What *is* the Urban Climate Problem?

A lot of our partners have been working on Urban issues, and there’s a very good understanding of many facets of the problem - water, sanitation, transportation, air quality (to some extent), etc. More recently a few have gotten together to explore if the urban/rural dichotomy is a hard line. Many are coming together to respond to state needs as a collaborative.

As all this happens, I was thinking about how all of this moves needles. And indeed, what needles. City planning has long been about services delivered to its citizens, and not about larger questions about the relationship with the hinterland, with nature and the planet.

So, open question : from the climate, biodiversity perspective, what do the chases and markers of a more climate resilient, climate responsible city look like? How do we know we’re collectively making progress, beyond measuring the rollout of well-intentioned and thought through plans? We just read today that cities are responsible for 70% of the emissions in India. Add waste water, waste and the indirect responsibility for a lot of structures and methods that lead to adverse outcomes elsewhere too. What needs to change in these?

Scope 1/2/3 emissions, energy, materials accounting?
Water balance?
Materials balance?
Emissions inventory, apportionment?
Biodiversity and habitat?

What are the real ways in which we can say for sure we’re moving needles on this? At what granularity should be start measuring and accounting for these?

There are multiple ways to tackle this problem:

At citizen level: truth-seeking
Start by reading the first chapter (or something similar) of "Samaaj, Sarkaar, and Bazaar" because till the time cities’ residents lack a systematic understanding of many of the fundamental daily necessities, it will be almost impossible to bring that empathy. let’s guess what % of residents living in Bangalore know - the source of their drinking water. Many of us are conscious about not using tissue paper because we know it is made from trees.

You will see, that many of them will not believe that they have subconsciously created a net -ve in the ecosystem.

At the system level: Simplified Narrative building that can educate residents at scale
Create scalable narratives again a simplified version that could be understood by everyone rather the sophisticated and complex. Self-realization is probably the best way to change human behaviour.

Create Incentive: Because incentive drives humans behaviours
It would demand a tight collaboration between public and private (PPP kind of model).

Note 1: Think about solving this problem from the mindset that residents are at level 0. (No scope for assumptions).
Note 2: Take only one problem at a time.

From a climate perspective, the built environment has a crucial role in terms of emissions, apart from transport, industry, biodiversity, water and waste. The model of development in cities - both for transport and buildings determines a very significant share of urban emissions. While we track electricity use in commercial and residential buildings, and more recently, there are efforts to understand embodied emissions from building materials, there is a need for thinking how current urban development models are locking us into increased energy use patterns, and what can be done about it beyond master plans.

From a resilience perspective, cities will grapple with extreme heat events, which are expected to increase in intensity, duration and frequency. I want to particularly highlight the quality of low income / social housing within this context, and the need to think about it as a possible metric for measuring climate resilience in cities.