What is needed for India’s economy and society to function in an era of extreme and ravaging heat? SFC’s ongoing work explores this

Come summer every year, most of India witnesses above normal temperatures, straining power grids and water supply, disrupting agricultural production, and causing life-threatening heat-related illnesses. This year, the heat has collided with the six-week long general election, and election officers are facing the challenge of safeguarding voters against the impacts.

SFC’s Adaptation and Resilience current work has been exploring how heat risks can be reduced during this period, while advocating for long-term and sustainable heat planning so that people can not only exercise their democratic right during an election season, but also have access to socio-economic opportunities even as the future gets warmer. Over the past few months, our efforts have focused on two main fronts: advocating for strengthened heat planning through infrastructure improvements and information dissemination, and exploring avenues for unlocking public finance to manage extreme heat.

  • In an op-ed in CNN, Aditya Valiathan Pillai, Fellow and Coordinator of Adaptation and Resilience work, wrote that climate change may not impact Indian politics and elections in the same way that it does in developed countries. “Climate impacts do shape voter demands — though this tends to filter through as anxieties about livelihood and continued welfare support, rather than in a neatly defined area of politics labelled ‘climate’.”

    Additionally, we have been advocating for effective and targeted public communication regarding heat, alongside infrastructure provisions like cooling centres and water stations, throughout the election season.

    Last week, we conducted a rapid assessment of compliance with the Election Commission of India’s heatwave guidelines at political rallies and polling stations for the National Disaster Management Authority. By consulting journalists who reported in 35 constituencies across 12 states, we assessed the provision of heat resilience measures on the ground. Our findings revealed gaps in areas such as drinking water and shade provision, as well as information displays. We also engaged with the media such as Time Magazine, South China Morning Post, Mongabay, Carbon Brief, and others, emphasising the urgent need for such provisions during the election period, as well as their integration into long-term heat planning.

  1. In a recent report on India’s response to heatwaves, our team analysed how well-prepared India’s heat action plans are for the widespread economic and social disruptions that are to come. We found that these plans are insufficiently grounded in the local context and lacked the financing and institutional backing to be implemented.

    We are currently working with the National Disaster Management Authority on a national framework to allow disaster mitigation and preparedness funds from the 15th Finance Commission to flow to states, districts, villages, and cities. This catalytic lever could unlock long-term heat resilience in subnational jurisdictions if implemented correctly.