For most observers, Mumbai might seem the last place in the world to seek out sustainability initiatives. India’s largest metropolis doesn’t exactly fit the mould of a green city – its poor air quality is comparable to Shanghai’s, while a lack of planned land use and a 20.6 million populace make it the world’s sixth most populated city, and one of its most densely populated too.
However, this hasn’t stopped the city from pursuing a better, greener future. Over the past 40 years, Mumbai has experienced a 0.25°C temperature increase every decade; this, together with the near-annual devastating floods that the city experiences, has provided leaders the impetus to tackle climate change.
The result? The Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP) – a 30-year roadmap that lays out short-, middle- and long-term climate goals for the city to mitigate the impact of climate change and secure its future.
There is a lot riding on the success of the MCAP. Not only is this a long overdue step in the right direction for the city, but it will also serve as a template for other cities in a similar position to Mumbai. If they can do it, then it’s proof that ‘sustainability’ is not just a first-world buzzword but is in fact, something tangible and achievable by all. We take a look at seven ways Mumbai is working on becoming more sustainable.
FLOOD CONTROL WATER TANKS
The most immediate problem that city planners must solve is Mumbai’s annual flooding. While climate change has shrunk the city’s annual monsoon period from 120 to 70 days, the volume of rain has increased – and it’s often accompanied by gusty winds that contribute to further damage. To mitigate this, Mumbai has installed underground water pumps designed to siphon excess water and store it in massive underground silos. It has constructed three of these structures, creating a capacity of over 26 million litres.
Conservationists are also constructing 6,000 ‘rainwater harvesting pits’ in municipal gardens. They hope that these structures – which hold up to 5,000 litres – will prove popular enough for residents to install them in their neighbourhoods.
While Mumbai is India’s wealthiest city and home to the country’s highest number of millionaires and billionaires, it is also home to the country’s poorest population. In fact, over 40 percent of Mumbai’s population live in slums with little to no access to proper sanitation.
This simple but critical problem led Hindustan Unilever to establish hygiene and sanitation community centres around the city, with six open so far. They function as oases to slum dwellers – providing them with access to potable water, functioning toilets and laundry facilities, moving them away from using the city’s waterways for these activities.
Transport is another key focus, with plans to electrify Mumbai’s extensive urban transport network – including its cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks and buses – to cut emissions and pollution. Authorities are targeting that by 2025, 10 percent of all registered new vehicles will be electric.
Mumbai’s state bus corporation will also put more than 2,000 electric buses on the road by 2023, as it begins a programme to convert 15 percent of its fleet to electric. The government is also encouraging residents to make the switch to EVs by implementing tax concessions and creating more charging stations.
SWAPPING COAL FOR THE SUN
However, the success of Mumbai’s EV programme hinges on the city being able to switch to more renewable energy sources. Currently, its entire grid is almost wholly powered by coal, which would make any EV programme expensive and unsustainable. Authorities are thus betting heavily on solar power; only green power projects will be approved going forwards, with a heavy focus on solar energy.
By 2026, Mumbai aims to generate over 17 gigawatts of electricity from the sun, helping the city meet its target of 35 percent of energy consumption coming from renewables. Buildings will be a focus for the increased installation of solar power sources, as they make up most of the city’s energy emissions.
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT
Mumbai generates over 10,000 tonnes of waste daily that is delivered to landfills with little to no separation or processing, thereby further aggravating methane emissions. The city is aiming to cut its waste emissions by 10 percent via a zero-landfill waste management plan and planting urban forests.
While this is laudable, civic groups have also taken it upon themselves to accelerate this zero-waste strategy. Startups like Mumbai-based Skrap have been busy educating other businesses and organisations by preaching the gospel of ‘zero waste’. They also hold waste-free events with corporate partners to demonstrate simple, innovative ways to be eco-friendly and alleviate waste disposal.
PLANTING THE SEEDS FOR REGREENING
One of the most striking things about Mumbai’s current situation is its lack of green cover. Over the past 30 years, Mumbai’s development has sacrificed urban greenery, losing as much as 42.5 percent of its green cover to public and private infrastructure projects.
To reverse this, over 400,000 trees have been planted through volunteering efforts – and to advance this further, the city is borrowing the Miyawaki Method of cramming more trees into small corners to restore greenery. While this method alone won’t reverse decades of deforestation, it’s a positive step: between 2011 and 2021, Mumbai has recorded a 9 percent increase in forest cover.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
All these plans – while well and good – will require funding. Mumbai is fortunate enough to be India’s wealthiest city with access to a $6 billion annual budget. As the home to India’s wealthiest individuals and families, the possibility of privately funded initiatives is also more likely.
To further backstop this access to investment, the government has been raising funds through ‘green bonds’ that are geared towards climate mitigation projects. Since 2015, India has so far raised over $9.6 billion locally and overseas.
See also: 10 Most Eco-Friendly Cities in the World
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