Climate change governance at the local / district level should be collaborative, flexible, strategic and reflective, rather than a bureaucrat-controlled mission
The Tamil Nadu government July 11, 2022, announced the institution of district climate change missions (DCCM) across 38 districts in the state.
There have been negligible discussions or reactions post the announcement among citizens, experts, non-profits and the media. It is thus important to consider DCCMs in the right perspective.
There are few pertinent concerns that must be addressed without doubting the intent behind the setting up of these missions:
Role of DFOs
The DCCMs will be administered by district collectors as ‘mission directors’ according to the Government Order No. 120. District forest officers (DFOs) will function as ‘climate officers’.
Usually, all Union and state government-sponsored projects and programmes targeted at districts are administered by the district collector. Therefore, appointing district collectors as mission heads is logical except that the lack of focus may haunt the mission.
However, appointing DFOs as climate change officers has neither been scientifically considered, nor administratively thought out. Most probably, it has been hastily considered due to a truncated understanding of climate change as only an environmental problem.
Mitigating and adapting to climate change is not limited to recorded forest areas. A DFO’s direct responsibility is usually the management of the wildlife and forest area of a district.
Tamil Nadu is highly prone to extreme weather events in India. Most of its districts’ risk and vulnerability assessment have been done. For example, 22 districts in Tamil Nadu are critically water-stressed. Twelve coastal districts are prone to cyclones, sea level rise and other climate change-induced disasters.
Will it be prudent to consider DFOs as climate change officers to address these issues? Wouldn’t it be amusing to see the revenue department and forest department who are usually at loggerheads due to the encroachment of or conversion of recorded forest land for non-forest activities, working together in DCCMs?
Of course, it is absolutely arrogant and wrong to consider that district collectors or DFOs are not aware of climate change. There is no doubting the competence and efficiency of DFOs in managing, protecting and preserving forests and wildlife in designated protected areas.
Having said that, the government may consider appointing a special climate change officer with the rank of sub-collector in all DCCMs.
The intent behind DCCMs is laudable. But the devil is in the details. According to the government order, the collectors will have to prepare district-level climate change mitigation and adaptation plans, build capacity and provide inputs for low-carbon, climate-resilient development plans.
But this could make a DCCM just another usual closed-door meeting of all official representatives, with one or two known non-profits. Instead, a climate change advisory council can be formed in each district to adequately represent all stakeholders and advise the DCCMs and their plans.
One can draw lessons from and improve upon the district planning committee under Article 243 ZD of the Constitution of India.
Climate change governance at the local / district level should be collaborative, flexible, strategic and reflective, rather than a bureaucrat-controlled mission.
Then, there is the plethora of documents. Neither mainstreaming of climate change nor integration of disaster risk management have been incorporated in any district planning so far. It is mandatory to prepare a district disaster plan and an optional district environmental plan.
Can all these not be merged into a single planning document for a district? At best, can the district climate change plan accommodate the disaster and environmental plans? In all probability, there will be a high potential of friction among sectoral or departmental supremacy in addressing or not addressing climate change.
The state government aims to strengthen climate response at the grassroots through DCCMs. It has initially sanctioned Rs 3.80 crore for 38 district missions, which will function under the supervision of the Tamil Nadu Climate Change Mission and Tamil Nadu Green Climate Company.
The latter is a special purpose vehicle established to manage Tamil Nadu Climate Change Mission, Green Tamil Nadu Mission and Tamil Nadu Wetlands Mission.
Is this a pioneering decentralised model? There have been ample case studies that strict government control decentralisation planning models won’t work in addressing climate change and climate change-induced disasters.
Will the DCCMs report to the State Climate Change Steering Committee, the apex body, or the Technical Committee on Climate Change or the Mission Specific Working Groups on Climate Change under the Tamil Nadu State Action Plan on Climate Change 2.0?
Creating additional or parallel institutions under the pretext of a focused approach, without strengthening the resilient capacity of citizens, communities or capacity building of line agencies means that the efforts remain restricted to government orders.
The motive behind institutionalising DCCMs must not be only getting climate-friendly projects from both international and national industries or wooing them to invest in smart climate technology.
The DCCMs must be accessible, accountable and beneficial to people of the districts, especially the vulnerable groups including youth, women, communities depending on natural resources and elderly people. Not another ad hoc climate change board.
Avilash Roul is guest professor and principal scientist at the Indo-German Centre for Sustainability, IIT-Madras
Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth
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