Editorial✍ Financial Express Prelims cum Mains

A local approach to climate change

Paris agreement:

  • The 2016 Paris agreement had countries pledging to keep temperature increases between 1.5°C and 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
  • The lower end of the target range (to limit to 1.5°C increase) was due to the request of the small island nations, although there was little expectation that it could be met.

1.5°C mark to be hit by 2030:

  • In the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C just released, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that the world could hit the 1.5°C mark as early as 2030.
  • The report also said that any further rise will have far-reaching consequences.


India will face severe consequences:

  • It is what the report says about limiting the rise to 1.5°C that is of particular interest.
  • The consequences of climate change include a rise in mean temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns to a rise in drought frequency, flood hazards and coastal risk etc.
  • They will hit the global south particularly hard.
  • Few countries will be more affected than India.

Huge costs:

  • A recent study in Nature Climate Change quantified the domestic social costs of carbon emissions.
  • The economic damage caused by a ton of carbon dioxide emissions is often referred to as the “social cost” of carbon.
  • At approximately $90/tonne, the cost to India is the highest in the world.

Some sectors more polluting:

  • The main culprits when it comes to emissions are the power and transport sectors.
    • Looking at the transport sector through the prisms of land-use planning and transit-oriented development would be useful here.
  • The water and sanitation sectors are other pressure points, responsible for vast amounts of methane emissions.
    • Methane has been observed to be 25 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, but is still dismissed as a temporary pollutant.


Indian government taking steps:

  • Given this, the Indian government has done well to sharpen the policy focus on sustainable growth.
  • It has taken a broad spectrum approach, in terms of looking at renewable energy or clean emission vehicles.
  • This is important, but not enough.

But measures needed at more regional and local levels:

  • The UN report notes that the different pathways to limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems.
  • Much of that falls in the domain of state or urban policy.

Local measures make sense especially for diverse country like India:

  • National goals and policies are necessary, but wide regional variation demands a complementary localized approach.
  • Local measures makes sense—particularly in the case of India, where geography and topography vary widely across regions and within them.
  • There are stark difference in pollution levels between industrialized states and forested states.
  • There is also the urban-rural divide: cities contribute a disproportionate share of greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Especially in India, they are also the most susceptible to climate change consequences, given that large segments of the urban population are concentrated along coastlines, rivers and flood plains.


Poor city planning in India:

  • Another area of concern is city planning.
  • Shoddy planning, tardy implementation and a paucity of qualified town planners have created cities with no mixed-use planning, lengthy daily commutes, energy-inefficient buildings, and unsustainable mobility and spatial development plans.

Steps needed to improve:

  • Capacity building: An increase in the stock of municipal corporation personnel specializing in environmental engineering, disaster management and the like—and their integration into policy making and administrative processes—is essential.
  • This is needed to make Indian cities prepared to face climate change consequences.
  • Financing needed: The gaps in fiscal and administrative devolution to rural and urban bodies present challenges, however.


States and Cities world over are playing an important role:

  • Empowered city mayors and local councils around the world are playing influential roles in combating climate change. Beijing and London are prime examples.
  • In the US, despite the President pulling the country out of the Paris Accord, a number of cities and states pledged to remain committed to the accord.
    • For example, California ratified a bill setting a 2045 deadline for the state’s total switch to renewable and other zero-carbon electricity.
    • Illinois passed a bill calling for a significant increase in the state’s solar capacity, and allocated $750 million for vocational training in clean-energy industries.
  • Other cities and states are also making the switch from non-renewable to renewable electricity, enforcing rigourous energy-efficiency norms on buildings, electrifying public transport etc.



  • In the face of developed economies’ reluctance to respect ‘common but differentiated responsibility’, the sort of intensive efforts outlined in the UN report will be difficult to pull off.
  • Indian government at union level is doing well to try and find the right mix for sustainable growth.
  • Subnational policymakers and administrators must do likewise.



GS Paper II: Environment


Related question:

The new IPCC report on climate change shows that it is important for local policymakers and administrators to complement the Centre’s efforts. Comment.

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