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Fishermen try to control their boat amidst rough sea waters at Puri beach, Odisha. Photo: PTI

Climate action plan: TN govt has a long, arduous road ahead

Tabling a comprehensive State Action Plan would be the first important step for the Tamil Nadu government, say experts

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In its first budget, the MK Stalin-led Tamil Nadu government allocated ₹500 crore for climate action missions. It is probably the only state in the country to have allocated such a huge sum in this regard. Though it has been welcomed by a large section of society, experts suggest that the state can do more on climate change by taking the first step to publish a climate action plan.

In 2008, the then Union government had launched the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) outlining eight National Missions on climate change — solar, enhanced energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, water, sustaining the Himalayan ecosystem, Green India mission, sustainable agriculture and strategic knowledge for climate change.

On similar lines with the NAPCC, the states were asked to come up with their own State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC), in 2014. The then Tamil Nadu government, too, came up with one that year. However, it was revised in 2019. The draft plan had outlined the then capacity of the state to handle the adverse effects of climate change, fixed the goals to be achieved, and identified the gaps to be addressed to achieve the goals.

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The draft which was placed in the public domain in 2020 to receive comments from stakeholders received a lot of criticism, since it was released only in English and not in Tamil.

Draft plan key highlights

Based on the broad outlines provided by the NAPCC, the Tamil Nadu government, in its climate action plan draft, identified seven sectors which are to be revamped to address changing climate concerns. These sectors are sustainable agriculture, water resources, forest and biodiversity, coastal area management, strategic knowledge for climate change, disaster management and mitigation, and health and sanitation.

The government further said the proposed action plan would cost the exchequer nearly ₹3.2 lakh-crore over 10 years (2021-30). With the funds available from the central and state budgetary allocations standing at ₹2.2 lakh-crore, there is a gap of nearly ₹1 lakh-crore. It is not yet clear how the government will raise the funds to bridge this deficit.

Green Tribunal’s rap

On August 5, while hearing a plea regarding the failure of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to formulate the ‘State Action Plan (SAP) for Air Pollution for all 23 states’ by 2020 as envisaged in the National Clean Air Program (NCAP), the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) sought a response from Tamil Nadu on why its SAP is still pending.

“The NCAP is a statutory mandated nationwide programme aimed at preventing and controlling air pollution. The State Pollution Control Boards of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Telangana have also failed along with the CPCB in formulating the State Action Plan, thereby not adhering to the timelines or directions contained in the NCAP, which amounts to violation of Section 16(2), Section 17(1)(a) and Section 18(1)(a) and (b) of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution), Act, 1981,” the Tribunal observed.

The CPCB was to formulate guidelines for the preparation of SAP by 2019 and thereafter each state government was to formulate and implement their respective SAPs by 2020. However, the above-mentioned states failed to implement the plan.

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“Failure to meet the deadlines on the part of the Central government and the state governments will only increase the possibility of air pollution not being monitored and checked, affecting the health of the people,” the NGT added.

It had sought a reply from the three states regarding the action taken by them for preparing their SAPs, and the present stage of implementation. These should have been filed with the Tribunal by September 3. [Tamil Nadu filed the report].

“The CPCB has informed the Tribunal that it needs two more months to frame the guidelines for the preparation of an SAP. It basically means none of the governments have come out with a report,” said advocate Ritwick Dutta, who is appearing for the applicant Kankana Das, Kolkata, who filed the case.

‘Draft plan will be revised again’

Advocate M Vetri Selvan, who is also a member of Poovulagin Nanbargal, an environment NGO which is pushing for the updation of the draft plan, told The Federal that the state is taking steps to release the plan soon.

“We are pushing the government to revise the existing draft plan, since 90% of the plan needs an update. The government has said it will revise the plan very soon and release it. Given that this new government seems to have its priorities straight, we hope that they expedite the process of preparing the action plan and carry out the due diligence required to prepare such a plan. Given the recent developments (as in the case of NCAP), it only makes it all the more urgent for this plan to come out as soon as possible,” he said.

Stressing that the states should have a separate department for climate change, Anjal Prakash, research director and adjunct associate professor, Bharati Institute of Public Policy at the Indian School of Business, said the SAP should have district-level action plans.

District-level action plans

“There are greater challenges to translate the state action plan into district-level adaptation and mitigation plans. This is because the district level projections for major climate indices need to be prepared, if we do not have them already. The local level climate data must inform the developmental planning process and this is a specialised task that needs multiple disciplines to work together. So, the state agencies must work towards providing the climate change risks and projections for every district that informs the district-level action plan,” he said.

The new IPCC (The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) AR6 report has categorically said coastal states such as Tamil Nadu are at much greater risk, and the severity and intensity of cyclones are going to increase, said Prakash, who is also the author of an IPCC report on cities, settlements and key infrastructure.

“The state faces the risk of being affected by cyclones and saltwater intrusion on one side; and on the other, a significant proportion of its cultivable areas falls under semi-arid regions. IPCC reports have predicted more severe cyclones in future for coastal areas. Further, there would be frequent droughts affecting the semi-arid regions. The SAP has to first respond to these risks. Second, the state has to create a separate body to address climate change issues. This must come to the forefront in the debate,” Prakash added.

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