India must Involve urban local bodies in climate governance

But what cannot be rejected is the increasing need to recognise the role of cities and make them the vanguard in combating climate change.

Representational Photo (Photo: Twitter)

India, as a geographic region, is endowed with the potential for robust and long-term economic growth but it is vulnerable to extreme climate events. Therefore, the Government of India needs to develop a commitment towards effective climate governance while also involving the local level urban administration in tackling Climate Change and for formulating a holistic policy prescription that addresses the needs of the diverse nation. 

At the urban level, the role of the local administration was emphasized in this year's COP 28(Conference of Parties) of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Dubai; where there was a special day dedicated to the ministerial meeting and climate change. This meeting involved the ministerial stakeholders of housing, urban development, environmental finance, local and regional leaders as well as financial institutions and non-government organizations. It reinforced the idea that urban governments need to be involved in climate policy-making with the clarion call, “Nothing for us without us”.

Why city governments

The number of people living in cities has drastically increased over time from 44% to 55% which can reach 68% by 2050. Four billion inhabitants aggregate in the cities, who contribute 75% of total GHG emissions and use 75% of the primary energy available.  The idea that was mooted in COP 28 is that you need to involve cities as they can be the key drivers in propelling climate ambition forward and in creating green jobs, reducing air pollution and improving human health and well-being. The efforts of city governments should be formally recognised in COP decision documents. 

In India, cities present a picture of an island of prosperity in an ocean of poverty. There are internal contradictions too as in India, 40% of the urban population lives in slums. However, some cities like Chennai and Pune are at the forefront of designing climate adaptation and climate mitigation strategies. All Indian cities operate in a unique context which was pointed out by Jairam Ramesh, former environment minister, in his book Green Signals that they need to always negotiate with difficult choices in the hierarchy of commons concerning what to prioritize and what will be the tradeoffs for example expanding Navi Mumbai at the cost of the mangroves. 

Chennai has committed to Net-Zero by 2050 which is twenty years ahead of India’s Net-Zero commitments in 2070. But to reach this goal we need a plan and the way Cape Town in South Africa is designing its strategies can be a model for them. The process of Municipal Adaptation Plan preparation is subdivided into numerous heads: -

Pune is an example of a city that is the second largest city in Maharashtra and the 13th most polluted city in India in vehicular emissions. Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) initiatives can be considered a role model for other cities like ESR (Environmental Status Reports), Eco-Housing, Clear development mechanism, Urban Air action plans, environmental management of areas with clusters and safe disposal of wastes. The examples can be multiplied like Barcelona’s Superblocks which has helped to reclaim spaces for kids and reduce pollution and Dhaka’s Town Watching Manual which establishes community resilience by involving people in disaster management. But the crux remains availability of in-house expertise, giant market players, extensive political will and a massive public with media support will only pave the way for a sound city environment

ULBs lack funds and functions

The biggest issue with the execution of visionary policies; even after having the necessary legal and policy frameworks is how to implement the policies on the actual grounds. The municipal bodies due to their inherent structure have limited powers with the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 giving very limited compulsory powers to the municipalities with most articles in the 12th Schedule being voluntary depending on the whims of the respective state government. So, most ULB (Urban Local Bodies) in India suffer from the problems of lack of 3Fs (Funds, Functions and Functionaries). The functional aspect of limitations also includes the lack of ESRs and Apportionment Studies in most Indian cities, online monitoring stations for multiple pollution studies are very limited, large cities only have monitoring stations with one monitoring station in most cities. The weakest link is at the local levels and there is a commensurate need to strengthen the institutions, administrative personnel and reorient policies at the local levels.  

Role of cities

It may be difficult to implement both the ideas of Rafal Trzaskowski, Mayor of Warsaw, who argues for directly recognizing the role of subnational governments in global climate governance and direct financing and technical assistance to the subnational governments. The second argument is contentious as it asks for bypassing the federal government. But what cannot be rejected is the increasing need to recognise the role of cities and make them the vanguard in combating climate change. 

India in Delhi Declaration of G20 talks about Financing Cities of Tomorrow as per G2O Principles and OECD/G20 Reports to create inclusive cities. Development Financial Institutions (DFI) and Multilateral Development Banks(MDB)need to step up along with Developed Countries(DCs) to deliver USD 5.8 trillion to help the Developing countries implement their INDC(Intended Nationally Determined Contributions). 

There cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach as local situations and conditions ask for specific adjustments to be made as per human rights and climate perspectives. Climate Change affects the most vulnerable most badly and hence effective steps need to be taken to ensure the most vulnerable communities are also involved in setting environmental priorities. The appreciation of how discrimination and differences exaggerate climate vulnerability and utilization of stakeholder consultation and adaptive capacity enhancement needs at all levels need go hand in hand. ULBs need to network, learn from shared experiences, build capacity and ensure through a collaborative and cooperative approach, a unified battle against climate change can be fought which should follow an evidence-based pathway.

(Sayantan Bandyopadhyay is a Doctoral Research Scholar in the Centre for South Asian Studies(CSAS), School of International Studies(SIS) of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be contacted at and on Twitter Sayantanb21. Subhranil Ghosh is working as Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Burdwan, West Bengal/ He can be contacted at and on Twitter SubhranilG868)

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