Climate Action Is Not Act Of Selflessness But Investment: Keya Madhvani Singh, ICC

Head of Engagement, Strategy, and Operations at ICC discusses climate action, communication, and inclusivity in an exclusive interview

In an insightful interview, Keya Madhvani Singh, the Head of Engagement, Strategy and Operations at the India Climate Collaborative (ICC) shares her perspectives on the urgent climate challenges facing India. From extreme heatwaves to growing energy demands, she sheds light on the pressing issues and the strategies her organisation is employing to address them. Edited excerpts from the interview. 

As the Head of Engagement, Strategy, and Operations at the India Climate Collaborative, what do you believe are the most pressing climate challenges facing India today, and what strategies are your organisation employing to address them?

India is experiencing the consequences of a warming climate, with extreme heat waves becoming more frequent and our already tropical climate becoming even hotter. Alarmingly, over 75 per cent of Indian districts are highly vulnerable to extreme weather events, exacerbating the impact on communities across the country. Simultaneously, India is still on its development journey, and with our growing population, we have large energy and infrastructure demands to meet. 

Climate action is not an act of selflessness but an investment. Capitalising on technologies of the future, investing in nature-based solutions and harnessing breakthroughs will bring in significant returns; adapting to climate impacts and protecting our most vulnerable will safeguard our country from economic shocks; and adopting greener sources of energy will clean our air and water, enhancing the health and productivity of our people.   

To propel this development, we need to mobilise adequate funding for climate-related projects and at ICC, we foster partnerships with investors, philanthropic organisations and government agencies to bridge the gap between climate finance and action. 

Given your experience in both strategic communications and climate issues, how do you approach the task of communicating complex climate challenges to a broader audience and garnering their support for meaningful action?

I believe that climate change is complex, so it is the job of communicators to build bridges of understanding. Within the Indian context, this can only be tackled if we develop a strong and unique narrative with India at its core. Similarly, the India Climate Collaborative’s communications work is focused on a set of guiding principles. We believe in being solutions-focused, presenting clear and actionable remedies to inspire hope and empower action in the face of a seemingly insurmountable crisis. Our communications need to be people-centric, emphasising the importance of local communities and their issues. It should also prioritise inclusivity, inviting diverse voices, from local communities to the private sector, to enrich the climate conversation and foster greater engagement. 

By exploring the intersectionality of climate action with India's developmental goals, such as gender equality and robust healthcare, we can communicate climate effectively and drive holistic interventions. Our aim is to make climate issues accessible to all, using simple language and breaking down complex concepts for widespread understanding. Lastly, the narratives we create should be rooted in evidence, ensuring reliable sourcing and fact-based storytelling based on the latest scientific findings.

Climate change disproportionately affects vulnerable communities. How does the India Climate Collaborative work to ensure that climate action is inclusive and considers the needs of marginalised populations?

Ans. While climate change affects everyone, its impacts are not evenly distributed. Factors like relocation, ethnicity, economic status, occupation, and religion play a crucial role in how individuals experience climate change.

For example, vulnerable populations bear the maximum brunt of disasters. Limited access to resources hampers their ability to recover from economic shocks created by climate change. Despite being vulnerable, these communities are essential agents for creating change. Their local knowledge and frontline position make them indispensable in finding solutions. 

The India Climate Collaborative (ICC) focuses on supporting vulnerable communities through various climate solutions, such as climate-smart agriculture, renewable-energy-powered livelihoods, disaster preparedness, and nature-based solutions. Although the ICC doesn't conduct groundwork, it provides critical support to non-profits working with these communities.

One such example is the Mahila Housing Trust (MHT), a grassroots development organisation in India. MHT believes that women are leaders in driving progress toward sustainable and gender-inclusive cities. Their 'Sustainable Housing Programme', in partnership with SELCO Foundation integrates sustainable housing, energy solutions and livelihoods in urban slums, with a focus on empowering women collectives. By using innovative building materials, MHT's interventions enhance resilience to heat stress, reduce indoor temperatures, lower energy needs and improve health outcomes for residents. MHT involves "most-affected" women in climate action, strengthening their grassroots institutions and building their capacity to engage in decision-making for their communities and cities.

Given the increasing climate-related risks and extreme weather events, how can India better prepare and build resilience in its infrastructure and communities?

India is experiencing a surge in climate-related disasters and extreme weather events, disproportionately impacting low-income communities in both rural and urban areas and exacerbating inequalities. Climate change is also increasing the risk of heatwaves, wildfires, and landslides, posing severe social and economic impacts, including loss of livelihoods, income reduction, and disruptions to essential services.

Building resilience to climate risks is crucial for India's most vulnerable communities, including women, children, farming, fishing, and climate-sensitive sectors. For example, on our Earth Exponential platform, our partner, Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS), in collaboration with Microsoft and technology partner Gramener, has developed a unique artificial intelligence-based risk assessment solution. This solution generates hyper-local risk information on climate-related disasters, such as floods, droughts, cyclones, and non-climatic disasters like earthquakes, that can be used as early warnings for impending disasters. By utilising high-resolution satellite imagery and open-source datasets, the system identifies socio-economically vulnerable regions to generate targeted advisories to these communities to avoid immediate losses and recommend actions to provide pre-emptive refuge to people. Additionally, the solution recommends pre-emptive refuge options for people in need.

Climate change often intersects with other social and economic issues. How can climate action be integrated into broader development goals to create a more sustainable and equitable future?

Climate change's intersection with social and economic issues necessitates integrating climate action into broader development goals to create a sustainable and equitable future. To achieve this, we must examine the connections between climate action and India's developmental priorities, such as gender equality, robust healthcare, and food systems, and ensure that climate considerations are woven into all aspects of development.

For instance, consider the agriculture and allied activities sector, which sustains nearly half of India's population. This sector is highly vulnerable to climate change, relying on stable climatic and environmental conditions like soil health, moderate temperatures, and water availability. Additionally, agriculture contributes around 14 per cent of India's total greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from methane and nitrous oxide sources.

Addressing these challenges requires innovative and inclusive climate-smart solutions that prioritise farming communities, especially small and marginal farmers. These solutions build resilience to climate risks and bring development co-benefits such as increased incomes and nutrition security while reducing the sector's greenhouse gas emissions.

By incorporating climate considerations into developmental priorities, India can create a more resilient and sustainable future that benefits all communities and mitigates the impact of climate change on vulnerable sectors like agriculture.

We also create opportunities to act on climate adjacencies across various sectors by addressing development issues. It is crucial to evolve funding approaches to incorporate these opportunities and enable grassroots organisations to navigate climate change and capitalise on climate co-benefits. Achieving co-benefits that produce multiple wins is vital, and climate change should not be an afterthought, given its impact on vulnerable populations. 

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