Conference of Panchayats (CoP): Catalyzing Local Action to Achieve Global Climate Goals 

Kirtiman Awasthi and Somya Bhatt, GIZ India, and Ashish Tiwari, Government of Uttar Pradesh

Speakers on the stage of the Conference of Panchayats
The Conference of Panchayats was held on World Environment Day 2022: Strengthening capacities of local institutions and actors on emerging climate risks and uncertainties, developing evidence-based local solutions, and implementing climate initiatives over the long term. (Photo: Twitter | @COP2022UP)

Climate change vulnerabilities and impacts are local in nature, and there exists a movement for locally led adaptation action: a fast-trending paradigm where decisions on how, when, and where to implement climate solutions are led by communities and local actors.

However, a major challenge for developing countries like India in translating national adaptation planning goals into local action is to find the right institutional structures that can address community action, needs, and inclusion in a sustainable manner, while addressing the country’s overall developmental agenda. One entry point for achieving this is by engaging with existing local governance institutions and stakeholders, supporting them in identifying climate- and disaster-related challenges, understanding the local needs, and designing appropriate solutions.

Finding the right institutions to help localize climate strategies 

In India, national adaptation planning priorities are addressed through the National Action Plan on Climate Change which is further translated into sub-national priorities through the State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCCs)—similar to a National Adaptation Plan (NAP).  

The Panchayati Raj Institutions (Gram Panchayats) are a statutory body that defines responsibilities and duties at the grassroots level, elected by people through a well-defined democratic process. This makes Gram Panchayat an appropriate institution to localize climate change strategies like the ones identified in SAPCCS, with its involvement in village development plans and in defining local contributions to state, national, and subsequently, global goals. 

The Conference of Panchayats 2022: Strengthening local adaptation efforts 

On World Environment Day 2022 in June, the State Government of Uttar Pradesh co-hosted the Conference of Panchayats (CoP) with GIZ India under the BMZ-funded Climate Adaptation and Finance in Rural India (CAFRI) project. This event in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, kickstarted a network of panchayats to deliberate on approaches and opportunities to empower panchayats for climate action. More than 40,000-gram panchayats participated at the CoP, as well as public-private actors.  

The objective of the Conference of Panchayats 2022—which will take place annually—was to deliberate on strategies that will strengthen capacities of local institutions and actors on emerging climate risks and uncertainties, develop evidence-based local solutions, and implement climate initiatives over the long-term. This supports the guiding principles of the SAPCC and the decentralised government system in India. 

Panel discussions at the conference explored the benefits of integrating climate concerns into local development planning processes, identified approaches for leveraging finance from existing budgetary allocations, and discussed how partnerships between different countries and actors can shape the global climate agenda while supporting local action. Transformative ideas were also considered, such as the Panchayat-Private-Partnership (PPP), which will redefine public-private sector partnerships in India. 

Finally, the Conference of Panchayats launched the framework for risk-preventative Gram Panchayat development planning (Road to Resilience 2030), jointly developed by the Department of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of Uttar Pradesh, GIZ India and Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG). This framework encourages the participation of governance institutions and local actors for a need-based approach to climate adaptation planning for villages. This framework will be used to integrate SPACC strategies into local development plans, translating national and state adaptation priorities to local action. 

Key messages from the CoP 2022 include: 

  • The impacts of climate change are mostly felt at the local-level, and for that, it is important to create a network of local institutions (panchayats in Indian context) for developing and implementing solutions, as well as exchanging best practices. 
  • Local level initiatives are needed to secure livelihoods while strengthening resilience through panchayat development plans that promote adaptation, disaster risk reduction, and the restoration of natural resources. 
  • Local level governance institutions, actors, and social groups are best suited to create long-term adaptive capacities by enhancing their participation and ownership.  
  • The Climate Resilient Panchayat Development Plans need to consider nature-based solutions. 
  • The Panchayat-Private-Partnership (PPP) will respond to the need for stronger partnerships between the private sector, panchayats, and other communal institutions on climate adaptation and development planning. 
  • The private sector can play a major role in supporting local bodies such as panchayats to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and nationally determined contribution (NDC) by scaling-up local initiatives. 
Translation: “There is a lot of awareness about the environment. People talk a lot in here, but they do nothing on the ground. Everyone must do something other than talking.” -Shri Manoj Kumar Singh, Agriculture Production Commissioner.

Next steps in Uttar Pradesh

The Government of Uttar Pradesh will be engaging with local panchayats to pilot the framework and develop village-level climate action plans that encompass local climate, disaster and SDG goals and challenges. This will ensure vertical integration by designing strategic linkages between national, sub-national, and local-level adaptation planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.

As India looks to initiate a broader NAP process, the engagement of Gram Panchayats provides a way forward for local climate action through institutional mechanisms that are also suited for the effective delivery of SAPCCs. The Panchayat-Private-Partnerships will also play a key role in helping India achieve its national adaptation priorities, mobilise community participation, and gain greater finance for adaptation.

Authors: Kirtiman Awasthi, Senior Advisor at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) India, Somya Bhatt, Advisor at GIZ India, and Ashish Tiwari , Secretary at the Department of Environment, Forest & Climate Change of the Government of Uttar Pradesh.