Climate change and the South Asian summer monsoon

‘South Asian monsoon variations hard to fathom’

T.V. Padma


4 July 2012 | EN

Monsoon changes due to global warming still difficult to decipher, says a review


[NEW DELHI] Understanding how the South Asian monsoon will change in response to global warming  and resolving the uncertainties in projected changes are ‘demanding tasks’ for climate science, a review says.

Current state-of-the-art general circulation models have difficulty simulating the regional distribution of monsoon rainfall, the 24 June review in Nature Climate Change says.

The vagaries of the monsoon on short- and long-term timescales impact the lives of more than a billion people in South Asia who depend on rainfall for agriculture, power generation, industrial development and basic human needs.

Authors, Andrew Turner, National Centre for Atmospheric Science-Climate, University of Reading, and Harisubramaniam Annamalai, International Pacific Research Centre, School of Ocean and Earth Science, University of Hawaii, say variations in the amount of monsoon rains in different years are low (10 per cent of the total summer rainfall).

But, variations within each season, over timescales of a few days or weeks, often have large impacts on agriculture or water supply.

“Perhaps the single biggest scientific challenge is in understanding monsoon variability at intra-seasonal timescales (several weeks), the so-called active and break events in the monsoon, and how they will change in the future,” Turner told SciDev.Net.

They “are poorly understood and difficult to predict,” he said.

The review also describes observed changes to monsoon rainfall over the second half of the 20th century such as an unprecedented rise in greenhouse gases and aerosols (tiny suspended particles in the air, such as sulphates from industry or soot from cook stoves).

Models linking monsoon responses to global warming suggest a rise in monsoon rainfall, but there is a high degree of uncertainty in these projections. Observations from data sets from most areas indicate a declining trend or no change in monsoons, contrary to the projected rise.

Turner explained that there could be reasons for the mismatch between observed and projected monsoon rainfall trends.

Increases in aerosols from pollution since the 1950s may be absorbing the sun’s radiation reaching the earth, impacting temperature differences over land and sea and, in turn, the monsoon.

Other possible factors include the effects of land-use change (the impact of the green revolution and massive expansion in irrigation in northern India, for example), or natural decadal variations in the rainfall, he said.

The review also highlights the need for reprocessing data, consistent data sets and a better understanding of the physics and complex dynamics behind monsoon circulation.

Co-author Annamalai told SciDev.Net that “as far as the Indian monsoon rainfall data goes, it is mostly about data processing techniques.”

When data from observing stations is projected or mapped into regular latitude and longitude grid points, different research groups employ different techniques, he explained.

“It is unclear how many ‘true observed station rainfall data’ go into each and every grid,” Annamalai said.

Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture: A Real Alternative to False Solutions

Climate resilient sustainable agriculture: a real alternative to false solutions
Author(s): Youjin Chung, Christina Billingsley
Source: ActionAid International
Publication Date: 01/06/2012

ActionAid believes that agroecology-based Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture (CSRA) is an effective way to respond to both the climate and food crisis. CRSA proposes to overcome the gaps of contemporary mitigation and adaptation programmes in agriculture by bringing to the fore the actual priorities, needs, and knowledge of farming communities themselves. CRSA prioritises the right to food, environmental conservation, and long-term community resilience in order to reduce food insecurity at the local level, and contribute to effective national and international climate change policies that support self-sufficiency and sustainability in agricultural systems worldwide.
However, rich countries and multilateral agencies are turning a blind eye to the potential of agroecology as a long-term strategy to tackling climate change. Instead, they are promoting “false solutions”– in the form of biofuels, carbon markets, and soil carbon sequestration which comes packaged with “Climate-Smart Agriculture” – to shift their responsibility and mitigation burden onto poor countries and communities.
In short, this document illustrates the relationship between climate change and agriculture; review and demonstrate how current climate change policy responses fall short of addressing the realities of poor rural farmers who are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change; and paint an alternative way forward by defining CRSA and suggesting recommendations to national governments.

The Per Capita Myopia:The Politics Of Climate Change And The Global Crisis- Mortgaging Our Future

The Per Capita Myopia

Praful Bidwai
Green prophet Praful Bidwai Photo: Shailendra Pandey

Praful Bidwai brings lucid scholarship and a fresh perspective to issues of climate change, says Nagraj Adve

THERE ARE two dominant trends in literature among those who agree that global warming is ongoing and serious: those who think, wrongly, that technological solutions will work in isolation (George Monbiot’s Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning; Mark Lynas’ The God Species); and those who root the climate crisis in the workings of the capitalist system (John Bellamy Foster’s Ecology Against Capitalism; Joel Kovel’s The Enemy of Nature; Jonathan Neale’s Stop Global Warming: Change the World). Praful Bidwai falls in neither.

He does underline energy efficiency in a whole range of applications, and devotes a chapter to the recent flowering of renewable energy in many countries, but he is no technophile. Combating climate change is for him “in the last analysis… about transforming the existing relations of power”. He also mounts a multifaceted critique of India’s changing climate stance, its linkages with our foreign policy and big power ambitions, our energy policies, and offers informed, detailed alternatives. By doing so, he has initiated a third approach, in the Indian context. On the other hand, while he does discuss capitalism’s recent neoliberal avatar and its connections with climate change, and transborder production and globalisation, the book ignores capitalism’s essential logic, which is one of growth, accumulation, profits and the drive to avail of the cheapest input costs, particularly labour and raw material. In the former lies the book’s strengths; in the latter, its main, significant weakness.

The book offers a four-pronged critique of dominant approaches to climate issues: one, of “limited” per capita notions of equity favoured by the Indian government; the alternatives it discusses include, importantly, equity within nations, something that some non-governmental actors also miss out. Two, of reliance on the market. Three, the crafting of India’s climate policy and negotiations as completely elitist and non-participatory, a criticism that also holds for the formulation of climate action plans currently underway in many states. And four, a critique of many of the eight missions of the National Action Plan on Climate Change.

He proffers, in its stead, energy planning models that are decentralised, flexible and ecologically sound. Practical alternatives are presented — more public transport, water-saving measures such as the system of rice intensification, the varied uses of biomass — and, at another level, the potential offered by the remarkable rise of new renewable energy over the past 10 years, particularly wind and solar photovoltaic. He also discusses six categories of alt ernative proposals regarding climate negotiations, of which the most interesting, he suggests rightly, is the Greenhouse Development Rights framework for it imposes obligations on the rich regardless of their nationality. But how some of the visions he discusses will see light of day — particularly in the absence of adequate popular pressure in the four largest emitting countries, China, the US, Russia and India — is moot, a dilemma he’s alive to. Given the urgency of global warming, what is feasible and how quickly we can turn things around — considering the inherent logic of capitalism and its intensification worldwide — is one that he chooses to ignore.

Notwithstanding that, this is a superb book. Bidwai brings lucidity, breadth of knowledge and scholarship to a wide range of issues, some of which include positions mirrored by activist organisations in India: the myth that nuclear power is a panacea for climate change; the many dangers of market mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism; that much of what the Indian government claims as adaptation is merely a repackaging of existing programmes; the hazardous advocacy of large dams and river-linking within the National Water Mission; the need for a more decentralised generation and use of energy, particularly in villages that have no electricity, etc. This book is essential reading for a wide audience even beyond those engaged with climate change. For it to reach them, a cheaper paperback edition would be handy.

Adve is a Delhi-based activist

The Politics Of Climate Change And The Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future
The Politics Of Climate Change And The Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future
Praful Bidwai 
Orient BlackSwan 
392 pp; Rs 750

Water Options for India in a Changing Climate

SANDRP new report on

Water Options for India in a Changing Climate


On the eve of the World Water Day 2012, the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP) is happy to publish its new report: Water Sector Options for India in a Changing ClimateThe report highlights that for the poorest sections, also most vulnerable in the climate change context, the water, food, livelihood and energy security, closely linked with the environment security, is already getting severely affected in the changing climate. It is well known that water is the medium through which climate change impacts are most dominant. South Asia is considered possibly the most vulnerable region in terms of number of people that would be affected by climate change impacts, and within South Asia, India has the largest vulnerable population. The importance of understanding the Water Sector Options in such a situation cannot be underestimated. The report highlights the options for coping and mitigating climate change challenges in water sector in India.


This report tries to capture the relevant issues for Indian Water Sector in the context of changing climate. The 93+ix page report divided in 12 chapters (including on Rainfall, Himalayan Glaciers, Groundwater, Rivers, Floodplains, Wetlands and water bodies, Big Water Infrastructure, Agriculture, Urban water options and Positive local water adaptation cases). It includes a case study each on Organic Farming (by Shripad Dharmadhikary) and on Forest-Agriculture settings in Western Ghats (by Dr Latha Anantha and S Unnikrishnan).


The report concludes that Climate change offers a unique opportunity to revisit our water resources development and management Plans, policies and practices. It also provides an opportunity to learn lessons from past approaches to development and management in a credible way. The purpose for a revamped water management strategy in changing climate could be that of equitable, sustainable, participatory, decentralised, democratic and transparent approach to water management; an approach based on sound knowledge and data to make decisions. Further, this approach would need to include a protection strategy for the rivers, forests, wetlands, water bodies, biodiversity, critical ecological habitats and groundwater reserves, as well as demand side management measures, along with a definition of the clear linkages between these domains. In water scarce situations, all demands cannot be sacrosanct, and there is a need to prioritise the just use of water with right based approach that includes right to drinking water, livelihoods and health. The final chapter gives a list of recommendations in this context.


The opportunities provided by climate change are still within reach. India, with the world’s largest water infrastructure also has the biggest performance deficit in terms of what that infrastructure can deliver and what it is delivering now. Groundwater is India’s water lifeline and opportunity beckons to make it sustainable, in the changing climate when demands and losses would go up. Our foodgrains requirements and water for the same would go up, but there are huge opportunities like increasing soil moisture holding capacity, taking up chauka systems in grazing lands, organic farming, System of Rice Intensification, also applicable to other crops on the one hand and water saving crops like millets on the other. Glaciers aremelting, the IPCC glacier-gate notwithstanding, but we have the options of creating large number of local storages and also using underground aquifer storage space. Urban water demands are going up and will put greater pressures in future, but we also have the slew of hardly explored options including local water harvesting, protection of local water systems, achieving proper sewage treatment and recycling, participatory governance, among others.


Some of the sections of Indian population that are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change in the context of water and agriculture include: farmers dependent on rainfed agriculture, coastal populations, communities from Himalayas, Eastern & Western Ghats, Fisher-folks, Adivasis, Dalits, Rural populations, Urban Poor and Women. Any climate action needs to begin with identifying and listing such sections and than proceeding to prepare plans in a participatory way that would reduce their vulnerabilities through mitigation and adaptation. India’s National Action Plan for Climate Change, or the National Agriculture and Water Missions do not take this first crucial step and hence have remained directionless, ineffective and have not inspired much confidence.


Are we using these options and opportunities? If we go by the contents of the National Action Plan for Climate Change, National Water Mission, National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, National Mission for Himalayan Ecosystems and also the 12th Plan documents, including the direction of 12th Plan indicated in the Union Budget for 2012-13, the answer is, unfortunately, in the negative. But we hope better sense prevails and the existing opportunities and options also highlighted in this report would be given heed to.


The World celebrates March 22 as the World Water Day, following the recommendation of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). As the World prepares for the Rio + 20 conference in Brazil later this year, the theme of the World Water Day 2012 is Water and Food security (see: In reality, there is a close nexus between water, food, energy and environment security. The Bonn meeting organised in Nov 2011 (see:, floated the theme that there is a nexus between water, food and energy security. This was welcome, but it forgot to add the crucial fourth leg of this nexus, namely ENVIRONMENT SECURITY, without which none of the other three pillars are secure. The India Water Week 2012, to be held during April 10-14, 2012 with theme (Water, Energy and Food Security Call for Solutions, see: almost identical to that of Bonn conference, also needs to remember not to forget the fourth leg of this nexus. Truly democratic governance holds the key to address these issues.


The soft copy of the report is available at:, the executive summary of the report is available at: The Hard copy of the report can be ordered by writing to

Himanshu Thakkar (

Ph: 27484655/ 9968242798

Land ownership boosts climate resilience in India

Ms. Manipadma Jena’s story on whether owning land equips small farmers in India with more resilience to climate change impacts.

Despite water shortages, Chilipoi village women with their own small homestead plots are able to grow enough vegetables to feed their families. ALERTNET/Manipadma Jena

GANJAM, India (AlertNet) – Efforts to secure land ownership for tribal people in one of India’s poorest states are bolstering their economic security in the face of climate-induced hardships, and helping conserve farmland and forest.
In the hamlet of Kharibandh in Ganjam, a coastal district in the eastern state of Orissa (now officially called Odisha), 13 households of the Sabar tribal community each received title to 400 square metres (0.1 acres) of government land two years ago. The families had lived in Kharibandh for three generations, but had no legal right to the land.

Today, Rabibari Sabar, a 51-year-old widow, pedals vigorously on a foot pump to pipe pond water into her plot of seasonal vegetables interspersed with coconut and papaya trees. As well as feeding her family, she earned 1,500 rupees ($30) last year selling tubers and spinach from her homestead farm to neighbouring villagers.

“Simply owning legal documents to the property has brought about amazing motivation and socio-economic transformation,” says Nakula Sarbar, who works with the Rural Development Institute (RDI), a non-governmental organisation based in the state capital, Bhubaneswar. “What was grazing ground and paddy-threshing yard has now been converted into a virtual lifeline during the frequent crop failures.”

The RDI helped tribal families in Kharibandh apply for their plots under the Orissa government’s Vasundhara (“possessor of wealth”) scheme for distributing land to landless rural families. Tribal people make up about 22 percent of the state’s population, nearly three times the national average.

More than four out of five of Orissa’s inhabitants live in rural areas, with the majority earning a livelihood from small-scale agriculture.

The occurrence of droughts and floods in the state has almost doubled since 1999, and their intensity has increased – a trend experts believe is driven by climate change. Farmers who were already struggling have been hit hard by the extreme weather.

“In 2010, some paddy had been harvested and left in the field to dry while the rest was being cut, when unexpected rains in October flooded this region for eight days, and swept away the season’s entire produce,” says Binaya Kumar Das, a revenue official who settles land titles in the area.


Sanjoy Patnaik, RDI’s director in Orissa, underscores the economic vulnerability of farmers who do not own their land.

“(With) farmland leasing being banned under Orissa’s land laws, sharecroppers have no buffer against climate contingencies – the owner gets all the compensation,” says Patnaik.

But in cases where former sharecroppers have title to their land, “these farmers now get cash compensation of Rs 8,000 to 10,000 ($160-200) for each seasonal crop loss (and) that is happening almost every year now – a crucial benefit they could not access previously,” says Das, the revenue official who deals with land titles.

When crops fail and sharecropper farmers have little choice but to borrow cash to feed their families and restart production, interest rates on loans, even from relatives, can be as high as 36 percent annually, while money lenders charge even more.

Land titles, however, enable farmers to take out loans from state-run banks with much lower interest rates, Das said.

In Chilipoi village, 20 km from Kharibandh, 39 households of the Sauntia tribal community displaced by a dam project 38 years ago had their applications for homestead land approved in 2010. Their one-hectare farmland titles are in the final stages of being processed.

Chilipoi suffers from chronic water shortages because of its position on slightly raised ground. “It’s tough to pull up water (from) 20 feet below and carry buckets from the two wells to vegetable gardens and paddy farms farther away,” complains 65-year-old Arakhita Pradhan.

But the farmers’ land ownership papers will make them eligible for a 50 percent government subsidy on a bore well, Das said. And a third of Chilipoi’s households have already moved from mud huts into safer concrete homes, which they are entitled to as landowners under a federal housing scheme for the rural poor.


While Orissa’s economy has grown nearly 10 percent annually over the past five years, the benefits have not reached everyone. Monthly per capita expenditure, an important indicator of poverty, is Rs 551 ($11), among the lowest in the country, according to government statistics.

But land ownership could help change that. In the past, most men in Kharibandh migrated to Mumbai for six months of the year to find construction work. Today, just two villagers are working in the city temporarily. And as families stay together, their children’s school attendance is increasing too.

“The rural poor have more at stake in their farmland when they own it – an emotional attachment that holds them back from migrating,” says Kailash Chandra Dash, executive director of the Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC), an NGO that works on climate change and land rights.

Rabibari Sabar’s son, for example, now earns Rs 3,000 ($60) per month as a school teacher in a nearby village, thanks to the land title that acknowledges his tribal status and gave him access to jobs reserved for tribal community members.

His mother, meanwhile, has invested in her garden. Apart from spending two hours a day tending crops, the village women have formed self-help collectives to produce organic fertiliser by putting vegetable peelings into pots containing earthworms.

“Where farmers do contract farming, loading the soil with chemical fertilisers to maximise output is common. But when they own the land, practices are much more sustainable,” says RCDC’s Dash.


There are also hopes that obtaining land titles for communities living on forest land could improve their lives and management of that resource as well.

In western Orissa’s Bolangir district, collectives of indigenous peoples are developing a forest conservation project they hope will ultimately generate income under the U.N. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme, which aims to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests.

The Orissa pilot programme covers 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of forest, including 33 villages and 15,000 tribal people.

According to Ghasiram Panda, who is overseeing the project for RCDC, 31 of the 33 villages have been working with government agencies for more than 10 years to preserve their forests. They are now seeking legal ownership of the land under a 2006 law relating to the land rights of forest-dwelling communities.

Panda is cautiously optimistic about the project’s prospects of generating revenue from the sale of carbon credits.

“Our programme is community-centric, to help forest communities to manage forests sustainably, grow biomass and preserve biodiversity (such as) endemic, rare species and thereby derive more non-timber forest products,” says Panda.

“These activities will automatically develop a more substantial carbon sink; income from sequestering carbon would be a co-benefit,” he adds.

India’s REDD+ framework is still evolving, and RCDC is working with Plan Vivo, a UK-based non-profit organisation that will assess the project and may award credits according to the amount of carbon emissions it reduces.

“If villagers can claim ownership, collectively and individually, over surrounding forest resources, they will have a greater incentive to protect, preserve and use the resources in the most optimum manner. We will see reforestation, not deforestation,” says Barun Mitra, director of Liberty Institute, a property rights think tank in New Delhi.

“After all, people (will) not kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” Mitra said.

Manipadma Jena is an environmental journalist based in India. She can be reached This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.

“It rains in the village, but fields remain dry”


A farmer on the outskirts of the National Capital Region of Dichaun Kalan Village inspecting his spoilt wheat crop following an unseasonal downpour which lashed the northern parts of the country. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar.
The HinduA farmer on the outskirts of the National Capital Region of Dichaun Kalan Village inspecting his spoilt wheat crop following an unseasonal downpour which lashed the northern parts of the country. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar.

Small farmers and crop production are under stress in the face of climate change

The impact of climate change is unfolding at a pace that is much quicker than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stated a new research study released here in the Capital recently.

The study conducted by Action Aid with Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, further stresses that more than 80 per cent of farmers in India, who are mainly small and marginal farmers and contribute about 50 per cent of the total crop production of the country, will be the most affected by the changing climate.

The study was shared and deliberated upon at a national consultation on Climate Change and Agriculture – Adaptation and Mitigation by Small and Marginal Farmers organised in the Capital.

“The pattern of rainfall has changed and it is so scattered that at times it rains in the village but fields remain dry.

The rainfall pattern was not like this about 10-15 years ago, and we are unable to understand it,” said Birendra Sahariya, 40 year old farmer from Sipri village in Lalitpur District of Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh who was in Delhi to share his testimony.

“In the 1980s we started using chemical fertilisers and pumping up water from the ground. But these technologies have only put our land under stress and our livestock are also facing shortage of fodder because of this,” he added.


“I have lost everything due to changing weather and government programmes that are there require huge investment. One of my sons committed suicide unable to pay back a loan of Rs. 2 lakh. I had to sell my ancestral house, ox, cows and sheep to repay this loan,” said a woman farmer Laxmi, 48, from Pathakotha Cheruvu (Guntakal)village, Ananthpur District of Andhra Pradesh. “My younger son has gone to Tirupati as a daily wage labourer, as he does not want to get into this trap like his brother,” she adds. The Action Aid study noted that after the nutrient based subsidy scheme was introduced and manufacturers were given a free hand to fix the price, the cost of fertilisers except urea has increased by more than 300 per cent.

Despite this, there is an increased dependency on chemical fertilisers to meet the soil fertility needs, given the emphasis on the chemical fertiliser-intensive Green Revolution model.

“The small and marginal farmers who are the largest food producers of our country can only sustain their production system if the policies and practices on climate resilient sustainable agriculture is widely adopted,” said Amar Jyoti Nayak of Action Aid India.

According to various estimates, it is suggested that agriculture in India contributes around 25-30 per cent of national Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and contributes to a huge ecological loss in terms of increased soil and water pollution with nitrates.

“In this context, the role of small and marginal farmers calls for due attention by the policy makers,” said Sandeep Chachra of Action Aid India.

“Almost 80 per cent of our farmers, categorized as small and marginal land holders are dependent on rain for their agricultural operations and cannot afford the cost of inputs of the Green Revolution model. They can bring in climate resilient agricultural system which will not only contribute to adaptation but will go a long way to mitigate the climate crisis,” he added.

Climate change to affect small farmers: ActionAid

Submitted by admin4 on 28 February 2012 – 6:50pm


New Delhi : More than 80 percent small farmers, contributing to half of India’s crop production, will be affected by climate change, which is impacting faster than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says a recent study.

The study, conducted by ActionAid and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, was released Tuesday.

“Around 80 percent of small and marginal farmers who contribute about 50 percent of the total crop production will be the most affected by the changing climate,” said the study.

The study was was shared and deliberated upon at a National Consultation on Climate Change and Agriculture – Adaptation and Mitigation by Small and Marginal Farmers.

Birendra Sahariya, 40, a farmer from Sipri village in Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh, was in Delhi to share his testimony.

“The pattern of rainfall has changed. It is so scattered that at times it rains but fields remain dry. The rainfall pattern was not like this about 10-15 years ago, and we are unable to understand it,” he said.

Stating that he lost everything due to changing weather, Sahariya said one of his sons committed suicide as he was unable to pay back a loan of Rs.2 lakh.

The cost of fertilisers, except urea, has increased by more than 300 percent after the nutrient based subsidy scheme was introduced and manufacturers were given a free hand to fix the price, the study noted.

Despite this, there is increased dependency on chemical fertilisers to meet soil fertility needs, given the emphasis on the chemical fertiliser-intensive green revolution model.

“The small and marginal farmers who are the largest food producers of our country can only sustain their production system if the policies and practices on climate resilient sustainable agriculture is widely adopted,” said Amar Jyoti Nayak of ActionAid India.