Wednesday, January 14, 2015

From smart cities to climate smart cities: My opinion piece published in Hindu Business Line!

From smart cities to climate smart cities


Urban spaces are responsible for global warming and bear the brunt of it as well. They must evolve in sustainable ways
Bright future? Only if planners start thinking out of the box Ailisa/
Bright future? Only if planners start thinking out of the box Ailisa/
India is still unclear what its Prime Minister means when he talks about smart cities.

However, what everyone seems to be clear about is the fact that cities are defining the world’s fate at the moment.

Increasingly being recognised as the only place for ‘opportunities’, cities invite more and more people to their fold, consume huge amount of energy, have heavy transport use, create more unnatural space by destroying natural ecosystems, and emit a lot of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Cities claimed a good amount of time during the COP 20 (conference of the parties 20) debates in Lima. It is now evident that no climate action would be possible without taking cities on board.

At the receiving end

Lima saw one of the biggest gatherings of mayors and climate action experts so far.

This gathering stressed on strong local actions with participatory governance for building climate resilient cities. Mitigation and adaptation should be addressed with equal focus, it was felt, and initiatives that are under way were highlighted.

Cities, it is already evident, would be at the receiving end of climate impacts too.

They would face major impacts, more so because of the growing population camping in unplanned settlements.

Every week, the urban population increases by about one million inhabitants. More than half of them live in slums with inadequate facilities making them more vulnerable to problems caused by climate change.

Such pockets in cities are less resilient than parts which have better infrastructure and facilities.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report rightly points out: “Many global risks of climate change are concentrated in urban areas.”

Cities face the double challenge of keeping pace with urbanisation and adapting to climate change. They have to act fast.

New targets

In less than a year, in December 2015, a new international climate change agreement should be agreed upon in Paris at COP 21. Cities across the world should gear up to show that they can take the necessary steps to become climate smart.

Some examples are there to pave them the way.

Earlier this year, the Climate Alliance advocates in Europe resolved to take up three binding targets: 50 per cent less Co2, 40 per cent more energy efficiency and a 40 per cent share of renewable energy by 2020 with the objective of halving per capita Co2 emissions by 2030.

Many such local actions on energy savings, energy efficiency and renewable energy promotion would be helpful as examples for all cities.

A report shared during COP 20 points out that the Covenant of Mayors initiative, officially launched by the European Commission in 2008, has today exceeded all the initial expectations and has expanded far beyond the borders of the European Union. This initiative today includes more than 6,000 local authorities spread across 52 countries.

Covenant signatories have formally committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20 per cent by 2020.

What is remarkable about this initiative is the fact that each city is reported to have devised its own method.

Cities in India are growing mostly as concrete infrastructures at the cost of local biodiversity including rivers, water bodies and forests. They have to look within and find their indigenous solutions.

In designing our smart cities we should take cues from some of the global actions and most of our local knowledge and realities.

In the name of growth and modernity, ironically, many governments are adopting city plans from environmentally unsustainable cities.

This has to stop. Locally adapted plans that the local people can sustain should be adopted to make our cities climate smart.

The writer is the convenor of Combat Climate Change Network, India

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 5, 2015)

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