Urban planning needs to be climate sensitive - Hindustan Times
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Urban planning needs to be climate sensitive

Jun 12, 2024 09:09 PM IST

The implementation of climate-resilient projects can be facilitated by paving the way for more integrated and effective governance structures

The recent extreme heat in North India and the cyclonic event in the Bay of Bengal underscore India’s particular vulnerability to the impact of the climate crisis. India ranks seventh globally in the list of regions most severely impacted by extreme weather events. Its cities bear the brunt of this, with their large concentration of people, infrastructure, and economic activities heightening their vulnerability. While developing countries continue to struggle to recognise the climate crisis as an issue to integrate into their established spatial plans and policies, a few developed nations have made it obligatory.

Cattle bathe in the waters while forest personnel douse the fire as smoke billows at a marshland in Perumbakkam a suburb of Chennai on May 31, 2024, due to summer heat. India is enduring a crushing heatwave with temperatures in several cities sizzling well over 45 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). (Photo by R.Satish BABU / AFP) (AFP) PREMIUM
Cattle bathe in the waters while forest personnel douse the fire as smoke billows at a marshland in Perumbakkam a suburb of Chennai on May 31, 2024, due to summer heat. India is enduring a crushing heatwave with temperatures in several cities sizzling well over 45 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). (Photo by R.Satish BABU / AFP) (AFP)

Cities are also a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, fuelling warming. Addressing this crisis requires aligning India’s urban planning with climate-sensitive approaches to build resilient and sustainable cities. Kochi, Mumbai, Delhi, and Port Blair have incorporated climate crisis concerns into their spatial planning. While Gujarat created a climate cell at the state level, Ahmedabad did this at the city level to implement its Climate Action Plan and prepared its first heat action plan in 2013. On the other hand, many Indian cities that are vulnerable to climate crisis effects continue to lack safeguards in their local policies. Cities like Panjim, Visakhapatnam, and Coimbatore, for instance, are extremely vulnerable geographies but are not conducting vulnerability assessments, which includes profiling people and determining their unique vulnerabilities. For many cities, future-proofing against the local microclimate has to be made integral to the urban design and guidelines.

In India, spatial planning policies are under the purview of Union, state, and local governments. The 74th Constitutional Amendment mandates state and local governments to create development plans based on policies laid down by, and with funding from, the Union government. However, planning has been relegated to the sole purview of state governments and their agencies, despite the 74th Amendment mentioning local municipal governments. This is largely due to limited capabilities and understanding. These development plans include long-term (20-25 years) focus on socio-economic aspects and spatial distribution of land uses, and short-term (5-7 years) city development plans focusing on urban infrastructure, service delivery, and community participation. These plans are supported by the Urban and Regional Development Plans Formulation and Implementation (URDPFI) guidelines. However, increasing climate crisis impacts necessitate updating these policies to integrate climate-sensitive elements effectively. Action is required at all levels — Union and state for policy development, determining and modifying technical and structural standards, and ensuring implementation by relevant agencies specified under the 74th Amendment.

Planning for climate resilience cannot be static. It needs review and changes continuously, especially in response to climate-related events. Furthermore, improving the skills of city-level stakeholders is necessary to successfully incorporate climate data into planning procedures. This entails making pertinent climate data accessible and developing the ability to understand and use it. While considering the scale of planning, it is evident that master plans by themselves cannot address environmental challenges, particularly on a regional or larger scale. Planners frequently neglect to implement improvements at the ground level. To effectively drive change, local area planning, and citizen involvement must be integrated. Tailored techniques are also required because of the diverse characteristics of cities.

A one-size-fits-all strategy for cities will not work, particularly while addressing the climate crisis. For example, rural areas focus on improving basic infrastructure like roads and water supply, while cities like Mumbai prioritise managing housing density and developing smart city initiatives. Chennai implements flood mitigation measures, whereas inland cities like Delhi and Jaipur focus on heritage preservation, green cover or urban expansion and urban heat island management.

The significance of public consultation processes cannot be overstated in climate-sensitive planning. While horizontal coordination between governments and stakeholders is frequently mentioned, the voices of communities for resilience are occasionally disregarded. The preparation of Master plans include public engagement procedures. However, they usually take place after the plan is created. Community input must be considered from the beginning, right after a disaster or impact, to anticipate future events and comprehend the effects experienced throughout the planning phase.

Establishing cross-sectoral arrangements is essential, even if planning inevitably involves long-term considerations for short-term benefits. The implementation of climate-resilient projects can be facilitated by paving the way for more integrated and effective governance structures by breaking down these silos and the promotion of cross-sectoral collaboration.

The language of the planning acts needs to be changed fundamentally as for the most part, the physical infrastructure is the focus. Other factors that are directly related to any industry, such as transportation, street patterns, and mobility, should also be taken into consideration. In conclusion, addressing capacity gaps in driving climate-sensitive planning initiatives and the requirement for institutional frameworks is crucial for climate-proofing cities.

Anushree Harde is research associate, and Sharif Qamar is associate director, Transport and Urban Governance Division, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). The views expressed are personal

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