Bengaluru, in many ways, is still recovering from the recent deluge, which caused an estimated loss of approximately Rs 225 crores and claimed 96 precious lives. Three months down the line, we are in no way even remotely better prepared for another impending tragedy. The impact of such climate change-induced disasters are only made worse by unregulated urbanisation and the unpreparedness of government agencies.
The Department of Science and Technology has identified Bengaluru to be moderately vulnerable to climate change-associated risks. Yet, it is one of the only Indian metro cities that still does not have a Climate Action Plan or a road map in place to mitigate risks or adapt to climate change.
Bengaluru’s climate vulnerability
Any long term resident of Bengaluru will vouch for the rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns in the city. An analysis of the time series data for rainfall and temperature for Bengaluru shows a significant change in both over the past decade. It is estimated that nearly 91% of the city faces high degree of climate vulnerability, which calls for urgent and immediate action by the local government.
Cities are responsible for around 75% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with transport, buildings, energy and waste management being the largest contributors. Thus, cities have a critical role to play in the fight against climate change and the global effort to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement of 2015.
They are often the first to respond to climate change impacts, and their strong connections to the community and local knowledge mean they are often best placed to recognise the need for adaptation at a local scale. Through appropriate policy measures, local governments can help address climate change by providing low-carbon and resilient urban infrastructure and reliable and quality basic services: water, transport, and sanitation.
One more action plan
With this as its objective, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has voluntarily committed to ‘C-40 Cities’, a global work of 100 world-leading cities that are collaborating to deliver the urgently needed action to confront the climate crisis (meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement). While the intention of being a part of such a self regulated network is noble, BBMP however needs to work closely with multiple stakeholders with action points prioritised to ensure Bengaluru has a climate resilient future.
And the first step in this is to put a road map and a Climate Action Plan (CAP) in place.
In 2021, BBMP initiated the preparation of Climate Action and Resilience Plan for Bengaluru and partnered with the global research organisation, World Resources Institute (WRI) India as a knowledge partner on the same. On the progress of this plan so far, Shrimoyee Bhattacharya, Program Lead of Urban Development at the Sustainable Cities and Transport program at WRI, said: “For the Bengaluru Climate Action and Resilience Plan, a city level Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory and Climate Change Risk Assessment has been completed. Currently, we are working on the development of future pathways for emission mitigation and action framing across different sectors.”
She also mentioned that the CAP preparation process has been very consultative, where consultations have been done with sector experts, practitioners and members of civil society, apart from continuous engagement with near about 25 primary and secondary stakeholder departments. Further, preparations are on for discussing the plan at the ward level.
However, citizen groups have expressed serious concerns regarding the undemocratic nature of the urban planning processes, including the ongoing preparation of the Climate Action Plan. In fact, several groups believe that BBMP is reinventing the wheel by preparing another Climate Action Plan, when one has already been made and presented to BBMP in 2021 by well-known NGO, Environmental Support Group (ESG).
“On a voluntary basis, ESG has prepared a truly ground up Climate Action Plan for the city after an intensive 9-week consultative process,” said Leo Saldanah, founding trustee of ESG. “The process involved a wide range of stakeholders: pourakarmikas , academic researchers, citizen groups all the way up to senior members of the administration. All voices have been duly respected and included in the plan. However, the inaction from BBMP on the same so far is very sad.”
Nagesh Aras, a well-known citizen activist and writer on civic issues, believes that Bengaluru’s involvement in C-40 has limited benefits, as it is a mayor-led initiative that focuses on urban action to fight climate change. In Bengaluru, as in other cities, the mayor has no formal authority outside the council, serving a largely ceremonial role as council chairperson.
Any plan to be successful and meet its objective should be integrated and well grounded in the existing institutional structure of the local government, which is not happening in Bengaluru.
Nagesh said: “Climate change needs to be mitigated through measures such as energy-efficiency, promoting the 3 –Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) at the household level, waste to energy conversion and improving water and drainage management. These issues are all interdependent and must be managed by a single team, but BBMP has launched disparate projects each with a different consultant. Each of these operates in silos with no integration. This is like trying to play chess with a separate coach for each pawn.”
With the recently concluded international climate conference COP-27 there seems to be not much urgency, especially among leaders of the developed world in committing to the objectives of the Paris Agreement. At the same time, there are new alliances among the developing countries to work in close co-ordination with one another in achieving their objectives.
The Climate Change Performance Index, a standardised framework to compare the climate performance of 59 countries and EU that accounts for 92% of global greenhouse gas emissions has ranked India 8th for its initiatives to combat climate change.
While combating global climate change may be a long road ahead, the role of local action is extremely important and mega cities such as Bengaluru need to take the lead and act swiftly before another disaster strikes. With every challenge come endless opportunities and as Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York says: “Fighting climate change isn’t just an obligation we owe to future generations. It’s also an opportunity to improve public health – and drive economic growth – in the here and now.”