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Editorial Articles


Issue no 3, 16 - 22 April 2022

Accelerating Urban Initiatives For A Carbon-Free World

Sameera Saurabh

International Mother Earth Day provides an opportunity to raise global public awareness of the challenges to the wellbeing of the planet and all the life it supports. The Day also recognizes a collective responsibility, as called for in the 1992 Rio Declaration, to promote harmony with nature and the Earth, to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of the present and future generations of humanity. The UN General Assembly designated 22 April as International Mother Earth Day through resolution A/RES/63/278, adopted in 2009.

India is one among the largest urban systems in the world, with about 377 million people residing in urban areas (Census 2011) that form about 31.16% of the total population. It is estimated that Indian urban population would likely to reach a level of about 40% or 583 million by 2030, en-route adding 165 million people in its urban areas during 2015 to 2030 period. Due to its huge population, India is also among the current big emitters of greenhouse gases, with emission of 3.7 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent and per capita emission of 2.7 tons CO2 (per person per year) in 2019. But India's historical cumulative (1870- 2017) CO2 emission is very less, 3% compared to USA (25%), EU27+UK (22%) and China (13%).

According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, India was the seventh most affected country by the devastating impact of climate change globally in 2019. India recognizes the place of cities in the country's transformation. In line with its commitment to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly of Goal 11, of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable and Goal 13 of taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, it has already initiated steps to reinforce the urbanisation process for making cities work towards greater efficiency, inclusion and sustainability with low-carbon footprint.

Some important climate-related initiatives have been taken in India, including the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) of 2008, the launching of the historic International Solar Alliance and the submission of the ambitious Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) which centre around India's policies and programmes on promotion of clean energy, resilient urban centres, promotion of waste to wealth, safe, smart and sustainable green transportation network, abatement of pollution and India's efforts to enhance carbon sink through creation of forest and tree cover. To achieve the INDC, India is committed to follow low carbon path to progress and determined to continue with its on-going interventions, enhance the existing policies and launch new initiatives.

One of the major climate actions in the urban sector being implemented by the Government of India, is the National Mission on Sustainable Habitat (NMSH), one of the 8 Missions under NAPCC, and revised in 2019-20, which aims to promote low-carbon urban growth towards reducing GHG emissions intensity for achieving India's INDC; and building resilience of cities to climate change impacts and strengthening their capacities to 'bounce back better' from climate related extreme events and disaster risks.

Cities are responsible for some 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions with transport, buildings, energy, and waste management accounting for the bulk of urban greenhouse gas emissions. All relevant stakeholders need to work together to create sustainable and inclusive cities and towns, and in the present times, need to reaffirm the global commitment in the form of COP21 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 11 which aims for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities by 2030; and Goal 13 which calls for taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Further, the Habitat III New Urban Agenda also comprehensively lays out a broad, multilevel, and cross-sectoral framework with a spatial focus that can accelerate global climate action and provide the means to localise the SDGs. In view of this and in the context of global pandemic, the World Habitat Day and Earth Day offer new opportunities for all stakeholders-to deliberate and brainstorm the global campaign 'Race to Zero' and UN-Habitat's 'ClimateAction4Cities' and encourage local governments to develop actionable zero-carbon plans as a follow up to the international climate change summit COP26 in November 2021.

More than half (55%) of the world population of 7.6 billion, now lives in cities accounting for 78 per cent of energy consumption and generating over 70% of global CO2 emissions. By 2030, about 60% world population will be in urban areas; and this rapid urbanization continues to fuel unwanted emissions, particularly from energy consumption, industrial activities and transportation.

It has been assessed that if international community is continuing the 'business as usual' attitude, global temperature will rise by more than two degrees Celsius in 2050 in which natural disasters with catastrophic proportion will occur. Moreover, climate change makes human settlements vulnerable, especially for economically weaker sections of the society and the urban poor who are exposed to and impacted by vagaries of extreme weather events.

 A low-emission, resource-efficient greening of the economy with cost effective and aggressive low-emission strategy promises to deliver greater benefits. Developing Climate Change Assessment & Adaptation Framework for preventing urban environmental degradation, and disaster and financing measures for mitigation and adaptation actions assume prime importance.

Making Energy Efficient and Climate Resilient Cities through suitable interventions like building material with low carbon footprint, balanced planning of residential areas and growth centres, Energy Consumption Building Code and multi-level stakeholders engagement to create public awareness and mass participation in controlling pollution, waste management, etc. are some of the measures that are being promoted.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Govt of India has launched the "Climate Smart Cities Assessment Framework" in February 2019 for 100 Smart Cities, which is a guiding framework for cities towards climate actions and to help make them more responsive and less vulnerable to climate change. Various Government of India programmes like Green India Mission, National Clean Air Programme, Swachh Bharat Mission, Smart Cities Mission, AMRUT, PMAY, Urban Transport, etc. would support the cities in achieving the objective of being "Climate Smart". Various Missions launched particularly Swachh Bharat Mission, Smart Cities Mission and AMRUT, would not only make cities compact but would also help in accommodating growing demands for basic services of urbanites such as water, transportation, electricity, sewage treatment, solid waste management etc. in a more resource-efficient, low carbon and financially viable manner.

Urban Transport is a key ingredient of urban development as well as a key factor contributing CO2 emission. For example, as per SAFAR research, the most dominating emission source of PM2.5 in Delhi is transportation (41%). Therefore, the issues of enhancing low-carbon emission mobility while minimizing time and distance on road and of redesigning transport networks need focus. In view of rapid growth in the number of private vehicles, the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) 2014 of India focuses on 'planning for people rather than vehicles', by providing sustainable mobility and accessibility to all citizens to places of work, education, social services and recreation at affordable cost and within reasonable time. This involves incorporating urban transportation as an important parameter at the urban planning stage rather than being a consequential requirement; introducing Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) for traffic management; using alternative technologies such as e-vehicles; raising finances through innovative mechanisms; establishing institutional mechanisms; and building capacity for enhanced coordination in the planning and management of transport systems. There is also growing recognition on the part of some cities for the need for transitoriented development (TOD), i.e., that higher FSI (Floor Space Index) in and around transit nodes will improve intracity access and connectivity of people's places of residence, work and recreation.

Buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If we wish to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of keeping climate change below 2 degrees Celsius, we need to promote green buildings, as buildings consume 30% of final energy, out of which 22% stems from residential buildings, which is a big share but not surprising given that people spend most of their time at home, and now it has become 'new normal' due to COVID-19 Pandemic. Given that certified green buildings can deliver energy savings between 20-30 per cent and water savings of up to 30-50 per cent, we should attach greater importance to high-performing green buildings, as it strives to reduce greenhouse emissions by 33-35% (from 2005 levels). Therefore, the 'Technology Sub-Mission' (TSM) under PMAY-HfA(Urban) and the Global Housing Technology Challenge-India (GHTC) which promote and mainstream construction technologies that are sustainable, green and disaster resilient, and save time and cost are important initiatives undertaken by GoI.

We need to emphasize the need for enabling thermal comfort in mass housing projects which enhances natural ventilation, temperature and humidity control; improves liveability and health outcome in buildings. Therefore, there is a need for a new paradigm of planning and housing strategies that would enhance inclusive, healthy and sustainable housing. However, since the cost of these green buildings is a little higher than the normal houses, we need to find appropriate green financing mechanisms for enabling thermal comfort in mass housing. Banks/Financial Institutions like HUDCO, need to devise innovative green financing instruments such as Soft Green Mortgage Loans, Green Housing Bond, etc. for promotion of thermal comfort or green components in mass housing. As the greenhouse gases are increasingly threatening life on earth, it is the responsibility of cities to be the leaders of change to bring about the paradigm shift from unplanned urban settlements to planned human settlements; from high emission buildings to green buildings and build the roadmap to achieve the goals of a sustainable, economically healthy and decarbonized world with the help of data, technology, innovation and climate financing mechanisms.

There is a need to focus on finding ways and methods for promoting new and innovative low-carbon technologies, while ensuring housing for all, smart technology-based service delivery for all and better mobility with greener transport through smart urban governance, appropriate urban planning practice, innovative financing and placing people and human rights at the forefront of sustainable urban development so as to help build a carbon-free world.

(The author is Director at Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. She can be reached at sameera.saurabh@gmail. com)

Views expressed are personal.