India unveiled its long-term climate action plan at the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November. While the document titled ‘Long-Term Low-Carbon Development Strategy (LT-LCDS)’ has multi-sectoral measures to reach a net-zero emissions status, climate-resilient urbanisation forms a cornerstone of the Government of India’s strategy under the Paris Agreement.
This three-pronged and long-term plan for urban areas focuses on adaptation and resource efficiency in urban planning, climate-responsive and climate-resilient buildings, and municipal service delivery.
Have a data-driven approach
There are several flagship missions championed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs as well, which target specific objectives towards creating a smart, sustainable and resilient urban India. To facilitate implementation of the LT-LCDS and other missions, and enable their integration, a data-driven approach may be useful. Demonstrating urban planning strategies aimed at climate resilience through specific actions and interventions (backed by sound data) and linking them to various finance streams accessible to the urban local bodies is important.
Cities need effective and efficient planning instruments that translate master plans into transformative business-ready investment projects.
For instance, the Urban Sustainability Assessment Framework (USAF), a decision support tool of UN-Habitat for municipal commissioners and urban practitioners, supports the sustainable and resilient urban planning and management of Indian cities. It enables cities to regularly capture inter-sectoral data and corresponding analysis on urban metrices, thereby helping in monitoring the performance of a city in static and dynamic contexts. Cities can enhance vertical integration by pulling together the missions’ objectives at the central level, State policies and projects, and local implementation through city-specific strategic actions linked to capital investment planning.
The urban transport sector is among the key contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The cases of Bhopal and Jaipur
In the case of Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh), for example, they make up for 19% of the city’s GHG emissions. Bhopal favours non-motorised transport (NMT) with a 43% NMT modal share but provides access to public bike docking stops to only 24% of its population; only half of its streets have footpaths. By designing ‘shared streets’ for personal vehicles, public transport, NMT and pedestrians, and linking them with future economic activity zones and underserved areas, the city has immense potential to reduce its carbon footprint. These streets can also be conduits for native plant species and groundwater recharge by integrating water-sensitive urban design features with a potential of reducing GHG emissions of up to 15 tCO2/annum per kilometre. In Bhopal, the Smart Cities Mission has made significant investments in NMT, though the use of this infrastructure has been sub-optimal. There are opportunities for improvement and increased usage of the NMT network though better land-use integration. Spatial analyses can inform decision-making towards co-location of investments and projects from various missions for cumulative community impact and enhanced urban value.
Nature-based solutions provide a range of solutions for climate change adaptation over hard grey infrastructure. As seen in Jaipur (Rajasthan), with only 1.42 sq.m per capita of open space against a benchmark of 12 sq.m per person, the desert capital also experiences various hazards that include heat waves, droughts and urban flooding. Residential areas with at least 10% of land area under open space and parks were found to be at least 1.25°C cooler than neighbourhoods with less green pockets. In industrial pockets, the urban heat island impact was greater with temperatures higher by 1.1°C. There are several macro and micro options available to Jaipur such as planting shade trees, urban forests, installing cool roofs, planning cool islands and investing in city scale blue green infrastructure to improve the micro-climate and environmental conditions.
Jaipur has also witnessed a significant decline in porous surfaces (by 50%) in the last three decades and a corresponding sharp increase in surface stormwater run-off (156%) which the city struggles to accommodate leading to regular urban flooding. Simple yet effective solutions that can increase Jaipur’s resilience include community recharge pits in neighbourhood parks, and increasing permeable spaces along mobility corridors to decrease the run-off by a sizeable fraction. Such interventions find consonance with the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) mandates and allows for cities to integrate them with their capital investment plans.
The suggested planning approach merits a comprehensive stakeholder participation towards building climate resilience. Active involvement from various tiers of government, non-governmental, community-based organisations, and academic institutions is desirable at each step — from building a sustainability profile to arriving at very specific interventions. Movements on the city performance indicators communicate the impact of these interventions to the decision-makers and the community at large. In addition, cumulative benefits and efficient use of public resources from various central and State missions, and on-ground convergence are possible by identifying neighbourhoods/wards to co-locate investments for holistic and integrated city-level transformations. This evidence-based approach aims at making cities sustainable, resilient and inclusive with no one and no place left behind.
All this is in the spirit of the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan which affirms that “sustainable and just solutions to the climate crisis must be founded on meaningful and effective social dialogue and participation of all stakeholders”. Therefore, India’s long-term strategy must accommodate the most vulnerable of its people in its low-emissions pathways to achieve sustainable economic growth and poverty eradication.
Mansi Sachdev is Senior Urban Planner, UN-Habitat India. Pushkal Shivam is Urban Planner, Un-Habitat India