Climate change today is one of the most serious problems facing humanity, effects of which long-term, global and even life threatening. The problem is not only environmental but it is encompassing social and economic issues within, which need to be addressed without delay.
Climate change refers to sustained changes in the earth’s climate – including temperature, precipitation, wind and weather patterns. Global warming refers to the rise in the average temperature on the Earth’s surface. Carbon dioxide levels are higher than at any time in the past which has been caused by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), indiscriminate use of natural resources and their wastage and destruction of forests and natural biomes. The recently concluded International Conference on Climate change hosted by the University of Copenhagen have made alarming predictions from some of the world’s leading scientists that sea levels could raise by one metre or more by the end of the century.
Projections for the 21st century indicate that the earth’s average temperature will rise by anything between 1.4 and 5.8 degree Celsius. The ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1990. Without coordinated and immediate action across the globe, the earth’s climate will reach a critical ‘tipping point’ beyond which dangerous climate change will occur which would not be reversible, may be making human survival difficult.
There would be rise in the sea level which would eventually result in displacement of people. For instance, one metre rise in sea level would displace about 7 million people in India alone. The Gangotri glacier in the Himalayas is the source of water for the perennial river Ganga. This glacier like many others all over the world has also felt the impact of climate change. Studies carried out in the past few years have shown that the glacier is retreating at a speed of about 30 metres every year. If warming continues, it will melt rapidly, releasing large volumes of water but once this source begins drying, there may be dry periods with very little water flowing in the river.
The future impacts of climate change, identified by the Government of India’s National Communications (NATCOM) in 2004 include:
? Decreased snow cover, affecting snow-fed and glacial systems such as the Ganges and Bramhaputra. 70% of the summer flow of the Ganges comes from melted ice.
? Erratic monsoon with serious effects on rain-fed agriculture, peninsular rivers, water and power supply.
? Drop in wheat production by 4-5 million tones, with even a 1ºC rise in temperature.
? Rising sea levels causing displacement along one of the most densely populated coastlines in the world, threatened freshwater sources and mangrove ecosystems.
? Increased frequency and intensity of floods. Increased vulnerability of people in coastal, arid and semi-arid zones of the country.
? Studies indicate that over 50% of India’s forests are likely to experience shift in forest types, adversely impacting associated biodiversity, regional climate dynamics as well as livelihoods based on forest products.
India is home to a third of the world’s poor, and climate change will hit this section of society the hardest. Set to be the most populous nation in the world by 2045, the economic, social and ecological price of climate change will be massive. Although not an emitter historically, India currently has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. With a government target of 8% GDP to achieve developmental priorities, a share of one sixth of the global population, and changing consumption patterns, India’s emissions are set to increase dramatically.
Growing at an almost breakneck pace, and guzzling coal, gas and oil in large quantities, we are today, the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide. Although our per-capita emissions are among the lowest in the world, our growth rates imply that the past is no predictor of the future. The most recent IPCC report suggests that India will experience the greatest increase in energy and greenhouse gas emissions in the world if it sustains a high annual economic growth rate. The International energy Agency predicts that India will become the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases by as early as 2015.
India imports large quantities of fossil fuels to meet its energy needs, and the burning of fossil fuels alone accounts for 83% of India’s carbon dioxide emissions. Nearly 70% of our electricity supply comes from coal.
The following Tables provide a snapshot of vulnerabilities to climate change hazards in the four mega cities. The aim is not to assess definitively the vulnerability but instead to identify a set of data to understand the vulnerabilities in the four cities of analysis.
Table 1 : Vulnerability to Climate Change
Pop. In 2020
Land Area Sq.Km
Total Slum Population
% of slum population
Share of migrants in total population
Population in dry lands (000)
Population LECZ (000)
Per Capita water availability (M3)
Per capita Water 2035
Source: Slum Population, Census of India 2001.
Table 2: Climate Change Risks
Major risks of climate change
Raising intense rain fall, heat waves, cold waves, increased droughts, water scarcity
Coastal flooding, cyclones, sea level rise, increased rainfall, increased malaria risks
Tidal upsurge, cyclones, flooding and water logging.
Sea level rise, costal flooding, cyclones, landslides, tsunami, drought, salinity intrusion
Predicted Climate change
+1.5 to 2.5° Air temperature, Central Range +15 to + 35 percent precipitation Central range.
Annual average temperature increase 1.75° and 1.25°C by 2050 BAU, average annual decrease in precipitation 2%for the A@ and an increase of 2% for the B2 scenario (Sherbinin et al 2009)
Source: Centre for Climate Systems Research, Columbia University
Effect on Cities due to Climate Change
Cities are home to half the world’s population and this population is steadily growing both due to population growth and migration. Cities world over consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70 percent of global CO2 emissions. The effects of climate change will be strongly felt in cities. Many of the world’s major cities are at risk of flooding from rising sea levels. Heat-trapping urban landscapes (buildings and paved surfaces) can raise the temperatures and lower the air quality dangerously through the Urban Heat Island effect. In cities of the developing world, one out of every three people lives in a slum, making them particularly vulnerable to the health and environmental risks posed by climate change. The vulnerability of human settlements in the slums or mismanaged urban areas particularly will increase. Also the climate change may worsen the access to basic urban services and the quality of life in cities. Most affected are the urban poor – the slum dwellers in developing countries.
Climate change is likely to increase the present climate hazards these cities are facing and it is typically associated with vulnerability and hazard exposure. It is important to understand the different pathways through which climate change can impact the urban residents and increase their vulnerability to climate related risks. The four megacities mentioned in the table above are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change for three reasons. First, a large and growing proportion of people at risk from climate change lives in the four megacities of India. Secondly, these urban centers in India are the engines of growth and successful national economies depend on the well-functioning and resilient urban centres. This provides an important economic rationale for addressing the current urban vulnerabilities to extreme weathers and expanding protection from likely future changes. Thirdly, very little attention has been given to the vulnerabilities of low income population in urban centres in India. For example populations living in the slum areas are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. An Expert Committee set-up by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation to look into various aspects of slum Census in its report has stated that India’s slum population is projected to rise to 93.06 million by 2011 and expected to cross 100 million by 2017. These people will be most adversely affected due to climate related impacts. Till now most of the attention has been given to the rural population’s adaptation to the impacts of climate change.
In the last few years several measures relating to environmental issues have been introduced. They have targeted increasing significantly, the capacity of renewable energy installations; improving the air quality in major cities (the world’s largest fleet of vehicles fuelled by compressed natural gas has been introduced in New Delhi); and enhancing afforestation. Other similar measures have been implemented by committing additional resources and realigning new investments, thus putting economic development on a climate-friendly path.
At the local level UN-HABITAT strives to help cities in developing countries to address climate change and, at the national, regional and global levels, to raise awareness and to help counterparts to build the capacities needed to enable cities and local governments to address climate change effectively. Cities have the potential to influence the causes of climate change and they have the solutions to advance climate protection. The success of adaptation critically depends on the availability of necessary resources, not only financial, but also knowledge, technical capability, institutional resources and tools. UN-Habitat’s Cities and Climate Change Initiative (CCCI) seeks to enhance the preparedness and mitigation activities of cities in developing and least developed countries. It emphasizes good governance, responsibility, leadership and practical initiatives for local governments, communities and citizens. Building on UN-HABITAT’s long experience in sustainable urban development, the Cities and Climate Change Initiative helps counterparts to develop and implement pro-poor and innovative climate change policies and strategies
Steps to be taken by the Cities
Cities have greater responsibility now and must play a key part in finding solutions to this problem. The solution to this problem has to be directed towards the local and regional needs but certain basic steps that can be taken are :
- increasing the energy efficiency of their infrastructure such as buildings, outdoor lighting, and transportation systems;
- using resources more effectively for example through advanced waste management;
- producing clean energy at the district-level as well as sourcing clean energy from large-scale
- encouraging and engaging the young generation and making them aware of the
consequences of the climate change;
- implementing bold steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that others may follow; and
- Celebrating special days like independence day or republic day or festivals like Diwali and
holi by either planting saplings or cleaning their immediate surroundings or taking out small processions to encourage others to join .
A similar step has been taken by housing cooperatives at the local level which is encouraging people to take positive steps for environment upgradation under the overall umbrella of the National Cooperative Housing Federation of India (NCHF), a nationwide organisation, the housing cooperatives are contributing in improving the environment of the dwelling place of an individual and thereby contributing in some way in the global challenge faced by humanity. There are more than 100,000 housing cooperatives with a membership of about 70 lakhs. These members can play a major role in joining hands with the National Action Plan by doing a simple task of planting at least one tree per member. Thus, there may be at least 70 lakh additional trees planted with the various housing cooperatives in India. This will be extremely helpful in cleaning the environment and combating the challenge of global warming.
An appeal was issued by NCHF to all the state apex housing federations, district housing federations, primary housing cooperatives as well as other cooperative institutions to play an effective role in protecting environment. All the 70 lakh members of housing cooperatives have been requested to join hands in protecting the nature and consequently helping the mankind to breathe fresh air; they have been urged to plant at least one sapling each for the cause. NCHF Secretariat has received encouraging response regarding the appeal of tree plantation from housing and other cooperatives in various States. Some of the cooperatives are proactive enough in conducting awareness programmes on global warming and benefit of planting trees, while others are contributing their bit by undertaking plantation in collaboration with the State Governments and NGOs.
With only such small efforts we can bring great changes. Although we may not be able to reverse the damage already done but we can surely stop any further damage so that our future generations be able to have a good living.