[Commentary] Kolkata’s climate action plan needs to be more gender-sensitive

  • Indian cities are preparing climate action plans; however, place-specific strategies are needed more than broad universalised plans.
  • Gender-sensitive adaptation and mitigation plans are largely missing in Kolkata’s climate action plan. Mitigating gendered vulnerability should be an essential plan in every big city’s climate action plan.
  • Recognising and devising climate action plans that suit the everyday lived experiences of different gender groups and classes can make the Kolkata’s plan more pragmatic and citizen-friendly.
  • The views in the commentary are that of the author.

Heatwaves, floods, flash droughts and cyclones are increasingly becoming regular events in India. The cities facing such climate events have been experiencing high economic losses and loss of lives due to climate induced extremes.

Climate change induced health hazards along with high levels of air pollution in most Indian cities, has become a cause of major concern at each level of city administration. Therefore, Indian cities have been preparing city-level Climate Action Plans with a sense of urgency. However, the realisation of making city-level climate action plan is not enough. A pragmatic place-specific strategy is needed, rather than prescribing broad universalised plans.

The city of Kolkata, which is regularly affected by seasonal floods, sea-level change, cyclones, published a climate action plan in 2016. The plan is essentially a demonstration of mitigation strategies in terms of reducing the undesirable impacts of climate change and emission pathways. When a large city such as Kolkata, publicises its action plan, other cities in the region usually follow the techno-scientific approach of the published report from a big city. The purpose of this commentary, therefore, is to critically evaluate the contents and inclusivity of gender in the climate action plans of Kolkata.

Gender in climate governance

The issue of gender is an integral part of climate governance. But are we considering the sensitivity of gender issue seriously in our city climate action plan? How serious is our city planner in framing a gender-sensitive climate policy? Can we prioritise gender-sensitive adaptation and mitigation strategies over technological solutions (technical solutions often eclipse pre-existing social norms)?

The issues of mitigating gendered vulnerability and incorporating gendered adaptation are nearly missing. Researchers have repeatedly stated that climate change induced risk/vulnerability are gender and class-specific. Patriarchal and discriminatory societal practices through resource ownership and barriers of spatial and inter-generational mobility are still a major determinant of gender equity in India as a whole. In a climate extreme, the women are more vulnerable than the men.

Tidal waves on Namkhana Island have flooded a house (2020). In a climate extreme event, the women are more vulnerable than the men. Photo by Supratim Bhattacharjee / Climate Visuals.

Read more: India’s women and children highly vulnerable to climate change yet missing in climate policies

A climate action plan with no mention of gender-based risk

Kolkata’s climate action plan, the Roadmap for Low Carbon and Climate Resilient Kolkata, launched in early 2016 and part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the UK Government is divided into five parts and 19 chapters. These cover vulnerability mapping, preparation strategy for public health risk, increase energy efficiency, smart mobility, climate-friendly business plans and capability building. One of the chapters on livelihood training, draws attention to community-level capacity building for alternative livelihoods as a climate adaptation plan. But in the entire report, terms such as ‘gender-sensitive livelihoods’ or ‘gender-specific risk reduction’ are not mentioned.

Kolkata, which is known to be at the forefront of social inclusion, does not have a clear gendered vulnerability map. The plan emphasises on economic empowerment of women but does not incorporate all kinds of gender in its institutional climate governance. Further, there is an issue of gender in everyday mobility planning (chapter five of the report which talked about sectorial plans for gender in mobility). The women labour force in Kolkata shifting towards the service sector and commuting long distances within the greater city boundary, has a probability to increase the likelihood of risk during climate extremes (especially in the monsoon season). For instance, the climate change induced rain and waterlogging makes the commute risky, and city needs to solve this problem.

A cobbler rests on a hot summer day on a Kolkata street. Photo by Biswarup Ganguly/ Wikimedia Commons.
A cobbler rests on a hot summer day on a Kolkata street. Climate change induced risk/vulnerability are gender and class-specific. Photo by Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia Commons.

Moreover, the action plan also focuses on emissions, but it has been noticed that in the greater suburban regions in Kolkata, a considerable number households use bio-fuels in cooking, which directly impacted the women health. The city action plan lacks the ability to address this issue as well.

Publishing a report with recommendations is not enough for Kolkata’s adaptation and mitigation needs. We have to overcome the representative politics to improve climate change risk reduction. Structural and deeper analytical information about gendered risk, vulnerability, and adaptation are required. The city’s climate change action plan needs to focus on grounded gendered epistemology to ease the risk of climate change. Recognising and designing plans that suit the diverse everyday lived experiences of different gender groups can make the city’s climate action plan more pragmatic and citizen-friendly.

The author is Fellow, India Smart Cities Fellowship, National Institute of Urban Affairs and Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.


Banner image: Post cyclone Amphan in 2020. Photo by Indrajit Das/Wikimedia Commons.

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