How the world’s big cities are fighting climate change, together

  • Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Nov 30, 2015 20:01 IST
Heavy traffic is seen during a smoggy day in Delhi . Some 150 leaders will attend the start of the Paris conference on climate change, which starts on November 30, tasked with reaching the first truly universal climate pact. (AFP)

If you thought climate change was only about melting glaciers and sinking islands, you have underestimated it. A report by C40, a global network of 82 megacities--including Delhi--committed to fighting climate change, says that at least 70% of these urban centres are already affected by climate change. Not all of them are coast or hill towns.

As population is increasing in these megacities, rising pollution, growing congestion and mounting waste are throttling local environments. If not suffering already, these cities are likely to face climate hazards such as storms, surge, floods, drought, heat waves, smog, groundwater depletion and outbreak of vector/water-borne disease.

But the C40 report also offers a silver lining. At least 19 of the participating cities (the report does not name them) have reduced greenhouse emissions following some serious climate risk mitigation measures. By 2015, they are expected to cut 28 metric tonnes of CO2 - equivalent to the annual emissions of nine coal-fired power stations.

The report, released ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, shows that 60% of reported cumulative savings come from taking five actions: imposing time/day restrictions on personal vehicle usage, promoting bus rapid transit, entering into long-term contracts with renewable energy generators, encouraging energy efficient appliance purchases, better landfill management and pushing landfill gas to energy.

We don’t know how Delhi fared on these counts because it did not provide action data in response to the 2015 Climate Action in Megacities survey. A city where the air is foul, energy is sourced from coal-fired plants, dumpsites are overfilled, and every third resident is living illegally on a river that resembles an open sewer, Delhi wouldn’t have had much to flaunt.

There is hope, though. The report says 30% of all climate action taken in C40 cities is a result of city-to-city collaboration. Here are some inspiring urban experiments Delhi could pick from:

Waste management

The study found recycling, composting, and waste prevention to be the most popular strategy among the C40 cities.

Rio de Janeiro learnt about management of waste cooperatives in Johannesburg and Jakarta. It got cooperative workers to operate sorting centres, reduced street and landfill scavenging and increased its recycling rate. Milan collaborated with Seoul to learn how to implement pay-as-you-throw fee mechanisms for residential and commercial waste, the report states.

These are good lessons for Delhi that has failed to enforce recycling of waste or recognise thousands of rag-pickers who informally do what is essentially the job of the citizens and the municipal staff.

Pedestrians wear masks on a polluted day in Beijing on November 30, 2015. Beijing choked under the worst smog of the year on November 30, with dangerous particulates nearly 20 times healthy levels, as China's president joined other leaders in Paris for key climate change talks. (AFP)


The focus of C40 cities is on providing infrastructure for non-motorised transport through cycle hiring and sharing programmes and improving mass and bus transit. Increasing routes, frequency and night services has been the most popular action in this sector, the report states.

Land use

To adapt to landslides or subsidence caused by heavy rainfall, Bogotá, Caracas and Curitiba have identified high-risk zones and imposed land use restrictions. It is also planting trees and creating green spaces in vulnerable areas.


According to the report, Cape Town has completed retrofitting of 26% of its large municipal buildings with power saving fittings and 50% with smart electricity meters. The city also runs a behaviour change programme to enable building managers to keep tabs on energy consumption resulting in energy savings of 1,068 MWs. Delhi’s power consumption on the other hand, is growing at 10% each year.

Singapore is investing in R&D to improve the efficiency and lower the price of solar technologies for adoption on a larger scale. San Francisco Public Utilities Commission supplies all municipal buildings with 100% carbon free electricity.

Changwon in South Korea is subsidising cool roofs (heat-reflective surfaces), a technology it picked up from Tokyo. It reduces the need for air conditioning, saves power and cuts emission, the report states.

Delhi is the seat of the highest level of urbanisation in India and faces a far grimmer future than many other C40 cities do. Successful experiments in climate mitigation will be the city’s insurance and also better our quality of life. As Norway’s former prime minister and C40 patron Gro Harlem Brundtland puts it: Fighting climate change is less about particulates per ton and more about the well-being of people.

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