High carbon footprints in Kolkata, a major cause for worry


 With barely two weeks remaining for the global policy-makers to draft an agreement on measures to protect mother Earth from the threat of a much warmer world, the report on Kolkata is quite disturbing.

The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, South Asia, the non-governmental agency that carried out an analysis in collaboration with municipal authorities, has reported that among 25 Indian cities, Kolkata has the highest level of carbon dioxide emissions. It was the first study of its kind measuring the energy consumption patterns across cities under an international climate change project.

The report does not have comparable figures for Delhi and Mumbai yet. In the absence of data for these two metros, Visakhapatnam and Ahmedabad have emerged the second and third highest emitters. This data needs to be validated a little more, says Dr Dipayan Dey who heads the South Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE).

“But there’s no doubt that Kolkata has a high emission level and it is increasing rapidly,” Dey reveals. In fact, Dhaka, Manila, Jakarta and Kolkata are topping a new list of major Asian cities vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Kolkata is the fourth most vulnerable Asian city but No 3 among those least prepared to adapt.

“These cities are vulnerable and need urgent help to adapt, in order to protect the lives of millions of citizens, a massive amount of assets, and their large contributions to the national GDP,” feels Kim Carstensen, leader of the WWF Global Climate Initiative.

Dey has listed some reasons behind Kolkata’s present plight, which include traffic blockades, rampant use of adulterated and spurious fuel, outdated models of vehicles still in use, besides high humidity and temperature leading to greater use of airconditioners.

An alarming rise in concretisation of the city proper and adjoining areas at the cost of wetlands, has reduced the carbon sequestering power of the city. And increased use of sewerage drainage pumps to save the city from water clogging has been another contributor. The last but not the least is, of course, the unstructured solid waste dumping.

Further, in surveys conducted by SAFE, an attitude scaling was done on the private vehicle users. “The alarming part in the report is that only 47 per cent of the people are willing to forgo their private ride for a day per week. This shows that awareness level to decrease carbon footprint is appalling,” Dey regrets.

Dhaka on top

The WWF report covers 11 large cities across Asia, all located in coastal areas or river deltas. Following Dhaka (nine out of 10 possible vulnerability points), other cities at high risk are Manila and Jakarta (eight each), Kolkata and Phnom Penh (seven each), Ho Chi Minh City and Shanghai (six each), Bangkok (5), and Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Singapore (four each).

“Kolkata is within the Ganga delta and thus only metres above current sea level, making it prone to salt-water intrusion and sea-level rise effects. Being eastern India’s main centre for business and commerce, it has expanded to accommodate the swelling population by reclaiming significant amounts of surrounding wetland, compounding the problem of flooding,” says Anurag Danda, head of the Climate Adaptation and Sundarbans Programme, WWF-India.

During a recent seminar organised by the PRSI, Kolkata, speakers were unanimous on the point that allowing climate change to go unchecked will cost more lives and more money in the future, but the damage can be averted if action is taken now.
To sustain Kolkata’s development, the city’s adaptive capacity needs to be significantly shored up, the lack of which was acutely felt this May when cyclone Aila passed over West Bengal. The report includes ranking for sub-categories such as environmental exposure, socio-economic sensitivity and adaptive capacity.

NGOs like WWF India have been working with locals to replace diesel fuel motor boats with electric motors that cost less to run and do not harm the planet. “The developed nations alone cannot meet this challenge unless all the large emitters of greenhouse gas pollution act together. Rapidly growing developing nations that are set to produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in near future,must also do their part,” says US Consul General Beth A Payne.

For example,the authorities at the West Bengal Renewable Energy Mission steered by S P Gonchoudhury, have made electricity available to the villagers in the Mousuni Island, close to the Sunderbans, for the first time by using solar energy technology. Villagers are now enjoying the benefits of electricity without harming the environment, she points out.

Environmentalists wonder whether the state government will put in place a concrete policy aimed at both increasing fuel efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas pollution for all new vehicles. They are convinced that if the situation in Kolkata is allowed to drift, it will have dangerous consequences.

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