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Charting The Path: Insights from India’s Climate Changemakers

By

Sharman Pandian

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8 minutes read

In 2022, AVPN embarked on a year-long initiative, to elevate domestic climate philanthropy across Asia, addressing critical challenges in the region. These challenges were twofold: firstly, the need to increase the number and diversity of local philanthropists who are giving to India, and secondly, to increase the amount of funding allocated to climate action. 

To tackle these challenges, AVPN launched three impactful initiatives as part of this project. The first initiative, titled “Peering Through the Climate Lens” was a case study series. Its purpose was to compile a rich repository of innovative solutions that approach climate action from an intersectional perspective. By showcasing initiatives that intersect with agriculture, energy, healthcare, and the circular economy, this series aimed to shed light on the multi-faceted nature of climate efforts in India. 

Simultaneously, AVPN introduced the Climate Impact Leaders video series. This series put a spotlight on leaders within the climate sector who had made significant strides in achieving positive climate impact through their dedicated efforts. Featuring the journeys and aspirations of organisations such as Raintree Foundation, Rainmatter Foundation, ATE Chandra Foundation, Axis Bank, Godrej Industries, and Wipro Foundation, the series aimed to inspire and educate others about effective climate action approaches. 

Additionally, the bespoke AVPN Climate Pathfinders programme was launched as part of this project. This programme engaged decision-makers from philanthropic organisations and grant-making bodies, fostering a collaborative environment where regionally relevant ideas and concepts could cross-pollinate among like-minded individuals. The ultimate goal was to develop learning opportunities and cultivate a shared understanding of climate action in the Indian context, with a particular focus on integrated efforts that garner support from multiple stakeholders. 

These efforts not only hold the potential to bring about sustained reversals in nature loss and global warming but also have a positive impact on the livelihoods and assets of frontline communities engaged in climate action. Moreover, they empower communities to take stewardship of climate initiatives, making them integral players in the fight against climate change. 

Building on the insights gained through these initiatives, this initiative unearthed valuable findings within the intersecting domains of climate action in India. 

Agriculture

In agriculture, where a significant portion of India’s population is engaged, climate philanthropy has taken a central role in building resilient food systems. By placing the livelihoods of producers at the core of their efforts, initiatives have not only created financial and climate resilience within rural communities but have also contributed to averting emissions and preventing ecosystem harm. From the apple orchardists in the Himalayas to the rice farmers in the plains and aquaculturists along the coasts, expertise and labour are offered to organisations that support these communities in various ways. 

These collaborative efforts include the recharge of water sources, the maintenance of renewable energy equipment, the adoption of climate-smart farming practices, data collection to inform future interventions, mentorship programmes for sustainable agronomy, and the formation of collectives that invest in climate-smart alternatives. Moreover, they focus on enhancing green cover and rejuvenating cultivable land, which ultimately improves productivity without jeopardising the viability of small farms. 

Energy

In the energy sector, the drive for decentralised renewable energy and improved energy efficiency extends across various sectors, including agriculture. The project not only targets agrarian emissions but also encompasses urban areas. Initiatives range from simple solutions like solar-reflective roods and LED lights to more comprehensive strategies that lower fossil energy use and contribute to greener, more sustainable communities. 

Healthcare

Healthcare, a fundamental aspect of societal well-being, has also felt the impact of climate action. Solarising public health facilities in areas with poor grid electricity access has not only reduced emissions but also enhanced healthcare outcomes. Projects aimed at lowering the energy and water footprint of medical facilities, particularly those focused on infant and maternal care, exemplify the intersections between climate action and health. Additionally, initiatives addressing women’s health while reducing plastic waste demonstrate the multifaceted approach of climate philanthropy. 

Furthermore, air pollution, which presents a dual threat in terms of both greenhouse emissions and public health, has garnered attention, particularly in Northern India. Climate action endeavours have been working to lower urban and industrial air pollution, thereby promoting better health outcomes. Solutions range from factory pollution reduction to rural initiatives that encourage farmers to adopt eco-friendly practices, such as mulching crop residue rather than burning it. In sanitation, projects aim to subsidise indoor toilets, improve sewage treatment, and enhance waste segregation and disposal. 

Circular Economy 

Waste

Innovative projects are turning farm and factory waste into valuable resources. One notable example is the transformation of food waste into livestock feed, a practice that not only boosts animal health but also reduces methane emissions and veterinary expenses, ultimately increasing farmers’ incomes. Urban areas are also taking part by diverting food waste away from landfills, encouraging composting, generating biogas, and investing in green initiatives like electric transport and solar plants.

Moreover, initiatives are tackling textile and plastic waste by upcycling them into sustainable fashion apparel and recycled plastic products. By embracing these waste management strategies, communities are simultaneously promoting environmental benefits and economic gains.

Water

In a region like South Asia, where water resources are becoming increasingly scarce due to climate change, water conservation is a top priority across various projects. Efforts are being made to recharge and decontaminate freshwater sources to preempt potential water-related conflicts. In the Himalayan region, watersheds are being revitalised to prevent runoff and reduce stress on groundwater aquifers, resulting in improved drinking water quality and cost savings related to groundwater pumping and transportation.

Community-driven initiatives in villages are focused on water-efficient agriculture practices and the development of drought-resistant crops to ensure water sustainability. Furthermore, there’s a concerted effort to repair and recharge mountain springs, vital sources of water in the Himalayas, to combat overuse and pollution, safeguarding this precious resource for future generations. By addressing water-related challenges, these projects are making strides toward creating more sustainable and resilient communities.

Intersectional Areas With Further Potential

While climate initiatives in South Asia have been gaining momentum, some critical intersections have been relatively underexplored. Education and disaster resilience, for instance, often require significant investment and government collaboration. Climate education, guided by state authorities in India, is gradually gaining ground through innovative approaches like activity-based learning in primary schools and partnerships involving researchers, public agencies, and industry. These efforts are a promising step towards integrating climate education into the mainstream. 

Disaster resilience, on the other hand, is a complex challenge, particularly in mitigating the impact of cyclones and floods. Urban floods and landslides further complicate the situation due to unplanned construction permitted by public agencies. To address this, there is a growing call to incorporate climate and ecological considerations into urban planning and enhance the capacity of public agencies in disaster mitigation. While projects largely focus on drought mitigation and smaller-scale emissions reduction, industry emissions and the concerns of landless farmers often take a back seat, emphasising the need for a more inclusive approach. 

In the ecosystem domain, some areas have received comparatively less attention, such as riverine regions, forests, wildlife, and coastal and marine systems. However, the intersection of biodiversity with climate change has the potential to spark renewed interest in these critical areas. Additionally, complexities in the availability of foreign funding for civil society organisations in India may have contributed to diminished focus on certain intersectionalities.

As South Asia continues its journey toward climate resilience, it’s essential to embrace these intersections and collaborations to unlock new opportunities. By addressing climate education, disaster resilience, and underrepresented ecosystems, the region can build a more sustainable and inclusive future in the face of climate challenges.

Changemakers Charting The Path for Climate Action in India 

Changemakers in India are driving significant progress through a variety of approaches. Low corporate tax rates have made corporate social responsibility funds and philanthropy essential sources of climate investments. These forward-thinking individuals and organisations are guiding the way forward, highlighting key areas of interest for climate action in the region: 

  1. Sustainable Landscapes: Changemakers are championing a holistic approach that involves all local stakeholders. By working concurrently on multiple fronts, they accelerate progress while ensuring that village councils and self-help groups continue sustainability efforts after the initial groundwork. This power-sharing model is crucial as India is still in the early stages of climate action, with growing institutional attention to the crisis.
  2. Asset-Value Enhancement: Climate action extends beyond poverty alleviation. Changemakers are focusing on enhancing the basic asset value of villages, fostering sustained capacity for value generation alongside climate gains.
  3. Identifying Climate Adjacencies: Climate challenges should not be viewed as isolated technical problems. Instead, organisations are encouraged to seek climate adjacencies in their work across various fields. Roadmaps are needed to address these connections, such as the links between food systems, land use, and a just transition to clean energy. To do this effectively, listening to frontline communities and institutionalising their insights into climate action is essential.
  4. Collaboration with Governments: Changemakers stress the importance of collaborating with governments. Many case studies underscore the need for capacity-building in public agencies to enable effective scientific climate action. New climate philanthropists should understand what doesn’t work in their context-specific climate actions, using small investments and collaborations in climate adjacencies as stepping stones to larger interventions.
  5. Community Empowerment: Empowering communities is at the heart of changemakers’ efforts. They recognise that communities must have a say and the power to negotiate better lives and livelihoods for themselves. Sustainability efforts fall into place when organisations keep local communities at the centre of climate action.
  6. Corporate Responsibility: Some corporate foundations are leading by example. They evaluate the entire lifecycle of their products, invest in research and development to reduce emissions and water intensity and aim to send zero waste to landfills. These innovations not only reduce the environmental footprint but also lower product prices, avoiding a “green premium.” These companies are revitalising water-stressed areas through watershed renewal, becoming net water-positive entities.
  7. Intergenerational Approach: Another corporate foundation is taking an intergenerational approach to climate warming. They invest extensively in primary and higher education, recognising its “force multiplier effect.” By improving learning outcomes and incorporating green curriculums, they prepare the next generation for climate challenges and sustainability. This approach seeks to create ecologically sound “choice architectures for individuals and communities” informed by science.

As changemakers continue to drive innovation and collaboration, India’s path towards climate resilience becomes clearer, offering hope for a sustainable future. For AVPN, this initiative has paved the way for us and seeded the platform that can be expanded across Asia to bring in local philanthropists into climate action and accelerate their pathways towards net zero.

References

A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training

Author

Sharman Pandian

Manager, Climate Action Platform at AVPN

Sharman is the Manager, Climate Action Platform. Before AVPN, he was a Captain in the Singapore Armed Forces and held 8 years of leadership and management experience. Sharman strongly believes that international collaboration is key towards positive climate change. During his time in London, he participated in the UK-Japan conference that discussed the contemporary challenges prevalent in the respective regions. He admires the vastness of the ocean and loves exploration. He has achieved an Advanced diver certification and hope to achieve a Master Diver certification in the future. Sharman obtained a MSc in Climate Change: Environment, Science and Policy from King’s College London.

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