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Research paper: Envisioning carbon neutral villages

This paper, published in Current Science Journal, is an outcome of the author’s 5 year engagement of working closely with rural communities in India for a climate change adaptation programme. It had 10+ thematic areas of research and intervention, including on local money flows, climate risk impact assessment, carbon neutrality, livelihood resilience and alternate energy.
Mihir Mathur

This paper integrates various thematic interventions, through a systems thinking approach, and positions them as enablers for transiting towards carbon neutrality. These interventions qualify as mitigation and adaptation both.

Thereby, it also breaks the stereotype of ‘either/or’ and highlights the synergies between mitigation and adaptation. It presents a scenario where social, technological and environmental interventions could potentially mitigate emissions, strengthen sinks and ultimately enable them to reach equilibrium.

With the risk of ‘runaway climate change’ increasing, I personally think lot of bottom up pilots need to be done in order to demonstrate that carbon neutrality could be achieved. Relatively soon and we need not wait till year 2100 (as science and models suggest). It is the need of the hour! By design or destiny…



One of the primary drivers of climate change has been the continuous increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. If these emissions continue to increase at the current rate then it would push the carbon cycle out of its dynamic equilibrium which may lead to irreversible changes in the climate system. Thus, it is imperative to initiate systemic changes through various socio-economic and technological interventions to mitigate emissions and enhance sinks. This paper attempts to present a conceptual framework of such interventions and highlights the synergies between mitigation and adaptation.


GLOBAL carbon dioxide emissions stood at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014 (ref. 1). In order to keep the temperature change caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions less than 2C, the atmospheric concentrations of carbon emissions need to be stabilized to 450 ppm. Therefore it is only prudent to act on aggressive mitigation and adaptation measures now rather than wait for catastrophe to strike.If the top down approaches on policy are failing us, there is a need to focus on the grassroots hopefully to influence policy. There are a few working models of carbon neutral or carbon negative communities or societies but there exists plenty of literature on carbon neutrality and various measures to reduce the sources of emissions and enhance the sinks of GHGs. Carbon neutrality, with all its concepts, needs to be articulated in the form of a conceptual framework which can then be objectively evaluated and implemented.

The present article presents a conceptual framework to move towards carbon neutrality, i.e. a simplification of reality which does not encompass the complexity involved in the nature of natural systems, social systems, economic systems and their interplay. This involves identification of major sources and sinks of GHGs in a cluster of villages and interventions that will facilitate mitigation through various ways of adaptation to climate change.

The ideas, assumptions and examples presented here have been evolved from Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation–National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development–Watershed Organisation Trust (SDCNABARD-WOTR) Climate Change Adaptation Project.

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