In recent times, global warming and climate change issues have become a non-negotiable reality. Rising global temperature, prolonged dry spells, unpredictable rain patterns and extreme climate events have been wreaking havoc around us and posing a threat to our everyday living. The scientific community had in the past warned us that global warming will cause an imbalance in our environment that could lead to the destruction of species and habitats. For most of us, the phenomena of global warming and climate variations merely mean increased temperature levels, melting glaciers or rising sea levels. However, experts point out that the impact of human-induced climate change goes far beyond our common perception. Studies reveal that by 2050, the whole of South Asia will be direly affected by climate change repercussions, disrupting the availability of clean water, food, and energy. This will only add to extreme poverty, the occurrence of epidemics and food insecurity globally, resulting in social chaos.
With such pressing concerns in mind, proposals for climate change mitigation actions were put forward by United Nations and in December 2015, world leaders united during the Paris Climate Convention to fight climate change, unanimously agreeing upon strategies to limit the rise in global temperature. It has been recognized that the existing socio-economic and industrial activities must be redesigned in a way that prevents the temperature level from rising beyond the Co2 threshold in this century by containing atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and other Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) through reduced emissions from human activities. In Meenangadi, unmitigated climate change impact can cause irregular rains, extreme intensity precipitation, flood, drought or other natural calamities. The agriculture sector is especially vulnerable to climate extremities and unpredictability, and therefore has serious implications for food security and the local economy. Forest profile and biodiversity resources are also likely to be impacted. The concept of ‘Carbon Neutral Grama Panchayat’ puts forth the notions of zero carbon development, nature conservation, food and energy self-sufficiency, economic well-being and development at local self-government level. Having identified that the major cause of temperature rise is the uncontrolled emissions of greenhouse gases, in which carbon dioxide is the major gas, assessment of these emission levels make use of CO2 as an equivalent indicator. Carbon neutrality refers to achieving net zero carbon emission by balancing the measured amount of carbon released into the atmosphere due to human activities, with an equal amount of sequestrated in carbon pools/sink. It is crucial to restrict atmospheric concentrations of GHGs released from various socio-economic, developmental and lifestyle activities using biological or natural processes. This will help to regulate global temperature levels.
Carbon neutral development thus designs developmental processes in a sustainable manner, through offsetting and mitigation measures in an effort to reduce GHG levels. Carbon sequestration, a process of absorbing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide in organic matter through carbon capture mechanism, is also a key to achieve this goal. The carbon-neutral development thus designs developmental processes in a sustainable manner, through offsetting and mitigation measures in an effort to reduce GHG levels, like
- Adopting green technologies in all walks of life – natural resource use, food and nutrition, health care, animal husbandry, socio-economic domain and civic amenities
- Sustainable energy consumption – reduce fossil fuel dependence and switching to renewable energy consumption, sustainable resource use and waste management – solid waste management and resource recovery
- Better management of forest- improving tree cover with indigenous species and augmenting green cover in human settlements and homestead farming systems
- Sustainable management of natural resources- water bodies, paddy fields, wetlands, etc.
- Better management of soil and enhance productivity by adopting agro-ecological practices
- Augmenting community-level preparedness training and capacity building among farmers, communities and all the stakeholders are required.
Carbon neutral panchayat aims at managing anthropogenic carbon emissions through a series of environmentally friendly methods and techniques for sustainable development. The upcoming scheme in Meenangadi panchayat will be a model project in India, which is inclusive of interventions in every aspect of human life, guaranteeing income security and ensuring better living conditions for all. The ‘Carbon Neutral Meenangadi Grama Panchayat’ project envisions reduction of human-induced carbon emission through people’s lifestyle and sustainable development in this region.
Kerala: first of its kind with Carbon Neutral Panchayat
The State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) of Kerala has categorized Wayanad as one among the four climate change hotspot districts in Kerala, with a high degree of vulnerability to natural hazards like flood and drought and impact on biodiversity and human life. The minimum surface temperature in the Western Ghats region may rise by 2o to 4.5o Celsius by 2050. The SAPCC report estimates that paddy production in Kerala would drop by six per cent with each degree rise in temperature. The changes in temperature and rainfall would be detrimental to thermo-sensitive crops like cardamom, coffee, tea and black pepper cultivated in the high ranges. It estimated that heat stress and humidity variation could also lead to the emergence of new livestock diseases. In the discussions post-Paris agreement, the panchayat leaders in Wayanad district and resource persons across Kerala came together to strategize their way forward. Through this exercise, Meenangadi in Wayanad came forward to adapt to a carbon-neutral economy, pressed by the facts that Meenangadi has shrinking paddy fields and faces climate vulnerability, as especially seen in the agriculture sector in its prevalent cash crops such as coffee and pepper and the overall ecological landscape. Climatic variations and environmental issues such as prolonged dry spells, seasonal variations in rainfall, hotter summer days’ etc. increase the vulnerability at the village level. To combat such climate risks and lead by example, the panchayat, along with the support from the State ministry, declared its intention to be carbon neutral by 2020.
It has been decided to conceptualize innovative schemes and collect resources, including for social costs, in the upcoming three months for the design of an action plan for the next five years. This program aspires to collate the opinions of all stakeholders towards building a carbon neutral, toxic-free, zero-waste society. The project has been envisioned as a popular grassroots movement for the integral development of Meenangadi Panchayat.
It takes about 6months to one year
Feasibility and baseline assessments:
- Stakeholder consultation and participatory discussions, commitment process, an inception workshop
- Benchmark the existing emission levels (vehicular, industrial, agricultural, household etc.) Carry out soil carbon assessments in a structured sampling method to set a baseline
- Data collection and analysis of current forest cover, deforestation/afforestation rate, current conservation practices and future afforestation possibilities along with carbon sequestration potential.
- Create an inventory of data and records for yearly comparison throughout the project tenure to measure cumulative impact. The success of tree planting can be easily measured by comparing satellite imageries. Use of appropriate technologies such as GIS systems and other relevant tools would be employed.4
It takes about 1 to 4 years. It includes 4 tasks:
Industries and technology
– Innovating small industries based on carbon-neutral principles
– Transfer of eco-friendly technologies
– Creation of more ‘green’ jobs
Energy and transport
– Expansion of solar electricity
– Consumption and minimizing fossil fuel usage
– Energy audits for both renewable and non-renewable
– Strategies for operating community-centric and ‘green’ transport systems
Integrated resource and waste management
– Sustainable resource consumption and production
– Decentralized solid waste management and waste reduction
– Gender-equitable livelihoods and empowering informal sectors Soil and water
Agriculture and food
- Promotion of agro-ecological farming, strengthening animal husbandry, self-sufficiency in food, and reducing food miles by promoting ‘local eating’
- Strategies to bring in increased income generation from the agriculture sector, a revival of traditional farming systems; food processing and value addition.
- Expansion of organic farming
- Branding, certification and marketing of organic products.
Forests and biodiversity
- ‘Tree is Wealth’ project; incentivizing tree planting by giving year/term end rewards in an effort to promote returns in short term for a long-term capital gain and growing of trees that will sequester carbon.
- Medicinal ‘streams’ project by planting native medicinal plant varieties along the riverine banks and stream areas Landscape ecological innovations with thrust on restoring watersheds Biodiversity /and forest conservation· through inventory, appreciation campaigns and research.
- Bird-friendly forest coffee certification and branding to augment the income of coffee sector including setting up of “Coffee Park” as a production centre for coffee powder.
Disaster risk reduction
- Develop a framework for the local context in accordance with the studies undertaken globally and by the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction
- Stakeholder awareness creation, capacity building, and mitigation strategy to deal with the impacts and effects of climate extreme events; orientation at particularly vulnerable sectors and communities.
Loss and damages
- Developing a monitoring framework to assess L&D by climate change focussing various sectors in the region especially taking into consideration gender-based disparities, children’s welfare and socio-economic status
- Creating a community compensation fund for vulnerable groups like farmers, forest dwellers, tribal communities, etc. framework and activities were undertaken:
Chief elements of the project consist of formation of relevant teams, research in the above-mentioned fields, situation analysis, systematic actions based on a strategic action plan, awareness programs and regional development with participatory community engagement. A 7 multi-faceted program will be formed that includes fundamental data collection and accurate analysis to construct a course of action for the implementation of carbon neutral schemes and public awareness programs. Through the resource centre and its intended activities, it aims to:
- Enhance participation and build strategic partnerships within the stakeholders of the region to accomplish project deliverables
- Expand knowledge sharing and technology transfer with outside players (States, National and International levels)
- Create a platform for the leaders of the project to share their success stories and learning through demonstration campaigns to connect with other societies
- Document and develop the methodology of the project (as toolkits, resources etc.) to serve as a model to other communities through a resource centre.
- Information dissemination, outreach and awareness creation programs, and ensuring the leadership of students and educational institutions in the program.
- Farmers in Wayanad still have doubts about carbon neutrality, said panchayat official Beena Vijayan. “It should be answered if we want to make it a success,” she added.
- The project should be done carefully as farmers view most changes with suspicion. Wayanad has seen many protests against the recommendations of the Gadgil Commission. Farmers do not support projects that affect them badly.
- In 2011, the Gadgil ecology expert panel had recommended strict measures to protect the Western Ghats – a world heritage site – from human interference, leading to protests by farmers, who accused it of ignoring their livelihood concerns.
- State Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac, who is a staunch supporter of the carbon neutrality project, suggested an interactive conference with farmers in which they could discuss practical difficulties with experts.
The challenge of climate change calls for extraordinary vision, leadership, compassion and wisdom. The accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGS) in the atmosphere has led to global warming. If the world is indeed serious about making climate-friendly investments, it must consider the opportunity provided by a country like India where economic growth could be achieved with a minimum level of emission by employing new technologies and finance. Having said that, to achieve India’s ambitious Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS) as per the Paris Agreement, it is crucial that our future development activities follow a “Carbon-Neutral” trajectory.
Edited by Sakshi Raje