While India has embarked upon building 100 smart cities under the Smart City Mission and has already announced names of 60 of them in a bid to prepare them for future, there is a growing debate on sustainable development of cities in line with global climate change mitigation efforts. If rapid urbanisation is a growing challenge that cities need to prepare themselves for and it is expected that the urban population in India will rise from current level of 30 per cent to around 40 per cent of the population in 2030, in its World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS), on Friday, Teri highlighted upon the need for sustainable development and implications for cities. While India is still developing a large number of its urban centres and it is estimated that half of the urban centres in India and 70 per cent of its entire infrastructure that will exist in 2030 are yet to be built, the emerged opinion was that there is a huge opportunity for sustainability related interventions. With increasing population density in cities, climate resilient systems need to be developed in urban areas to address climate change impacts.
While Teri feels that governments and stakeholders across sectors should engage in informed discussions and identify their individual and collective roles in achieving sustainable development in line with global climate change mitigation efforts, there is a lot that India can do by replicating technologies and practices that cities across the world have done.
Talking about Sustainable Development Goals as a roadmap for progress, Durga Shanker Mishra, additional secretary (UD), Ministry of Urban Development, India, said “Cities contribute to 65per cent of the GDP, but there are no facilities to cater to the needs of their inhabitants. We need to incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals as indicators for urban development. The only way forward is to involve citizens in city planning, and create an ecosystem that meets the needs of the people.”
Highlighting the need for bringing in energy efficient and climate resilient systems in urban areas, Ajay Mathur, DG, TERI said, “Sustainable development is the key to ensuring the continued well-being of the people and the planet…. It is therefore important to address the root causes of issues like transport and air quality that are vital to identifying sustainable solutions.”
In fact, sustainable cities are now considered absolutely vital in achieving climate change goals. While countries were haggling for a favourable climate change deal in the run-up to the Paris conference last year, cities across the world had already starting forging partnerships and taking individual and collective actions on sustainability. While cities are extremely vulnerable to climate change because of extremely large concentrations of population and infrastructure, they are also better placed to take actions owing to well-defined governing systems and much higher capacities to deal with the problem.
More than 4,000 cities, including at least 20 from India, have committed to more than 11,000 actions through Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action, or NAZCA, a platform launched during the 2014 climate change conference in Lima, Peru. These actions include improvement in energy efficiency, better public transport, direct reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, deployment of renewable energy sources, and increases in green cover.
Similarly, more than 80 of the biggest cities in the world have committed to more than 10,000 climate change actions through a similar platform called C40. Mayors of several cities have also organised themselves under different programmes and meet regularly to share experiences and help each other out.
Organisations like ICLEI, originally called International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, have been partnering with cities for several years, helping them in achieving sustainability.
As a result, cities are in competition to reduce their carbon footprint. Cities like Berlin, Boston, Copenhagen, London, Sydney, New York, Washington, Yokohama and San Francisco have committed themselves to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent of current levels by the year 2050 if not earlier. Copenhagen and Gothenberg in Sweden has announced that they would double the share of public transport by 2025. Almost 1,800 cities, having come together through a Covenant of Mayors, have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by the year 2020.
Within India also, some cities have set very specific targets for themselves. Rajkot, for example, has promised to reduce its community carbon dioxide emissions by 14 per cent at the end of this year as compared to 2011 levels. Shimla has plans to improve its energy efficiency by 5 per cent by 2019 from 2011 levels. It also wants to increase the share of renewables in its energy mix by five per cent by 2019. Coimbatore has pledged to increase the energy efficiency of government operations by 5 per cent by 2020 on 2008 levels, and also increase the share of renewables in energy mix of government operations by 5 per cent by 2020.
While WSDS aims to be a common platform to identify opportunities for consensus and collaboration to balance the realities of ecosystem preservation with aspirations for holistic economic development, the Friday’s session saw wide participation. Along with Yuri Afanasiev, UN resident coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, it was also attended by Anita Arjundas, president & CEO, Mahindra Lifespaces; Cyrille Bellier, deputy ED, AFD; Andreas Klugescheid VP governmental affairs, BMW AG; Shipra Narang Suri, VP, General Assembly of Partners towards Habitat III & Co-Chair, World Urban Campaign; and Xueman Wang, Senior Carbon Finance Specialist, The World Bank, Sustainable Development Network.
Stressing on the need to focus on the business case for development, Arjundas said, “Competiveness of the country depends on the prosperity of cities. We need to have public and private entities working together to create an energy efficient model for India’s urban areas.”