Mumbai Climate Action Plan has the potential to be a game changer. Here’s how

Mumbai’s first Climate Action Plan is drafting a framework for fighting climate change and its effects in the city for the decades to come.

The Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP) is due to be implemented by the end of this year.

A joint effort of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), the Government of Maharashtra and WRI India, the draft version will be showcased at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in November. The general public was invited to give  feedback and suggestions till September 20th.

The plan is to work in two ways. The first – mitigation – will concentrate on the sectors of energy and buildings, sustainable mobility and waste management, chosen for their significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs),  71%, 24% and 5% respectively. There will be a coordinated push towards sustainable practices, like energy efficiency technology, grid decarbonization, green buildings; increasing electric vehicles, public transport and EV charging stations, and creating walkable enclaves; waste segregation and treatment at source.

The second, adaptation, will tackle urban flooding and water management, urban greening and biodiversity and air quality. These are areas susceptible to most harm by industrial development and can pose adverse effects to life in the city, while also improving its resilience to climate events. The approach towards them is two-fold, as providing measures to monitor and reduce harm will not by themself offset the vulnerabilities brought on by climate change. Ensuring equitable access and precautionary measures will be incorporated through flood shelters, subsidized health facilities for lower-income families and early warning systems. 

The Plan so far

The MCAP was publicly launched on the 27th of August of this year, however, work on it began in January, soon after Mumbai joined the C40 Cities group in December 2020. With this, the city committed to deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement – including reducing 50% of emissions by 2030, and 100% by 2050. 

The first step was taking stock of the climate situation of Mumbai. Threats to the city were assessed and city officials were briefed on the necessity of the plan. Using existing data and literature, a city profile consisting of demographic, socio-economic and ecological data was built. 

Step three involved the creation of a detailed “climate profile” and a vulnerability assessment using satellite imagery, identifying the areas and parameters at most risk. This ranged from mapping the mean surface temperature, vegetation cover, water connection prevalence, to pollutant concentration and flood prone areas. 

A greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory was created using the City Inventory Reporting and Information System (CIRIS), an Excel-based tool developed by C40 Cities. Sector-wise data was collected from 40 BMC, state and private departments and organisations. “The data will be analysed in comparison with global benchmarks, to help us identify gaps in each sector based on its overall emission load. These gaps will need to be addressed in our climate plan,” Lubaina Rangwala, Associate Director at WRI India, told Hindustan Times. 

At this time, the BMC plans to consolidate with each Ward and department to assess the commitment from each level. A comprehensive action plan will then be drawn up in conjunction with the requirements of the forecasting models. A climate budget and climate test activity are also in the pipeline. 

Read more: How the Mumbai Climate Action Plan can be made better

Stakeholder conferences

“People have been working in the space of climate action for years,” introduced Lubaina at the first stakeholder conference on Sustainable Waste Management held online on 4th September. “The idea is to open this space for collaboration – understand the limitations of our process, identify data gaps, and integrate others’ work.”

Around 40 experts, from NGOs, environmental organisations, universities and private companies, were invited over the week to give their suggestions on each focus area of the plan. “We want the plan to be inclusive, because a just transition is a principle enshrined in the Action Plan. We don’t want to just speak about climate action to people, but with people,” said Saurabh Punamiya-Jain, Policy & Research Secretary (private) to the cabinet minister. Recommendations and critiques were aplenty, as the experts set out to cover the scope of each topic and present inputs from tried-and-tested projects all over the country. 

The need for correct and detailed data was highlighted repeatedly, with an emphasis on including lower-income groups in studies. Both Swati Singh Sambyal, a Waste Management Specialist from UN-Habitat, and Jyoti Mhapsekar, the founder of Stree Mukti Sanghatana, flagged the suspiciously low 3% attributed to plastic in the composition of the city’s solid waste data. “Plastic waste was 7.89% in the data given by NEERI in 2011, and in the years since it has increased quite a bit,” said Jyoti. Swati estimated that the actual number was between 15-20%. 

Citizen awareness and participation was another aspect the panellists considered essential. “Involving people in making their areas’ People’s Biodiversity Register (PBR) will be an excellent exercise in documenting the city’s biodiversity. The awareness will automatically set in,” recommended Dr. Shubhalaxmi V., Founder of Ladybird Environmental Consulting LLP.

Tar washed ashore mixes with garbage
Photo: Shaunak Modi

Implementing the plan

End-to-end waste segregation was mandated in the country in 2016, and then again, in 2017. 

But as Jyoti Mhapsekar points out, “There is no implementation. Officers at the Ward level are often unaware of the policies decided at the central level.” This was seconded by Pramod Dabrase, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Environment & Development Initiative (CSEDI).“I would not agree with some speakers saying that we don’t have policies. What we don’t have are policies coming to the lowest possible level.” he said.

“The actions of the BMC are contrary to what is being said,”  director of Vanashakti, Stalin D. said, echoing Dabrase. He refers to the many road building projects, including the approximate Rs 13,000 crore coastal road project, while the fleet of BEST buses has dwindled, directly against the goals of sustainable mobility. He also brings up the lack of transparency and information on the recently announced Chimbai waterfront and Powai lake cycling track. Citizens and independent experts, he contends, aren’t engaged in the planning stages of development projects. ”

But it is precisely this disregard that has been a feature in the BMC’s development projects. “Wetlands and seas are typically seen by land-use plans as places that might become future land one day,” says Nikhil Anand, an environmental anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania. “Large infrastructure projects such as the Coastal Road project and metros are proposed without studying how much the loss of permeable space in intertidal areas and sub-surface areas will cost the city in future flooding.” 

Illustrating this gap, Debi Goenka, Trustee at the Conservation Action Trust, indicated that eco-sensitive zones, such as mangroves (including the 15m buffer zone), mudflats, sand dunes, sanctuaries, forest areas, high tide and low tide lines, be demarcated in the Development Plans. “So when the BMC is giving permissions, they know exactly what is present on the ground,” he stated.

“We’ve realised a lot of constructive feedback has come in,” acknowledges Saurabh. The consultations, in different capacities, will continue till October, after which they will be coalesced and evaluated and based on that, incorporated into the plan. 

“If the points in the plan are acted upon, it will make a big difference to Mumbai,” says Stalin. “But the way things have been going needs to be paused and reflected upon.”

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