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Adaptation Co-benefits of Development Programmes in India

Jaishri Srinivasan (, Indu K Murthy (, Tashina Esteves (, Jagmohan Sharma ( and N H Ravindranath ( are with the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.

Twelve major development programmes in five sectors are examined to see whether they enhance the country’s ability to adapt to the impacts of future climate change. The Indian government could leverage the existing development programmes to achieve adaptation goals if it establishes a framework for mainstreaming climate change adaptation, provides financial incentives for development programmes to integrate adaptation objectives, and builds institutional capacity to design, implement, and monitor adaptation activities.

The authors thank the Global Green Growth Institute for financial assistance and Bangalore Climate Change Initiative-Karnataka for their support. They also thank the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Indian Institute of Science where this research was conducted.

India has been implementing large-scale development programmes under its national and state five-year plans. These programmes have focused on not only poverty alleviation but also livelihood diversification, natural resource management, sustainable agricultural production, rural infrastructure improvement, and connectivity. The various state governments have also created State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCCs) that take into account the importance of mainstreaming adaptation at state, district, and sub-district levels and across sectors.

The national and state development programmes implemented during 2012–17 have included efforts to strengthen the country’s capacity to adapt to climate variability and climate change. Thanks to their breadth, India’s development programmes have high potential to generate adaptation co-benefits. However, little empirical evidence is available to provide a basis for designing programmes to include effective and efficient adaptation components. There is also little empirical information on which approaches and methodologies are most useful to assess the extent and efficiency of the adaptation co-benefits produced by development programmes. In contrast, there is plenty of literature on concepts, strategies, and plans for adaptation (IPCC 2014).

To help close the gap between the empirical and the hypothetical, we have created an adaptation index and used it to evaluate the adaptation co-benefits of India’s largest development programmes, identify the critical factors that contribute to the promotion of adaptation, and identify opportunities to enhance adaptation co-benefits in the context of programme objectives. The adaptation co-benefits have been defined here as those obtained above and beyond the direct benefits resulting from the implementation of specific programme objectives.

Development programmes can be planned and implemented to enhance India’s capacity to adapt to current climate variability and climate change. Climate variability refers to fluctuations in frequency or probability distributions of climate variables above or below a long-term average value, while climate change refers to a long-term continuous change (Smit et al 2000). Climate change affects natural and socio-economic systems globally (IPCC 2014), but its impacts are stronger locally in developing countries due to both the magnitude of change they experience and and their inability to cope with the same (IPCC 2007).

In India, severe impacts on food production, water resource availability, forest biodiversity, and coastal zones are anticipated even in the short term, that is, by 2030. There is a dearth of programmes that have significantly focused on adaptation to climate change in India. As a first step, we have assessed whether development programmes could be used as vehicles for mainstreaming adaptation to climate change. To achieve this, we take a look at some major development programmes and measure the extent to which they incorporate certain adaptation co-benefits.

Method of Assessment

Numerous frameworks have been suggested by various institutions for framing adaptation policies. However, the lack of an implementation mechanism is a major barrier in enabling adaptation to climate change. This is where the already extant development programmes can act as essential mechanisms for adaptation planning and implementation. How adaptation is framed will have an impact on how adaptation options are selected (Fünfgeld and McEvoy 2011). Adaptation measures can either be synergistic with development priorities or are in conflict with them in certain cases (IPCC 2007). In this study, programmes implemented during 2012–17 have been assessed.

Rationale for selection of assessment criteria: The criteria for assessment of adaptation co-benefits are based on their implications for adaptation. For example, we examined whether the selected development programmes contribute to conservation and restoration of natural resources, which is known to build socio-ecological resilience. The three main types of adaptation measures considered in the study include risk mitigation, vulnerability reduction, and resilience enhancement. It is well-known that one of the principal objectives of most development programmes is poverty alleviation through rural development and that poverty and vulnerability are interrelated in adaptation typology.

It is now widely understood that the “first step towards adaptation to future climate change is reducing vulnerability and exposure to present climate variability” (IPCC 2014). Therefore, disaster risk reduction plays an important role in enhancing resilience of local communities and ecosystems. The adaptation co-benefits to be assessed in development programmes have been divided into three broad categories (Table 1).

Rationale for selection of programmes: For this analysis, 12 key development programmes were identified and screened for the presence of adaptation components in their mission objectives and
implementation. The programme goals are provided in Table 2 and the selection of a programme for assessment is based on two factors: its inclusion as a key development programme in the Twelfth Five Year Plan document and the amount of money allocated to it in the budget for its implementation.

To date there have been very limited attempts made to identify, develop, and rank the extent of mainstreaming of adaptation co-benefits in developmental programmes. For the appraisal of policy options, a multi-criteria analysis has been used to establish preferences between selected options against an explicit set of identified objectives. This technique has allowed us to establish measurable criteria to assess the extent to which the objectives have been achieved (DCLG 2009). Figure 1 (p 30) displays the methodology used in analysis of adaptation co-benefits in development programmes in this study.

In this analysis, the key sector programmes are evaluated qualitatively and quantitatively against the criteria discussed and scored on a scale of 1 to 3, with 1 denoting low, 2 denoting medium, and 3 denoting high adaptation co-benefits, respectively. The pairwise comparison method (PCM), widely known as the best available method for multi-criteria assessment and ranking of alternatives, was used to assign weights to each of the seven criteria given in Table 1 (Bruin et al 2009; Saaty 2008). This analysis uses an arithmetic mean of weights assigned by experts knowledgeble about developing programmes to arrive at the final score. The final score has been calculated by multiplying the score of the development programme against each of the seven criteria with the corresponding weight assigned to each criterion.

Results and Discussion

An evaluation of climate change adaptation co-benefits of development programmes involves assessing the extent to which they address the elements that either reduce vulnerability or enhance risk mitigation capacity and help increase resilience of systems. The present assessment examines the integration of adaptation elements in development programme objectives and their implementation qualitatively and

Adaptation components of development programmes: The risk-mitigation features of the development programmes analysed include disaster mitigation measures, agroforestry, drought-proofing, and flood-management works. These programmes include activities that promote resilience to long-term climate change such as increasing water productivity and water use efficiency through the promotion of sustainable irrigation and sustainable water use and conservation; organic farming and Integrated Plant and Nutrient Management (IPNM) to increase soil health, etc. The strategies for reducing vulnerability include measures that provide employment and income security, enhance community participation in planning and decision-making, promote inclusion of disadvantaged and marginalised groups, and improve access to technologies and information.

The development programmes considered in Table 3, show that the majority of the programmes that received a high score for providing adaptation co-benefits include significant ecological conservation and restoration activities targeted to mitigate disasters such as floods and droughts. The strategies that contribute to resilience enhancement, including organic farming and IPNM to increase soil health, efficient irrigation, and improved cropping and sustainable agriculture practices, are all tied to natural resource conservation. The activities that contribute to vulnerability reduction are geared towards improving livelihood opportunities and reducing the vulnerability of communities dependent on agriculture to adverse impacts of climate variability and climate change. All of the above measures are adaptation co-benefits for social–ecological systems.

The development programmes in Table 4 have little or no focus on natural resource conservation and restoration for risk mitigation and resilience enhancement. In these programmes, risk mitigation objectives and activities focus on infrastructure development that is disaster-resilient and improves rural health and hygiene. The vulnerability reduction measures heavily emphasise activities that include infrastructure development (for example, energy, housing, healthcare, etc), capacity-building, and skills-training, as well as access to information, technologies, and markets. While these activities contribute to poverty reduction, and consequently to a reduction in community vulnerability, the link between vulnerability reduction and adaptation to climatic factors appears tenuous. Most of the measures listed in Table 4 aim to improve adaptation measures in socio-economic systems rather than social–ecological systems.

Financing of the top five high-scoring development programmes: Table 5 (p 32) provides a breakdown of the percentage allocations of resources against various criteria that contribute to adaptation such as land/soil and water conservation through increasing ecological resilience, vulnerability reduction through providing livelihood diversification opportunities as well as through market/infrastructure development, and disaster risk reduction or resilience to climate variability and climate extremes. This is based on available data.

Almost 99% of the budget allocated under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) may be considered as adaptation co-benefit financing. Similarly, the National Afforestation Programme (NAP), National Horticulture Mission (NHM) and Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) have 95%, 65% and 98% adaptation co-benefit financing, respectively. The co-benefit financing assessment depicted in Table 5 is intended as an example of allocations to various activities that contribute to adaptation to climate variability and climate change. Information regarding adaptation co-benefit financing is scarce and is rarely assessed for development programmes.

It is more meaningful to have an activity-wise breakup of adaptation co-benefit allocation and/or expenditure under each scheme, and this breakup is given for MGNREGA in Table 6 as an illustration. It could be noted that “wage labour” actually contributes to natural resource conservation through construction of soil and water conservation structures.

India is committed to reflect all elements of adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology and capacity-building in its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). As such, it is imperative to document allocations and expenditures that result in adaptation, mitigation or duel (adaptation and mitigation) co-benefits which will also aid the transition—from policy to implementation—of mainstreaming adaptation in development programmes. This kind of data also provides vital quantitative information on the “adaptation performance” of various development programmes which is necessary to modify programme objectives and also to provide benchmarks for the monitoring and evaluation of their progress.

Measuring climate change adaptation co-benefits: The assessment of adaptation co-benefits in the key development programmes form the basis of the ranking of these programmes against the criteria specified earlier. It can be observed from Table 6 that development programmes in agriculture, water and forest sectors show the highest amount of adaptation co-benefits.

The MGNREGA is the most successful of all development programmes and scores “high” in adaptation ranking as it has been successful in reducing agricultural and livelihood vulnerability (Esteves et al 2013). It has the highest score in regard to at least three key adaptation-specific criteria, including (i) natural resource conservation and restoration through water conservation and harvesting, irrigation provisioning, afforestation and land development among other factors contributing to system resilience; (ii) employment diversification and inclusive participation of communities, which results in vulnerability reduction; and (iii) disaster mitigation via flood control through bunding works and drought proofing through horticulture development.

The PMKSY has practically the same elements of adaptation as the MGNREGA. The key difference is in the institutional approach of both development programmes. While the MGNREGA is a bottom-up approach, the PMKSY policies are set at the central government level for watershed management and at a decentralised level for water management at the farm level. The core premise of PMKSY is intended to achieve natural resource conservation, disaster mitigation, inclusive community participation, and income diversification. Therefore, it also scores “high” in adaptation co-benefits.

The NAP follows a decentralised approach with Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs) at the village level working with forest development agencies (FDAs) at the forest division level. Afforestation has tremendous benefits for soil and moisture conservation and thereby promotes natural resource restoration and enhances system resilience. Inclusive community participation in decision-making and implementation is a core objective of this programme, leading to reduced vulnerability of local communities. It scores relatively “high” in terms of mainstreaming adaptation into development programme objectives.

Two agriculture sector programmes also enjoy a “high” ranking. In the NHM and RKVY, the strategies for revitalisation of agriculture and allied sectors include the twin goals of natural resource conservation and restoration as well as employment diversification. Since these programmes do well in regard to access to information and technologies criteria, which help in achieving the above stated goals, they score high for adaptation co-benefits.

The initiatives taken in the water sector strengthen, both directly and indirectly, the ecological resilience and restoration of local natural resources. The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRdWP) promotes local water sustainability, provisioning of safe drinking water and promotes rural environmental hygiene. This programme contributes towardsreducing the vulnerability of local communities through sustainable management of water resources. It scores “medium” as it does not emphasise on employment generation or inclusive participation of communities in implementation of works or decision-making.

The major goals of most rural development programmes are geared towards enhancing income security, betterment of poor and marginalised groups, and increasing participation of communities in decision-making. Consequently, with the exception of MGNREGA, they score low on their adaptation co-benefits, mostly because they do not, in significant measure, incorporate natural resource conservation and restoration as a goal.

Evaluation by approach to adaptation: The study identifies four approaches to enhance adaptation co-benefits of any programme: ecosystem-based approach, community-based approach, disaster risk reduction approach, and sustainable livelihoods approach. It can be seen from Figure 2 that the MGNREGA, PMKSY and NAP are mostly adaptation programmes as they integrate all four adaptation approaches. They include a community-based approach to decision-making and planning of works in order to promote sustainable livelihoods. They also incorporate an ecosystem-based approach through promotion of activities that contribute to natural resource regeneration and restoration. By undertaking works such as flood control and drought proofing, they also contribute to disaster risk reduction.

The programmes that integrate at least three of the approaches are the RKVY and NHM from the agricultural sector. The two programmes adopt an ecosystem-based approach and promote horticulture, precision farming, organic agriculture and efficient irrigation, contributing to natural resource conservation, as well as flood and drought proofing to achieve disaster risk reduction. All these activities together provide sustainable livelihood for farm households through allied activities. What they do not incorporate is the community-based approach.

The remaining programmes—Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP), National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), National Food Security Mission (NFSM), and Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) —feature only two adaptation approaches each. The programmes that adopt the ecosystem-based approach in addition to one other approach score significantly higher on the adaptation ranking scale than those that do not. Although all the approaches to adaptation present adaptation co-benefits in response to climate variability, only natural resource and sustainable ecosystem management and thus the ecosystem-based approach addresses long-term impacts of climate change. Thus, this approach needs to be made a central tenet of development programmes.


Poverty alleviation has been the main goal of most agricultural and rural development programmes in India. Poverty alleviation and a reduction in vulnerability of rural communities to the impacts of climate variability and climate change calls for the inclusion of adaptation objectives into development programmes. The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) (GoI 2007) has spurred the inclusion of adaptation goals and measures in development programmes, and key adaptation programmes and flagship development programmes have converged under the Twelfth Five Year Plan. Schemes such as the MGNREGA, PMKSY, NAP, and IAY have clearly defined entry points for incorporating adaptation elements that are linked to water and soil and land conservation and restoration. However, the integration of adaptation co-benefits into development programmes still has a long way to go in terms of building political will and institutional momentum.

An analysis of adaptation co-benefits inherent in the programmes and their relative scoring reveals the key characteristics that need to be considered and incorporated into development programme objectives. These include conservation and restoration of natural resources via an ecosystem-based approach. This contributes to increasing the resilience of social–ecological systems to the adverse impacts of long-term climate change. Additionally, the inclusion and active participation of local communities through community-based approaches, not just in implementation but in decision-making and implementation of development programmes, serves to reduce the vulnerability of local communities to climate change impacts. Inclusive participation also promotes diversification of sustainable livelihood opportunities for local communities and helps them have a buffer against over-reliance on inherently vulnerable farm-based income opportunities. Furthermore, diversification of employment opportunities to non-farm activities, especially those including agroforestry, afforestation, and other allied activities, also serves to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate variability and climate extremes and, thus, contributes to disaster risk reduction.

To mainstream adaptation in development programmes, a multistep and multilevel approach must be used at policy and implementation levels to ensure seamlessness between objective-setting and implementation. The constraints of time and resources invariably influence the choice of a particular adaptation approach or combination of approaches (Fünfgeld and McEvoy 2011). But, drawing on several conceptual frameworks, as attempted in this study, would significantly aid in the choice of adaptation options by informing programme managers and staff of available options given budget constraints. Additionally, a multisectoral approach to mainstreaming will enable a more comprehensive inclusion of a wider range of adaptation initiatives in current development policies and objectives. All of this would involve institutional learning and transformation in order to effect the melding of adaptation goals into development programme objectives (Fünfgeld and McEvoy 2011) and improving governance and knowledge management across various spatial scales.

Mainstreaming adaptation policies and processes should also include assessments of the existing institutional infrastructure, and how it might be adjusted and optimised at various scales for delivery of programme objectives and mainstreamed adaptation objectives. Mainstreaming climate change adaptation can include a meeting of both top-down and bottom-up approaches, and function with a clear policy as well as a range of diverse local options within different contexts. To be effective, adaptation strategies must adopt risk and vulnerability reduction as well as resilience enhancement activities that would ensure integration of the four key approaches to adaptation, namely the ecosystem-based approach, community-based approach, disaster risk reduction, and sustainable livelihoods.

Reducing poverty and promoting inclusive participation, which are predominantly socio-economic goals, should be paired with social–ecological resilience goals, such as natural resource management, to ensure the success of programmes in achieving both development and adaptation objectives. The intersection of the four approaches provides this opportunity and picking adaptation goals with overlapping approaches is the first step in the direction towards mainstreaming.


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