Poverty alleviation needs to be at the centre stage of climate action. SELCO Foundation’s Sustainable Energy Led Climate Action Program (SELCAP) acts on this philosophy to come up with solutions that help India meet both its poverty alleviation and climate action goals.
For the 1.4 billion people currently living in poverty, lack of access to education, healthcare, livelihoods and infrastructure increases their vulnerability to conflict, sickness, drought, and unemployment. Climate change, a growing body of evidence confirms, is likely to exacerbate these gaps. Yet current development strategies fail to tackle the associated risks that undermine efforts to eradicate multidimensional poverty. This could push millions more into generational vulnerability. For this population to develop and meet their needs, in a climate resilient manner, for well-being, health and livelihood, new energy pathways need to be designed.
SELCO Foundation and the Sustainable Energy led Climate Action Program (SELCAP) present a few easy methods that countries and development practitioners can adopt and scale for improving adaptation and mitigation to climate change. The SELCAP program calls for climate action that applies an ‘optimised development’ approach, prioritising access to clean, affordable sustainable energy (SDG 7) as a means of lifting people out of poverty in ways that support mitigation of and adaptation to climate change (SDG 13).
The following are some of the key takeaways from the report which can inform design and implementation of climate action strategies:
- Individuals and communities’ capacity to cope with climate variabilities is dependent on the services, opportunities and institutions available to them:
As the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted individuals across the globe, each individual was impacted differently, based on their exposure to the disease, their vulnerability and the social structure around them. Similarly, with the climate crisis already at our doorstep, vulnerable and marginalised communities bear the brunt of the same on an everyday basis and, more often than not, disproportionately. The crisis isn’t far, it is in the present and impacting their lives and livelihoods leaving them with no safety nets to cope or rebuild.
If we use the analogy of the much loved children’s board game, snakes and ladders, snakes represent several shocks and stresses that negatively impact our health, well-being, and livelihood. Ladders are opportunities available to us, such as the education system, health infrastructure, technology and knowledge systems, livelihood opportunities, financial ecosystem which allow for future investments, policies that account for externalities. For vulnerable communities, their paths are laid with more snakes than ladders. Over the past few decades, systems for innovation that allow for creation of more opportunities and safety nets have been skewed towards the more developed parts of society. However, for less secure and vulnerable communities, the risks (or snakes) are being amplified due to climate change, and lesser and lesser systems are available for them to be able to bounce back from climate-related shocks. This shows that obstacles are growing while opportunities are reducing. It is apparent that climate change is a serious threat to poverty eradication. Sadly, current development strategies tend to overlook climate risks inherent to our developmental strategies.
- Energy is necessary for adaptation. Nevertheless, inefficient tech can result in increasing emissions and pushing the poor further down into climate-crisis accelerated poverty traps
Due to a lack of energy driven innovation, the use of energy can result in un-optimized and inefficient solutions which result in higher expenses and a larger burden on the poor. Current approaches to developmental needs, when not seen through an energy lens can themselves become climate risks. In a developing country like India, which has historically been a low-emission country, energy is intrinsically linked to development. With the country’s steep development curve, the rate of emissions is only going to increase, unless emission-free development pathways are followed. Additionally, the country needs to promote technology adoption for adaptation and social development- whether its upgrading health centres with efficient medical services (all resulting in higher energy requirements) or promoting irrigation systems and other key technologies for improving efficiency of agriculture.
With the mercury rising ever higher with every subsequent summer, poorly-designed houses (which also serve as work spaces for many poorer households, for example, home based food processing units, tailoring units or craft units, and street vendors are common across the country) capture heat and increase the temperature inside homes by 3-5°C. In some cases, in addition to building an envelope that captures heat, heat producing activities such as heavy machineries, cooking or furnaces, further exaggerate the impact. With increasing heat stress across the globe, more and more workers have been losing their productive hours. This has resulted in increased dependence on technology and energy for relief, and thus is a future source for increased climate emissions. Studies show how the poorest pay three times more for energy than the richest. Many of these calculations don’t account for opportunities lost or indirect costs of expensive and unreliable energy. Unlike large-scale, capital-intensive energy transition plans which run in isolation, SELCAP focuses on presenting sustainable energy solutions which promote adoption on the ground by individuals, institutions and businesses.
- Proper implementation of SDG 7 results in both adaptation and mitigation targets- stakeholders need to see this link
The scope of sustainable energy driven interventions in adaptation programs is not completely understood by stakeholders. A brief landscape analysis done by SELCAP showcases how sustainable energy interventions, in most cases when seen as adaptation, is linked to lighting and water pumping only. Many times, this is not seen in conjunction with other key adaptation activities around sustainable farming and food security. While the role of sustainable energy has definitely been identified broadly, further awareness and capacity building are the needs of the hour.
Showcasing more seamless ways of converging the adaptation and mitigation portfolios via sustainable energy, could potentially transform the way solutions are being deployed currently. For example, in the case of agriculture, SELCAP showcases how sustainable energy solutions for inputs and on farm activities (on farm bio-fertiliser manufacturing coupled with sprayers, and water pumps integrated with water management practices) for sustainable farming, along with post-harvest management and agri-processing (cold storage units, pulpers, juicers, graders, hullers, pulverizers etc.) for food security, could result in meeting both adaptation and mitigation targets.
This report covers solutions which allow for Decentralised Renewable Energy integration across various sectors and programs. Specifically in the sectors of agriculture, animal husbandry, health and cooling.
In drought prone regions, dependency on livestock for livelihood has been increasing- a way for farmers to diversify. But animals in drought prone regions face heat stress, and expenses of farmers increase in order to provide green fodder to the animals. Hydroponics, as a technology, is being adopted by dairy farmers (with herd size as small as 3-5 cows) in India to produce green fodder. It uses 1/6th of the water, and is proving to be cost effective with the right financial model. (SELCAP Solution)
- Climate financing needs to build an enabling environment for sustainability and not look at stop-gap solutions
The focus for technology innovation for climate action has been primarily driven by identifying key polluting practices and technical solutions to mitigate the same. This has resulted in programs being driven from the top, and to be focused on technology adoption. However, it was found that there was often little acknowledgement or assessment of where the gaps in the ecosystem lay, which inhibited the individual’s capacity to invest in sustainable solutions. These gaps could be in:
- Innovation of appropriate/ use-case specific technologies
- Financing which allows for the poor to invest in technology driven solutions which are cheaper in the long run
- Capacity building and skilling on business models that allow for individuals to benefit from the impact of technology driven solutions
The report presents concrete examples to bust the myth that communities are unwilling to invest in climate smart solutions. SELCO Foundation has worked with several financial institutions (Regional Rural banks, Public Banks, Micro Finance Institutions, Cooperatives etc) to unlock financing for over 10,000 micro entrepreneurs and marginalised individuals to adopt sustainable energy solutions. The solutions presented in SELCAP, map out the ecosystem that allows for technology innovations with a need-based approach, while also presenting financial models in a manner that prioritise supporting development of the ecosystem around a solution.
- The last mile should be the first mile in priority mapping- DRE to lead to decentralisation of services and solutions
All of the 20 solutions presented in the SELCAP point towards the importance of decentralisation in overall community development, while also providing a economically feasible model to achieve that development through sustainable energy.
Decentralised Cold Storage Units empowers small farmers, creates local market opportunities, reduces food wastage, and most importantly increases savings for farmers. Building an ecosystem that allows for adoption of such infrastructure creates safety nets for communities- while being powered by sustainable energy. (SELCAP Solution)
In the central Indian state of Jharkhand, a Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO) invested in a standalone solar powered five metric tonnes cold storage system. This has saved the FPO 150 metric tonnes of wastage per year. It has also increased the farmer’s income by nearly 10percent. Additionally, cold storage has given farmers the ability to store their produce locally, build their capacity through post-harvest management and overall, have a better hand while dealing with various market forces.
India’s total cold storage requirement is estimated to be 62 million metric tonnes. This is primarily centralised, high on investment and hard to access by small farmers. SELCAP introduces an alternate decentralised approach which is benefiting FPOs and small farmers across the country. It proposes using the power of decentralised renewable energy to power smaller scale cold storage units. These units improve access, reduce investment cost and make it possible for farmers to own and operate such tech-driven solutions. The farmers also see great savings from reduced transportation costs and food wastage. Their incomes also see an increase as a result of better market negotiation opportunities. The SELCAP report states that in addition to boosting the agricultural economy for the marginalised farmer, this approach can reduce almost 34,000 GWh energy units per year.
As of today, targets and indicators for climate action programs listed under SDG 13 focus on financing, policy and human resources. In turn, sustained climate action that leads to new and inclusive development strategies for the most vulnerable requires that multiple stakeholders converge their climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. SELCO Foundation, through the SELCAP report presents an approach that allows for this to be achieved in the short run through sustainable energy that fits within the purview of SDG7.
SELCAP calls on government bodies and institutions, non-governmental organisations, incubators, and investors and philanthropists to align their priorities to ensure that the most vulnerable become active members of sustainable societies in which resilient livelihoods support health and well-being. Without such alignment, rising carbon emissions are likely to result in increased income disparity, failing to achieve the stated goals of a just, clean energy transition.
Read the complete report here.
(The article has been first published on LinkedIn on Nov 21 2022)