Planning for Climate Change:  A View from India” – Rob Verchick, former Deputy Associate Admin for the Office of Policy and head of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force.  Author of Facing Catastrophe

Rob VerchickRob Verchick, in addition to holding the Gauthier-St. Martin Chair in Environmental Law at Loyola University in New Orleans and serving as a visiting scholar at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi as a Fulbright-Nehru Environmental Fellow, is an incredible source of knowledge on the effects of climate change in India.

 

As Verchick pointed out, India is a country of paradoxes– paradoxes of population, wealth, culture, economy, and even environment.  India’s environment is all over the place with Himalayan glaciers, coastline, forests, equatorial zone, erratic precipitation, higher seas, swifter seas, and in Verchick’s opinion, these paradoxes are precisely what makes India the most place to climate change in the world.  For India, rising sea levels are not a question of if, but of when.  But despite the enormous task ahead of India, the country still moves forward with minimizing the looming hazards.

 

India is becoming serious about climate change.  Perhaps because of its vulnerability, or perhaps because climate change is already there, but regardless of motive, India is taking steps in the right direction.  Already, India requires each state to prepare strategic climate adaptation plans.  But in Verchick’s opinion, climate change is about local issues and individuals and NGOs are doing the heavy lifting, not the government.  It’s almost amazing that a country as diverse as India can have such widespread agreement on climate change (In a Yale study, 72% of Indians said they thought climate change was coming, a number far exceeding Americans’), but it does.

 

What isn’t widespread, however, is the approach.  Because of India’s diversity as a country, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to climate change.  Verchick focused on three unique communities with three unique approaches to climate change in his presentation– Surat, Gorakhpur, and the Sundarbans.  Water plagues each locality in a different way and their strategies are all adaptive to their own, localized issues.

 

Surat, a city frequently flooded by overfilled dams, began focusing on climate change after a flood nearly drove out all of its business.  The city began a comprehensive plan to mitigate the effects of climate change — extensively mapping flood zones, purchasing vulnerable land, installing barrage balloons, and moving vulnerable populations.  And they’ve made incredible progress, although there have still been high social costs to some of the lower-socioeconomic individuals.  Gorakpuhr was also faced with flooding, but saw most of the impact on urban agriculturalists.  Faced with sporadic flooding drowning crops, a local NGO tackled the problems by demanding the government enforce codes and introducing new raised crop techniques.  The Sandarbans, a region particularly exposed to rising sea levels, also has begun focusing on minimizing the effects of climate change.  Although, as Verchick noted, it’s likely this region, sinking at similar rates as New Orleans, will not survive the changes that have already been put in motion.

 

India and climate change policy might not be an instant connection in most people’s minds, but maybe it should be.  India isn’t letting the fact that it is a country of paradoxes stand in its way.  At the end of his speech, Verchick brought up the idea of India being Hanuman state and it’s a message that can be applied to every coastal region faced with rising sea-level.  Like Hanuman, we all have a lot of potential and resources at our disposal, but we need to realize them and put them to good use.  We need to look to things that are already there to help us, but figure out how to put them to use in order to do that.  Right now, India is working to put all of their resources together and minimize the dangers of climate change and I’m very hopeful that they are able to do just that.

 

Blog Post By: Kelsey Baack

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