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Published On: Thursday, November 25, 2021
What is common between Mumbai, Berlin, Austin, Cape Town and Rio de Janerio? These are members of the Cities Race to Zero. Race to Zero is a global campaign run by the COP 26 presidency and High-Level Climate Champions recognized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Race to Zero campaign was launched at the World Environment Day in 2020 to build momentum around international climate action by cities, regions, countries, businesses, investors and other organizations committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Net-zero means reaching a point where cities absorb all the carbon they emit.
Cities are at the centre of action needed for a decarbonized future
Various studies indicate that cities consume 60-80% of energy production globally and account for 70% of Carbondioxide (CO2) emissions. A review of greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories of 167 cities globally found that just 25 cities were responsible for 52% of all urban emissions. There are debates and complications associated with attributing emissions from energy consumption and production within or outside city boundaries. But to simplify the identification of opportunities - CO2 emissions from cities can be broadly categorized as those from consumption of energy in five sectors – buildings, transport, provision of municipal services, construction of infrastructure (like roads, drains, and flyovers) and the use of products and services by people living in the city. In buildings the sector, both embodied carbon (from the production of materials) and operational carbon (produced from use of energy to run or operate equipment inside buildings or fuel used in transport or for delivering municipal services) are important in the Indian context since our cities are still growing. The floor area of residential buildings alone is expected to grow from 15.3 million square metres in 2017-18 to 21.9 million m2 by 2027-28.
The buildings sector was said to be responsible for 32% of global final energy use and 19% of energy-related to GHGs in 2010. In India, buildings consume 33% of electricity. In cities, measures to mitigate emissions from the buildings sector can yield significant benefits like improved productivity, better air quality, reduction in urban heat islands and strengthening resilience to climate impacts. Global calls for action on Zero Carbon Buildings have grown stronger- with commitments being signed by multiple cities and countries to decarbonize all new buildings by 2030 and all buildings by 2050; and this includes targets for both embodied and operational carbon reductions.
And yet, buildings sector actions in Indian cities are too few and not enough. In the 2021assessment of 126 smart cities on the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs’ Climate Smart cities assessment framework, only one city scored five stars (the highest) for their performance on criteria on the thematic area- ‘’green buildings and energy’’. The indicators evaluate the implementation of actions to promote energy efficiency and clean energy in buildings.
Historically, the government has set urban planning and construction standards, providing the market pull for innovations by the private sector and influencing supply chains. As the largest developer of public assets and procurer of materials and services, government bodies, can transform markets to promote low carbon buildings.
It is also important to recognize that governments own many public buildings, including the secretariat, court buildings, town halls, schools and colleges, employee residences, police stations, district offices, taluk offices, etc. In cities, municipal bodies also maintain and operate an extensive portfolio of public buildings. Here are three focus areas for cities to demonstrate leadership in accelerating the transition to zero carbon buildings (ZCB):
Urban planning must set standards for carbon intensity and resource efficiency on layouts or planned townships. E.g., formulating rules on sourcing and procurement of local construction materials; regulations that fix a range for building height/density to limit carbon intensity. Some cities are doing more and specifying a percentage of recycled materials or components that can be disassembled, reused and recycled. For example, Austin, Texas, passed an ordinance fixing the maximum amount of waste that can be disposed of per square foot and a minimum of 50% waste diversion from landfills. To address embodied carbon, organizations like BMPTC can play an important role by helping ULBs understand and implement low carbon impact construction processes and technologies. BMPTC’s guidebook on utilization of recycled C&D waste needs to be disseminated widely and its adoption initiated by cities.
By implementing these three recommendations, Indian cities could achieve a significant reduction in their energy use while also demonstrating leadership in accelerating the transition to zero carbon buildings.
The Blog first appeared in the special issue of BMPTC (Nirman Sarika).