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Of sustainable outcomes

The provincial capital has become an “urban heat island,” a phenomenon that pushes up temperatures in areas covered in heat-retaining asphalt and concrete

Of sustainable outcomes
In the absence of a substantial tree cover that can also bring down temperatures, the situation has worsened. — Photo courtesy: Muhammad Ashar

With the mercury rising and the city reeling under hot weather, it has become nothing short of an uphill task for citizens to go about their daily activities.

As temperatures soar as high as 47 Celsius, meteorologists indicated that heatwave-like conditions would persist throughout the early days of June.

Already devilishly hot for the plains of Punjab, the largest city of the province is also an “urban heat island,” a phenomenon that pushes up temperatures in areas covered in heat-retaining asphalt and concrete.

In the past couple of decades, the urban heat island phenomenon in Lahore has further compounded heat in the form of solar radiation and hot air from vehicles and buildings getting trapped between high-rises. Add to it the absence of a substantial tree cover to provide shade and evaporative cooling that can bring down temperatures.

If the growing problem of heat spike was not enough the citizens of Lahore are faced with a multitude of environmental problems throughout the year. From becoming one of the most polluted cities in the world (ranked on the Air Quality Index) to urban flooding in monsoons, the city in the wake of climate crises is grappling with one pressing environmental issue each season after another. What should hurt the citizens more is that nothing substantial is being done by the authorities in this regard except for the occasional lip-service.

As the effects of a changing climate are felt with growing intensity, researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders turn their attention to adaptive strategies that can help to build resilience. Of particular importance are the adaptions aimed at improving the resilience of cities.

Globally, major agendas such as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Action Agenda, and Paris Agreement are recognising cities as solution hotspots that contribute to each country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). (The NDCs embody efforts by the countries of the world “to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.”) The global momentum for climate action in cities and the undeniable imperative to include climate crises in urban planning and policy has inspired a groundswell of support for local action around the world.

Similarly, wider discussion on how cities can effectively mainstream nature-based solutions to mitigate and adapt to the negative effects of climate crises and the future role of urban science in co-producing nature-based solutions were the highlight of discussions during the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Cities and Climate Science Conference held in March 2018.

The conference also concluded that “Cities are fertile grounds for smart design, innovation, and experimentation where collaborative and co-designed solutions are being developed to overcome such problems.”

From becoming one of the most polluted cities in the world (ranked on the Air Quality Index) to urban flooding in monsoons, the city in the wake of climate crises is grappling with one pressing environmental issue each season after another.
 

In the case of Lahore and other metropolitan cities of the country, business as usual will not be good enough to bring about the transformative results needed for a sustainable future.

While Lahore is by far the most planned city of the country in terms of the systems placed to run its affairs, it still suffers because of inadequate planning. In order for Pakistan to meet all the SDGs by the year 2030, major cities like Lahore and Karachi will need to step in and take the lead. Mainstreaming climate crises into existing city-level plans related to energy, transport, greening of spaces, and health could be a holistic way of these cities’ contribution to addressing climate change.

For instance, if the city planners mainstream the idea of climate crises into the transport plan or the sewerage system, it would help to identify the impacts of climate crises in these sectors and aid in undertaking mitigation measures.

Similarly, mainstreaming climate change in the public health plan could mean identifying health risks related to climate change and mitigating those. Such approaches need greater recognition. In the city of Sihanoukville in Cambodia, approaches of mainstreaming climate change into the existing plans, with the involvement of local stakeholders at every stage of planning and implementation, have proved to be successful and made the tourist city resilient and resource efficient.

Mainstreaming climate crises into existing city-level plans related to energy, transport, greening of spaces, and health could be a holistic way of these cities’ contribution to addressing climate change.

Mainstreaming climate crises into existing city-level plans related to energy, transport, greening of spaces, and health could be a holistic way of these cities’ contribution to addressing climate change.

On the environmental side, Lahore needs to immediately come up with a plan to increase its already depleted urban forest cover which, according to the advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, has been reduced to only 30 percent over the past decade. Placing density at the centre of the climate crises mitigation strategy means not just doing the right thing in terms of reducing emissions but also offering tangible, immediate benefits as a selling point.

Increased density means more opportunities for walkable neighbourhoods and car-free transit, which would cut pollution. Density means shorter commutes and less driving, leading to less congestion, fewer road fatalities, and improved health outcomes from cleaner air.

The need of the hour is to recognise the importance of urban green spaces in creating a naturally-oriented water cycle while contributing to the amenity of the city.

Secondly, in order to mitigate urban flooding during monsoons the obsolete drainage system of the city needs to be revamped alongside protecting and creating local water bodies (lakes, ponds and wetlands) that act as sponges in high rainfall events, reducing the volume of rainwater runoff, and lower the risk of floods.

Equally important is to promote rainfall infiltration into the soil at public places, and include open areas in the city through elements of landscape design of vegetated swales and bio-retention systems.

While the world has entered into a phase of action in meeting the SDGs, Lahore is still found wanting under the impact of climate crises. In order to come at par with the leading cities of the world, it needs a fully functional model of third tier or local governments which at the moment are often found struggling to take action on sustainable development due to a number of constraints such as limited political and fiscal power, lack of access to development finance, low levels of institutional capacity, absence of robust multi-level government cooperation and integration, and the inability to attract or be part of strong multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Without first acknowledging and addressing the challenges faced by local governments, SDG localisation will not benefit the majority of the urban population, and it will constrain the achievement of sustainable outcomes.

Khan Shehram Eusufzye

Khan Shehram
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Lahore.

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