An Indian Research Perspective on Cities and Climate

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It is estimated that by the year 2030, Indian cities will together host at least 200 million people. The bulk of this population is expected to be concentrated in and around the dozen or so metro cities which are already home to more than four million people.

Like the rest of the world, India too is urbanising at a rapid rate. These cities and their peri-urban areas are becoming important sites of both development and strategic actions related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Goal 11 of the United Nation’s 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to build sustainable cities and communities. In keeping with its commitments to the UN SDGs, the Indian government has implemented ambitious programs such as the Smart Cities Mission through which Indian urban sprawls can survive the onslaught of extreme weather events and adapt better to a changing climate.

India’s national climate action plan is also among the most ambitious in the world. According to the plan, India aims to increase the share of renewable energy to 40 percent of the total electricity generation capacity, reduce the emission intensity of the economy by a third, and create an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover—all this by 2030.

Indian researchers and scientists are coming up with innovative solutions as well to deal with the challenges that urbanisation poses, especially with regards to dealing with climate change related issues.

From developing ‘Cooling plans’ for Indian cities to measuring pollution better, a host of low-cost, high quality initiatives by various stakeholders, including environmental scientists, non-profit organisations, entrepreneurs, and government representatives have emerged in recent times. Indian scientists have also made significant contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

India also has a rich history of innovation and sustainability, the legacy of which has spilled over into modern energy production and distribution. With about 300 sunny days and 5,000 trillion kWh energy incident over India’s land area every year, photovoltaic power has huge scalability potential in India. This is sought to be harnessed by the National Solar Mission which targets 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022, having achieved the original target of installing 20 GW of grid-connected solar power plants four years ahead of schedule. Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founding-director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), concurs, “I think, if India wants to become a modern nation, it can only be built on renewable energies.”

But India is not only innovating at home in its efforts to cope with climate change but is also taking its home – grown ideas to the international community. Two key contributions by India to climate change-related action have been the setting up of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). The ISA is an alliance of 121 countries while 15 countries are part of the CDRI currently.

Institutes in India working on applied and fundamental research related to climate change:

Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS), Bengaluru

Institutes such as the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS), based in Bengaluru have been at the forefront of research and innovation while dealing with climate change adaptation and mitigation. The IIHS which was setup in 2008 states that their vision is to, “create a new generation of interdisciplinary urban practitioners, innovators and scholars who can tackle the problems of 21st century urbanisation.” The institute runs an urban fellows program and also works closely with various government and non-government actors on research and advocacy related to urbanisation as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation.

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Centre for Climate Change Research, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology

Established in January 2009 at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, this institute is among the forerunners in fundamental research related to climate change in India. The IITM functions under the aegis of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), Government of India (GoI). The CCCR focuses on Earth System Model Development, Climate Change Science and Applications, Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate, research related to Paleoclimate and research on Greenhouse Gases (GHG) over the Indian subcontinent.

The centre regularly comes out with fundamental research that helps understand climate change better. Their recent findings about expansion of warm water over the Tropical oceans leading to disruptions in Indian monsoons as well as their contribution to the IPCC Special Report on Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), released in 2019 are cases in point.

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Good practice examples:


In India, it is estimated that more than 20 million people are affected by air pollution and poor air quality is a cause of death of nearly 1.5 million people. While most devices available in the market that measure these metrics are inordinately expensive, a handful of researchers and entrepreneurs have developed low-cost, high quality air quality monitors that communities across India can use to get a sense of how polluted their air is. The Atmos air quality monitor, designed in coordination with researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) – Kanpur and other leading institutions, is among the most popular low-cost AQMs available in India today. There are over 300 Atmos monitors installed across India.


Urban flood forecasting

As a response to the devastating floods that ravaged the southern Indian metropolis, Chennai in 2015, a team of 30 scientists from eight research institutions across India developed an integrated flood forecasting model The team was led by scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay and the project was funded by the office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India.

The flood forecasting model aims to minimise lives lost as well enable better preparation to minimise damage to infrastructure. The model can forest storm surges, local weather, tidal activity, hydrology and hydraulic and urban inundation scenarios. A visual map of forecasted inundation is provided by the system and is updated every six hours, thus enabling authorities to act decisively, in case of another similar extreme weather scenario. The model also has a databank of nearly 800 scenarios resulting from extreme rainfall and how it will affect different regions of the city. A similar model is being developed for the city of Mumbai too.

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