For water resilient cities

For water resilient cities

The 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23), which is currently taking place at Bonn, Germany, will conclude later this week. Various representatives have come together to evaluate their national climate actions and renew their pledge to meet the promises of the Paris Climate Agreement. The focus of the COP23 is clarity on a rulebook for the Paris Agreement and keeping up with the Fijian 'Bula spirit' and the Pacific concept of Talanoa through a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue.

Even before the conference started, there were multiple reports that came out highlighting the fact that the commitments aren't enough to prevent irreversible climate change. To start off, a report from the UN found that the Paris Agreement pledges for only one-third of the actual action necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change. There are also many instances of delays in climate funding allocation, which in turn, delays adoption and implementation of efforts to reduce emissions.

In the context of our own nation, a report from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency found that India registered one of the largest increases in greenhouse gas emissions, which rose by an alarming 4.7% in 2016, compared to the previous year. Additionally, research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters reports that coastal cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai face a destruction of a 1.3-metre sea level rise unless coal is shelved from electricity generation completely by 2050.

Combating climate change

It's not just sea level rise that plagues us but aggravated weather pattern in rigid urban set-ups with unresponsive civic bodies and choked infrastructure. A twister was spotted off Kasimedu in the northern end of Chennai at the start of the monsoon season. I write this as my locality floods under the northeast monsoon, and this past year most of the Indian cities have made news by being inundated by storm water and sewage following predicted rains.

As important as energy, is water for the cities. But as flooded cities demonstrate, be it Chennai, Bengaluru or Gurugram, there's water everywhere but not one drop fit for human consumption post floods. Well-constructed storm water storage systems and unclogged and regularly monitored sewage systems could enhance the climate resilience of cities. When a city is healthy, it can be said to be resilient. However, due to climate changes, many people are at risk of dying from communicable diseases like dengue, and increased temperatures. This shows how one's health and the climate are connected.

Even before the start of Climate Summit, there were many instances of flooding across the Asian region. Climate change, overburdened civic infrastructure and poor planning across the world together made for unprecedented devastation. From Typhoon Damrey's devastation in Vietnam, especially in Hoi An, and almost 10 feet of floodwaters following cloudbursts in Penang, Malaysia right up to the devastations of the North East Monsoon across Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.

As a nation that's rapidly urbanising, here are some of the actions needed in urban India to combat climate change. UN Secretary-General Antnio Guterres speaking at a High-Level Symposium on Global Energy Interconnection in New York, USA on November 1, 2017 said that "Energy is the golden thread that connects all the Sustainable Development Goals," emphasising the need for clean, affordable energy to replace fossil fuels to tackle climate change and power scarcity. Keeping these in mind, India's Pavilion at COP23 showcased the country's climate-related mitigation and adaptation strategies, and its clean technology innovations and commitment to renewable energy.

The traditional Fijian double-hulled, open ocean sailing canoe, the drua, has been displayed in Bonn as a powerful but local technology symbol of resilience and the coming together of nations to fight climate change. Thinking of global environmental consequences and acting locally could be the catalyst for positive climate action.

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