­cal ecosys­tems. It will be dan­ger­ous if the govern­ment pro­motes trees with high car­bon se­ques­tra­tion ca­pac­ity and ig­nore its con­tri­bu­tion to the lo­cal econ­omy. For ex­am­ple, cor­po­rate af­foresta­tion projects are usu­ally mono-cul­tures to ben­e­fit in­dus­trial needs while the needs of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties will have to be pri­ori­tised to make progress on the poverty agenda,” said San­jay Vashisht, di­rec­tor, Cli­mate Ac­tion Net­work South Asia.

En­vi­ron­ment min­istry re­cently said it will fo­cus on agro­forestry with pri­vate part­ner­ships to achieve the third tar­get. Mean­while, sci­en­tists from the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) have been pre­sent­ing find­ings from their re­port on global warm­ing of 1.5 de­grees above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els and re­lated global green­house gas emis­sion path­ways.

Joy­ashree Roy, pro­fes­sor of eco­nomics at Ja­davpur Univer­sity (on lien) and one of the In­dian au­thors of the IPCC re­port, said the team has been brief­ing par­ties about cli­mate sci­ence and about its eco­nomic im­pacts. “A 1.5 de­gree C rise in global warm­ing cli­mate will be a poverty-mul­ti­plier: makes poor peo­ple poorer, in­creases poverty head count. Most se­vere cli­mate change im­pacts are pro­jected for ur­ban ar­eas, some ru­ral re­gions in sub­sa­ha­ran Africa and South­east Asia. Cli­mate change will neg­a­tively af­fect child­hood un­der-nutri­tion and stunt­ing through re­duced food avail­abil­ity.”

Yet, cur­rent com­mit­ments made by 195 na­tions un­der the Paris agree­ment will not be able to meet the 1.5 de­gree tar­get; the rise in global warm­ing may be as much as 3.5 de­grees over pre-in­dus­trial lev­els with the cur­rent com­mit­ments.

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