Climate change, agriculture, and sustainable development

– By Mahima, a fifth-year student from UPES Dehradun

“When we talk about climate change, we often talk about the impact of climate change is going to have on human society or the environment in the future. Climate change is already impacting us and has impacted us,” Michael Clark, LEAP (Livestock, Environment, and People).


Climate change has always been a prevalent phenomenon. Ice Ages testify for the existence of cyclic climate change. These climatic variations have steered extreme weather conditions globally. Climate change has a drastic effect on agriculture through increasing temperatures, varying precipitation patterns, loss of diversity, etc. The pressing need for sustainable agricultural developments is being recognized and its foundations have been laid down in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues on humankind in the present time, affecting human societies and ecosystems as we know it. The history of anthropogenic climate change can be traced back to the 1750s. Prior to this, mankind had an infinitesimal role in climate change. Following the industrial revolution, human interventions started affecting and disrupting the earth’s climate. The release of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased exponentially as compared to the absorbing power of the Earth’s protective covering, ozone.

The understanding of long-term climatic trends is essential for safeguarding human life by allowing humans to adapt to the varying environment by changing their agricultural patterns, preparing for extreme weather and managing groundwater resources, etc. The 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change has recognized the need for urgent action in addressing the challenges on their way to the agricultural sectors. The acceleration in climate change as well as the global population threaten agriculture and eventually, food security.

Its impact on livelihood, infrastructure, and agriculture threatens to expose large populations to volatile food prices which implies that hunger, poverty, and climate change cannot be dealt with separately anymore.[1]

The effect of climate change in the developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia has been reported to be negative on agricultural production. Statistically, while food supply per capita has increased above 30% since 1961, an estimated 821 million people are malnourished, around 618 million females between the age of 15 to 50 suffer from iron deficiency. Projections also infer that global food prices might increase between the range of 30-101% by 2050. The availability of such alarming data necessitates the intervention of national governments and international bodies for the implementation of favorable policies and strategies to safeguard future generations.


Climate Change and Agriculture

Agriculture is primarily a humanitarian aid to natural ecosystems which is entirely dependent on weather and climate. It is both a victim and a contributor to climate change. It produces a considerable amount of greenhouse emissions conducive to almost 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions due to the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and animal wastes.[2] The increasing world population steers the increase in demand for food and stronger demand for dairy and meat products deepens the agricultural practices. On the other hand, the production of these GHGs contributes to global warming thereby affecting the sustainability of agricultural production systems.

Climate change may have both positive and negative effects on agriculture. Climatic factors are one of the major restraints on crop and livestock production. Although farming has always responded to new challenges and adapted, the increased frequency of extreme climatic events demands a revision of agricultural adaptive capacity. UNFCCC has identified agriculture as particularly vulnerable and states that international actions should be taken in a sufficient time frame for ecosystems to adapt naturally so that food production is not threatened.[3]

Sustainable Development as a Solution

Environmental laws are crucial when the concern relates to adaptation as per the changing climate and it is implemented by tightening standards of protection and prevention. The legal instruments help in sustaining a minimum standard of planning freedom and scope to discretion in order to ensure that adaptive measures may be implemented. These adaptive measures vary with respect to geographical and climatic location and therefore, the role of government bodies in implementing environmental minimum requisites increases.

India’s international obligations led to the introduction of explicit provisions (Article 48-A and Article 51-A (g)) making both State and citizens equally responsible for protecting and improving the environment through the Forty Second Amendment to the Indian Constitution in 1976.

Under the influence of the Stockholm Conference, 1972, India went on to establish National Council for Environmental Policy and Planning which in 1985 became the apex administrative body for regulating and protecting the environment and is known as the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The national strategy for addressing India’s development and adaptation challenges was laid down in 2008 as  National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). It had eight subsidiary missions such as solar mission, water mission, sustainable habitat mission, sustainable agriculture mission among others.

In Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India[4], Supreme Court opined that the traditional dilemma of choosing between development or ecology has been answered by the introduction of sustainable development. The Court summarized the principles of sustainable development as – intergenerational equity, use, and conservation of natural resources, environmental protection, precautionary principle, polluter pays principle, obligation to assist and cooperate, eradication of poverty, and financial assistance to developing countries.

In State of Himachal Pradesh v. Ganesh Wood Products[5], Supreme Court concluded that the present generation has no right to imperil the safety of future generations, thereby applying Principle 1 and Principle 2 of Stockholm Declaration as principles of intergenerational equity.

In M.C. Mehta v Union of India[6], Supreme Court applied precautionary principle and held that all industries operating in Taj Trapezium Zone should switch to natural gas instead of coke/coal for industrial use and directed such industries to stop functioning and shift to another industrial area if they could not obtain a natural gas connection.

In N.D. Jayal v Union of India[7], Supreme Court held that sustainable development is an integral part of life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India implying that adherence to the principle of sustainable development is constitutionally mandatory.



[3] Article 2, UNFCCC (1992)

[4] A.I.R. 1996 S.C. 2715

[5] A.I.R. 1996 S.C. 149

[6] (1997) 2 S.C.C. 353

[7] (2004) 9 S.C.C. 362


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