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Climate action plan is ready, let's back it up with science

Cities occupies only two percent of the world’s land area, yet consumer more than two-thirds of the world’s energy and are responsible for more than 70% of global green house gas (GHG) emissions, according to a 2021 World Bank report.

Coastal cities are the forefront of the global climate crisis. The Chennai Climate Action Plan (CCAP) was recently unveiled by chief minister M K Stalin. The plan was prepared by the Greater Chennai corporation and the TN department of the environment and climate change with support from C40 Cities and the Urban Management Centre. It aims to align with the Paris Agreement and focusses on six sectors: electrical grid and renewable energy, building energy, sustainable transport, solid waste management, urban flooding and water scarcity, and vulnerable populations and health. The plan serves as a roadmap by adhering to the intergovernmental panel on climate change target of net zero by 2050 against India’s national goal of net zero by 2070.

Any climate action plan is fundamentally based on data. Scientific processes need to be followed rigorously for CCAP to be seen as a strategic document. According to the Global Protocol for Community Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) the 2018 emission data from here have been used as the baseline for CCAP- Chennai's total annual emissions we're 14.38 MtCO2e (or 1.9 tonnes of CO2e emissions per capita), with the majority coming from stationery energy use (71%), followed by transport (16%), and solid and liquid waste sectors (13%).

With the business- as usual scenario, emissions are projected to increase almost fourfold by 250 to 55.08 MtCO2e. Managing these anticipated increases and recording outcomes its likely to need better than handling. For example, the GPC includes the following emission categories colon: stationery emissions, transportation, waste, industrial processes, and agriculture, forestry, and land use. However, the CCAP uses only three of these categories for its baseline but adds industrial processes, and agriculture, forestry, and land use for future GHG emissions. The GPC also has sub-categories to identify specific emission sources which the CCAP does not use in its data. These differences between baseline data and how future GHG emissions are projected, or outcomes are calculated can hinder concerted efforts to address actions under sectors identified in the CCAP.

Within stationary energy use, residential and commercial buildings constitute 8.27 MtCO2e. Although it is acknowledged in CCAP that that this emissions result from electricity generating thermal power plants, public and private sector energy generates are not held accountable. Instead, those emissions or offset on individuals, which increases their per capita emission.

In transportation, private vehicles have been identify the responsible for 84% of GHG emissions, but no clear measures have been identified to discourage this. Merely classifying vehicles as private and commercial for the baseline does not offer enough data for future actions to mitigate vehicular emissions.

The CCAP also fails to draw inferences from the non-motorised transport policy developed for the GCC in 2014, which could have provided actionable insights for reducing emissions. The waste sector contributes 13% of emissions, with solid waste contributing 94.1% and wastewater 5.9%. The CCAP acknowledges that only 20% of solid waste is processed while the remaining 80% is dumped across the city's dumpsites. Suggestions were made to address the issue, such as allocating storage space for solid waste generated in buildings, but the plan lacks blueprint on how to achieve the goals.

Despite the wastewater including sewage, being discharged into the Adyar Cooum and Kosasthalayar, the action plan claims all waste water is treated using aerobic technology-based sewage treatment plants (STPs) that do not produce methane as a by-product. Biological treatment methods are considered economical and effective for treating wastewater but the CCP neither talks about measures to stop wastewater discharge into the rivers nor about biological treatment methods. The plant does not consider circularity in managing wastewater discharge in rivers. This approach which aims to recover and reuse elements of wastewater for beneficial purpose based on circular economy principles can help to protect waterways from pollution.

According to the Climate Vulnerability Index, Chennai is highly susceptible to floods and cyclones. The CCAP also includes heatwaves, water scarcity and sea level rise as potential climate risks. Review of existing research on climate action plans highlighted that most plans do not account for heat wave from the urban heat island effect. Although increasing recover and biodiversity can help mitigate heat waves and the urban heat island effect, the CCAP does not suggest specific actions such as green roofs or cool payments, other than adding green cover and creating biodiversity parks. The city's green cover is often diminished by development works such as metro rail construction and stormwater drainage and the CCAP provides no solution to this ongoing problem.

The CCAP prescribes mitigation measures such as investing in solar rooftop systems on maintaining stormwater drains with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The plan includes perspective from consultations with a few civil society organisations but not from other grassroot community such as trade unions, fisherfolk or the public including vulnerable populations. Wider community consultations need to be undertaken to assess the feasibility of these ambitious actions. The CCAP aims to create a science-based road map for Chennai to become a climate resilient, but it would have been a more holistic document if it had included adaptation measures from climate justice perspectives, in addition to its heavily prescribed engineering solutions.


This article was originally published by The Times of India on 31 August 2023.

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