What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change

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Cities and Their Climate: An Inspection of Cities and its relationship to Environment and Climate Change

by Manish Gautam*

Cities as source of green house gas emissions.

Cities as vulnerable places to climate change.

Cities as threat to environment vs cities vulnerable to environmental risks.

Cities as parasites! – sucking up the resources.

Cities as place for individual and national growth, opportunities, employment.


The City and the ecological system wherein a city or an urban setting lie are often found at crossroads. Whether it is the building a city from the scratch, or its growth and development, it takes high toll on the environment and ecology of the geography. Today’s world where Climate Change is being perceived as a greater and an imminent threat to the humanity, and cities worldwide being the highest emitters of Greenhouse Gases since the industrial revolution, the burgeoning urbanism in India, though at a rather slower pace, can proliferate the emissions that endanger the sustainability of future generations. it is not only the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions that concerns the well-being and sustainability of the future of the city, but its very resource intensive nature which is generally seen as a factor deterioration of environment.

In 1901, India’s urban population was about 11%, going up to 17% in 1951, and 28% in 2001. Today more than 30% of the India is lives in cities. The top ten cities account for almost 8% of country’s population. Neo-liberal norms, green revolution, massive industrialisation and the role of private players in the market, ‘population explosion’ and the much talked rural-urban migration are some of the reasons attributed to the urban growth.

Often cited as a ‘poorly understood’ process, the urban transition, in context of India, has been a puzzlement for the researchers, urban planners and policy makers.This transition is multidimensional and is not insusceptible to a host of issues and problems. Small towns are shifting towards becoming cities and megacities, the needs of urban residents are not entirely met to their satisfaction. While central government has pledged to build 100 Smart Cities considering a concentration of population in urban places in near future, a closer look at existing cities and megacities provides a different, and rather worrisome, picture altogether.

The growing water demand and the poor, unequal distribution is one of the many indicators. The rivers that feed to city owing to an overwhelming infrastructure are not proving to be enough to meet the requirements, moreover they are heavily polluted. The spaces are congested, the roads are being jammed with the increasing numbers of automobiles. The green cover, trees and forests seen as ‘carbon sink’ and lungs of the environment, are disappearing, being cut to create space for real estate development. The water bodies, lakes, ponds, tanks that once helped the cities to manage the water flow during monsoons and checked the flooding, are also decreasing in number.

Bangalore, is one of the three metropolises situated on Deccan Plateau, gives an ample evidence that all is not well in our cities. Often termed as coupled human-environment system, the cities are facing a range of problems. Hyderabad and Bangalore are blotched with air and water pollution. The groundwater levels are either too deep to extract enough water or it is not potable at all. Water supply to these cities, extracting water from rivers located at hundred kilometers away,  is dependent on a heavy infrastructure  which needs immense energy usage. The city residents often complain about inequitable and insufficient water supply.

Bangalore’s ecological heritage, its abundant green cover and the tank system, a man-made network of channels and ponds to harvest the rain for city’s water need, is on the brink of losing its existence to the development, industrialisation and growing population. Every other month the local newspapers are full of epiphanies of water scarcity, prolonged traffic jams and flooding at times of rains owing to the poor drainage system.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 2 report (AR5) highlights the vulnerability of urban areas to climate change. Climate Change may not directly cause the vulnerability but it ‘exacerbates’ the existing risks which is the imbalance in the human-ecological system in the cities. Urban Heat Island effect in Bangalore city has been well documented in IMD (Indian Meteorological Department) publications. IMD research papers try to connect the higher occurrence of higher rainfall, that often causes flooding in some areas exposing the unpreparedness of urban managers to deal with the situation, with the human-caused climate change.

The Indian cities are often perceived as ill-prepared to face any natural or human induced disasters, the complexities in the relationship of a city to the ecological systems enhances this unpreparedness. Understanding these complexities and envision a better, sustainable plan for the growth of a city, in a nutshell, should be the necessary conditions for implementing development agenda in the cities and urban centers.

*Manish Gautam is a researcher with Indian Institute for Human Settlements and volunteers with Indian Youth Climate Network. 

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A Journey to Remember: Climate Solutions Road Tour (Episodes 1 & 2)

In 2009, an adventurous team of young people gathered in India to undertake a 3,500 kilometer journey across the country in search of solutions to climate change.  This unforgettable journey in a caravan led by electric vehicles made quite a splash.  Five years later thanks to Solar Punch, we are able to share this journey with you in snippets.  For more on the tour, you can also visit the website.

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Our Inefficient Cars & The Poulsen Hybrid Solution

This entry was originally made on Orange Hues blog on 5 May 2008.


You may be surprised to learn how inefficient that shiny new car is that you drive to work everyday. Thankfully, there’s a solution in sight.

I think a lot about cars and urban transport. I honestly believe that cars are unsustainable for a large number of reasons and that we must give them up in favor of walking, using the bicycle, two wheelers and public transport. In my personal life, I’ve taken the first step towards that by placing a moratorium on single and dual passenger car travel – will only take out the car when there are three or more people traveling (more on that later).

One of the reasons cars are unsustainable is their horrible inefficiency. I’ve mentioned this before but here’s what Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute has to say:

I’ve been thinking in background for 20 years about the physics of cars and why are they so inefficient that you know, your car’s using a 100 times its weight in ancient plants everyday and yet only 0.3% of that energy ends up moving the driver. This didn’t seem very good.

Of all the fuel energy you put into the car, 87% (seven eighths of it) never gets to the wheel. It’s lost first in the engine, driveline, idling and accessories.

Of the 1/8th of fuel energy that does reach the wheels, half of that either heats the air that the car pushes aside or heats the tires and roads. Only the last 6% of the fuel energy actually accelerates the car and then heats the brakes when you stop.

Amory Lovins in Car of the Future

Not everyone is as inspired to give up their cars — most people actually love theirs — so we must live with them for some time. The only alternative then is to produce more efficient cars. But the auto industry has refused to budge so far, you say. Soooo… you get the independent auto makers to produce efficient cars. But how do you do that? It’s not as simple as producing water bottles, you know. Well, give them an incentive. Announce a $10 million prize for a car that is over 3 times as efficient and sells in large numbers.

This is precisely what Auto X-Prize is all about.

I’ve been following Auto X-Prize development for almost two years. I think it’s a great initiative though I feel they should have aimed higher — 300 MPG instead of 100 (today’s cars average about 29 MPG in US). We need to make a big leap to make up for the inefficiencies of the past century. Nevertheless, it’s an exciting venture and I can’t wait to find out who among the 64 contenders wins the X-Prize and what it does to the industry.  Continue reading


Commuters – including car owners – support the BRT overwhelmingly: finds random survey by CSE and Delhi Greens

  • A joint perception survey of commuters traveling on the BRT corridor, done by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and the Delhi-based student groups Delhi Greens and the Indian Youth Climate Network, has found overwhelming support for the BRT system.
  • Majority of commuters want BRT corridors in other parts of the city for better connectivity.
  • Surprise finding: contrary to general perceptions, a large majority of car and two-wheeler drivers surveyed have supported the BRT!

New Delhi, May 19, 2008: The much discussed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Delhi has received another thumbs up – this time, from its regular users. A joint random perception survey of commuters traveling on the capital’s first BRT corridor, done by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi Greens and the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN), has found overwhelming support for the corridor from pedestrians, cyclists, bus drivers and commuters and – surprisingly – also from car and two-wheeler drivers. The findings of the survey were released by CSE today. These findings will also be shared with the Delhi government.

Between April 30 to May 5, 2008, CSE and Delhi Greens volunteers fanned out daily on the corridor, randomly stopping and asking commuters what difference – positive or negative – was the BRT making to their daily commutes. Since there have been talks of scrapping the project, the surveyors also asked whether commuters wanted the BRT to continue.

‘Yes’ to BRT even from car drivers

Of the 1,500 people surveyed in this period, 55 per cent were bus commuters, 23 per cent were cyclists and pedestrians, 16 per cent were car and two-wheeler commuters and the rest constituted a mixed category of those using autos etc. The survey results say:

  • As much as 83 per cent of all commuters are happy with the dedicated lane system of BRT and want that the BRT system should be continued in the city.

  • The major support comes from bus commuters and pedestrians/cyclists — a whopping 88-91 per cent of these respondents said that they are happy with the BRT system and want that it should be extended to more areas of Delhi.

  • Contrary to popular belief, only 8 per cent of the car and two-wheeler commuters said that BRT should be scrapped and 73 per cent agreed that the project can be continued.

  • When asked whether they will shift from their personal vehicles to better, faster and high frequency buses equipped with AC and GPS running on the BRT corridor — 26 per cent of car and two-wheeler answered positively. However, they are seemingly reluctant to use the BRT corridor now because it extends for a mere 5.8 km. They are more willing to shift if its network covers most of the city’s roads and gets connected with the Metro

  • Many of car and two-wheeler commuters also said that jams on the MV lanes and at intersections should be reduced and more space should be allocated to them. (for the survey results, please visit www.cseindia.org).

  • Most commuters wanted the BRT corridor to be connected to the Delhi Metro and introduction of feeder buses on the corridor. There were also suggestions of cycles to be made available on rent on the stretch.

The CSE-Delhi Greens-IYCN survey shows that while there is an acknowledgement of the teething troubles that BRT is having, there is also overwhelming support for the system in the city. Commuting data from various agencies support the findings – they tell us that around 60 per cent of commuters on the corridor use buses, while cars actually carry less than 20 per cent of the people.

Continue reading

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Siam makes way for Bali Action Plan

You would expect the climate change talks to have taken off with a “Bang” here in the capital of Thailand.India at the Bangkok Climate Change Talks 2008 Yet the sense amongst most observer groups is that there are no negotiations really taking place. The biggest challenge is carrying forward the energy of the Bali Action Plan which came out of intense final hour negotiations back in December 2007. It is already nearing the last day and it is becoming obvious that the delegates are losing track of time. And there are very heavy issues on the table including: adaptation (how we will finance technology for adaptation, do we couple it with mitigation, how do we determine which nations are the most vulnerable), mitigation (what does measurable, reportable, verifiable emissions reduction targets mean?), Finance (which instruments will be utilized for mobilization and control of funds, and more importantly where will we get the massive amounts of funding required?), etc.

“You can fly, to any city in Thailand. I hope you get a chance to explore this beautiful country before you all leave,” stated the deputy Prime Minister of Thailand during his opening plenary address. I noticed more than a few people smirk in the room. One of the key issues being discussed here are the roping in of various industrial and cooperative sectors into the negotiating process–one of the most important being bunker fuels from aviation and shipping–emissions from the former having continued to rise at 3% each year while the latter’s emissions have doubled since 1990. A presentation today by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the primary organization held responsible for checking the growth of emissions from this industry/sector revealed some of the key challenges to addressing the problem.

Challenges include things like access to and quality of data, methodology, comparability and the problem of emissions from transboundary and multinational flights and those crossing areas outside national jurisdiction were of key concern. However the presentation (which was quite poorly put together with only 3 slides) left a lot to be desired regarding actual moves to check the growth of emissions coming from the sector–and the main culprits having not checked the growth of emissions are the ICAO and IMO (International Maritime Organization). The aviation sector is expanding rapidly in the emerging economies (and rightly so, considering the new found wealth in those nations). Those with vested interests in trade would have business as usual with regards to curbing emissions in this sector–Panama, Singapore, and China again, being some of them. Curiously, small island states as well, as their remoteness requires a heavy reliance on both shipping and aviation for survival. New Zealand made a point to address this latter issue and stated the need to consider geographical remoteness and national circumstances when drafting final policy.

The debate on forests has been reopened as the issue of carbon stocks is taken up once more. This time it comes under LULUCF (Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry). While NGOs are wanting appropriate accounting of emissions from peat and degraded forests, governments are talking of carbon harvested products (timber products) serving as carbon sinks!

To speak specifically in the Indian context, the climate change negotiators have all been changed. This time not a single one of them is from the Ministry of Environment & Forests. To show the seriousness of the issue to the government, it is being handled by the foreign relations department and none other than the man behind the Indo-US nuclear deal. Make of that what you will.

For the 1000 delegates convening here from 190 nations around the world, time is running out in this “City of Angles.” Where is the divine intervention that is needed to move this process along?