By Bina Bhatia & Savnee Patharkar
Today on 27th September 2019, thousands of Mumbaikars are going to be joining the Global Climate Strike movement by silently protesting the inaction of the Government to address Climate Change. The September 2019 climate strikes, also known as the Global Week for Future, are a series of international strikes and protests to demand greater action towards climate change and coincide with UN Climate Action Summit in New York, where world leaders have been asked to present concrete and realistic plans to enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 45% over the next decade. So far the protests have occurred at over 4,500 locations across 150 countries with the protests held on 20th September proclaimed to be the largest climate strikes recorded till date with an estimated count of over 4 million people on a single day. In India, more than 14,000 citizens signed up for 26 events across the country as part of the global strike.
Here is what is at stake for Mumbai if collectively we cannot restrict the increase in global temperatures to under 2°C in the next 12 years.
A Drowning Coastal City
Mumbai is one of the 21 coastal megacities cities mentioned in the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate released this week as Low-Lying Islands and Coasts (LLIC) that is already experiencing climate-related changes from extreme events and slow onset changes. One of the most vulnerable port cities in the world and also one of the most densely populated city; is at risk of CC-induced hazards, including Sea-Level Rise (SLR), storm surge, flooding, and coastal erosion. Mumbai is estimated to lose 25 sq km of land due to a rise in sea levels over the next century. The city’s coastal waters have risen at least nine centimeters during the 20th century. Versova beach, Dadar Beach, Priyadarshini Park facing a major risk from erosion and rising sea levels, have already eroded 18 m of the beach areas in Mahim in the last two decades. Even if global carbon emissions are reduced, restricting global warming to under 2°C, SLR near Mumbai is expected to rise by 31-60 cms. With current rate of emissions, we can expect a SLR of 110 cms by 2100. Just a 20 cm rise will double Mumbai’s flood frequency. Flooding due to heavy rains and storm surges at this point will prove to be catastrophic for Mumbai.
Changing Monsoon Patterns and Increasing Water Stress
India’s water-stressed future has already become a reality and it’s largest city, Mumbai, has to deal with it too. Even with the drastically increasing urban population of Mumbai, it’s primary source of sustenance remains unchanged - seven rainfed lakes. Mumbai depends on a healthy monsoon season for its water requirements each year. But as monsoon patterns destabilize and become undependable due to shifting climates, it may not be too far when Mumbai is in a similar situation as Chennai was in June 2019. Just this year, the seven lakes supplying potable water to the city – Upper Vaitarna, Modak Sagar, Tansa, Middle Vaitarna, Bhatsa, Vihar and Tulsi – collectively recorded to carry only 5.37% of the useful water stock by the end of summer 2019 and BrihanMumbai Corporation had to restrict water supply as the monsoons were delayed by a month. This was at a three-year low level and any further delay in monsoon would have created a drought-like situation for the city which was already reeling under a 10% water cut since November. Although after the record-breaking rains, the reservoirs have been filled to their maximum capacity, the unpredictable cycle of the rains in the coming years, is not going to guarantee the city the privilege of water forever.
The Swinging Pendulum of No Rain & Too much Rain
Erratic monsoons are another derivative of the climate shift. Globally, the number of rainy days is decreasing while intense rainfall events are increasing drastically. Mumbai too is facing a similar trend - as it is constantly oscillating between extended periods of no rainfall days and extreme precipitation events. And when the rains arrive, they are intense enough to cause floods, landslides and flash floods bringing the city to a grinding halt. This monsoon, Mumbai witnessed three extremely heavy periods of rainfall in one season and broke all records of total annual rainfall ever received. Mumbai’s extremely high population density, high poverty rates, and colonial era sewage and drainage systems heighten the risk posed by climate-related events like flooding and place the city in a ‘high risk’ place for climate change vulnerability per Verisk Maplecroft’s 2018 hazard index.
Built over reclaimed soil and already having faced floods every monsoon season, the city sewers are not capable of handling regular floodwater. Add to this, the continuing increase in built-up area in the city & haphazard alterations in land-use and reduction in open spaces, wetlands, forests and water bodies; there is no place for water to drain and the city is absolutely not ready to deal with excessive flooding events and storm surges which are growing in frequency and intensity.
Soaring Temperatures to an already Hot Island
Urban heat islands are a reality; Mumbai shows “heat stress” that other megacities do, with temperatures soaring upto a whopping 40.3°C. Mumbai’s annual temperatures have already risen by 2.4°C in the last 125 years. The city is projected to get hotter even if countries take action to lower their greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century to meet the Paris Accord. In 1960, Mumbai could expect close to 180 days per year where temperatures rose above 32°C. Today, Mumbai experiences atleast 245 days a year of extreme temperatures. The average temperature recorded in the Santacruz observatory on October 7, 2018 was a scorching 37.8°C, marking the city’s second hottest October day in a decade. A substantive and alarming report on climate change was released globally the next day, warning the world of the deadly impacts of global warming including rising temperatures. This year’s global heat wave, the longest and hottest ever recorded is a stern reminder that unchecked carbon emissions are going to result in human induced extreme temperature events.
Can India Afford to Allow its Financial Capital to Sink?
Ranked as the ninth riskiest amongst the world’s 31 megacities, the city’s preparedness to exposure to climate shocks like SLR, flooding, and droughts is non-existent. Even if the city invests just enough to hold steady at the current level of flood risk, Mumbai stands to lose $6.4 billion in future losses, making it the second most economically vulnerable city after Guangzhou in China. A driver of the national economy, in addition to flooding, this megalopolis could face water supply disruptions, dangerous heat waves, increased food insecurity, and large scale disease outbreak, especially within vulnerable economically weaker communities.
It’s time Mumbai follows the lead of the 1000 other local governments including New York City, Paris, Sydney and London that have declared a Climate Emergency which will allow their governments to shift to emergency mode and make bold commitments and changes in policy to address climate change and mobilize all necessary resources and labor required to face this crisis. Unless serious consideration is given at policy level, extreme heat days, severe rainfall and floods are more likely than ever to be part of the lives of Mumbaikars.
Today’s strike is a grassroots people’s movement, who are walking out of offices and classrooms to demand that civic agencies take adequate action and the environment is made a priority over development projects and adaptation and mitigation strategies planned before we are out of time.