It had been drizzling all day on Wednesday, October 19. Suvarna Vikas Shingda, 30, from Palghar’s Ake-gavhan village sat on the front porch of her hut. In one corner, harvested rice was stacked in piles, the cut sheaves covered with grains.
A few days prior, her neighbour had informed her that the crops in one part of her one-acre farm had been completely inundated. As soon as the rain stopped, she and her husband rushed to harvest whatever they could from the farm that they share with their large joint family. But much of it was already unrecoverable, she told us.
“We grow food for our stomach, we don’t sell it for profit,” Shingda, who belongs to the Warli Adivasi community, says. “Poor harvest means you rely on food from government ration shops or simply forget about one meal.”
In the Buldhana district of Maharashtra, Samadhan Ramchandra Dongre, 40, broke down the economics of agriculture, over a period of the last three-four months. “I invested around Rs 10,000-Rs 15,000 to sow cotton and soybean seeds in the month of June. For tilling, I employed around 50 labourers at Rs 300 per day each. For spraying pesticides, another 15 labourers at Rs 450 a day.
“If the harvest was normal, I could have made a profit of Rs 1.3 lakh this year, but the rains destroyed my crops. Last two years, we were completely shattered with unseasonal rains plus the [Covid-19] pandemic-[induced] lockdown,” he said. “I am expecting a loss of at least Rs 50,000-60,000 [in the profit I would have made].”
Around 4,500 km from where Dongre stood talking to us, in Sharm-el-sheikh, Egypt, world leaders from 193 countries will meet for the 27th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) between November 6-November 18 to discuss the plight of farmers and fisherfolk who have been reeling under heavy losses caused by weather events exacerbated due to climate change.
To what extent these discussions will result in concrete action is uncertain. But according to experts, it should lead to important discussions on who is responsible for the loss and damage caused by climate change and how to measure and quantify such losses that are both economic and non-economic. Above all, addressing these questions is an important step in acknowledging climate injustice that is faced by the likes of Shingda, Dongre and millions of others.
The push for a new stream of finance for addressing loss and damage is to acknowledge rich countries’ “accountability (to climate crisis), their obligation (to pay the climate finance) and to help the people based on their needs and rights”, said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, a network of 1,800 civil society organisations from 130 countries.
Impacting agriculture productivity
Dongre grows kharif crops – soybean and cotton – on his 16-acre farm each year. By the month of October, which is when the monsoon recedes in India, he starts to harvest the crops. But since the last few years, the receding rains have become more erratic, because of which Dongre’s harvesting cycle has been adversely impacted.
“The river swells when the rain hits, and all the water gets collected in the farms,” Dongre said. In his farm, the cotton is completely soaked in water and the soybean has started to sprout.
Dongre’s farm is located in the Motala tehsil of Buldhana district. Buldhana is part of the historically drought-prone region of Vidarbha, but since the last couple of years, it has been witnessing rainfall caused by climate change.
This part of Maharashtra has witnessed a variation in winter rainfall of over 162% between 1901 and 2015, according to this 2020 paper, meaning that the area received close to three times the expected amount of rainfall in some years. This variation is not unique to Buldhana; Saurashtra, a semi-arid region in Gujarat, saw a 174.8% variation in its winter rainfall in the same period, and the annual rainfall in this area is increasing.
“One-fourth of the Indian districts are witnessing a swapping trend – that is, traditional flood-prone areas are becoming drought-prone and vice versa. The percentage of swapping trends is far beyond that across other south Asian and Pacific countries,” said Abinash Mohanty, public policy expert in climate risks and adaptation, and a reviewer of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report on the impacts of climate change. Mohanty also worked on district-level profiling of India’s extreme weather events at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water.
Unseasonal rains in early October in North India damaged the paddy crop which was ready for harvest and will affect the next season’s wheat crop, according to Ramandeep Singh Mann, a farmer and commentator on farm issues. “There is considerable paddy yield loss in the western parts of Uttar Pradesh and in some parts of Punjab and Haryana. And if the wheat sowing is not completed before November 15, every week’s delay will cost a farmer 1.5 quintal of wheat yield in the next season,” he told IndiaSpend.
Unseasonal rains and resulting damage is aggravated by the other extreme: unseasonal hot summers. In 2022, an early and hotter than usual summer damaged the wheat crop. “Yields of wheat are 15%-50% lower than expected in Punjab because of the heat wave,” said Mann. India estimated a wheat harvest of 106.84 million tonnes, but the United States Department of Agriculture reported that the yield was closer to 99 million tonnes. This may be revised further downwards, according to Mann. “Traders (who buy wheat from the farmers) say that the number is closer to 90 million tonnes,” he said.
The loss that Dongre and Mann face reflects in microcosm how climate change is impacting livelihoods, ecosystems, infrastructure and health across the world. It cannot be avoided by merely undertaking measures to reduce greenhouse gas (termed as mitigation) or adjusting to climate change impacts (termed as adaptation), according to several studies.
According to the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, those involved in agriculture are at a disproportionately higher risk of facing the adverse consequences of global warming. The report warns that this will mean that a large number of people in Asia and Africa could slide into poverty.
Naresh Ganpat Nishkate, 40, from Ake-gavhan village said, “We eat rice three times a day – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Which is why we grow rice twice a year. For the summer crop, the land is irrigated by the Dhamni dam in Palghar, and the second crop is rain-fed.” Last year, the irrigated rice submerged completely due to Cyclone Tauktae. According to the Maharashtra government’s contingency plan for the district, the region is occasionally prone to flooding, drought and cyclone, due to its proximity to the Arabian sea.
Nishkate owns a 1.5-acre farm that is divided between siblings. “Even a small loss is significant,” Nishkate said.
It is estimated that climate change-induced loss and damage is projected to cost South Asia $518 billion by 2050, according to a 2019 study. By the end of the century, this number could jump by three times, to $1,438 billion.
All this translates into economic loss, which can be measured in monetary terms. There is also non-economic loss that cannot be defined in financial terms. Dongre, whose son is in Class XI and daughter in Class X, was saving the profit he would make on the farm to send them to town for further education. He is not sure if any of that is possible now. The financial losses he has suffered from crop damage is making schooling difficult for his children.
And then there is the issue of healthcare. “When we fall sick, we prefer taking a Rs 5 painkiller and sleeping for a few days, rather than seeing the doctor, which is expensive.”
It also causes mental and physical distress to families. In fact, a one-degree rise in temperature caused a 4.8% increase in suicide rate because of a 3.6% fall in agricultural productivity, according to a 2021 study undertaken by academics Sonal Barve, KS Kavi Kumar and Brinda Viswanathan on weather variability, agricultural productivity and farmers suicide in India.
Plight of fishers
On the coast of Maharashtra, fishers have been reeling under a similar crisis. India’s coastline has been battered by frequent and intense cyclones and torrential rains over the last few years. According to a 2019 report, India faced six severe cyclones – Fani in April, Vayu in June, Hika in September, Kyarr in October, Maha and Bulbul in October-November. In 2020, there were two other cyclones – Amphan in May and Nivar in November. In 2021, the coast witnessed Tauktae and Yaas in May, Gulab in September, Shaheen in October and Jawad in December. All of this has significantly affected fishing days and the fish catch.
“When a cyclonic depression is formed, the traditional fishing grounds keep shifting. Now, it takes longer to find and catch fish,” said Kiran Koli, secretary of the Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti, a fisher’s collective based in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. He adds that this hikes up the costs because of increased fuel consumption and other expenditure incurred by having to spend more time at sea.
Leo Colaco runs a fishing co-operative in Uttan, Mumbai. Colaco helps over 115 fishers under his co-operative in filing compensation and insurance claims, applications for loans and subsidies for their fishing businesses. “While the fresh fish yield has worsened, so has the dry fish business. This year, unseasonal rain has completely soiled the Bombay duck, sardines and anchovies put out to dry by fishers,” he said.
“Drying of fish is largely a livelihood source for women fishers,” said Koli. “While schemes and compensation broadly cover men fishers who go out to sea, the losses faced by these women are often neglected.”
The problem of women being unable to access compensation is a sticking point, for fishers and farmers alike. Suvarna Tandel, 35, is a widow and a mother of three from Ake-gavhan village. She farms on two acres of land with her extended family. When any compensation for crop damage is sanctioned, it is deposited in the account of the male members of her family. “I have to ask them when I need money for my children’s education,” she said.
Raut (first name withheld) is a talathi (a village revenue official) for Ake-gavhan village. His work includes visiting the villages when the rains wreak havoc on farms, and preparing panchnama (a record of observations) of the damaged area based on what he witnesses on the farms. Once he notes it down, he sends it to the state revenue department along with land ownership information. The state government verifies the information and deposits compensation into the bank account of the farm owner.
“There is a committee created at village level that includes me (the village revenue official), Krushi sevak (agriculture official) and the gram sevak (member of gram sabha). We have to visit the villages and supervise the percent of land that is unrecoverable and put an estimate of damage on the land. The report is then submitted to the revenue department of the state government,” said Raut. “The exact figure for loss and damage per acre varies yearly depending on the amount promised by the government in relief.”
In India, the central government and the state governments have been stepping in to cover the losses that farmers have been facing because of climate change. In September, the government of Maharashtra released Rs 3,501 crore as compensation for farmers who suffered losses during heavy rains and floods across various districts of the state in the previous three months.
These are one-time payments, made once a year, many villagers told us. The villagers have been witnessing regular loss, but the village revenue official only visited once, a few weeks back, and his observations are based on the losses that occurred during that time, they said.
IndiaSpend tried reaching out to the Palghar’s district collector’s office over the phone. We will update the story when we receive a response. We also wrote to the Maharashtra revenue department officials who provide compensation to farmers and fishers, and will update the story based on their response.
In 2016, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana or the Prime Minister’s crop insurance scheme began to cover crop losses caused by adverse weather. However, there is no equivalent scheme for the fisheries sector. Payments of claims under the crop insurance scheme have been falling since 2018-’19. “Farmers have to report the crop loss within 72 hours of incurring the loss, which makes it difficult to file a claim under the scheme,” explained Mann. The scheme is not applicable in Punjab.
For fishers, the government and public insurance companies offer group insurance to cover accidents or deaths at sea and for total destruction of fishing vessels. But the risk coverage does not match the loss of workdays, loss of fish stock, loss and damage of vessels, property, and mortality on account of adverse climatic conditions, IndiaSpend reported in October 2021.
Developing countries are ill-equipped to make up for this loss on their own, experts told IndiaSpend. The cost of loss and damage caused by extreme weather events is primarily being met by the communities and countries most impacted by climate change. But these countries are also the least responsible for global carbon emissions that are causing climate change.
While India is now the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, historically, between 1850-2019, India has contributed just 4% of global cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. The US, on the other hand, is responsible for 20.3% of cumulative greenhouse emissions between 1850-2021.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change recognises the principle of climate equity, which says that developed countries need to do more to compensate for their historical carbon emissions and to assist developing countries with their climate action.
Loss and damage
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports have established that climate change is affecting the planet in multiple ways. These include increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons, changes in rainfall patterns, intense and frequent extreme weather events, etc. According to NASA’s temperature analysis, the earth is warming up at a rate of roughly 0.15 degrees Celsius to 0.20 degrees Celsius per decade.
India is one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, with the poor being the most at risk. India suffered an income loss of $159 billion, 5.4% of its gross domestic product, due to extreme heat conditions in 2021, according to a 2022 Climate Transparency Report that is compiled by an international partnership of 16 organisations. Globally, the costs of loss and damage are projected to reach at least $1 trillion annually by 2050.
India along with other vulnerable countries have been demanding that developed countries should provide finance for the loss and damage incurred because of extreme weather events.
This is not a recent ask. It was first taken up in 1989 by leaders of small island nations who are facing an existential threat because of rising sea levels. This resulted in the Alliance for Small Island States, which first talked of “the financial burden of loss and damage” that is suffered by small island and low-lying nations. Over the years, there have been several discussions on climate induced “loss and damage”, without any concrete results.
“Loss and Damage talks officially became part of the negotiations only in the 2007 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Bali. But during the time, the discussions were largely synonymous with the language around compensation, which the rich countries have been pushing back because they feared it will prove their culpability and open litigation cases against them,” said Harjeet Singh.
Further, “in 2012, Africa was recovering from the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region, and the Philippines faced a series of cyclones, while Pakistan was reeling from the effects of devastating floods in 2010. So the issue became way beyond the small-island concern of sea level rise”, noted Singh. “This is when countries realised that they needed a system under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to deal with the humanitarian crisis exacerbated by climate change.”
In 2013, the Warsaw International Mechanism, an institutional arrangement, was established by countries to address loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change, including extreme events, such as landslides, cyclones and slow onset events, such as sea-level rise and rising temperature. This was the first tangible outcome on the loss and damage. “The language was more on action and support, which is where it was anchored for next few years,” Singh noted.
When the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, loss and damage was referred to as the “third pillar” of climate action. According to Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, signatory countries recognise “the importance of averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change,” and that they should enhance cooperation on implementing solutions. However, the Paris Agreement made no mention of any financial commitments to support countries facing significant loss and damage.
Loss and damage only developed as a significant issue at COP26, held last year in Glasgow. A network of developing countries known as the G77, and China, called for a formal ‘loss and damage finance facility’ to be set up to provide financial support to vulnerable nations. However, due to opposition from the EU, US and other rich nations, leaders failed to establish a relief fund to help developing countries deal with climate change-related loss and damage.
Even getting to the point where we are now on loss and damage has been a very arduous journey, “to make rich countries realise that they cannot avoid it anymore,” said Singh.
The pertinent questions
Any discussion on loss and damage at COP27 will need to further trickle down into what it would mean for Shingda, Dongre, Nishkate, Tandel and others like them who are at the receiving end of climate-induced loss.
“From a community perspective, we are demanding more finance for people who are facing climate impacts as the existing resources are not enough,” Singh said.
An Oxfam report released in June 2022 claimed that the UN humanitarian appeals involving extreme weather events like floods or drought is now eight times higher than 20 years ago, but donor countries are failing to keep up with that. This means that “for every $2 needed for UN weather-related appeals, donor countries are only providing $1”, the report said.
“COP26 renewed the discussions on loss and damage, but bringing consensus on the theoretical definition, the science-based linkage between loss and damage, climate change triggered extremes, and precise mapping of hard and soft losses needs urgent attention through unified institutional arrangements to mainstream loss and damage,” said Mohanty. “Loss and damage due to climate extremes is a lived reality, and some countries are witnessing existential impacts.”
In 2010, countries created the Green Climate Fund at the UN negotiations to help developing countries acquire finance for adaptation and mitigation to climate change. But under the mechanism, it takes at least a year from proposal submissions to receive first disbursement of funds, which is not an ideal choice for funds for addressing loss and damage, which is urgent, Singh argued.
Climate Action Network International, the network of 1,800 civil society organisations, is also asking for discussions around parameters to determine loss and damage. Data availability remains a big challenge to fully grasp the loss and damage incurred.
A 2012 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states that “data on disasters and disaster risk reduction are lacking at the local level, which can constrain improvements in local vulnerability reduction”. The unavailability of data at the local level, such as data on human-activities and other climate variables – precipitation and temperature changes – that can induce extreme weather events, has hindered informed planning.
“These are the kind of negotiations on loss and damage that we want,” noted Singh on the need for discussions around parameters of loss and damage, disbursement of funds between countries, channels through which the funds will be realised etc. “But when rich countries like the US, European Union and Norway continue to block them, how do we have these discussions?”
This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.