In November 2021, scores of Chennai residents came together for a cause dubbed the Umbrella Rally. They marched in numbers, urging the authorities to take stock of climate change and the impact it is set to have on the most vulnerable.
The recently released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lists Chennai as one of the global cities at risk due to climate change.
With Chennai experiencing extremes in the form of drought and flooding in recent years, it is crucial to assess and mitigate the impact that the city will face due to climate change.
Protecting the city’s wetlands, expanding green cover, forest conservation and a move away from single-use plastic are some of the ways in which climate related challenges faced by the city can be addressed.
The State government’s announcement of the formation of Tamil Nadu Green Climate Company (TNGCC) provides promise that the state, and especially at-risk cities like Chennai, have a fighting chance in the future. The urgent call for need to combat climate change was loud and clear.
Launched under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013, the TNGCC is a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) aiming to focus on climate change adaptation and mitigation activities. The SPV has been accorded permission to implement three key missions:
- Tamil Nadu Climate Change Mission
- Green Tamil Nadu Mission
- Tamil Nadu Wetlands Mission
Headed by Environment Secretary Supriya Sahu, TNGCC has 12 board members. This includes the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) and nine directors, who are senior secretaries from various departments such as municipal administration, water resources, housing, rural development, transport and energy that play a key role in tackling climate change.
While this one-of-its-kind initiative is being welcomed by civil society members, stakeholders, and the public alike, there are many challenges in executing and monitoring the missions across Tamil Nadu.
In an interview with Citizen Matters, Supriya Sahu speaks about the compelling need to make Tamil Nadu a climate-resilient state and more.
Where does the TNGCC get funding from?
The TNGCC is the apex body which looks after three missions. The not-for-profit company has an equity of Rs 5 crore given by the state government and can get funding or grants from any source, including the Government of India and international agencies.
In the recent Tamil Nadu budget, Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan has announced the setting up of a Green Climate Fund (GCF). It will act as a private entity and help mobilise funds from outside agencies, which is also for-profit. The GCF will become operational in the next six months.
Fund allocation status:
- Tamil Nadu Green Climate Company – Rs 5 crore equity
- Tamil Nadu Climate Change Mission – Rs 77.35 crore of the announced Rs 500 crore for transformational climate action has been allotted for the financial year 2022-2023. Besides, the state government has allocated Rs 10 crore to implement activities on a pilot basis in 10 villages to be identified as Climate Smart Villages
- Green Tamil Nadu Mission – Rs 21 crore allocated
- Tamil Nadu Wetlands Mission – Funds awaiting approval
What is the role of TNGCC’s core team members?
The TNGCC’s core team involves me, the PCCF, members of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), and the Director of Environment. The PCCF plays an important role as far as two missions are concerned – Tamil Nadu Wetlands Mission and Green Tamil Nadu Mission. Similarly, the Director of Environment will be looking after the Climate Change Mission. Meanwhile, the TNPCB has an overlapping role in all three missions.
In the wetlands mission, it will be helping check for water quality and pollution levels. It also has a key role in handling the climate crisis mainly by recording the emission levels and making efforts to bring the same down, and monitoring water quality in rivers. The manjapai movement, which plays an overarching role in all the missions, also comes under its purview.
Furthermore, all works of TNGCC are carried out through the existing system of governance at the district levels. There is no point in creating a parallel set up when we can strengthen the established mechanisms in place. We will provide all members/departments with necessary expertise and funding.
What efforts have been made to monitor the TNGCC’s works?
We have set up a Project Management Unit (PMU) which will have experts and experienced hands to monitor the mission works, thereby transforming the economy; underpinning affordability, sustainability, and scalability. The PMU works began a month ago.
Currently, we have seven PMU staff on board. They are not government officials but experienced hands in communication, climate change, green mobility, green energy, training, and capacity building. More experts shall be roped in as and when required.
How does the company propose to build a climate literate society?
TNGCC has been instituted at a time when climate initiatives are uncommon in the State. Despite a lot of studies underway, there is an inadequacy when it comes to solid groundwork.
Climate change is one area that requires inter-sectoral collaboration and coordination not just within the government but also with the private sector. Besides, citizen’s involvement is paramount in making these initiatives successful. For this collaboration to be effective, we need to have a climate literate society.
So, TNGCC plans to make all stakeholders, including district authorities, citizen groups, students and farmers, climate literate by focusing on capacity building, training, and making people understand the underlying issues around climate change. They will be made aware of the myths that surround the subject and presented clear facts on the issue.
How will TNGCC tackle the issue of dwindling green cover?
A noteworthy plan on the cards of the TNGCC, under the Green Tamil Nadu Mission, is to increase the forest and tree cover in the State from the current 23.8 per cent (as per the India State of Forest Report 2019) to 33 per cent over the next ten years.
Planting trees is not going to be a simple exercise this time as the company plans to geo-tag all of them to ensure increased survival rates. As climate change is going to impact large cities much more than other areas, meaning, the impact will be felt immediately, the mission prioritises the creation of small and urban forests by promoting native varieties like palmyra, neem, coconut, and jamun.
Such forests will be created in Open Space Reservation (OSR) lands, educational institutions’ lands, police battalion lands, community areas, traffic islands and even smaller spaces Furthermore, the Green Tamil Nadu Mission aims to create hi-tech nurseries by coordinating with farmers organisations and self-help groups. These works shall also be monitored by the Green Committees already created at the district level.
To nurture trees, we will be creating land banks, which will later be linked to the district nurseries. Last November, the company raised and distributed 76 lakh seedlings under the agroforestry scheme of the agriculture department. This became possible only due to collaboration.
What is being done to conserve existing green cover?
An important objective of the mission is to replace exotic and invasive species having little to no biodiversity value and are detrimental to the ecosystem. Accordingly, a policy for the removal of invasive species from Tamil Nadu has been drafted.
NABARD has sanctioned Rs 460 crore for the restoration of degraded forests, through afforestation, to supplement the climate change.
What are the key objectives of the wetlands mission?
With an objective for ecological restoration of wetlands, we have already identified 100 wetlands across Tamil Nadu with the help of District Forest Officers (DFOs) and district collectors. Soon, measures will be taken to secure their boundaries, digitise the data on wetlands and eco restore them.
Meanwhile, the process of inventorisation has begun. It is a bit complex as we need to get the survey numbers from the revenue authorities, create digital maps of the wetlands, find the source of water inside the wetlands, monitor the channels etc.
We are preparing detailed documents for all the 100 wetlands, most of which are natural. We are also working on declaring some of them as wetlands of national importance under the Ramsar Convention, for which 13 proposals have been already sent to the Government of India.
Is Meendum Manjapai campaign an initiative of TNGCC?
The revival of manjapai (yellow cloth bag) forms an integral part of the Tamil Nadu Climate Change Mission. The campaign is not restricted to the bags; it also aims at promoting the use of eco-friendly alternatives.
Personally, I have written to more than 300 hotels and their associations asking them to switch to the alternatives and promote the use of manjapai in their respective places. Their response has been phenomenal. The hotel association has expressed interest in conducting exhibitions to promote eco-friendly alternatives like areca nut cups.
Right now, we are making a directory of alternative product producers/suppliers for the benefit of both the hotels and the public. On March 5, we had the first meeting with the Chief Secretary and senior secretaries in which they have assured to take steps in corporations, municipalities, and panchayats to ban single-use plastic items.
What strategies are used to raise awareness on social media?
TNGCC has taken up two important ways to promote the manjapai movement. Having roped in Vijay Sethupathi as the campaign’s ambassador, two videos have been shot so far on a pro bono basis. These clips shall be relaunched and brought to the public notice again.
We have also made effective use of social media. For a brief period, we could not do much due to the local body elections and the model code of conduct. Now, we are considering engaging more social media influencers to talk about the manjapai.
How does the government plan to involve youth and support those working for the climate cause?
The government has been actively making back-to-back announcements to encourage companies and individuals working in tune with the TNGCC missions. A recent announcement on Green Champion Awards is aimed at honouring the Green Thinkers at the grassroots level.
We will soon be identifying 100 such champions from across the state. Already, the guidelines have been prepared and the nominations have been sought by the end of March. The awards will be distributed on June 5, which marks the World Environment Day.
Another remarkable announcement is the decision to involve youth in climate change initiatives through the Chief Minister’s Green Fellowship Programme (CMGFP), which will be launched in 38 districts of Tamil Nadu. The CMGFP, as per the government order, envisions to create and nurture a cadre of environmentally thoughtful, passionate, well-trained, and process-driven future leaders.