Synopsis: Efforts taken by states to deal with climate change, hurdles in transforming states in to a sustainable urban state and how we can find a solution to deal with the twin challenge of climate change and inclusive development.
Recently, Maharashtra’s Environment Minister announced that 43 cities across the State will join the UN-backed ‘Race to Zero’ global campaign. This campaign aims to create jobs while meeting goals of climate change and sustainable development.
Maharashtra is the state that experiences multiple risks (floods, drought, sea-level rise). It has made inadequate policy action on climate-resilient development.
Hence, this step is praiseworthy.
Are cities doing enough?
After assessing climate action in 53 Indian cities with a population of over one million, it was found that approximately half of these cities report climate plans. Of these,18 cities have moved towards implementation.
It signals that recurrent experiences of floods, water scarcity, cyclones and storm surges are being assimilated into urban development policy. In terms of intervention, we have focused on particular, isolated risks. For example, most cities report targeted projects to deal with heat waves and water scarcity, followed by inland flooding, extreme rainfall, and growing disease incidence. Coastal flooding, sea-level rise, and cyclones are discussed less often. It is despite the fact that India has long coastline and highly vulnerable coastal cities and infrastructure. Hence, we have failed to realize how multiple risks converge and reinforce each other. For example, seasonal cycles of flooding and water scarcity in Chennai.
What are some steps taken by the states?
Front-runner cities in terms of climate change action plans are Ahmedabad, Tamil Nadu etc.
Ahmedabad had a Heat Action Plan (HAP) which helped to reduce heat mortality. The HAP involves many stakeholders. Combining infrastructural interventions (for example, painting roofs white) and behavioral aspects (building public awareness on managing heat), the model has now been scaled up to 17 cities across the country.
Nature-based solutions such as mangrove restoration in coastal Tamil Nadu and urban wetland management in Bengaluru have demonstrated how restoring ecosystem health can sustain human systems as well. For example, urban parks provide cooling benefits and wetlands regulate urban floods.
What are the hurdles in developing sustainable Indian cities?
First, inadequate finances and political will.
Second, inadequate institutional capacity in existing government departments to reorient ways of working.
Solving these would help in planning for multiple, intersecting risks. This would transform the ways our cities operate and expand. Undertaking long-term planning needs resilience planners in every line department as well as communication channels across departments to enable vertical and horizontal knowledge sharing.
What are some recommendations to transform cities to make it sustainable?
We need to change our behavior and life style. One example of behavioral change is bottom-up sustainable practices such as urban farming where citizens are interpreting sustainability at a local and personal scale. This would lead to many advantages.
One, growing one’s own food on terraces and simultaneously enhancing local biodiversity
Two, composting organic waste and reducing landfill pressure
Three, sharing farm produce with a neighbour, bringing communities closer and creating awareness about food growing.
To deal with the twin challenges of climate change and inclusive development, pledges like Maharashtra’s are a welcome addition to ongoing climate plans. This is high time when we need to focus on climate change solutions and equip our city planners and citizens to implement them.
Source: This post is based on the article “Cities are taking climate action” published in The Hindu on 5th October 2021.