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Trying to Stay Afloat: How Mumbai’s Climate Action Plan Falls Short

The Mumbai C40 action plan focuses heavily on investment in sustainable infrastructure but has not explicitly set emission reduction targets. Credit: Yoyosrk

Mumbai, commonly known as the city of dreams, faces a future that is waist-deep in floodwaters and rising sea levels. In the past couple of decades, several attempts to adopt climate action mechanisms against sea level rise and flooding have been made, although most  of them have fallen short, as evidenced by this year’s flooding event.

Enter Mumbai’s climate action plan proposed by Aditya Thackerey, the current environment minister of the state of Maharashtra. With support from the C40 cities initiative, Mumbai’s action plan aims to mediate the ambitious goals of the Paris Climate Agreement at a local level like 97 other megacities across the globe. The action plan laid out for Mumbai will be carried out in four stages. Stage one and two will focus on establishing a metric for existing vulnerabilities within the city, along with collecting demographic and tree cover data used for post analysis. Step three and four will focus on building a climate profile for verticals like air pollution, water resources, urban flooding, urban greenery, energy efficiency in municipal buildings, transport and mobility, and waste management. The plan seems full of action on the surface, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?

The Efficacy of the Plan Remains Questionable

 While Mumbai’s climate action plan lays out a comprehensive strategy for sustainable action against climate change, it falls short in setting achievable emissions cuts, and works within the existing business as usual scenario. In its four stages, the plan fails to consider the real focus: measuring carbon emissions from the industrial and transportation sectors. Currently, the plan incentivizes energy efficiency for building and transportation and scaling up renewable energy and other cleaner fuel technologies for industries. But, despite implementing technocentric emission reduction efforts, the plan neglects to explicitly commit to an emission reduction target, making existing efforts seem symbolic rather than bold.  By not fully committing to emission reduction, the climate action plan sets itself up for failure and does not target the root cause of the climate crisis itself. Thus, it remains ineffective to protect Mumbai from extreme temperatures and sea level rise. As such, an insubstantial climate action plan is bound to produce flimsy climate action.

The climate plan seeks to promote sustainable infrastructure in Mumbai. But, current trends show that government spending on the expansion of building car-specific transportation infrastructure is the highest it has ever been, making the city more addicted to fossil fuels. Investment in sustainable public infrastructure still doesn’t figure in the government’s priority list. Residential infrastructural projects continue to pollute and degrade natural environments within the city and on its periphery. To be truly effective and inclusive, the climate action plan must commit to sustainable development by cracking down on the construction of ostentatious high-rises, freeways, and malls and focus instead on incentivizing public transport infrastructure and building high-density low-rise developments to replace existing informal settlements.

Time is Running Out

Considering that Mumbai is running out of time, as sea levels rise and monsoons increase in intensity, it is not enough for the climate action plan to focus mainly on data collection. The dangers of climate change are already being felt in the city, and, at this moment, the government must establish immediate protections against extreme events. Waiting on precise data collection through the proposed plan will only delay progress and worsen the ability of cities to make a smooth transition to adaptation. The climate action plan must take effect alongside immediate climate mitigation and adaptation strategies to be truly effective.

Finally, the climate action plan must propose substantial adaptation strategies for vulnerable communities in the city. Mumbai currently ranks high among global megacities in terms of income inequality and at present, 41 percent of the city’s population lives in informal settlements in the center and periphery of the city. This means that, collectively, more than half of the city is high risk, with additional vulnerabilities stemming from incoming migrant communities. To minimize human costs from climate change, the climate action plan will have to do a lot more than measure vulnerability through data driven analysis. The plan must include substantive strategies like a managed retreat to reduce human costs associated with the climate crisis.

It is crucial now more than ever to invest in climate mitigation and adaptation swiftly and efficiently. The climate action plan laid out by the Mumbai government is only a step in the right direction at a time when a sprint is needed. The plan lays out theoretical strategies for public infrastructure capacity-building and eradicating income inequality, but the real test for efficacy lies in the implementation. The stakes are higher and more urgent as climate vulnerabilities increase. This makes it critical for the Mumbai government to step up and replace wishy-washy climate action efforts with firm and rapid plans of action.

Views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Columbia Climate School, Earth Institute or Columbia University.

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Professor Oopalee Operajita
2 years ago

Absolutely correct! The problem with most government schemes which look good on paper is a lack of implementation. And in the interim, Mumbai would’ve sunk.