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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

Climate change is here. What’s Mumbai doing about it?

Where are the institutional arrangements Mumbai needs? What governance mechanisms exist? What financial resources have been committed? Indeed, what are Mumbai’s goals to reduce emissions?

mumbai Updated: Oct 18, 2018 00:03 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
The questions are blowing in the smog, in the heat waves, in the angry monsoon.
The questions are blowing in the smog, in the heat waves, in the angry monsoon.(HT Photo)
         

The average temperature recorded in the Santacruz observatory on October 7 was a scorching 37.8 degrees Celsius. It was Mumbai’s second hottest October day in a decade. A substantive and alarming report on climate change was released globally the next day, warning the world of the deadly impacts of global warming including rising temperatures. The first piece of news received attention in the city. The second vaguely registered on people. And few made the connection between the two.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) special report on ‘Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees’ did not frighten Mumbaiites; it did not stir the Devendra Fadnavis government or the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation out of their slumber on the issue. The irony is that unless the report (as others before it) is taken seriously at the policy level, extreme heat days, severe rainfall, floods are more likely than ever to be part of Mumbaiites’ lives.

Mumbai’s monsoon patterns have changed; there are more extreme rainfall days now than a decade ago. Its land and sea temperatures have been increasing. Sea levels have been rising. The risks of coastal flooding and tropical cyclones are real. Sea-water intrusion into homes and shops threaten lives. Urban heat islands are a reality; Mumbai shows “heat stresses” that other megacities do. Its mean temperature rose by around 0.7 degrees Celsius in the last century and more. Nearly 40% of Mumbai could be underwater in the next 100 years if sea levels continue to rise, warned the National Institute of Oceanography in 2016. All this can – nay, will – have a devastating impact on the city’s built environment, economy, and people’s health.

The IPCC report warned that previous efforts to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will not be enough; it will have to be limited to 1.5 degrees in the next decade or so. It recommended “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in all sectors, including industry, transport, energy and so on. The target is a formidable one, made more difficult by the fact that our governments have mostly cold-shouldered climate change issues.

The report threw clear light on urbanisation and climate change: Urbanisation is faster than ever in human history; urban areas account for huge energy use and large greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions including nearly 44% of CO2 emissions leading to global warming; urban infrastructure is a key driver of emissions; infrastructure and urban form like density, accessibility and land-use mix are strongly linked.

Cities, especially large megacities, are likely to be the worst affected placing millions of people at risk. Mitigation of climate change impacts requires efforts at the local scale, the report stated, and called for “institutional arrangements, governance mechanisms, and financial resources (to) be aligned with the goals of reducing urban GHG emissions”.

Where are the institutional arrangements Mumbai needs? What governance mechanisms exist? What financial resources have been committed? Indeed, what are Mumbai’s goals to reduce emissions? Reports keep piling up, recommendations from national and international agencies abound, but climate change and its mitigation remain low on government and BMC’s agenda. These issues are virtually out of public discourse, do not inform election campaigns, and do not excite most politicians.

This lackadaisical approach will hurt Mumbai. The steps that the government and BMC take now will determine Mumbai’s future in the decades – perhaps centuries – to come. There is very little time; they have to act fast and decisively. The IPCC report offers clear directions to policymakers. But ours need to be seized of the issue, they must engage with experts, work out clear goals and mitigation strategies which should then inform all policy on land-use, transportation, water, energy, waste and so on. At the juncture Mumbai’s policymakers are, this seems a long, really long, way off.

The questions are blowing in the smog, in the heat waves, in the angry monsoon. If chief minister Fadnavis begins drawing up clear answers, his government would have taken a huge step forward on combating climate change.