Data key to climate change adaptation

Data key to climate change adaptation

Every year, our farmers rely on weather advisories from the India Meteorological Department to help them decide what crops to grow in monsoon and winter season. However, in the context of changing climate, this is not enough. In order to be profitable and sustainable in the long-term, decision-makers need to factor in far longer time periods into the planning process and advise farmers to do the same.

Climate change has implications on food security, nutrition, livelihoods and the economy. Changes in temperature — even just 1° Celsius, and insufficient rainfall or extreme rainfall adversely affects agricultural yield.

With growing population and limited agricultural land, India needs to lower crop failure rates and protect livelihoods from adverse impacts of climate change. Weather advisories inform seasonal crop planning but long-term climate projections are key to modifying programmes at the central and state levels for de-risking future economic growth. With timely planning that incorporates adequate adaptation efforts, the worst impacts of climate change can be prevented so that economic growth is less vulnerable.

The first step is to understand the climate risks and formulate appropriate adaptation strategies and mainstream them into existing policies and practices.

The State Action Plans on Climate Change were initiated five years ago with an aim to demonstrate adaptation projects and help establish climate change adaptation in development policy and programmes.

Next, access to reliable data is crucial. To plan now for the next 10-20 years, decision-makers require data not only on future climate projections but also on socio-economic and developmental indicators. Typically, government departments have access only to their own data and limited or no access to relevant data from other departments. This results in adaptation activities being implemented in silos.

Even where data is available, it is often difficult to use. To truly understand data, to make sense of it, and use it to inform decisions, the modelled and raw data needs to be visualised effectively. This is where platforms like The Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (Prep) data have potential to make a difference.

The PREP is a partnership of leading research institutions, government agencies, adaptation practitioners and technology companies, working to empower communities and businesses to build resilience to climate change by improving access to data, creating best-in-class tools, and helping people navigate the complicated resilience planning landscape.

The PREP promotes open access and the provision for interoperability of data combining multiple sources of data across sectors and agencies. The platform gives decision makers access to actionable climate, physical, and socioeconomic data that allows users to explore various datasets and assemble them to create a complete picture of the situation. This is especially useful in understanding how present and future patterns could affect agricultural production.

For instance, in MP where wheat is a major crop, the user can find wheat cultivation, production and yield details, current irrigation, and future climate and water availability. A decision-maker trying to understand how climate will affect their wheat producing regions can find, overlay, and visualise all these datasets to initiate and inform planning discussions.

Rainfall projections

If increased cultivation of water-intensive crops such as paddy is a concern for a drought prone region, the decision-maker can look at rainfall projections along with projected surface run-off and ground water recharge to understand future water availability in the region.

The PREP platform hosts data for MP and will soon have datasets for Uttarakhand. The partnership aims to scale this up to other states as well. To design economically viable and socially acceptable development programmes, governing agencies must look at all data, coordinate with each other and implement mutually agreed upon plans.

If adaptation practices were to be mainstreamed into planning for future cropping patterns, the use of data modelling and visualisations would go a long way in making this happen.

Using near real-time data on indicators such as evapotranspiration and rainfall would provide information on drought and flooding conditions and support public sector agencies in forecasting annual crop production.

Aside from agriculture, departments responsible for disaster risk reduction, animal husbandry and water management could similarly use these datasets. By analysing land-use, soil, geology, watershed boundaries and future rainfall patterns, the state disaster management agencies can plan for flooding events and drought conditions and send out advisories to various departments towards planning and designing new programmes that would help reduce the impact of disasters.

In times of climate change, creative use of data has great significance in making informed decisions. With the State Action Plans on Climate Change up for revision soon, there is an opportunity to make maximum use of available data to help various departments mainstream climate change adaptation in their existing programmes.

(The writers are with WRI India’s Climate Resilience Practice)