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We need climate smart cities

Cities in India (and also in many of the developing economies) often lack the capacity to quickly develop measures that respond to climate change, thus leaving residents – especially those at the bottom of the socio-economic scale – vulnerable to climate change’s negative effects. As a result, in India we can see every year loss of many human lives due to heat waves in summer, cold waves in winter and floods in Monsoon. Cities in coastal areas also face the threat of rising sea levels. In many cities the life-sustaining freshwater supply is also especially at risk due to rapidly increasing population, rising industrial use, and changing monsoon patterns. India is second to Puerto Rico in terms of extreme weather deaths, severe economic losses, and is also ranked 6th among the 10 most affected countries in the world as per the Global Climate Risk Index, 2016.

The changing climate makes our cities vulnerable and imposes huge risks towards increased water stress, heat island effect, increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as urban floods/ droughts. Further, air quality deterioration poses serious challenges for city administrators as a total of 102 cities in India, of which 43 are Smart Cities, are already facing poor air quality.

Therefore, smart cities alone will not help us to lead a better life in cities in future but we need climate smart cities which will reframe the threat of climate change as an opportunity for green growth that protects natural resources and supports development for the city’s poorest.

Fighting the climate change need not be a costly affair as there are many easy-to-implement strategies to save water and energy, thus contributing to freshwater conservation and preventing climate change.

Investment in climate-resilient infrastructure will reduce the impacts of extreme weather and foster development. Less pollution, better waste management, and more green spaces improve the quality of life for all city residents, while investment in public transport and better access to energy specifically aid the urban poor.

In this regard, one need to applaud recent launching of Climate Smart Cities Assessment Framework (CSCAF) 2.0 which aims to provide a clear roadmap for cities towards combating Climate Change while planning and implementing their actions, including investments. CSCAF initiative intends to inculcate a climate-sensitive approach to urban planning and development in India.

Cities are responsible for the climate-sensitive development of their urban areas. While they are a significant contributor to climate change, they are also particularly vulnerable to its consequences. “ClimateSmart Cities Assessment Framework” with 28 diverse indicators across five categories will help to facilitate cities in understanding these challenges and where they may improve. Now this roadmap should be followed by concrete actions on the ground.

Cities inhabit 3% of the planet’s land but account for 60-80% of all energy consumption, and 75% of the planet’s carbon emission. Urban growth scenarios show no different trends for India, with a population of 1.3 billion at present. India is projected to add 416 million urban dwellers by 2050 and by 2030, India is expected to be home to seven megacities with a population of more than 10 million. Therefore, our city and urban development missions need to be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to make cities future-ready and provide opportunities for all, with access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation and more.

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