Climate Change Risks and Cities: The Need for Climate Action Plans

Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.

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Some of these changes have been linked to human influences, including a decrease in cold temperature extremes, an increase in warm temperature extremes, an increase in extreme high sea levels and an increase in the number of heavy precipitation events in a number of regions. The World Bank report on ‘Guide to Climate Change Adaptation in Cities’, stresses on the need for Climate Change adaptation at urban level. India’s National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) proposes measures in sectors like solar, water and agriculture. The NAPCC aims to mitigate climate risks while providing avenues for development. Individual states have State Plans confirming to the NAPCC guidelines. A Climate Action Plan is imminent on the lines of those adopted in cities like New York.

Towards a Climate Action Plan

PlaNYC, formulated in 2007, is New York City’s comprehensive sustainability agenda and vision for the next few decades. It comprises innovative solutions and practical measures to combat climate change risks in sectors like housing, energy, and waste management. It recognizes the issues and potential that New York City/NYC has towards becoming resilient to climate change risks. PlaNYC starts with a current profile on greenhouse gas emissions of NYC. For each sector of buildings, power, transportation, solid waste management, PlaNYC:

· Suggests ground-level technical and practical solutions to reduce emissions;

· Identifies probable barriers to implement these solutions;

· Provides mitigation strategies to overcome these barriers.

The Plan locates all these initiatives in a frame of economic cost-effectiveness, i.e., the cost of investing in new technologies in the short term and reaping long-term sustainable benefits. So far, PlaNYC has demonstrated its success through progress reports published every year. As per the report published in 2014, PlaNYC is on track to achieve its 2030 goals of reducing carbon emissions by 50%. New York City demonstrates that the way to achieve climate change resilience is by having a comprehensive action plan in place.

How can Indian cities adopt a Climate Action Plan?

According to Amruta Ponkshe, Urban Innovation and Sustainability expert: To adopt PlaNYC in a city like Mumbai, it is necessary to conduct debates and discussions with practitioners, city administrators, and citizens. Such deliberative democratic communication ensures and helps in identification and selection of those variables from PlaNYC that are important and require immediate attention for Mumbai. Awareness and outreach programs for citizens help in creating an atmosphere conducive for the successful implementation of any plan. Most important factor is the thought that sustainability and climate resilience, if adopted as the theme for development, will result in building a stronger and resilient city. It would be wise to look at the way PlaNYC implementation is structured through City Departments and establishment of a Sustainability Cell. In New York City, the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability (OLTPS) is the umbrella organization, which creates the PlaNYC. Formulating a comprehensive Climate Action Plan would necessarily include restructuring the present hierarchy and grant more powers to the Sustainability Cell. A Climate Action Plan also relies on greater co-ordination and knowledge sharing between city departments. It involves accuracy in recording and monitoring various city-services like water supply, sewerage, and solid waste management. Greater synchronization and transparent communication between parastatal agencies will ensure climate resilience for Mumbai and the greater metropolitan area.

Work has begun on formulating the Master Plan from 2014-2034. To have a vision for Mumbai that  sustains beyond this timeline should be the ultimate objective of the Climate Action Plan. Creating awareness regarding the need for an all-encompassing notion of sustainable and climate resilient Mumbai is the need of the hour. To build a climate resilient Mumbai, the long-term vision has to adopt the PlaNYC to solve Mumbai’s local problems. To translate this vision into reality the following steps are almost mandatory:

1. Formulate a cross-functional team comprising scientists, climate change experts and practitioners from Mumbai as well as the team of experts who formulated PlaNYC and are currently involved in its evaluation.

2. While the experts work on their own domain-specific sectors like energy, transportation, construction and residential energy consumption, there is a need for periodic meetings with the entire team to break them out of their silos and make the plan fit together better.

3. Coordination and consultation with the Development Plan team is a pre-requisite. While the Mumbai Climate Action Plan should become a stand-alone entity in the city, a close dialogue should occur between the DP team and the Mumbai CAP team to provide an effective vision document for Mumbai.

 4. Lastly, once this plan is operational, a mechanism of periodic audits should be set up to ensure that the Mumbai CAP is reaching its goals. To ensure sustainability of the city and its economy, Mumbai should take these steps as soon as possible.

To conclude, Goal 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) and Goal 13 (Climate Action) of the Sustainable Development Goals / SDGs go hand in hand. It is mandatory that city governments read them and work towards them in a comprehensive manner in their attempt to build better urban futures.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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