“Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century, it must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.”
– UN Secretary-General António Guterres
On 5 June every year since 1974, nations, communities and individuals across the globe have come together to celebrate and remember our duty towards our planet and future generations by observing World Environment Day. This year, the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restorations is being launched, building towards the goals of this decade.
While the pressures of development have grown, so has our ability to adapt our societies, economies and politics for a green and healthy future. The delicate balance between sustainable development and environmental protection has been one of the core targets of the United Nations Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. A networked approach to achieving these SDGs has been inculcated into India’s policy and political discourse over the past seven years of the Modi government.
The motto of the Agenda 2030: Sustainable Development Goals – ‘Leave No-one Behind’ very much embodies the essence of Gandhi Ji’s philosophy of Sarvodaya through Antyodaya – ‘reaching the farthest first’. This is a guiding principle that has been a part of Indian thought and policy and a fundamental virtue for the execution of National Programmes and Missions of Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs.
On 15 August 2014, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji launched the Swachhata (Clean India) movement. It was, in effect, the harbinger of a total transformation of our urban landscape. In June 2015, the most extensive urbanisation programme undertaken anywhere in the world was unleashed through the flagship Missions of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs – Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart Cities Mission (SCM).
The launch of flagship missions of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs predates the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2016 by almost a year. Yet, what is striking is that most of the SDGs are reflected in the core objectives of these flagship missions. These national missions have achieved their set targets while ensuring sustainable development to address climate change are a non-negotiable part of it.
The Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) focuses on achieving an Open Defecation Free India, building Solid Waste Management capacity and bringing about behavioural change in society. Through the annual Swachh Survekshan, Cooperative and Competitive Federalism have become the driving force behind this citizen-led ‘Jan Andolan.’ It is estimated that various initiatives under SBM-U can mitigate 17.42 million tonnes of CO2 eq. of GHG emissions by 2022.
The Smart Cities Mission has been the one taking charge of technological advancements of our cities to improve governance, sustainability and disaster risk resilience. Smart solutions are being implemented to improve energy efficiency and non-motorised transport capacity in our urban centres. To further supplement the climate-sensitive development of our cities, the Climate Smart Assessment Framework has been adopted. The framework aims to help cities adapt, collaborate and exchange best practice to achieve international standards for green, sustainable, and resilient urban habitats.
Till now, infrastructure for 417.5 kms of smart roads, solar panels generating 30 MW and 253.5 MLD of wastewater treatment capacity has been completed. Overall reduction in GHG emissions from projects implemented under SCM is expected to reach 4.93 million tonnes of CO2 by 2022.
In AMRUT, water supply and management, energy efficiency, and increased green spaces have been the goal in 500 target cities. As of today, 1,831 parks over 3,700 acres have been developed, 85 lakh streetlights have been replaced, resulting in energy saving of 185.33 crore units (kWh), and 106 water bodies have been rejuvenated. The mission is likely to result in mitigation of 48.52 million tonnes of CO2 eq. GHG by 2022.
With 1.12 crore houses sanctioned, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) has focused on new construction technologies that are innovative, environmentally friendly, and disaster resilient. The Global Housing Technology Challenge was launched, and 54 new technologies identified. The Prime Minister launched six Lighthouse Projects on 01 January 2021. These are already under construction in six geo-climatic zones across the country.
Additionally, about 43.3 lakh houses are being constructed where Fly Ash bricks/blocks and Concrete blocks are used. Overall the mission has the potential to mitigate around 12 million tonnes CO2 eq. of GHG emissions by 2022.
Lastly, the Metro Rail, one of the most energy-efficient Mass Rapid Transit System, is operational in 18 cities with over 720 kms of line constructed. Another 1,055 kms of new metro line is under construction in 27 cities. This expansive network is expected to mitigate around 21.58 million tonnes of CO2 eq. GHG during 2015-2022.
Cumulatively the National Missions under the implementation of MoHUA are projected to mitigate GHG emissions equivalent to more than 93 million tonnes of CO2 by 2022. This number is bound to increase as National Missions collaborate, and best practices are disseminated.
Today, a transformative wave of environmental consciousness, technological advancement, and holistic development is driving the sustainability agenda in India. The balance between society, nature and development is an intricate one pushed in the limelight by the Covid-19 crisis. Similar to climate change, the pandemic affected the most vulnerable sections of society across the globe.
Transitions brought forth by technological democratisation, sustainable infrastructure building, and behavioural change have helped us tackle the Covid-19 crisis while reaching out to those in dire need.
Such a progressive track of urban development while keeping sustainability, disaster risk resilience, community building at the core has been the guiding mantle during the last 7 years of Modi government. It will help us preserve our environment, restore ecosystems and mitigate risks posed by climate change in the coming decade.
The writer is Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs