Solutions at Scale: Advancing Action on India’s Heat Risks

At a workshop for national and state government officials, experts share insights on health-protective solutions to counter intensifying heat.

Co-authored by Abhiyant Tiwari and Ashish Jindal of NRDC India

India, a country on the front lines of dangerous climate change impacts, is taking aggressive action to better prepare people for the hazards posed by extreme heat. Climate warming has already reached dangerous levels in South Asia, and this past spring saw temperatures soar to the highest levels in at least a century.

Recent research indicates that elevated temperatures are linked to a heavy health burden in India, including nearly 47,000 early deaths in 2019. As the health risks from extreme heat intensify, stronger and more coordinated actions to address the dangers posed by soaring temperatures are urgently needed. In addition to rising temperatures, rising income levels increase demand for energy to provide cooling, leading to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

A workshop on May 31 co-organized by NRDC India, India’s National Disaster Management Authority, and Climate Trends, convened experts and stakeholders to discuss solutions to reduce the hazards posed by extreme heat and improve access to cooling in India. This National Consultative Workshop on Implementation of Extreme Heat Mitigation Measures highlighted the importance of improved governance and planning for extreme heat to effectively mitigate its impacts. It also called attention to recent initiatives by Indian states to scale access to cooling solutions including cool roofs. 

"Increasingly, the world is looking to India for ways to improve extreme heat resilience. So it’s important to note that events like today’s workshop, while helping to strengthen our country’s implementation of heat mitigation solutions, can also bolster the global heat adaptation agenda.” 

Ms. Dipa Bagai, Country Head, NRDC India

Complementing Heat Action Plans with Long-Term Strategies

Although Heat Action Plans have been developed and launched in cities and states across the country, longer-term built environment improvements and cooling-friendly urban planning strategies need to be put in place to address an urban heat island effect that can render built-up areas substantially warmer than less urbanized surroundings because of heat trapping concrete, asphalt, and other materials and a lack of sufficient green cover.

Cool Roofs Support Improved Thermal Comfort

Recent policy developments in India highlighted at the workshop show a promising path forward for these built environment solutions. Shri Arvind Kumar, Special Chief Secretary, Municipal Administration and Urban Development Department, Government of Telangana touted the multiple benefits of cool roofs documented through demonstration projects in the state. These include energy savings, reduction in surface (over the roof) and indoor air temperatures, and an increase in thermal comfort.

Just two months ago, the Government of Telangana launched a comprehensive policy that makes cool roofing mandatory for certain types of buildings. Such a policy is one of first few globally. Through the policy the state government aims to install 300 square kilometers of cool roofs over the next five years and expects that level of implementation to save 600 million Units (GWh) of electricity and a deliver cumulative savings of 30 million tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide pollution by 2028.

“We have made cool roofs mandatory for multiple applications, not limiting it to only low-cost housing and have committed to covering 300 sq. km of roof areas in Telangana. This will have huge heat relief impacts and be an effective climate action.”

Shri Arvind Kumar, Special Chief Secretary, Municipal Administration and Urban Development Department, Government of Telangana

Other government officials shared initiatives on cool roofs and plans for scaling up implementation. For example, the Chhattisgarh State Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA) has already implemented 54,106 sq. ft of cool roofs and is targeting 34.77 sq. km of area, and the city of Ahmedabad aims to reach heat-vulnerable populations with an expanded cool roof program over the next five years. Others present at the workshop, including leaders from Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, were encouraged by the experiences shared and discussed ways of jumpstarting their own initiatives on cool roofs.

Targeting Interventions to Reach Heat-Vulnerable Groups

A recent report by the Centre for Policy Research cited the lack of robust funding for Heat Action Plan implementation as a major obstacle. At the same time, certain populations, including the urban poor, elderly people, and people contending with pre-existing health conditions, are especially vulnerable to extreme heat hazards. Workshop speakers emphasized that, because financial resources for heat adaptation projects are limited, improved targeting of interventions including cool roofs is needed. 

Workshop speaker Abhiyant Tiwari of NRDC India stressed the importance of centering health-relevant data in vulnerability assessments, as heat stress can have a significant impact on human health and productivity. Mr. Tiwari also mentioned that, over the long term, health surveillance data systems should be strengthened to capture accurate and comprehensive data on people’s heat-related health problems that require treatment in health facilities. 

An example of a data-rich vulnerability assessment featured at the workshop was the newly-launched Heat Action Plan in Jodhpur, co-developed by NRDC India and Mahila Housing Trust. That vulnerability assessment, the first of its kind for a city in the state of Rajasthan, is already helping municipal leaders to identify areas for cool roof implementation.

Scaling Up Solutions

Overall, the workshop discussions emphasized that policies supporting cool roofs and other cooling technologies is just one component of a broader implementation strategy for India’s heat adaptation needs. Evidence of benefit, availability of materials and skills, demonstration of a financial return on investment, establishment of incentives, and reaching urban poor with these types of solutions are all necessary pieces for successful implementation. Enhanced collaboration and cooperation amongst different government agencies such as integrating heat-protective actions such as nature-based solutions into existing government initiatives, can also deliver tangible benefits, particularly in rural areas that may not currently benefit from heat action plans.

“Heat management needs adequate funding and support from different sources. While government is the main stakeholder, the role of the private sector must not be discounted. All stakeholders need to come together to effectively counter extreme heat.”

Shri Krishna S. Vatsa, Member Secretary, National Disaster Management Authority

The workshop discussions also emphasized the need for deep stakeholder engagement for heat intervention plans that spans a broad range of actors. For example, outreach to disaster management experts, city leaders and departments, health practitioners, non-governmental organizations, and members of the private sector is essential. Alongside that effort, discussants noted the benefits of a database for tracking implementation of heat interventions and long-term funding mechanisms to create a more robust national heat response program.

A National Heat Risk Mitigation Framework

To advance evidence-based heat actions nationwide, Shri Kunal Satyarthi, Joint Secretary of NDMA, emphasized the importance of developing a heat risk mitigation program over the coming year that can help to inform and accelerate implementation at the state, city, and district levels. With financial, institutional, and technical frameworks in hand, local leaders can then strengthen their ongoing responses to meet the growing dangers of extreme heat.

"Heatwaves are drawing the highest attention from the highest authority in the country. [Hon. Prime Minister Modi] takes a meeting each year before heatwaves start in the country... it is coming from the top. So that is a push on NDMA, but we'll require all of your support to write a good heatwave mitigation framework."

Shri Kunal Satyarthi, Joint Secretary, National Disaster Management Authority

NRDC and partners will continue to work with NDMA and other national and state level agencies to advance action on a national heat mitigation framework. Maintaining a continuous dialogue amongst states through convening events allows key actors to share experiences, identify best practices, and encourage future action. A full video of the workshop is included here:

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