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Empowered Indian cities can help in climate fight

As the Indian government begins implementing its ambitious domestic targets to mitigate carbon emissions, Indian cities could play a crucial role. They could adopt action plans and aim to mitigate emissions roughly in line with the national government’s targets, said climate experts in New Delhi this month.

A key first step will be collecting data and creating city-level greenhouse gas emissions inventories and identifying hotspots, said Subrata Chakrabarty, a climate researcher at WRI India. This will help the government prioritize actions and strategies for climate mitigation.

The experts spoke at a panel during Connect Karo, WRI India’s flagship annual conference, that hosted The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM), an international alliance of some 7,400 cities and local governments that are taking climate action. The cities represent over 680 million people or nearly 10% of the global population, and plan to curb 1.29 gigatons of emissions by 2030. GCoM – South Asia, the European Union and the Joint Research Centre co-sponsored the panel. GCoM is interested in helping Indian cities put together climate action plans by helping set up a standardized greenhouse gas emissions reporting framework, and helping identify mitigation and adaptation targets.

Shwetal Shah, technical advisor on climate change to the Gujarat government, said there has to be buy-in from both the political and bureaucratic functionaries of local government in order to get city-level climate action. He stressed that, at least in Gujarat, there is recognition that India has to deviate from business-as-usual and rapidly implement climate actions on ground. The state has a climate action plan. “We have to be conscious on low-carbon development, we cannot afford the carbon intensive development like western countries or China,” he said. “With use of technological advancement, we can do it.”

Other states have varying levels of interest in climate change. A key challenge is that busy city officials do not have the time or inclination to collect emissions data amid the hundreds of other tasks, said Damandeep Singh, director of CDP India. “When you approach a city, they will ask, why should I do it?” he said. One answer could be that climate action plans will future proof cities against the risks of climate change and boost the confidence of investors.

There are civil society initiatives that prepare independent greenhouse gas inventories of states and the nation, which could be leveraged for GCoM, said Srinivas Krishnaswamy of Vasudha Foundation. GHG Platform India, which is supported by Vasudha, WRI India and a number of other groups, is now planning to work with state governments to dive deep into city-level emissions estimates and prepare inventories that can lead to state action plans, he said.

The European Union delegation in India, which is supporting GCoM, is already working with Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency, said Henriette Faergemann, first counsellor in the European Union Delegation to India. Based on those experiences, she sounded a positive note: “In India, when things start to happen, they happen at the speed of light.”

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