Experts urged Indian cities to adopt measures to deal with the imminent devastating effects of Climate Change in a symposium titled “ Battling the Sea Level rise : Lesson for developing World Cities “ held in University of California, Berkeley as part of The Urban Vision’s “Climate Month” celebration between September 15 – October 15 2009 leading up to the historic Copenhagen Summit scheduled for December 2009. The “Climate Month” featured a series of Forums and Symposiums with major thought leaders of our times to evaluate solutions to moving our planet into a sustainable path.
The symposium was co-hosted by Urbanism think-tank “The Urban Vision” ; Global Architecture firm Gensler; and Berkeley Energy Resource Collaborative. Speakers included Will Travis, Executive Director of Bay Conservation and Development Commission ( BCDC) ; Matthew Heberger , Pacific Institute & Co-author of the report on sea level rise in California; Michel St Pierre, Director of Planning , Gensler ; Prathima Manohar , Founder , The Urban Vision ; and Maria. Paz Gutierrez, Assistant Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley
The ongoing California Climate Adaptation Strategy Draft is among the first example of a tactical plan for action by a government agency to adapt to extreme climate events and sea-level rise. The panellists highlighted the California Strategy plan and looked at ways its model can be employed in developing world cities. The symposium specifically addressed ideas and solutions that cities have to embrace to become resilient to the daunting impacts of Climate change.
Will Travis from BCDC which was one of the key agencies that created the California Climate Action Plan outlined the urgent need for adapting our communities to climate change impacts and a future of extreme climate events “Even if the world turned off all its power plants, stopped using all its cars; even if we managed to halt all our carbon emissions- it’s still going to get warmer for at least 50 more years due to the current level of carbon in our atmosphere which will contribute to changes in our environment including sea level rise. We have to start building climate resilient communities” said Mr. Travis.
Matthew Heberger from the Pacific Institute spoke about the impacts of climate change and said “There is a need to avoid the unimaginable, and manage the unavoidable. We can expect a range of impacts to the natural and human environment including storm surges; increases in coastal flooding; increased coastal erosion; Loss of property, economic and social disruptions; Potential loss of wetland habitat.”
Mr. Travis also said that coastal cities will have to think about building a lot of levies to protect their low-lying zones. Mr. Travis also called on city and national governments to halt development in areas that were vulnerable to sea surges or were below sea level.
Some 360 million urban residents living in coastal zones risk exposure to sea surges as ocean levels rise by approximately 1 meter through the 21st century. Developing world cities which are often characterized by poor informal settlement will be highly vulnerable. Ten of the developing world’s 15 largest cities are in low-lying coastal areas vulnerable to rising sea levels or coastal surges. “Given its vast shoreline, the impact will be especially severe in India. Coastal Cities like Mumbai and Chennai will be at the heart of the crisis. However, given the early stage of India’s Urbanization with only 30% of the country being Urban; there is also an unique opportunity for India to plan for the future and steer clear of developing in vulnerable and hi-risk areas” said Prathima Manohar , Founder , The Urban Vision.
Michel St Pierre, Director of Planning, Gensler spoke about the need to come out with innovative urban models so that the world can look at urbanization as the way to solve this crisis “ We are reliant on our cities to sustain us and we need to enhance their sustainable growth so that they can mitigate and adapt to climate change” he said. Prof. Maria-Paz Gutierrez, UC Berkeley shared a innovative interdisciplinary research initiative intersecting architecture and bio-engineering called BIOMS that she founded which was looking at creating new types of human settlements that were inherently resilient. “The research is based on bio-mimicry principles. Nature has always adapted to the volatility of its own self. For instance – Look at how Mangroves combat storm surges. We are studying the principles of nature that can be used in the design of the built environment as a way to deal with the devastation of climate change.” She said.