Time For Holistic Climate Action

By July 25, 2023

Instead of a silo-based approach, we need to  pursue a system-based holistic way and work across sectors 

Time For Holistic Climate Action
The World Meteorological Organization has reported a significant increase in flood-related disasters since 2000.

Climate change is becoming more and more evident. The past few weeks are proof of that. We are witnessing a series of extreme weather events within short periods of time, which demonstrate the immense power of nature. It's surprising to see water and fire occurring at the same time, but this is the reality we face. Heatwaves in parts of the USA and Europe, wildfires in Canada, and floods in Asia and Europe are all examples of the increasing extremes we are experiencing. 

The World Meteorological Organization has reported a significant increase in flood-related disasters since 2000. As global temperatures rise, the water cycle becomes more unpredictable, leading to dramatic and cyclical climate changes in cities around the world. 

In India, for example, we see monsoons and floods in the summer, followed by smog in the winter and heat waves in the spring. This pattern continues because of inefficient decision-making and a lack of prioritisation. 

It is crucial for us to stop making excuses and start addressing the bigger picture of climate change. We have plenty of reasons to take action, but we haven't done enough to solve our problems. Rapid urbanisation in countries like India is making the situation worse. We need to adopt a holistic approach that considers all aspects of our society and environment, rather than working in isolated ways. If we continue on our current path, we will only delay the inevitable consequences of climate change. 

It is high time we start to do away with reasoning and start looking at the big picture; fixing the puzzle piece by piece. We have enough reasons for our ‘why’ but very less actions undertaken to resolve our predicaments. The rampant pace of rapid urbanisation in developing nations like India is such that things are only going to get worse from here onwards. The traction for climate change in India has only started to pick up very recently. The time for a silo-based approach and interdisciplinary measures is long gone. We need to start looking at a system-based holistic way of working across sectors. Unless we do so, we are merely delaying the inevitable; that too in an inefficient manner. Some entry pathways for addressing the prevailing climatic scenario include: - 

Consumption of blue-green pills at the appropriate time  

Built-up areas in Indian cities are renowned for flouting urban planning norms in order to satisfy land demands, food supply, and instant gratification. The price nature demanded for such decisions is the climatic disaster that we see today. This is why governance needs to start acknowledging that cities are urban ecosystems that form a part of the natural biomes called anthromes. Therefore, the character of basic traditional natural phenomena such as floods is also bound to harbor a different baseline in an urban setting. It is in recognition of this understanding that National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has acknowledged urban flooding as a separate disaster. Urban floods occur across developed catchments which increase the flood peaks from 1.8 - 8 times and flood volumes by up to 6 times (NDMA India). Consequently, the propensity for the rate of change in the flow of floods also increases rapidly. This therefore establishes a strengthened need for urban sinks that can take in the cost of water volumes and gaseous emissions. An integrated blue–green nexus approach at a macro level planning along with micro-level nature-based solutions (Nbs) such as increased permeable surfaces across cities, blue-green sponges, rain gardens, bio-swales, detention, and retention basins, etc. can help us achieve that. The draft Master Plan Delhi (MPD 2041) acknowledges the same along with other relevant strategies such as a mandatory level of Green-Blue factor for encouraging permeable urban landscape, reduction of ground coverage norms, etc. 

Making water the hero instead of a supporting artist  

Indian cities need to start treating issues pertaining to water, sewage, and drainage as one big problem instead of siloed issues with fragmented solutions which only creates a conducive environment for split city syndrome. Based on a combination of various global frameworks such as Water Sensitive Urban Design and Planning (WSUDP), Sponge cities concept, etc., the draft MPD 2041 recommends an integrated urban water management approach - providing inter-connected strategies across these 3 sectors with a core focus on minimising runoff and maximising retention. The outcomes-based framework approach of Draft MPD 2041 unlike earlier plans establishes two KPIs to monitor the improvements in drainage systems in the city: (i) reduced flood risk; and (ii) increased groundwater levels. 

Likewise, the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) (affiliated with India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs) and the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) (affiliated with India’s Ministry of Jal Shakti) have developed initiatives for promulgating river-sensitive development in Indian cities – the predominant overarching ones being Urban River Management Plan” (URMP) Framework and Guidelines for Making River-Sensitive Master Plans (RSMP). Both URMP and RSMP acknowledge the need for bringing the river and its associated systems to the forefront in the urban scenario while providing a sound decision support system for Indian cities to systematically and holistically integrate water systems in a sustainable manner by leveraging on national policies, planning instruments and other similar tools. 

Prioritising quality and quantity with equal emphasis  

At times merely achieving numbers and statistics is not enough in the journey toward climate resilience. The quality of the urban blue-greens also matters equivalently. Cities need to start making efficient use of the data sets available in propagating and promulgating strategic interventions in response to the actual scenario of concern. Spatial overlay of critical and fragile natural ecosystems such as mangroves, forests, wetlands, etc. over climatically vulnerable human population zones can help cities to effectively manage the resources, energy, and time in mitigating disasters and to identify regions where ecosystem-based approaches (EbA) will have the greatest impact. This forms the premise for the concept of Ecosystem-Based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR). Old age concepts did recognise the need for coexisting with nature through urban sustainability approaches and ecological wisdom to mitigate future threats.  

All the above solutions are substantiated proof of the fact that right from the golden handbook of traditional and indigenous wisdom of living, we have all the guidelines and reading materials that we need. In conclusion, we have the knowledge and resources to address climate change, but we must act swiftly. We should not wait for the perfect moment or rely on superheroes to save us. By implementing the guidelines and wisdom we already possess, we can create a climate-resilient future. The time for action is now.

(Hitesh Vaidya  is Director and Manju Rajeev Kanchan is a Research Associate at National Institute of Urban Affairs.)