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This World Earth Day, Here's A Case for Making Our Cities More Climate Resilient

Two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in cities by 2050, an ORF report says.

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Climate Change
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"Cities occupy just three percent of the earth’s land, but account for most of the global energy consumption and carbon emissions."

This is what a United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction report had flagged in 2023.

Just a year before this report came out, in 2022, the UN had also said that our cities were in “grave jeopardy,” if sustainable measures weren’t adopted to meet the global climate and development goals. 

While large-scale urban transformation is a goal that would require valuable resources and commitment, experts have been pointing towards the need to make our cities more climate resilient to mitigate the impact of extreme weather events.

On Earth Day, 22 April, The Quint reached out to experts to help understand this better.

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Why Make Climate Resilient Cities?

First of all, what do we even mean by “making a city more climate resilient”?

Making a city or any place more climate resilient means preparing it to “survive, adapt and thrive in the face of climate-related shocks and stresses,” according to The Rockefeller Foundation’s Resilient Cities Network.

Mohak Jain, an architect and sustainability consultant, tells The Quint, “Climate-resilient cities and buildings are designed to withstand the increasing weather extremes – heavier rains, scorching heat, stronger cyclones – brought on by climate change.”

What it essentially translates to, says Kanika Jamwal, a doctoral candidate in environmental law at the National University of Singapore, is that we prepare our cities to not just adapt to climate change, but help mitigate it as well.

"While vulnerability to climate change is universal, it is not uniform. Socially and economically marginalised groups are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change," she says.

"Typically, this includes agriculture-dependent communities, women, indigenous peoples, and the urban poor. Making climate resilient spaces can allow protecting such disproportionately affected people, and ensure equity, inclusivity, and justice in climate action."
Kanika Jamwal

Jamwal also adds that there are three major reasons we need to make our cities climate resilient.

  • To minimise internal displacement due to climate change.

  • To construct buildings that withstand the effects of climate change.

  • To ensure that our current spaces do not contribute to climate change. 

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‘Increased Strain on Cities’: The Repercussions That Await if We Don’t Take This Seriously

But what happens if we don’t pay heed to this, if we don’t take steps towards climate resilience?

Dr Vishwas Chitale, Senior Programme Lead, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), puts forth a simple data point to explain what could happen.

He says, “By 2030, India’s urban centres are going to host nearly 40 percent of its total population.”

A 2023 report by the Observer Research Foundation had also said, “Demographic statistics indicate that two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in cities by 2050. Consequently, the quality of life in cities will overwhelmingly determine the future human quality of life.”

This means that cities, in the near future, are going to be densely populated while still facing the risk of flooding, heat waves, extreme weather events, etc.

Speaking to The Quint, Kavin Kumar Kandasamy, CEO of ProClime which is a unified service provider in the climate space, says,

“Smaller cities and villages are moving towards the big cities, which means there is going to be an increase in strain on the cities. As the strain increases in a smaller geography, poor planning can lead to a lot of unrest – for instance, water scarcity could become the norm. But apart from that, our social development index will take a beating too.”

He adds that increased strain on cities would mean that the gap between the haves and the have-nots would increase.

“...the rich would be able to afford the cost of climate change and poor planning, but the poor will have to bear the brunt of it. Cities would also become unlivable, the economy would take a beating, and all our progress would go back into a downward spiral.”
Kavin Kumar Kandasamy
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How Exactly Do We Move Towards Climate Resilience?

Building climate resilient spaces requires collaborative action between urban planners and government agencies. 

There are changes required at all levels.

For instance, Jain recommends integrating nature-based solutions with urban planning – green roofs to manage rainwater and cool buildings, permeable pavements for natural drainage, etc. 

Jamwal agrees. She says that the use of traditional and local knowledge while construction should be encouraged, since it is usually localised based on the geography and demographics of the place.

She adds, “Relevant degree courses should recalibrate the meaning of 'sustainability' to include considerations beyond only using sustainable materials; it should also include designing spaces that can cater to protecting vulnerable populations against the adverse impacts of climate change.”

But that’s not enough. Kandasamy says that holding to account policies and policymakers is necessary.

Clear budgetary allocations, transparent metrics, and periodic reviews to ensure that the changing needs of the city are accommodated are the way to go, he says.

However, Dr Chitale adds an important point – making a city climate resilient is not just about the planning that goes into constructing buildings.

"Already existing critical infrastructure – like healthcare, road transport, etc – should also be “strengthened with a focus on climate proofing,” and heat action plans put in place to reduce the impact of climate events on vulnerable communities."
Dr Vishwas Chitale

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Climate Change   Urban Planning 

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