Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change in the Semi-Arid Regions of India

Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change in the Semi-Arid Regions of India

India and the sub-regions face a dynamic climatic and non-climatic risk profile. These climatic and non-climatic risks, separately and in interaction, make people and systems highly vulnerable. Key vulnerabilities and risks are found to be deeply embedded within the existing social and biophysical conditions of people and socio-ecological systems, which emerge as a critical barrier to effective, widespread and sustained adaptation.

The welfare cost of climate change impacts in India varies across geography and sectors. Given the natural resource-based livelihoods, high incidence of poverty and inherent socio-economic inequities, a significant section of the rural population is resource-constrained to adapt to the current and projected future climate variability. While households dependent on agriculture are affected directly, those living in urban areas are also affected by declining agricultural productivity and ongoing agrarian crisis in semi-arid areas. The situation is compounded by rapid and unplanned urbanisation, resulting in an intense competition for resources and land. The quality of life for the urban poor is characterised by the lack of access to social capital, poor quality of employment and exclusion from public services; in turn making the inhabitants highly vulnerable to social and environmental risk.

Critical sectors in the sub-region (agriculture, forests, water) are affected significantly by the changing climatic regime. Available evidence on the changing climatic regime in India and the sub-regions underscores the emergent climatic dimensions of risks that the sub-regions are exposed to.

The Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project aims to develop a nuanced understanding of climate vulnerability and adaptation in semi-arid regions (SARs), as well as implementable plans to transform current adaptation processes in a way that makes them proactive, and widespread. This research project is being implemented in regions of Africa and India.

Three major developmental transformation (‘transformative adaptation’) options exist in India: 1) increase productivity of existing biophysical and socio-economic systems, 2) create new sustainable livelihood forms and/or, 3) shift population from fragile ecosystems. It is pertinent to highlight that whichover option is embraced, it should be able to sustain existing ecosystems to some extent, respect embedded socio-cultural dynamics, innovate around redundant and archaic governance and institutional structures, and respond to emergent climate-induced risks (such as changing precipitation and temperature patterns).

This report thus summarises key findings from the Regional Diagnostic Studies (RDS) for South Asia. It discusses the socio-economic and biophysical context in India and the sub-regions (Chapter 2) and identifies major gaps in the existing literature in areas of climate science, vulnerability and adaptation in (Chapters 3, 4 and 5 respectively). It also draws on key informant interviews (KIIs) with multiple stakeholders to enrich our understanding of research gaps and key dialogues in the climate adaptation discourse (Annexe 1.2). By doing so, it will inform forthcoming research in the Regional Research Programme (RRP) phase.

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