Seeding Civil Society Organisations

In India, a country of 1.3 billion people, where the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly manifest, the need for a multi-tier, multi-stakeholder approach to tackle climate change has never been greater. The scale of the interventions required to meet India’s climate goals calls for broader and committed civil society action that will push for the right policies and interventions.

The Promise of Civil Society

Like other developing countries, India historically has been more concerned with addressing development challenges than the threat of climate change—which is why civil society supported education, health, gender and other rural and urban development issues. For environmental CSOs in India, local environmental and developmental issues were the main concern for decades.

Research shows that it was only after 2007 that the opportunities for Indian CSOs to increase engagement with global climate change–related activities increased significantly. There are many reasons for this. Global climate events began to attract a large number of CSOs from the Global South, particularly from India. The network effects created helped to mobilise funds and national-level awareness of sustainability issues. CSOs began to innovate new repertoires to enhance climate change awareness. As a result, there was an increase in the number and diversity of climate organisations. COP21 at Paris was especially favourable for emphasising civil society participation as a key avenue for the implementation sustainability goals. .

In the last decade, Indian civil society has done a great deal for India’s clean energy and climate agenda. This engagement varies from policy and scientific research to community-based adaptation and grassroots mobilization. CSOs have delivered robust evidence and research that has helped pushed forth new policies and informed India’ stance at global climate negotiations.

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    The Challenges

    Clean energy and climate action can fuel the net zero transition, enabling growth and promoting sustainability. But the transition from ideas to action will not be easy, creating the need for an extensive support system for CSO development and scaleup.

    For one, CSOs operating at the national level—and particularly those operating at the international level—often boast of technical and organizational capacities that are lacking in grassroots-level CSOs. Also, it is generally believed that CSOs based in the national capital and in metropolitan cities have greater influence and participation in the policy development process.

    At the global platform, India’s larger focus on mitigation has marginalized work on adaptation and addressing climate impacts such as sea level rise, drought and increasing extreme weather events. Policy focused CSO – both homegrown and international – have prioritized clean energy and air pollution issues, whereas adaptation came much as an afterthought.

    India’s bold climate goals call for deepened technical and new capacity expertise among CSO. For instance, the ability to set long-term and sustained commitments, to create strong policy coherence and solutions, as well as to enter into partnerships between governments and other stakeholders. In particular, CSOs will require strengthened technical expertise to work on new and emerging themes like Green Hydrogen, and carbon capture, material efficiency, and artificial intelligence for climate change.

    Going Forward

    Civil Society can play a pivotal role in shaping climate action but must be further empowered with the right knowledge and information to mobilize policy and ground level change. In addition to traditional workshop setting, CSOs will benefit from more innovative forms of capacity building. This may include: development of toolkits on specific themes and topics, tailored mentoring and support, and selection of capable local partners. Continuous CSO collaboration will help generate synergy and joint learning. This will make for easy appreciation and a trickle-down process. Constant and active follow-up monitoring would help ensure that the CSOs sustainably apply the acquired skills and knowledge.

    Case Study

    The Shakti-ISB Clean Energy Lab

    How can we take the many exciting clean energy ideas emerging around the country and scale them up to achieve the potential that they promise? A key step involves identifying the most promising ones and helping them accelerate their growth. With the right kind of leadership from initiatives like the Clean Energy Lab, early stage CSOs can get faster traction and scale their ideas.