7 PM |Urban India must prepare for the climate crisis|5th February 2020

Context:Urban India and mitigating the climate crisis.

More in news:

  • Australia’s recent bout of bushfires, sparked by an extended drought, has devastated its local flora and fauna.
  • Indonesia’s capital Jakarta witnessed record-breaking flooding with unseasonal rainfall, displacing tens of thousands. 

Recent events signaling towards climate crisis:

  • In 2018 Kerala witnessed heavy flooding, combined with tropical cyclones such as Gaja and Titli.
  • Along with these events, an unusual heatwave in north and west India.
  • Northern Indian cities like Delhi and many others in state of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan witnessed more than usual cold to severe cold days in winters, breaking records of almost a century.
  • According to the recent study carried out by a US research institute Climate Central (2019), parts of cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Surat and Kakinada are at risk of being under water by 2050.
  • In 2018, India suffered over 2,081 deaths from climate-triggered extreme weather events.
  • Economically, these events resulted into a loss of over $37.8 billion in 2018 (about three times the losses of 2017).
  • Globally, Australia’s bushfire that is sparked by extended drought and Indonesia’s flooding due to unseasonal rainfall are signals of climate crisis that humanity is facing.

Impact of Climate crisis:

  • Average temperatures in India increased by 0.6°C between 1910 and 2018.
  • The World Bank estimates that, if climate change continues unhindered, then average temperatures in India could reach as high as 29.1° C by the end of the century (up from 25.1° C currently).
  • In parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the North-East, average temperature over the last decade has risen by nearly 1° C compared to the historical average in the 1950-80 period.
  • According to the 2017-18 Economic Survey, extreme temperatures and droughts (defined as temperatures or rainfall loss 40% greater than the median) shrink farmer incomes to the tune of 4-14% for key crops. 
  • According to the Global Climate Risk Index released by Germany-based think tank, Germanwatch, India is the 14th most climate change-affected country in the world. 
  • Economic costs:
  • According to a new Stanford study, global warming has made India’s economy 31 per cent smaller than it would have been otherwise. It highlights how temperature changes have widened inequalities between cool countries like Norway while dragging down growth in hot places like India.
  • The World Bank calculates climate change will shave nearly 3 per cent off India’s GDP and depress living standards of nearly half its population by 2050.
  • The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction estimates India’s suffered $79.5 billion in economic losses in 19 years due to climate-change disasters.

Co-benefit Approach:

  • The IPCC first offered a definition of Co-benefits in its third Assessment Report on Mitigation, as follows: “Co-benefits” are the benefits from policy options implemented for various reasons at the same time, acknowledging that most policies resulting in GHG mitigation also have other, often at least equally important, rationales.
  • At its core, a co-benefits approach is a win-win strategy aimed at capturing both development and climate benefits in a single policy or measure.
  • The co-benefits approach helps developing countries increase their ownership while engaging in efforts to address climate change, by introducing measures to achieve tangible development benefits.
  • It is also considered to be a practical approach for developed countries to cooperate with developing countries, where economic and social development is a priority at the national and local levels.

Such an approach could lead to improved energy access, waste management, cleaner air and the generation of employment. Urban India must move from ‘Development-first approach’ to ‘Co-benefit Approach’.

Recommendations for development in Urban India:

  • Develop a co-benefits framework based on five strategic sectors; Health, Mobility, Resources, Buildings and Economy. For instance,
  • Cities must stop paving over soil that is water-absorbent, or building over natural floodplains. 
  • Policy makers can upgrade existing methods for measuring economic, social and environmental co-benefits and adjust to a climate resilience framework.
  • Using pilot studies, develop an integrated accounting framework for municipal governments that includes climate, economic, social and environmental indicators and data.
  • A chain of waste management initiatives has been kicked off in Mumbai, Surat and Kolkata. The Smart Cities Mission has been a welcome initial step towards addressing the climate crisis.
  • Improve the collection and analysis of climate co-benefits data. For example, most coastal urban road projects continue to use reports from the 20th century (between 1878 and 1993) which forecast sea level rises of 1.27 mm per year. Meanwhile, as per the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa, the average sea level rise in India has increased to 3.2 mm per year in the period 1993-2012.
  • Implement a research programme on governance and finance required for delivering co-benefits. For instance, a study found that Kolkata could reduce its carbon emission by 21%, across sectors, by 2025, with investments having a payback period of four years. Reinvesting the proceeds of such an investment would lead to a further reduction in carbon emissions for the city. India’s National Action Plan for Climate Change (2008) integrates this approach. However the problem lies in implementation of such approach. Indian policy makers must work towards better implementation.
  • Develop a communication strategy for taking action based on co-benefits.There is need to develop an evidence base for best practice to communicate co-benefits to mayors, senior city officials, business, citizens and NGOs.


It would be difficult to fulfill the demand of liveable cities for the growing urban population with the help of development-first approach. The right set of investments in climate mitigation will help make our cities resilient, helping them cope with climatic extremes, such as reduction in water supply, or a heatwave. By adapting and mitigating at the right time, we can avoid an upcoming crisis.


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