Bengaluru’s climate plan takes off amid familiar challenges

The city’s first climate action plan is a statement of intent that needs to navigate systemic problems and top-down implementation models.
Last Updated : 06 July 2024, 04:14 IST

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In spirit, the Bengaluru Climate Action and Resilience Plan (BCAP) – a mission statement for the city’s road to Net Zero by 2050 – is also a reiteration of governance non-negotiables. Action is the operative word here; accountability, transparency, and inclusivity shape key themes of the plan.

To be implemented as 266 actions across seven sectors, through different timelines leading up to 2050, BCAP is not short on ambition. The challenges, however, could emerge in three inadequacies. One, the plan does not have statutory powers. The facilitators will need to work around the absence of a dedicated climate budget for the city. Critically, the implementation will involve extensive coordination among multiple parastatals with diverse mandates, under the stewardship of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP).

BCAP has identified seven priority sectors: energy and buildings, transportation, solid waste, air quality, water, wastewater and stormwater, urban planning, green planning and biodiversity, and disaster management. Its operational scope is limited to areas under BBMP – about 713 sq km – but the plan does factor in climate risks in Bengaluru’s outgrowth areas.

Urban sustainability specialists note that the initiative is significant because it addresses fundamental questions about clean air and water, mobility, green spaces, and disaster preparedness and bunches potential solutions under the ambit of a more identifiable composite theme: climate change. BCAP also indicates a new administrative resolve to mobilise climate action in a consolidated, multi-sector plan that makes its goals more identifiable, and immediate, to the citizens.

Seven months after BBMP released the plan, devised with the World Resources Institute (WRI) India as the knowledge partner, the facilitators are fast-tracking deliberations with multiple stakeholder agencies.

In its first move to streamline inter-agency channels, BBMP has constituted a climate action cell with representation of relevant stakeholder departments. Shrimoyee Bhattacharya, programme head – urban development, in WRI India’s Sustainable Cities and Transport programme, sees the cell as an important step toward building an institutional apparatus for coordinating the planned actions and evaluating their progress.

“BCAP is not a completely new, stand-alone exercise. It builds on existing resources and plans. The cell is studying programmes and projects conceived separately by multiple agencies to understand their alignment with Bengaluru’s climate goals. These discussions with stakeholders help us with a sense of the starting point; they tell us where we are, to be further able to inform existing practices and resource allocations with the knowledge and evidence coming from BCAP,” she says.

Working with a GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions inventory from a 2019 baseline, BCAP keeps its goals aligned with strategies adopted in the National Action Plan for Climate Change and the Karnataka State Action Plan for Climate Change. Under the plan, the Commissionerate of Health and Family Welfare is set to develop a city-level comprehensive health action plan for 2025-35, to tackle health risks posed by air pollution.

Budgeting is key

Multiple funding sources have been identified for the projects including national schemes, loans, green energy grants, Public Private Partnerships, Corporate Social Responsibility partnerships, budgetary allocations by the state government and BBMP, and budgets available with the implementing agencies. The National Clean Air Programme is set to back a host of actions in the air quality and transportation sectors, including a clean fuel transition plan with 2040 as the horizon year.

BCAP will still require additional funding which could be sourced through climate budgeting for the city, on the lines of Mumbai. In June, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation allocated 32% of its capital expenditure budget for 2024-25 (about Rs 10,225 crore) to climate-themed programmes, a first for Indian cities. Bengaluru and Mumbai are part of C40, a global network of around 100 cities with a stated commitment to fight the climate crisis. BCAP was set in motion to further Bengaluru’s commitment to C40’s leadership standards.

Shrimoyee says it is important to understand that BCAP is owned by the city corporation. It is not merely a research document; it tries to translate science into policy and actionables. It is also indicative of a larger shift where city governments are taking the lead, informed by local indicators, and not only by global conversations around climate change. The shifts in a city’s non-motorised and public transport mode-share, for instance, are an indicator that could help transport and urban planning agencies decide on how best to align their programmes with climate action, as the transport sector is the second largest contributor to GHG emissions in Bengaluru.

BCAP envisions a blue-green policy with guidelines for streets and public spaces, eco-mobility and recreation networks, and sustainable drainage systems. The plan targets an increase in the city’s green cover and permeable surfaces to 40% by 2040, to tackle flood- and heat-related disaster risk reduction.

The climate targets in BCAP do not have legal backing but wherever applicable, the actions have been aligned with existing legal provisions. Shubha Ramachandran, water sustainability consultant, believes that the plan comes with a built-in advantage: it is the first consolidated, cross-sector climate action document for Bengaluru executed by the government. She sees in the plan an intent to adopt new strategies for sustainable water management. “There appears to be a larger focus on nature-based solutions. The plan also talks about ways to reuse wastewater. These action tracks, coming from the government, are new and can have a substantial impact,” she says.

BCAP targets connections between bulk wastewater generators, registered in an open-access database, with large consumers. This is aimed at allowing the sale of treated wastewater to bulk consumers for non-potable use.

In a city functioning without corporators since 2020, these actions could have a longer turnaround time. Since climate action plans are guided by a set of global frameworks, it is important to further localise some of the actions at the ward level at the implementation stage, by building local capacity and engaging with the civic society and non-government stakeholders. As part of a capacity-building initiative, the climate action cell is rolling out a fellowship programme for young professionals with expertise across domains.

“This document can make conversations around climate action more mainstream. Its larger significance is that it can inform master plans in the future and help strengthen the city’s MER (monitoring, evaluation, and reporting) systems. The actions can also inform mandates relevant to the individual civic agency,” Shrimoyee says.

Shubha sees the potential for citizens’ participation in the planning process as an important takeaway. “Getting the resident welfare associations involved in a government-led plan with such wide-ranging impact will give the citizens a sense of ownership,” she says.

Policy gaps and an elusive master plan

Satya Arikutharam, urban mobility expert, says ambitious plans are rendered ineffective if the implementing institutions don’t keep pace. Massive investment is coming into the metro and suburban rail projects but there are no serious conversations around single-ticket access to multiple modes of transport. Policy shortfalls over decades have led to a situation where the number of vehicles is closing in on the population.

“The BMLTA (Bengaluru Metropolitan Land Transport Authority) is a case in point – conceived in 2007, it’s still not functional. When plans move at a glacial pace, events overtake reforms,” Satya says. He acknowledges the relevance of mobilising conversations about climate change but maintains that change on the ground can emerge only through institutional reform and projects that have technical autonomy – “Or else, we’ll have to live with the flyovers and the tunnels.”

BBMP will need to oversee the implementation of BCAP without a master plan for the city. Shrimoyee, while acknowledging the limitations of a plan without legislative powers, notes that even mandated master plans could not ensure efficient land use in cities to deliver greater sustainability and equity outcomes.

”The absence of a master plan is a blind spot since it is the definitive, statutory planning instrument for the city. But multiple projects have, still, progressed without the master plan in place. In essence, this exercise is about building evidence for the urgency of climate action and following up on the planned actions with the relevant structures and timelines in place. This is better than having nothing to work with,” she says.

Published 06 July 2024, 04:14 IST

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