Boost collaborations for green transformations
The article has been authored by Hitesh Vaidya and Sayli Mankikar.
The climate crisis is arguably, one of the biggest threats our cities are facing. Yet, climate actions which are taken to reduce the impact of such change, seem distant to citizens. To a point that it is someone else’s problem.
One of the biggest challenges ahead of the policymakers is— bridging the gap and creating a close connection between the challenges of changing climate, cities and its people.
This is where National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) the urban think-tank of India, comes in to communicate the common purpose, for cities to flourish, become lighthouse examples and for citizens to find that shared goal with their cities.
Surat in Gujarat, is one of the fastest growing cities in India, famous as an international diamond cutting and polishing hub. Through the City Investments to Innovate, Integrate and Sustain (CITIIS) project situated at the NIUA, the almost defunct Kankaria creek, a mosquito breeding ground, has transformed into a biodiversity park. The citizens of Surat are creating the first ever people’s biodiversity register here, that will gather knowledge of local flora and fauna in Surat to support this city endeavour.
Similarly, in Hubli, the 8.5 kilometre-long Unkal Nala, stormwater drain with inflow of sewage water at many places, is now becoming a Green Mobility Corridor through the CITIIS platform. Lot of excitement is generated around reimaging the nullah as a non-motorised, green public space for people to walk, cycle and own.
In Amritsar, a city where residents used diesel powered rickshaws (belching out carbon) for their regular commute, public mobility now has a new meaning. A 31-kilometre-long BRTS corridor has turned out to be a lifeline for the city which now breathes easier and spells out convenience for citizens. Also, e-rickshaws are being brought in as part of the green mobility initiative, something people look forward to using. This initiative looks at skilling and capacity building of officials, creating charging infrastructure, funding and creating a network of e-rickshaws in Amritsar.
One can see that while there is no explicit narrative on the climate crisis, both the initiatives are examples of proactive climate actions in the form of a better walkway, a cycling path, a park to go with their families and closing of a dirty drain.
There is a common purpose, a goal and initiative from actions that we are helping normalise. This is an emergent dialogues approach where city governments are encouraged to co-create narratives with people.
Cities like Surat and Hubli, have risen from the ashes like the phoenix by simply mainstreaming the climate narrative into its governance and planning processes.
While narratives and mainstreaming the issues are important, enabling frameworks like NIUA’s Climate Smart Cities Assessment Framework (CSCAF), supported by the ministry of housing and urban affairs (MoHUA), are good tools for cities to understand their position on the carbon matrix.
The CSCAF, now in its third iteration, has ranked 126 cities in India on indicators on five themes including urban planning and biodiversity, mobility and air quality, water management, waste management, green building and energy-- indicators coinciding against most functions and services. Looking at their overall ranking and indicators, cities are able to make an opportunity-gap analysis and chart their path ahead. It helps understand the comparative scale of action required.
One of the challenges that cities face towards bridging these opportunity-gaps is finance. In fact, negotiators from India at the COP26 have laid stress on carbon budgets and investments. As a developing nation, and the fastest urbanising one, we have a tight rope to walk on. It is the balance between delivering the development of our citizen’s need, while ensuring that low emission and green energy systems and projects power our cities.
Strategic collaborations could be a step towards this.
One such initiative of the NIUA is partnering with the World Economic Forum (WEF) through its Sprint City Process. Through this, cities will be provided with a digital Toolbox of Solutions where it will create interactions between the business, government and city leaders for creating opportunities in the energy, built environment and transport sectors.
Collaboration across city governments and between the public and private sectors, is essential and will come from a shared understanding that a just, green and sustainable future is the only way ahead.
At the COP-26 summit at Glasgow in 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for panchamrit (five-elements), laying down an ambition of increasing non-fossil fuel use, reducing carbon emission, amplifying renewable energy targets, and achieving net-zero by 2070. As an institution we are making strides and moving towards this collective vision laid down in the panchamrit.
How cities co-create, collaborate, and mainstream climate policies will determine its scale, impact and outcome in this climate challenge.
The future of cities lies in acting now. And we, at NIUA, as an enabler, are creating frameworks, standards and tools to create these green transitions. The necessary hand-holding support is provided to stakeholders, and they are nudged to work towards creating an urban ecosystem for a sustainable future for all.
(The article has been authored by Hitesh Vaidya and Sayli Mankikar.)