The Mumbai local weather Motion Plan is dangerously optimistic

On March 13, the Maharashtra authorities unveiled its Local weather Motion Plan for Mumbai . The core group of this initiative contains officers and people from the Municipal Company of Higher Mumbai, the Maharashtra authorities, a United States-based non-profit assume tank World Assets Institute, and the C40 Cities community.

The Mumbai Local weather Motion Plan aligns itself with nationwide and worldwide commitments to attain net-zero emissions by 2050. To attain this objective, it identifies six “motion areas”: sustainable waste administration, city greening and biodiversity, city flooding and water useful resource administration, vitality and buildings, air high quality, and sustainable mobility.

It’s encouraging that Mumbai’s planners lastly recognise the local weather disaster to be severe sufficient to deserve an official response. The query has now shifted: how severe are the actions proposed?

The Mumbai Local weather Motion Plan offers many helpful suggestions for adaptation and mitigation, reminiscent of rising the permeable floor within the metropolis, conservation of current inexperienced cowl, equitable distribution of water, passive design tips for buildings, growth of a Inexperienced Home Fuel stock.

Whereas these measures are welcome, many questions stay: how successfully does the local weather motion plan alter town’s present planning and growth paradigm? What was the position of odd residents in figuring out its objectives and proposals? How essentially does it intention to remodel the situations which have given rise to insecurities of town?

Does it fastidiously assessment and consider the implications of current plans and tasks? Is it equitable within the distribution of the burdens and advantages of local weather motion? What does it embody and what does it omit from the scope of local weather motion?

On this article, we discover a few of these questions.

1. Non-statutory, ‘professional’ pushed

The Mumbai Local weather Motion Plan is predicated on an advocacy and undertaking consultancy framework slightly than being positioned throughout the area of statutory planning. It is a elementary limitation, particularly since its suggestions or proposals is not going to be legally binding, nor will the companies concerned be accountable to the general public.

What this implies, in observe, is that “local weather motion” can be left to the great intentions of bureaucrats, the business pursuits of inexperienced know-how companies, and interventions of foundation-funded “consultants” and non-governmental organisations.

The Maharashtra Regional and City Planning Act offers wide-ranging powers to planning authorities to arrange complete plans that subsume nearly all the problems that concern the Mumbai Local weather Motion Plan.

Part 20 of the Maharashtra Regional and City Planning Act permits the state authorities to switch regional plans if it deems obligatory, whereas Part 38 permits the state to demand, at any time, modifying a Growth Plan “both wholly, or the elements individually,” and if obligatory, name for contemporary surveys and new provisions.

Mumbai’s Growth Plan, because it stands at present, is antithetical to local weather motion, however the local weather motion plan solely envisions piecemeal amendments to it. So the query is, why did the state authorities not name for a revision of the Regional Plan and preparation of a contemporary Growth Plan for local weather motion?

Moreover, the Mumbai Local weather Motion Plan has been publicised because the initiative and extraordinary “management” of the present administration, slightly than as a cross-party consensus. Suppose there’s a change of presidency, what is going to cease the brand new administration from tossing it away?

Formulating a local weather emergency plan requires a collective effort, by means of a deliberative consensus constructing course of, slightly than networking and partnering with a prepared viewers.

It might want to carry collectively opposition events, directors, native communities and civil society organisations based mostly on the central precept of justice planning: a share in decision-making that’s proportional to the impression on individuals and communities.

The Mumbai Local weather Motion Plan has been ready, in its personal phrases, by means of a “consultative and collaborative method constructed on the contributions of a number of consultants, CBOs [community-based organisations, research institutions and private consultants.”

Unlike statutory plans, there was not even the pretense of participation with the broader public, nor a call for “suggestions and objections” to its proposals.

In its language and recommendations, it presupposes that climate action is the domain of experts and officials, and citizens need to be made “aware” of climate action, “educated” about the various measures taken, and “sensitized” to adapt and cope with their own “vulnerabilities”.

Perhaps some day, planners and “experts” will begin to educate themselves about the reasons why so many people customarily resist their visions and plans.

2. Limited ambitions

The Mumbai Climate Action Plan aligns itself with national and international commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Net-zero is defined as the offsetting of emissions generated in one place with emission reductions somewhere else, to ensure that the overall carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere remains stable.

The key assumption here is that it will be possible in the near future to develop technology to deliver negative emissions, or to adopt the much touted “nature-based solutions” to sequester emissions.

However, carbon removal technology is at best questionable; and on the other hand, there just is not enough land to sequester greenhouse gas emissions, even if we maximised the planet’s green cover.

As critical commentators have pointed out, net-zero targets are a facade used by the world’s biggest polluters and governments to disguise their actions and inaction on climate change.

By choosing this as the overarching goal, the Mumbai Climate Action Plan seems to imply that if all institutions and governments respect their net-zero commitments, and if Mumbai undertakes its “fair share” of emissions reductions, the most serious implications of global warming on the city will be averted.

This is an astoundingly naive starting point, both in the belief that net-zero is a worthy goal, as well as in the belief that everyone – even those outside the state government’s control – will faithfully carry out what they agreed to do.

And so, while the Mumbai Climate Action Plan prides itself on its “evidence-based” approach, it ignores the most compelling piece of socio-historical evidence: that the world’s most powerful institutions are unlikely to act contrary to their own material interests.

An adaptation and mitigation response for a coastal city-region that is home to 23 million people ought to be based on a careful assessment of the probability and severity of impacts due to runaway global warming.

Instead of beginning with anodyne targets agreed upon by those most responsible for the crisis, we need to face squarely and prepare for the various warming scenarios that are more or less likely to unfold over the next few decades.

3. Kicking the can down the road

The time-frame of 2050 allows the government to continue with its current proposals and plans, with a promise to mitigate and adapt in the future. It is glaringly obvious that the Mumbai Climate Action Plan has failed to undertake a comprehensive review of existing plans and projects in the city, or seriously consider their (still avoidable) impacts.

While the plan speaks of the virtues of public transport, infrastructure megaprojects that affect a behavioral shift towards private automobiles – such as coastal freeways, underground car-tunnels and sea bridges – are being executed in Mumbai at rapid pace.

The perils of projects that perpetuate, delay or prevent the transition to low-carbon alternatives, called “carbon lock-in”, are well known by planners. Unfortunately in the Mumbai Climate Action Plan, the planners do not take their own advice seriously.

The recently sanctioned Development Plan of 2034 opens up a large swathe of the city’s erstwhile No Development Zone areas, as well as increases the intensity of development across the city.

What will be the consequences of land use change and development intensity on surface temperature, or stormwater run-off? Metro projects, meanwhile, are being built over the city’s arterial roads, some of which could still be overturned in favour of bus corridors. The Mumbai Climate Action Plan assiduously avoids a critical review of current plans and projects, many of which are seriously maladaptive for the city.

It also fails to set in motion many common sense proposals that can be achieved in a short span of time at little cost. For years, transport activists have been demanding dedicated bus corridors on arterial roads in the city (to increase road space for public transport and reduce it for private automobiles).

The Mumbai Climate Action says that dedicated bus lanes can be built “where feasible” by 2040. Apparently, it takes longer for the government to set aside one lane on existing highways for buses than to build an entire metro system on them. Contrary to claims, it serves to persist and justify “business as usual” rather than shifting away from it.

4. The burden of climate action

Every project or plan produces net benefits for some groups and net costs for others. In an unequal society like ours, the burden of transformation is almost always borne by the poorest and most vulnerable. Therefore, any plan that claims to be “inclusive and equitable” ought to consider the distribution of benefits and burdens of its own proposals.

The market-friendly expert-oriented approach of the Mumbai Climate Action Plan will mean that for the city’s poor, climate action will be another justification for coercion and dispossession, while the wealthy will be encouraged to adapt through inducements and “incentives”.

For instance, the plan recommends remediation and conversion of landfill sites into parks, increasing vegetation cover and restoring natural drainage by removing “encroachments” (squatter settlements), and the rehabilitation of vulnerable communities to “safer locations.”

While these concerns are well-founded, almost each one of them will continue or exacerbate the threat of livelihood loss and displacement of the city’s low-income communities. Besides, none of these are deviations from the current planning paradigm, that victimises the poor in the name of environmental protection.

Tens of thousands of people in Mumbai depend upon informal waste management for their livelihood. Protection of green cover and river clean-up projects are almost always aimed at squatters and almost never penalise large institutions or real estate firms.

Slums next to high-rise buildings in Mumbai in June 2020. Credit: Reuters

If the Mumbai Climate Action Plan is a “plan”, as it claims to be, it would include at minimum a detailed survey of the areas affected by its proposals, an estimation of land required for alternative housing and employment, and the financial outlay for such a program. However, there are no such provisions in the “plan”. Instead, it simply lists the various agencies responsible for such actions and timeframes in which these need to be achieved.

Contrast this with progressive measures that would cause some inconvenience to middle and upper-class commuters. The Mumbai Climate Action Plan envisions electrification of 96% of private four vehicles by 2050 (that will presumably be powered by renewables).

But it proposes no stringent measures to control four-wheeler use (as is done in cities like Singapore), rather it offers “incentives” (such as reduced parking fees or installation of electric vehicle stations) that will affect the transition towards zero-emission vehicles.

The implications are clear. The Mumbai Climate Action Plan, in the coming years, will impose the heaviest burden of change on the city’s most vulnerable, while causing little or no inconvenience to the biggest polluters and profiteers in the city.

5. Restricted scope

Despite being backed by the state government, it is curious that the plan chooses Greater Mumbai as the spatial unit for analysis and recommendations, rather than the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

As almost everyone understands, social-ecological systems, carbon emissions and climate impacts do not respect administrative boundaries. The restricted scope evades the extent of planned urban growth and environmental destruction outside Greater Mumbai limits.

Navi Mumbai’s new airport has been reported by environmentalists to have destroyed 1.6 square km of mangroves, four square km of mudflats, and 1.4 square km of forest area.

A signboard at the proposed site of Navi Mumbai airport. Credit: Reuters

But more importantly, the Regional Plan for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, sanctioned as recently as May 2021, aims to increase the urbanisable land from the existing 800 to a staggering 1,336 square km – an increase of 538 square km – an area larger than the whole of Greater Mumbai. Much of this land is not legally protected by environmental laws.

Instead, it is classified as “scrub/wasteland,” a category that conveniently underplays its ecological value. Compare the silence around the Regional Plan’s urban expansion to the much publicised decision of the government to “protect” 3.3 square km of forested area in Aarey.

It is well understood that land cover land use change is a significant contributor to climate change, and such a massive urban expansion would be near impossible to justify as a part of climate action.

6. Limited mapping of ecology

The Mumbai Climate Action Plan points out that a Green House Gas inventory requires mapping various land use categories such as forest, grassland, cropland, wetland, settlement and barren land. Nevertheless, in a map titled “ecological landscape” (the only place where the city-region is pictured) it lists only three legend entries: water bodies, mangroves and forest.

This is a highly impoverished view of the city’s ecology, that only recognises legally “protected” areas as areas worthy of protection. Despite claiming to be a “science based” approach to planning, this betrays a legal-political view of the city’s environment, not a scientific one.

In some places, the climate action plan declares that Mumbai is an “an estuary,” but this is a metaphorical use of a technical term that cannot compensate for the absence of a systematic survey of the city’s diverse and complex ecosystems.

An estuary, incidentally, is derived from the latin word aestus which means “the tide”, and denotes a semi-enclosed body of water that extends to the effective limit of tidal influence. To be precise, the city – as a whole – is not an estuary, but there are undoubtedly estuaries in the city.

After mapping the coastline of the city, the Mumbai Climate Action Plan compares shoreline changes between 1990 and 2020 to observe the processes of erosion of beaches in the northwestern shore and accretion in the Thane creek.

It suggests that policies of the state government have been successful in conserving mangroves in Greater Mumbai. However, this is a selective account of the “facts” of erosion and accretion – as though these are purely “natural” processes – without analysis of the probable anthropogenic factors that have contributed to them.

A fair analysis of the Thane creek, for example, would not restrict itself to the boundaries of Greater Mumbai, but would have taken into account land cover changes in catchment areas of rivers and streams in the MMR that feed the creek. Perhaps such an analysis would have indicated that deforestation in upstream areas could have led to siltation, and reclamation of coastal areas contributed to erosion elsewhere along the coastline.

A map of the Mumbai region’s ecological and urban landscape. Credit: WRI India

7. Underplaying sea-level rise

A serious concern in the Mumbai Climate Action Plan is its expectation of and therefore preparation for sea-level rise. It relies uncritically on the projections of the government-financed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has a track record of being conservative on climate change intensity, threats as well as recommendations.

But it gets worse.

It nonchalantly remarks that “due to a lack of coastal data for the Mumbai coast, it is tough to establish [sea-level rise] as a present threat for town”. This comment denies the hazard of worldwide sea-level rise on coastal cities. Moreover, it has ignored the primary premise of the local weather disaster: that we can not take a look at present and previous traits to evaluate future dangers.

Residents throughout a “International Local weather Strike” march at Juhu seaside in Mumbai on March 26. Credit score: Reuters

Current experiences have raised severe alarm about warming within the Arctic and Antarctica, with temperatures touching 30-40 levels celsius larger than seasonal norms.

Satellite tv for pc information exhibits that we’ve got the bottom sea ice extent on report since 1979. If the ice cabinets in Antarctica weaken, it’ll expose the inland ice in addition to heat the area sooner, resulting in fast sea-level rise.

As a low mendacity coastal metropolis, giant areas of town are below threat of everlasting submergence. Even when we assume this as a low-probability state of affairs, the results are too high-risk to want away. Any local weather motion initiative that does put together for such an eventuality suffers from a doubtlessly calamitous optimism bias.


Within the identify of an “proof based mostly” method, the Mumbai Local weather Motion Plan grievously underestimates local weather threat and the sorts of interventions wanted to handle the disaster.

Second, within the identify of a “collaborative” method, it constructs a undertaking consultancy framework that lacks tooth to reign within the largest polluters, and pins its hopes on the great intentions of highly effective teams to ship significant motion.

Third, in its want to be “scientific”, it stays a extremely technocratic and expert-led course of that fails to foresee the way in which dangers and rewards of local weather motion can be distributed.

And eventually, by starting with an emphasis on “implementable” interventions, it restricts itself to town and choose “sectors” and leaves the regional context outdoors its scope of motion.

However most significantly, the Mumbai Local weather Motion Plan represents an amiable response to a predictable trajectory of local weather change, slightly than an effort to grasp and put together for an unpredictable and doubtlessly catastrophic local weather emergency. Because of this, its largest shortcoming is a false sense of hope.

The authors train on the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Structure and Environmental Research, and are PhD researchers on the Indian Institute of Know-how, Bombay.

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