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Climate services constitute a critical part of climate action, especially climate change adaptation and resilience-building. As the effects of climate change worsen, the need for effectively communicating the most credible climate information to the concerned sectors and actors has assumed greater significance. Climate services are best characterised by “easily accessible, timely, and decision-relevant scientific information” that can help reduce climate variability-related losses and enhance benefits, including the protection of lives, livelihoods and property. Thus, climate services play a crucial role in coping with climate-related disasters too.


Climate services are key to decision-making in the South Asian region as it is one of the most climate-vulnerable regions in the world, with major gaps in knowledge and capacity. The countries in the region have prioritised adaptation even in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to give these goals and policies teeth, they need to develop climate services in order to deal with climate variability and build climate resilience. India could lead the process by forging regional networks and forums to strengthen climate services, by focussing on smoothening information flow and data sharing, facilitating co-production of knowledge, enhancing communication and so on.


Emphasis on Science-Policy Interface and Science Communication


As the international community moves towards a greater understanding of climate science and/or the effectiveness of climate actions with the help of scientific advances made in the field, one also needs to focus on the need for improving science-policy interface by engaging with the communities and societies that are most affected by climate change. This is where the ‘demand side’, that is, needs and expectations of the end-users ought to be integrated into climate action-related decision-making so that context-specific requirements and local knowledge are not left out. In fact, climate parameters should be tailored to the specific adaptation measures that need to be implemented at the local levels. This would also strengthen climate science through the incorporation of practical knowledge and experiences of designing and implementing adaptation measures. Hence, if for instance, the farmers or municipalities are the end-users of a particular service offered by the government(s) to address climate change, they should be engaged in its production, dispensation and appraisal. Many participatory action research tools have been developed that could also provide a huge fillip to this exercise.


Similarly, climate science communication can become more effective if there is more coordination between the forecasters and sectoral specialists/agencies who deal with climate vulnerabilities. This is critical to making climate information useful in terms of implementing climate policies and programmes. This calls for co-production, which is possibly one of the most challenging tasks in knowledge creation and analysis. Multidisciplinary groups and frameworks at all levels, including national and local, should be built into the system. This is currently lacking in most South Asian countries, especially due to differential capacities of the concerned stakeholders and conventional mode of working in silos.


India’s Prioritisation of Climate Services


India has already set foot on the path of bolstering its climate services by launching many initiatives. One such initiative is the Monsoon Mission, aimed at developing “a state-of-the-art dynamical prediction system for monsoon rainfall on different time scales.” Another notable one is the Agro-meteorological Advisory Service (AAS) provided by India Meteorological Department (IMD), Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) that assists farmers in decision-making by giving information regarding the climate and other inputs/variables. However, climate services in South Asia are still far from comprehensive and robust. This is regarded as one of the reasons for mounting losses and damages due to climate change (especially recurrent disasters) in the region, including in India. Moreover, since all South Asian countries are at various levels of development, firmly anchored in the path of economic growth, more attention needs to be paid into making the developmental patterns climate-informed and climate-sensitive for the development to be resilient and sustainable.


In such a scenario, initiatives such as the International Conference on Climate Services, which is being organised by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), under the auspices of the MoES, would help “develop connections between and among the range of actors that make up the climate services community, including those based at national and regional meteorological services, national and local governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, research institutes, and the private sector.” India is excessively reliant on many climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and water, and therefore, it is imperative for India not just to identify the gaps, but also promote collaboration and coordination among the national and regional stakeholders.


Steps in the Direction of Strengthening Climate Services


When one takes the example of the National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change of India (under the National Action Plan on Climate Change), conscious efforts have been taken by the Government of India to build capacity of institutions and harness human resources, but not much has been done to promote interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research in this field. The lack of collaborations and partnerships between the various institutions on a larger scale creates lacunae in data sharing at various levels, especially in terms of disseminating information regarding the technological or other solutions and options. Furthermore, outreach to the general public and participation of the private sector (that is now emerging as a major climate services provider in the country) requires greater attention. Science communication in this respect needs to take into consideration, the importance of not only raising awareness about issues but also making science accessible and usable to the general public, who are the end-users of climate services in most cases.


Climate services in India also require a step-up, as there are knowledge gaps as far as regional and sectoral vulnerabilities to climate change are concerned. The Climate Vulnerability Map of India is expected to be released in 2020. It is being developed under a joint project of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) under the Union Ministry of Science and Technology and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). This map based on certain indicators will help the Indian states prepare for the climate uncertainties in a much better way, taking into account multiple scenarios (involving climate change and other socio-economic indicators) and probabilistic risks associated with climate change.


New Areas for Knowledge Generation in South Asia


One of the areas in which the South Asian region needs to build its capacities is to generate knowledge on the climate fragility risks in South Asia. These include escalation of tensions due to competition over shared water resources; associated with increased mobility and economic insecurity, livelihood insecurity and rapid urbanisation; and compounding risks of crime and extremism, among others. These fragility risks are highly uncertain and unpredictable, and hence, there is a need for coordinated responses to deal with them. This is critical for designing and implementing climate adaptation measures that are sensitive to conflicts, socio-economic vulnerabilities and other security dynamics. Knowledge generation in many of these cases should be regional and not just national, as in the case of rivers that are shared by two or more countries in South Asia.


Although individual countries in South Asia have distinct problems, there are many commonalities too, particularly since they share resources such as water. Similarly, disasters such as cyclones in the Bay of Bengal region affect many countries. Yet consolidation of climate services in the region has not occurred satisfactorily due to geopolitical dynamics, resource and knowledge asymmetries, poor understanding of climate change risk perceptions (based on factors such as cultural values and socio-demographic features) and so on. Nevertheless, there are a few programmes dedicated to building capacities in South Asia such as the World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) capacity developing programme targeted at South Asia and the Third Pole, which aims at establishing Regional Climate Centres (RCCs). The South Asian Seasonal Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF), established in 2010 with the WMO’s support, has been involved in preparing seasonal climate information on a regional scale. The WMO has also initiated a forum for dealing with climate change-related health risks, particularly in relation to extreme heat events that have taken many lives across the region in the past few years. A few cities in India have local heat action plans that are currently informed by Heat Early Warning System of the IMD.


By building regional forums and networks in South Asia, different stakeholders can share knowledge about not just science, but also good practices, as well as learn lessons from each other’s experiences in the field. It is more pertinent in areas such as climate-smart agriculture and designing business models that scale up climate services. Most countries in South Asia have long coastlines as well. Therefore, a regional assessment of coastal vulnerabilities (including tropical cyclones), barriers in the implementation of coastal climate services, coastal communities’ needs etc. can be carried out. A regional approach would also give an impetus to capacity building by pooling of resources in areas such as climate change projections. This can boost regional climate diplomacy too as South Asia’s responses to climate change have so far been highly fragmented.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.