One World, One Earth, One Bhubaneswar
It’s 50 years since the Stockholm Conference in 1972 decided to celebrate World Environment Day on June 5 every year. That conference spurred the formation of environment ministries and agencies around the world and kickstarted a host of new global agreements to collectively protect the environment.
The world has changed since then — from climate change to crisis to emergency, not just at the global level but at local levels too, in city neighborhoods. What is expected now is to look at ‘One Earth’. Which means, loss of green coverage and biodiversity in Bhubaneswar can impact the rest of the world.
There is no denying that Bhubaneswar along with a hundred-odd towns are the engines of Odisha’s modern economy contributing a major portion of the state GDP. But their exponential growth in recent decades has come at the expense of nature. Human habitats have grown by two-third in the first 20 years of the 21st century, leading to degradation of local ecosystems and nature. Based on global reports, urban areas are responsible for over 75 per cent of global carbon emissions, accelerating climate change which further drives the loss of nature, which includes examples like the destruction of nature next to the state Assembly.
On World Environment Day, various best practices across the globe provide a vision for Bhubaneswar of the future and the needed systemic shifts to put nature at the heart of decision-making and infrastructure development. Leaders, both in the public and private sectors, need to tap nature to reduce the impact on Bhubaneswar’s urban ecosystem and increase its climate resilience while looking at economic benefits.
Restoring nature can give Bhubaneswar multiple benefits. Just like Los Angeles is building a wildlife crossing over an eight-lane freeway to help connect mountain lion habitats. Seoul is planting urban forests to help improve air quality and reduce the urban “heat island” effect. Paris is planting a series of small urban forests as part of its climate strategy. In Oslo, restoring urban forests is part of a broader plan to become carbon neutral by the end of the decade. Since 2017, trains and buses in Stockholm have run fully on renewable energy. Nearly 8 lakh people, almost the same as Bhubaneswar’s population, in the city use public transport every day.
Taking a cue from these cities, Bhubaneswar could restructure its own programmes, such as restoring blue water in Gangabati River, Daya West Canal, rely on natural drainage and city sponges, safeguard more shady trees and not repeat the destruction of biodiversity to build a concrete blanket for people’s representatives.
There are also social benefits of having more access to nature in cities, including a correlation between access to nature and happiness. This is also about social justice. One of the inequities that was so starkly exposed during the COVID pandemic is that many neighborhoods in Bhubaneswar don’t have access to nature.
The newly elected Mayors have the power and responsibility to transform their cities and towns and lead the way in tackling the interconnected urbanisation and climate crises. Because neither Bhubaneswar nor Odisha can remove itself from ‘One World, One Dream, One Earth’.
Working with nature to strengthen urban resilience can be cost-effective for addressing climate adaptation and mitigation while bringing broader benefits for urban ecosystems that includes biodiversity, communities and the local economy. Although rewilding programmes are already happening in Bhubaneswar, they need to be turbocharged.
By 2036, 30-35 per cent of Odisha’s population is likely to live in urban areas. That is, every third person in Odisha would be living in urban areas and the major chunk would be living in Bhubaneswar. Urgent action is needed now to bolster the urban ecosystem to ensure those people can live sustainably.