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India, Green Cities, and Good Governance: Addressing the Mismatches

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

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Are governance failures to blame for the failures in effective sustainability shifts?

Green India by Aveera Juss

Cities are like the vrooming engines of a complex machine, responsible for producing power but also prone to damage. In other words, cities generate more than 80% of global GDP, yet they face the dire consequences of environmental degradation and societal pressures.


Because of this intricate situation, a new perspective on urban living is materializing: green cities. India, which is becoming increasingly urban, has been adopting such a perspective to integrate sustainability into urban lifestyles. Nevertheless, underlying governance shortcomings need to be properly addressed for this “green” shift to be truly effective.


India and its booming urban growth

A natural increase in population, net migration, and economic growth have led to 92 million people being added to India’s urban population between 2000 and 2011. Currently, the country has five megacities with populations that exceed 10 million, and New Delhi, the largest megacity in India, is also the second most populated city in the world after Tokyo.


Implications including soaring GHG emissions and greater heat production have consequently unfolded. According to the IPCC, the heat generated by human activities and absorbed by buildings massively exacerbates the heat waves that already occur five-six times a year.


Moreover, shortages in important amenities – like low-income housing and public transportation – and escalating prices have led to negative repercussions, especially amongst vulnerable communities.


Green cities… ring a bell?

You might be familiar with the term “green cities”, also referred to as “eco-cities” or “sustainable cities”. Green cities pivot around societal responsibility towards natural resources to prevent environmental pollution.


They consist of straightforward aspects like accessible public transportation, but they are also known for innovative approaches like green roofs, urban farms, and smart energy use. These aim at making cities more environmentally conscious and resilient, directly benefiting human well-being.

However, this idea of green cities cannot be universally applied without considering the relevant contextual factors of a country.


Green roofs

Roofs covered by vegetation are gaining ground as they encourage biodiversity, purify the air, reduce ambient & indoor temperatures, and save energy. Additionally, green roofs act as rainwater buffers that help reduce pluvial flooding in urban centres. The CII Green Business Center in Hyderabad was one of the first (commercial) buildings in India to have a green roof.


This strategy is being acknowledged in cities like Chennai and Mumbai, and it requires significant installation & maintenance investments, as well as adequate building features. Yet, 24% of people in India live in urban slums, making green roofs accessible only to higher-income groups. This not only reduces their effectiveness but also accentuates social inequality.


Urban farms

Localizing food systems ensures food security and reduces food miles. Vertical farming, for instance, is the all-year-round production of food in vertically stacked layers within buildings like warehouses. Kisano and Growing Greens are examples of vertical farms in Mumbai and Bangalore respectively. Other urban farming techniques gaining popularity include hydroponics and terrace organic farming.



These techniques see a pattern of ‘class-specific’ abilities, where efforts of expanding urban farming are mostly limited to the upper and middle classes. Like the previous limitation of green roofs, urban farms require spatial and financial resources not available to many, leaving an important share of the population behind.


Smart energy use

Optimizing urban energy consumption in buildings and transportation is fundamental. Urban buildings account for over 40% of India’s energy consumption and making conditioning, insulation, and lighting systems more eco-efficient would largely reduce this figure. Similarly, lower-carbon mobility could be achieved through vehicle control, improved public transportation & bike accessibility, and better urban planning.


So far, smart energy plans have been implemented through schemes like the Energy Conservation Building Code; however, implementing such schemes in low-income households and older buildings is extremely challenging. Likewise, the Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Program aimed at cars was introduced, but car ownership stands at around 30 vehicles for every thousand individuals in the country, demonstrating how the population’s main mode of transport – buses – is not equally represented.



Bringing forward Good Governance

The strategies outlined above can pave the path for a green future, but they can easily lead astray if mismatches between what green cities can and should mean for India are not addressed.


These mismatches mainly stem from the exclusion of important principles in decision-making, which can be found within Good Governance and its major attributes. Green interventions should first be effective and efficient in meeting communities’ needs without exploiting natural resources. They should be equitable and inclusive for vulnerable communities, implying that public participation needs to be embraced to provide fair outcomes. This also depends on how transparent interventions are and how accessible information is to stakeholders. Lastly, interventions need to be actively responsive to current societal issues.


All in all, addressing climate change from a local perspective is critical, but it can only be efficient if basic societal issues are intently addressed.


References

Frazier, C. (2018). "Grow what you eat, eat what you grow": Urban agriculture as middle class intervention in India. Journal of Political Ecology 25(1), 222-238.


Rahiman, R. et al (2019). Making Indian Cities Energy Smart. The Energy and Resources Institute, 5-22.


United Nations (n.d.). Cities and Local Action - Cities and Pollution. United Nations.


United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (n.d). What is Good Governance?


World Bank (2020). Urban Development. World Bank.



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