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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Policy innovations for pro-poor climate support: social protection, small-scale infrastructure, and active citizenship under India’s MGNREGA

Fischer, Harry


While extensive scholarship has explored principles for pro-poor climate support, there is a need for knowledge of specific strategies that can achieve these objectives on the ground. This paper examines India's Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and its effects on climate risk reduction. Although the MGNREGA was not designed specifically as a climate programme, it incorporates three key elements with the potential to advance pro-poor climate assistance objectives: (a) social protection through the provision of minimum wage labour; (b) the development of small-scale, natural resource-focused infrastructure; and (c) a decentralized, ‘community-based’ planning architecture. Analysis of a primary dataset comprising 1400 households and 798 projects in India's state Himachal Pradesh, interpreted through intensive qualitative fieldwork, shows that both projects and labour have helped vulnerable households confront climate and other risks, while the Act's decentralized architecture has expanded the channels for citizens to claim support for local challenges. The paper argues for the importance of building a broader ‘ecosystem’ of support to target diverse local needs, and of the need to strengthen the political architectures through which vulnerable groups access these benefits on the ground – especially in the context of decentralized approaches for climate assistance.


Climate adaptation; social protection; community-based adaptation; vulnerability; sustainable development; MGNREGA; India

Published in

Climate and Development
2020, volume: 12, number: 8, pages: 689-702

Authors' information

Fischer, Harry (Fischer, Harry)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development
University of Melbourne

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere
SDG10 Reduce inequality within and among countries
SDG13 Climate action

UKÄ Subject classification

Climate Research
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Publication Identifiers


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