Climate Change

Can the ‘gist’ city climate plan secure a resilient future for Chennai?    

The hasty manner of putting up draft, seeking public opinion raises doubts about seriousness of planners

By Avilash Roul
Published: Monday 17 October 2022

The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) posted a draft of the city climate action plan on their website September 12, 2022 for public view. 

The document consisting of 52 powerpoint slides was also up for a quick advisory for the public to submit their views, comments and appreciation within 20 days from posting.  Was it a decision by the civic body? Did the elected mayor approve this short notice for people of Chennai and beyond to read, understand the technical language or the concepts and comment as feedback through emails? 

The idea of having a Chennai Climate Action Plan (CCAP) is exciting and has become a necessity since the 2015 deluge in the coastal city. But the hasty manner in which the draft was put forward, stakeholders consulted and comments sought have raised doubts about the seriousness of the planners. 

The global networks of city governments and mayors, who were hitherto active and vocal on mitigating climate change, have been neither meaningful nor effective. 

This is a draft limited in scope as it drew heavily from one-on-one closed door consultation among a few government departments (eight meetings with maximum 50 participants) at the city and state levels. 

In all probability, the intention may be to release the CCAP during the onset of the northeast monsoon (end of October to first week of November) like the 2017 Chennai City Disaster Plan. That was a disaster in itself. 

Overall, GCC seems to have forgotten those mistakes of posting that plan. Was there a Tamil version of the draft CCAP released along with the slides in English on the GCC website in September? From the outset, this is not the way to draft, consult and approve a policy or plan document. 

On August 3, while inviting for a virtual consultation with expert and expert institutions, GCC recognised the importance of collective decision-making by the stakeholders in evolving comprehensive strategies and focused action for an appropriate response to climate change. Is that so?

Will GCC be willing to share the consultations minutes along with the draft plan? How many consultations were conducted to draft the plan document and who were the stakeholders who participated in those consultations? Were there ward-wise or zone-wise consultations to prepare this draft document? Can GCC confirm that 200 ward councillors or ward committees of 15 zones were being consulted at least? 

The last consultation was done virtually on August 8, 2022. Usually, a piece of environmental plan, legislation or decision-making as an international best practice requires a time period between minimum 30 days and maximum 120 days to solicit public opinions / feedback.

But the draft CCAP sought merely 20 days to submit suggestions, feedback or views. Either the city dwellers are all climate smart or they are not going to be affected by climate change.  

After severe public outcry, the GCC termed the 52 slides as ‘gist’ of CCAP earlier last week. Also, there is now a ‘gist’ of CCAP in Tamil version with the window for comments extended till October 27. Technically, it’s a zero draft now. 

While welcoming these corrective measures, GCC may get away with this gist of slides. The corporation, however, has not informed about these corrective measures through either any press release or social media. How can one comment on a ‘gist’ without knowing the details of structure, process and outcome of the plan? Instead, a detailed first draft that includes minutes of the consultations and participants as well as terms of reference of consultants who have prepared this document should have been released.

The draft plan may be called the climate mitigation plan of Chennai city as it mostly deals with the inventory of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and its reduction. The climate plan doesn’t end with mitigation only — adaptation and sustainability are other two important segments of any climate plan. The adaptation part has been left wide open for guess work. 

Being a signatory of Deadline 2020 and a member of C40 — network of 100 cities across the world committed to achieve Net Zero by 2050 (India has pledged Net-Zero in 2070!), GCC has plunged into this decarbonisation plan influenced by the C40 climate action plan framework. 

The gist draft also covers sectoral / institutional initiatives to reduce GHG emissions and potential strategies to reduce emissions further. Out of six sectors in the gist draft, four were identified for climate mitigation. 

Regarding risk assessment, the plan only detailed urban flooding and water scarcity. As a lip service, the plan talked about vulnerable populations and health. In 2015 deluge, which section of society was not vulnerable in Chennai? 

The plan must acknowledge and consider the study on impacts of sea-level rise in Chennai done by a team including this author in 2017 for a robust adaptation planning for risk and vulnerability of physical infrastructure as well as social resilience.    

Is it a collaborative plan? From academics to the central statistics officers, from government to intergovernmental institutions, it is ridiculously fashionable to use the self-contradictory concepts like collaborative, multi-stakeholder consultations / participations, transformative, synergetic, innovative and so on. 

In reality, none has been followed in letter or in spirit by those who proposed. CCAP is the last but not the least example of such blatant misuse of such idealistic concepts.  

Chennai can do better by providing a robust citizen-led and -owned climate change plan for its inhabitants. The mayor of GCC should take this zero draft (gist draft) to all its ward committees in 15 zones for comprehensive feedback and suggestions. 

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