Cities and India’s climate agenda

November 18, 2021 6:15 AM

From clean power generation to afforestation measures, urban local bodies have a big role to play.

cop26, climate change, global warming,Climate Risk Planning should focus on large-scale urban forests and plantations.

By KK Pandey

The CoP26 initiated a five-point strategy to achieve zero-carbon cities (ZCC). This involves (i) zero or low-carbon vehicles, (ii) green energy, (iii) waste management (iv) climate-smart codes for buildings, and (v) climate-risk planning. It has been suggested that cities should achieve interim targets by 2030, before the global zero-emission-cities vision is achieved in 2050. The UK has already allocated a sum of Rs 275 crore, apart from commitments by Germany and a UN pledge to work further with various stakeholders. Actionable points on the interim agenda chiefly include renewable power, urban afforestation and waste-to-energy. There is immense potential for solar energy, 17.6% urban land has potential for afforestation to reduce carbon intensity by close to 25%, and waste management can generate gas and energy and also remedy air pollution. Similarly, zero/low-carbon vehicles can reduce pollution which costs 7 million lives per annum. China has a National Garden City Programme and the US has Green City Development based on the metrics of per capita green cover, green cover ratio and green canopy. In addition, vertical gardens and roof-top gardens/farming is also being promoted.

Such an agenda is important for urban India, too, given the country is undergoing a transition from a semi-urban to urban-majority society. The interim agenda (2030) on ZCC—by then, around 40% India would be urban with many urban-majority states—is also essential for sustainable growth. It will help achieve India’s commitment in CoP26 on meeting 50% of the energy requirement through clean energy and generation of 500 gigawatts non-fossil electricity (50% from renewables) and 45%-reduction of the GDP’s emission-intensity by 2030. Maharashtra, one of India’s most-urbanised states, has already committed to a Race to Zero for 30 cities. Bihar is also taking initial steps. Yet, India needs tripartite (the Centre, states and urban local bodies, or ULBs) action on a five-point interim plan.

First, to have zero/low carbon vehicles, we must base states’ urban transport policy on environment-friendly but cost-effective city transport. A network of charging stations and CNG pumps must be taken up in mission-mode.

Second, green-energy generation by ULBs has a vast scope. There has to be greater focus on scaling up of existing, low-scale incidence of use of open spaces and office buildings for solar generation. Bhopal sets a wonderful example; the city uses lake-side solar panels, and is now planning to issue green bonds to establish solar parks by raising Rs 100 crore via this route. Another example is the transition of the urban, public-sector bus transport in Delhi to CNG. Now, NDMC is using open spaces within its jurisdiction for solar power generation. There is a need to have state-wide programmes on similar lines across the country. Other eligible cities should think of raising green bonds.

Third, schemes for effective waste disposal also generate green energy and carbon reduction. Decentralised waste disposal such as waste-to-gas plants/ biomethanisation at zonal level in Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, and Pune, local composting (lanes/apartments/bulk-generators) in Bengaluru and other cities, etc, need wider replication. Many cities such as Indore, Ahmedabad, Jabalpur, and Delhi currently do have waste-to-energy programmes, including incineration plants for mixed waste. Such programmes must be implemented with due care to check emission of carbon and other harmful gases. Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0 has a pointed focus on environment-friendly urban waste disposal and will strengthen ULB efforts. It will also facilitate minimum waste and spur a circular economy.

Fourth, climate smart code for buildings needs to be addressed by revisiting the Energy Building Code and the Urban Development Plans Formulation and. Implementation (UDPFI) guidelines. All buildings on eligible plots should follow the Energy Building Code norms. Technology missions of the PMAY and similar initiatives need to be expanded. Master plans (MPs) should include development of carbon-free areas in line with the Green Blue development proposed.

Fifth, Climate Risk Planning should focus on large-scale urban forests and plantations. This needs a census of trees, in line with national and global experience. South Korea created a 6-km long mixed-use waterfront corridor, Columbia (Medellin) created 36 green corridors along roads and water-ways, and the US is now investing $100 million each year on urban afforestation through avenue trees. These efforts show impact on local area temperature, along with reduction in the ‘heat island’ effect. The Union environment ministry in India has already initiated a city-forests programme for 400 towns. The plan should also incorporate carbon budgeting at the city level supported by various missions and allocations from the XV and State Finance Commissions, apart from CSR funding. A Climate Smart Cities Assessment Framework for urban services and the ‘streets for people’ challenge (reimagining streets as environment-friendly, productive spaces), envisaged under the Smart City Mission, must be expanded to include norms on these five actions areas. At the same time, the Centre and states should revisit their missions and schemes to fulfill the Indian NDCs towards climate action.

Professor, Indian Institute of Public Administration

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