Many Indian cities are developing climate action plans to adapt to increasing risks they face because of climate change (such as flooding and heat waves) and to mitigate greenhouse emissions associated with extensive urbanization.
Abinash Mohanty, program lead for the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, New Delhi, said, “The discourse of city climate action plans started because the hierarchy of decisionmaking, operation, preparedness, prevention, and mitigation is different at city and national levels. We need to understand where the hyperlocal action happens—that can only happen at a city level.”
Mumbai is the latest Indian city to release a climate action plan (CAP). Shruti Narayan, regional director for South and West Asia at C40, a global network of major cities addressing climate change, said, “The Mumbai CAP followed the C40 climate action plan, a global framework aligned to the broader objectives of the Paris Agreement to have defined targets for emission reduction. The CAP builds over a database of greenhouse gas inventory that outlines how different sectors in a city contribute to emissions.” In addition to Mumbai, four other Indian cities (Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, and Kolkata) are part of the C40 network.
For an analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions, Mumbai stakeholders and C40 used a global standard called the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Inventories (GHG Protocol). The GHG Protocol provides a standard method of measuring emissions and outlining goals for emissions reduction—what kind of reduction is appropriate for the locality and how to set reasonable targets for that reduction.
The GHG Protocol allows a city to consider tailored interventions for sectors that are strong emitters of greenhouse gases. “For example, in the building sector, incorporating energy efficiency, promoting green buildings, and encouraging passive design such as improving daylight and ventilation (so that there is less reliance on active methods of cooling) reduces electricity consumption,” said Narayan.
The Mumbai CAP looked at six sectors: building, waste management, mobility, biodiversity, air quality, and urban flooding.
Mythili Madhavan, a consultant in urban management at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bengaluru, said that the CAP makes Mumbai the first city in South Asia to have a net zero plan in compliance with the C40 standards. “There is a healthy mix of adaptation and mitigation interventions,” she said, “a promising start to a more resilient city.”
An initial part of the CAP included vulnerability assessments to evaluate specific risks posed by climate change. Being a coastal city with a population of more than 20 million, Mumbai faces many such risks: heat, flooding, air pollution, and landslides.
Lubaina Rangwala, a program head of urban development at the World Resources Institute who was also involved in developing the Mumbai CAP, said the vulnerability assessments relied on decades of data from scientific and government agencies. “Data from the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services was obtained for tidal information and coastal risks,” she said, and “40-year weather data from Indian Meteorology Department made the analysis quite robust, and census data was used to identify vulnerable societies.”
Vulnerabilities were further divided into infrastructure and service aspects (including access to sanitation, fire services, and mass transit), physical/environmental aspects (including the status of roofing), and socioeconomic aspects (including home ownership and access to information through broadcast media, telephone, and the Internet).
Rangwala said the vulnerability assessment helps to bring risk equity to adaptation strategies in vulnerable communities, and general goals, such as “promote equitable access to green open spaces” and “decarbonize electricity grid,” have been identified.
Madhavan was more skeptical. “The plan suggests inclusivity and ensuring safety of vulnerable communities.” However, she said, “it is unclear what the exact goals are…there needs to be equitable outcomes ensured for the vulnerable communities to reduce inequalities.”
Other CAPs in India
In addition to the C40 network, other Indian cities (Coimbatore, Rajkot, Siliguri, and Udaipur) are implementing climate action plans developed under the Capacity Building for Low Carbon and Climate Resilient City Development (CapaCITIES) project.
Soumya Chaturvedula is the deputy director of ICLEI South Asia, a global network of local governments that helped these cities develop CAPs. ICLEI “developed both climate change mitigation and adaption interventions for all the four cities,” she said, and the plans have been implemented since 2018.
A baseline assessment of urban development was done to first evaluate the climate change impacts and interventions needed. Chaturvedula said the CAPs “got primary data such as property details, waste management records, and energy usage from the local authorities—urban planning department, electricity distribution companies, the road transport authority, etc. Where data was missing, we did primary surveys.”
Some interventions suggested by the CAPs are innovative “bankable projects,” such as a feasibility study for a mass transit system in Siliguri and a bike-sharing program in Coimbatore. A bankable project in Udaipur involves making the Old City, a popular tourist destination, a “green mobility zone” prioritizing walking, biking, and electric vehicle travel.
Other elements of city CAPs are linked to existing initiatives to help create “quick win” projects. In Rajkot, for instance, “we looked at [existing] biodiversity strategies for improving the green cover to increase the carbon sink,” Chaturvedula explained. Another quick win in Rajkot included funding groundwater recharge structures—a crucial part of infrastructure in a city that has a semiarid climate and faces both water stress and seasonal flooding. “A watershed-level study was done where microwatersheds were identified. Improvements in the storm drainage system were identified to reduce urban flooding, as were locations where groundwater recharge is possible—ensuring that there is no contamination of the groundwater aquifer.”
The initial Mumbai CAP was only recently developed and has yet to outline specific programs similar to bankable projects or quick wins. Madhavan stressed the importance of developing strategies for the city’s 24 administrative districts, or wards, as the plan deepens. Across all India’s municipalities, she said, “there needs to be ward-level planning of climate actions, understanding the risks and vulnerabilities by mapping them effectively. Mumbai has successfully done the vulnerability assessment to begin with, which is a great start.”
Mohanty concluded that climate-proofing Mumbai’s critical infrastructure needs to be done to withstand climate extremes. “We also need to have more cohesive risk financing at a city-level through instruments like catastrophic municipal bonds to drive our climate actions at a city level.”
—Deepa Padmanaban (@deepa-padma), Science Writer