Climate Change Resilience in Indian Coastal Cities

Global warming appears to be accelerating at a highly precedented rate and may increase up to or more than 4 degree Celsius by end of this century. It is leading to a rise in sea level due to thermal expansion of ocean water, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, an increase in the severity of tropical cyclones, which will bring greater winds, more precipitation, and larger storm surges. Most of all, climate change has increased the risk of flooding in coastal cities, as sea levels rise and the deltas sink, on which many megacities are built. For long, coastal areas attracted tourism, human settlement and economic advantages but now have become irrevocably fatal due to the same reason. 

Climate change effects have also reached subcontinent of India as a result of rapid urbanisation, high population density and accelerated economic activities. The coastline of the mainland is 7,516.6 km long, home to over 260 million people, and has nine major states to the coast- Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. These regions are of enormous socio-economic significance to India since together these states account for nearly 60 per cent of India’s FDI inflow and are hub to critical economic infrastructure of the country.  As a result, the country is extremely vulnerable to climatic fluctuations and extreme weather events.

Climate change is unavoidable, but climate mitigation is within our power, and it will be critical in greatly lowering the effects of climate change. In an inaugural address at TERI’s World Sustainable Development Summit, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “We have heard people call our planet fragile. But it is not the planet that is fragile. It is us. We are fragile. Our commitments to the planet, to nature, have also been fragile. A lot has been said over the last 50 years, since the 1972 Stockholm Conference. Very little has been done. But in India, we have walked the talk.” In recent years, India has laboriously shown its commitment to combat the effects of climate change and was even applauded by the Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for showing commitments and results for the climate agenda. 

On the international level, India updated its climate action plans at the CoP26 Leader's Summit, demonstrating a renewed commitment to the Paris Agreement's goal of reducing GHG emissions intensity of GDP by 33-35 percent by 2030. At the summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a five-point action plan called "Panchamrita" to increase non-fossil energy capacity to 500 gigawatts (GW), meet 50 per cent of its energy needs with renewables, reduce carbon emissions by one billion tonnes, reduce the economy's carbon intensity to less than 45 per cent by 2030, and achieve the country's Net-Zero goal by 2070. Based on these commitment, India has nationally aligned its agendas and policies with Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and global requirements. States in India, including coastal states have released ‘State Action Plan on Climate Change’ (SAPCC), in extension to the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), highlighting their mitigation strategies for various sectors like transport, energy, waste management, agriculture, biodiversity, tourism, and more, while also focusing on disaster management. In lieu of this, Gujarat has reportedly become the second largest producer of wind power and third largest producer of solar energy, producing 8,900 and 6,200 megawatts, respectively. Climate action plans are also increasingly being implemented in Maharashtra as the states enters its fifth city to implement plans. The state of Kerala also presented a document to the Glasgow delegates highlighting 18 innovative and sustainable practices adopted by the state to mitigate climate change effects by reducing GHGs and build resilience through adaptation of projects in clean energy, clean transport, health and agriculture. Odisha became a leading state in disaster preparedness and reducing carbon dioxide footprint as it also bagged the first position in ‘life below water’ (an SDG goal measured in coastal states) by increasing aquaculture area to 41.7 per cent in 2021. Moreover, implementation of programmes for disaster management and for building climate resilient infrastructure is also taken up by a few coastal states such as the Heat Action Plan developed by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, the early warning system for floods developed by Surat Municipal Corporation, or using rainwater harvesting for recharging borewells in Solapur. 

Furthermore, India has also implemented a number of national-level schemes in order to transition to a clean and green economy. The Ujjwala Yojana, which covers more than 90 million households, has been critical in ensuring fair access to energy, while the PM KUSUM plan has helped farmers gain access to renewable energy to support clean farming. In addition, the National Hydrogen Mission has also been launched by the government to tap into green hydrogen technology as a power source for a sustainable future and to make India a green hydrogen hub. This would ensure a massive cutdown of the country’s GHG emissions by decarbonising major industries such as transport and agriculture, while aiding in coming closer to its Net-zero targets. Furthermore, the Budget 2022 also is a reflection of India’s increasing emphasis on clean energy transition in cities to ensure a sustainable future. It highlighted government’s plans for promoting public transport in urban areas, a Battery Swapping Policy as an alternative to EV charging stations, co-firing 5-7 per cent biomass pellets in thermal power plants, promotion of sovereign green bonds, pollution control, and more. These are key policy decisions on part of India to mitigate climate change which will prove to be beneficial in aiding in its transition as a developing country while maintaining a  cap on its goals of being a green economy.

In the last several years, India has done and achieved a lot on the climate front, which cannot be claimed for many other developing countries, given the difficult-to-maintain balance between economic growth and environmental preservation practices. However, there are multiple opportunities for climate change mitigation that are yet to be implemented. Climate resilient infrastructure in coastal locations, for example, can yield benefits across a range of sectors. Like, securing these areas with flood-protection infrastructure will encourage economic activity, long-term planning, and investments, foster entrepreneurship, innovation, and productive investments, all of which will help India's overall growth and development. Furthermore, the construction of new resilient infrastructure or the upgrading of existing infrastructure would provide immediate job opportunities for coastal areas. The local government’s reliance on local community members for knowledge, capital, labour and support would result in facilitating inclusivity and achieving harmony between community and government’s agendas. There is also space for multi-stakeholder collaborations in climate infrastructure as investments and innovation remains fairly limited due to the high risk factor of coastal areas. This can be achieved in two main ways i.e. incentivising and seeking support from international development banks. Moreover, a tracking system like Environment, Social, Governance (ESG) tracking can further help the government in keeping track of climate action and international sustainable development standards in check. 

India, historically, has been a country focused on values connected closely with the environment, and in recent years of industrialisation, it has picked up the mantle with the same spirit. With 2030 eight years away, there is significant hope for India to achieve its climate targets, protect its shore and territories and be an example to the world in driving environmental conscious behaviour. 

This blog is co-authored by Kanika Verma and Bhamini Rathore.