Communities take Charge to
Combat Climate Change

The Community Led Assessment, Awareness, Advocacy and Action Programme (CLAP) for Environment Protection and Carbon Neutrality in the state of Himachal Pradesh was launched with the vision to develop Himachal Pradesh as the first climate-resilient state. The initiative is to mobilise the community responsibility for environmental assessment, environment protection and carbon neutrality. CLAP is an initiative of the Department of Environment, Science and Technology, Government of Himachal Pradesh in association with Development Alternatives. It is a unique programme that enables grassroots civil society to respond to climate change through community led processes.

The programme approach being followed is that of 4 As – Assessment, Awareness, Advocacy and Action – where the communities themselves assess their environment quality. The findings are disseminated in an endeavour to promote awareness on the environment and its impacts on the lives of the communities. Advocacy efforts are taken up both horizontally to the community to adopt good practices and vertically to the administration and government to facilitate change by influencing policy, thereby together leading up to action across different levels through convergence of efforts.

The CLAP programme is being implemented across all the 12 districts and 77 developmental blocks of Himachal Pradesh, covering more than 1000 panchayats. Programme activities at the local level are spearheaded by a core network of more than 60 local NGOs that, in turn, closely engage with a larger secondary network of mahila mandals, youth groups and communities in each of the 1000 panchayats. This network engages with the parallel network of panchayats and district administrations in each of the districts for advocacy and action.

The NGO network has been trained on assessing the state of the environment at the local level and engaging with the community, panchayat and local administration for undertaking awareness and advocacy for catalysing the response action. While the core NGO network is already actively involved in programme processes, the secondary network of mahila mandals and youth groups are being brought into the fold gradually as implementation is taken up in new panchayats. The formation of multi-stakeholder networks at the grassroots level provides the opportunity for different communities to learn from each other and the sharing of experiences to strengthen their adaptive potential.

Under the programme, NGOs facilitate the communities to assess and track their carbon footprint through participatory stakeholder-based techniques. The assessment makes use of tools such as FGDs and PRAs to garner primary information from the communities about the practices being adopted locally with respect to a variety of themes such as agriculture, energy consumption, waste management, etc. Also being considered under the assessment are the identified sectors that are largely impacted by practices adopted and choices made by the communities so as to help them prioritise the actions to reduce their sector-wise carbon footprint. Adoption of participatory processes for assessment promotes active dialogue on climate change and environment-related issues, enabling an environment conducive to making informed choices and decisions.

The primary data is analysed in conjunction with the available secondary data. The communities are also directly engaged in assessing their air and water quality through empirical tests using simple environment monitoring kits such as Jal-TARA and Pawan-TARA. Based on the assessment findings, eco-cards are generated that document the baseline carbon-footprint of the community, environment quality in the region and the climate friendliness and adaptive potential of practices adopted by the community. The eco-cards serve the purpose of report cards and have been designed as a simple communication tool to convey to a grassroots audience the concept of carbon footprint, its links to the environment and how our actions impact it directly as well as indirectly. Besides scientific environmental tracking, the eco-cards serve the dual purpose of sensitisation of community and as an advocacy tool to engage with the local government to seek support for adaptation and mitigation action. The community is thus engaged in a constant quest for improvement in its environmental performance measured against its own baseline conditions to catalyse further action and scale up.

Local communities, being co-opted in the process of assessment, are being able to identify with the assessment results and, therefore, are more proactive in initiating ameliorative action at the local level. The scientific basis of the assessment, based as it is on rigorous analysis, empirical tests and judicious use of secondary and primary data, endows credibility to the assessment findings so that it can be used to provide policy guidelines and strategies for resource allocation and, thus, assist in logical and information based decision-making on state environmental action planning.

The initiative, in its design and approach, consciously follows the tenet of dove-tailing with the existing institutionalised processes of local development planning for environmental mainstreaming. Advocacy is thus undertaken in conjunction with the Gram Sabha meetings so as to effectively engage with the panchayats. The assessment findings are shared with the community and the panchayat at this forum, followed by discussion and deliberations ultimately leading to the passing of resolutions with regard to the uptake of more environment friendly practices within the panchayat. Also, further advocacy efforts are taken up with higher levels of governance and administration to facilitate the introduction and widespread adoption of more sustainable practices. Messages promoting the adoption of good practices are also put up at prominent locations in the panchayat in an effort to influence adoption.

While communities are empowered to take ameliorative action at the local level in order to equitably distribute the onus of efforts and investment for improvement in environmental conditions and achieve impact at scale, suitable mechanisms have been instituted to involve the local administrative and governance institutions in formulating and supporting the response to the assessment findings. Committees at the district and state level have been set up whose role is to bring together the different stakeholders and administrative wings for a concerted effort towards improvement in the environment conditions and sustainability quotient at the local level by integrating these efforts with the existing development and governance machinery in the state. The central idea is to stimulate a milieu of environmental mainstreaming where the multitude of government schemes and programmes for development initiatives are implemented in a manner where environmental concerns are given due importance. Increasing the adaptive potential of local communities in the face of climate change is one of the key guiding principles.

The bottom-up approach of empowering communities to steer the planning process at the local level for integrating climate-conscious decision making into development processes has been designed to promote ownership and effectiveness of action initiatives. Building on the knowledge base and experiences residing with communities while complementing the action-planning with scientific know-how is targeted at impact and sustainability of efforts. The conscious co-opting and involvement of the stakeholders at every level is crucial for the sustainability of the intervention.

The CLAP for Himachal programme has, thus, initiated a unique framework for addressing the burning global issue of climate change and the plunder of natural resources by promoting grassroots action that is spearheaded by those who ultimately bear the brunt of climate change impacts – communities whose lives and livelihoods are closely intertwined with the natural resource base and the seasonal variations. The approach not only empowers the communities through awareness and knowledge to help them make informed choices, but also provides them with an avenue to influence local developmental planning and policy through advocacy that is based on robust scientific assessment and analysis. The ultimate success of this unique endeavour will, however, lie in its ability to spark off a people’s movement for environment that might be our only hope to paint over the doomsday scenarios of climate change in hues of hope.  q

Mayukh Hajra


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