Urbanisation & Opportunity Creation
Climate change is one of the foremost challenges of our time, the impacts of which are increasingly manifested through extreme events and erratic weather deviations. While both urban and rural areas are vulnerable to climate change, urban environments play a greater role in addressing the global climate change challenge. More than half of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to two thirds by 2050. Cities are particularly vulnerable to climate change as extreme weather events can disrupt the complex urban systems. Moreover, most of the cities across the world are situated along low-lying coastal areas, particularly in Asia. It is worth to note that a city is only as resilient and prosperous as its most vulnerable citizens.
More than half of the world’s population resides in cities, producing around 75% of the world’s GDP and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is projected that by 2050, 6.4 billion people will live in urban areas. Cities are particularly vulnerable to climate change for two reasons: extreme weather events can disrupt the complex urban systems and most of the cities across the world are situated along low-lying coastal areas, particularly in Asia. Rapid urbanisation can have serious implications for climate change in terms of air quality, water availability and quality, waste management, and land use.
An expert from Switzerland inspecting the waste at a landfill in one of the CapaCITIES’ partner cities
Cities cover less than 2% of the earth’s surface, cities consume 78 % of the world’s energy, resulting in significant GHG emissions mainly in transportation, industry, and energy generation itself. Consequently, the highest benefits of climate change mitigation and adaptation might also reap the benefits within city boundaries. There are exceptional opportunities in cities to generate growth and employment, well-being, and savings from avoided health costs and fossil fuel expenditure, by pursuing climate actions. Although climate change actions with a focus on urban areas are a relatively new topic, over the recent years, significant improvements have been made in policies and research concerning them. Also, for most cities in developing countries, the pressure to adapt to climate change is mounting. The measures needed to help cities cope with climate change vary depending on political, historical, cultural, and climatic conditions.
Particularly India is one of the world’s countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts, owing to various reasons: The burgeoning population, the proportion of the vulnerable population due to geographical and economic reasons (30% of the population lives in poverty), India’s dependence on an agrarian economy, and the country’s long coast line (~7500 km) and many islands. However, climate change has not yet become a key topic in city administrations across India. In many cities, interests and needs are mainly driven by insufficient basic infrastructure services that bear a high risk to the health of the population and the environment. Many cities suffer from inadequate implementation and enforcement of policies. Possible additional future risks arising from a changing climate – such as increasing heat stress, inundations, water shortage, environmental health risks, and migration to urban areas – are not yet addressed sufficiently. Cities in India are hence among the key contributors to GHG emissions as well as future hot spots regarding the impacts of climate change.
Given the potential to reduce emissions and enhance resilience to climate change impacts in urban developments in India, the SDC funded CapaCITIES project (http://capacitiesindia.org/) was initiated with the goal of achieving a lower greenhouse gas emissions growth path and building resilience to climate change in four Indian cities, namely Coimbatore, Rajkot, Udaipur, and Siliguri. The first phase of the project (2016-2019) focuses on mainstreaming climate change mitigation and adaptation into development policies at the city level, supporting the city authorities to formulate and implement integrated action plans and measures across priority sectors, and sharing their experience with other cities in developing and emerging countries.
This project’s objectives respond to the Government of India’s new policies and programs on sustainable urban development and promoting low carbon and climate resilient development in cities. Through simple interventions such as the deployment of e- rickshaws, water leak audit systems, zero-waste systems, and improving energy efficiency in buildings, the project has already brought about positive change. Detailed projects involving the entire city’s sewerage and solid waste management systems, air quality management and transportation networks, are in the pipeline.
Survey of the solid waste management systems being conducted in one of the CapaCITIES’ partner cities
As stated earlier, cities have a unique ability to address the challenge of climate change. The choices that cities make today with regards to urban infrastructure will determine the extent and impact of climate change, our ability to achieve a reduction of emissions and our capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.
The future of sustainable growth, poverty reduction, the world’s health, and management of climate change are highly intertwined. The cities of the future are likely to be compact and ‘smart’, taking full advantage of information and communication technology revolutions. Also, provided that the right policies are put in place, this current wave of rapid urbanization offers an unprecedented opportunity to create sustainable and dynamic cities.
Climate change and the city: Building capacity for urban adaptation, Progress in Planning, Volume 95, 2015, Pages 1-66, ISSN 0305-9006