A few decades ago, city governments in India were not much concerned about the environmental impact of the expansion of urban infrastructure, civic services being rendered to citizens, and their own energy consumption patterns. Of late, the situation has begun to change. City governments are judiciously making policies and projects with environmental impact in mind. It is also reflecting in the way city corporations are governing our cities
rban demography and the way cities are governed are constantly changing due to many external and internal factors such as increasing GHG emissions, climate change and depleting natural resources. Urban expansion is happening at a fast rate and it is a major determinant of increasing emissionsand several other emerging urban problems because of mounting pressure on cities’ services and infrastructure.
Cities are conscious of the changing trend. Today, cities are not just focusing on how they can improve the standard of services they provide but also make themselves environmentally sustainable. National governments all over the world are aware of the fact that cities are the places which can make catalytic changes because cities are where a majority of people and industries thrive, where economy blossoms and where policies are formed. Cities in India have witnessed the drawbacks of not maintaining urban ecosystems such as urban forest, wetlands and rivers and their ignorance resulted in nature’s fury. This was witnessed during the Chennai, Uttarakhand and Mumbai floods.
The cutting of trees in urban centres for building ‘concrete jungle’is damaging cities’ lungs and resulting in extremely severe air quality. Though the infrastructure development in cities is necessary for economic prosperity, the model of development should consider how these concerns can be addressed. These emerging challenges in our cities are impelling our cities to adopt new technologies, buildings, and infrastructure that have low or near zero-emissions and are adapted to expected future climate change. Along with these, the existing urban ecosystem needs to be maintained well. The rebalancing of development and environmental conservation is the need of the hour.
For such rebalancing, a systematic focus on urban ecosystems is needed through mapping all the key organs of a city’s ecosystem. The second step would be making people aware of their significance and restoring their original functions. Reforestation, urban and spatial planning, and land and water management are some of the options that can enhance both climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Global agendas and cities
With changing times, global agendas have also shifted their focus.While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focused on reducing extreme poverty in all its forms, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) pursue a broader agenda that encompasses the social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainable development, which is relevant for all countries worldwide. This is also significant to note that the success of the projects will be adjudged by how cities perform.
Cities in the developed world are taking the lead in addressing global challenges and playing a vital role in achieving objectives under global agendas. Urban Local Bodies are already taking ownership of the global agendas, organizing awareness-raising activities and implementing Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development by engaging all local stakeholders from the grass-roots and up. Indian cities are also joining the bandwagon and focusing on conservation and sustaining their ecosystems. In the last five years, the international community has adopted three major agendas — the SDGs, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the New Urban Agenda. All these agendas have a huge impact on cities. City governments are making efforts to link them with their own environmental agenda.
Technological innovations are also being adopted by corporations to help limit global warming. For example, enabling smart-grids, shared micro-grid technologies and adopting energy efficient practices in urban operations can reduce their energy consumption. Being the closest form of government for the people, corporations can create public awareness of the environmental impact of energy choices of citizens to help shift away from carbon-intensive energy consumption. These solutions can be implemented quickly without the need of spending a large amount of money
Technological innovations are also being adopted by corporations to help limit global warming. For example, enabling smart-grids, shared micro-grid technologies and adopting energy efficient practices in urban operations can help cities in reducing their energy consumption. Being the closest form of government for the people, city corporations can create public awareness of the environmental impact of energy choices of citizens and it can help shift away from carbon-intensive energy consumption patterns. These solutions can be implemented quickly and at scale without the need of spending a large amount of money.
Smart Cities Mission that was envisaged to equip Indian cities with hi-end technological tools for better service delivery could be utilized to resolve major challenges of urban sustainability by integrating technological interventions.There is no doubt that advances in technology for the efficient management of urban growth can help in the environmental agenda of cities. The concept of smart citiescould improve urban resilience by providing low-cost, adaptive and efficient ways to deal with the challenges of providing safe food, pure water and clean air for growing numbers of urban residents.
Similarly, new technologies can be used to bring about a change in resource-use patterns. In the mobility sector, for example, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and app-based services can optimize public transportation efficiency, promote sharing of vehicles, and improve the utility of parking spaces. Since GHG emission reduction is one of the major priorities for the world to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, cities can play a constructive role by expediting the adoption of technologies to include ICT, artificial intelligence, the Internet-of-Things (IoT), nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, and robotics for lesser energy consumption. Most of these technologies can be used in almost every domain of urban operations. For example, many cities, especially small corporations, are wasting a huge amount of energy in streetlights which are not automated and remain lit even in the daytime. Such simple yet effective steps to plug the gaps in urban management can improve the efficiency of municipal corporations and also have a positive impact on the urban ecosystem.