Most Indian cities don’t have a climate plan in place. Here’s why
In 2016, author Amitav Ghosh published The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, a book of non-fiction that examines the world’s inability — at the level of literature, history, and politics — to grasp the scale and violence of climate change. At a post-launch discussion in New Delhi that year, Ghosh said: “The evidence of climate change is all around us — record temperatures, superstorms, the crack in the Larsen B Ice Shelf … if global warming is the most pressing problem facing the planet, why do we see so few references to it in contemporary novels, apart from post-apocalyptic science fiction? Where is the great Climate Change Novel?”
There is indeed enough fodder for not just one climate change novel, but several. And movies and documentaries. But as the world waits for authors and filmmakers to warm up to the subject and examining its different facets, a few are exploring innovative ways to bring the climate conversation in to the mainstream, a difficult challenge in most parts of the world.
Miranda Massie, a New York-based lawyer, is one such person. A year ago, she set up the Climate Museum in the city for its residents and tourists. In an interview to historicalclimatology.com, Massie said there are two reasons for setting up such an institution: first, in intellectual and cultural terms, it’s hard to think of a richer or more interesting subject for a museum. Second, she believes that an engaged public can generate the climate initiatives needed for humanity to flourish.
One of the museum’s ongoing exhibitions showcases installations by artist-activist, JB Guariglia, which try to draw urban citizens into the climate conversation. Such efforts aimed at the urban population and governments are crucial because cities are the real drivers of economic growth, and also major contributors to climate change as well, thanks to their high usage of fossil fuel and other resources. The vulnerability quotient of many cities is high because they are located in eco-sensitive areas such as coastlines, rivers and floodplains.
Like many cities across the world, Indian cities, too, have been at the receiving end of climate change. Yet most are yet to firm up resilence and adaptation strategies such as climate-resilient infrastructure, proper waste management and water harvesting, to tackle this enormous challenge.
There are multiple reasons for this. First, most city governments struggle to deal with other day-to-day development challenges such as education, infrastructure and health, and so climate resilience and adaptation figure low on their priority list.
Second, big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai have no city resilience plans because there is not just multiplicity of problems but also of authorities, which tend to work in silos whereas climate change cuts across several departments: public health, water, environment, energy, and social justice to name a few. “While building resilience, there are three things that need to be taken into account: policy planning, infra resilience, and governance and capacity building… and that is not happening,” says Raina Singh, area convener, Centre for Urban Planning and Governance, Sustainable Habitat Programme, The Energy and Resources Institute, Delhi. A report by the Institute has predicted that failure to adapt to climate change would lead to economic loss and social damage, particularly among the most vulnerable.
Third, even if some cities have a patchwork of resilience and adaptation policies, there is no guarantee that those policies will continue after a regime change. Fourth, while the upfront capital costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation are being increasingly well understood, decision making and investment planning are hindered by uncertainty in the indirect costs and lack of simplified and transparent methods for assessing cost-benefit analysis of the steps that a city takes.
The 2017 Survey of India’s City-Systems by the Bangalore-based Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy identifies a few more gaps that inhibit the ability of cities to mitigate climate change: they are not equipped with the financial management systems and processes required to access climate financing, such as green bonds; lack of active citizens who are informed and engaged on the subject of climate change and sustainability, which is essential to mitigate and build resilience, and demand accountability including transparency and information on livability indicators such as air pollution levels, percentage of garbage segregated, modal share of public transport, walking and cycling. Then there is a shortage of skilled personnel specialised in areas such as environmental engineering transportation, traffic management, disaster management, and related areas.
Experts say that after coping with the challenges of development and efforts to reduce poverty, Indian cities have to quickly learn to be resilient. There is no time to lose because India is fast urbanising: By 2030, its cities will produce 70% of the country’s wealth and be home to 590 million inhabitants. Dealing with current vulnerabilities and projected climate change impacts — the country is the sixth most climate change-vulnerable country on the Climate Risk Index 2018 — will need innovative thinking and participatory planning and action.
In an Age of Consequences, adequate steps, or the lack of them, could make or break cities.