Boats deployed to rescue stranded residents after heavy rain caused the Panchganga river to overflow and flood Kolhapur on July 24. Inclusive partnerships is needed to ensure cities pass the “climate tests”. (ANIL VELHAL/HT)
Boats deployed to rescue stranded residents after heavy rain caused the Panchganga river to overflow and flood Kolhapur on July 24. Inclusive partnerships is needed to ensure cities pass the “climate tests”. (ANIL VELHAL/HT)

Civic Sanskriti: Inclusive partnerships to ensure cities pass the “climate tests”

PUNE Climate change is taking its toll with intense rainfall and urban floods in Kolhapur, Mumbai and parts of Pune, as well as heat waves in Europe and northern America
By Sanskriti Menon
UPDATED ON JUL 27, 2021 05:17 PM IST

PUNE Climate change is taking its toll with intense rainfall and urban floods in Kolhapur, Mumbai and parts of Pune, as well as heat waves in Europe and northern America. What should cities do to reduce their contribution to climate change and adapt better to the impacts?

A webinar last week with a conversation between Maharashtra environment minister Aditya Thackeray and renowned industry leader Jamshyd Godrej, and board members of the Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, New Delhi, had several interesting pointers.

The minister reiterated the need for a focus on cities and climate change, noting that cities contribute greatly to the problem and also hold important solutions. He opined that the biggest hurdle for human development is now climate change. Maharashtra spent over Rs39,000 crore in compensation for climate change-induced calamities last year.

The state’s Environment department is now looking to update its climate change action plan. It also aims to promote the participation of five cities from Maharashtra in a global initiative called the Race to Net Zero.

A focus on green buildings is needed. Maharashtra should make it mandatory for new buildings to be green and to retrofit the existing buildings, Jamshyd Godrej suggested.

Discussions with architects, urban planners and the construction industry would help give this a fillip. In my view, an essential step is for the state to mandate the adoption of the Energy Conservation Building Code that has been prepared by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency.

Carlos Moreno, a French-Colombian scientist has proposed the idea of the “15-minute city”, which envisions that people in a city should be able to meet most of their needs within a short walk or bicycle ride from their home. Minister Aditya Thackeray suggested that our cities could adapt the concept as “15 minutes with public transport” – this was music to the ears.

Plantations with native trees, creating urban thickets, using even small spaces like traffic islands, and along highways, are of course always a welcome action. Vegetation can help reduce the urban heat-island effect, as well as trap atmospheric carbon.

The minister mentioned how cities elsewhere apply a “climate test” for government decisions, to check whether and how any proposed initiative or project helps in climate mitigation and adaptation. As mentioned in this column some weeks ago, matching the mandatory functions of the municipal government to the Sustainable Development Goals can be a good way to start.

The need for partnerships is clear. The pandemic has seen many such entities coming together for relief work and healthcare. Similar community spiritedness is needed for climate action. Schools, colleges, corporates, residential groups, voluntary organisations, and local governments do need to work together for greening, improving walkability of neighbourhoods, enhancing recycling, water harvesting and conservation initiatives.

The pandemic also showed us the need for inclusivity with the realisation of how integral migrants are to the city. Climate action too needs inclusive approaches, within the city, as well as with regions and states that support the functioning of cities. Recognizing the interdependence of states like Maharashtra and Bihar, governments and other actors should create programmes for communication, learning and cooperation. Better solutions must be developed in cities for migrant families, especially in distress situations, for living and work conditions, and to access education and healthcare, in discussion with them.

Converting these inspirational deliberations into actual projects and partnerships is essential, with a sense of urgency.

Sanskriti Menon is senior programme director, Centre for Environment Education. She writes on urban sustainability and participatory governance. Views are personal. She can be reached at civic.sanskriti@gmail.com

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