Why climate change mitigation requires serious rethinking of urban construction

Roofs of Thiruchirapalli. Image bank: Rajeev R

35% of India’s population lives in large and small cities, and this number is expected to almost double by 2050. These urban environments are increasingly characterized by high population density, ubiquitous and overwhelming concrete constructions, inadequate water, sanitation and waste management infrastructure, a general lack of green spaces and commons as well as an endangered biodiversity.

Our current urbanization patterns also directly release greenhouse gases (GHGs) into our environment; The construction sector in India alone contributes about 25% of our GHG emissions, according to the UNFCCC Biennial Report on India (2021).

Additionally, urban areas have been identified as high-risk locations for extreme weather events, according to the IPCC AR6 (2022) notably report a temperature increase of 20C of the urban heat island effect. This is seen as one of the contributing factors to the extreme heat waves we have been experiencing across India in recent weeks. Additionally, India generates 12 million tonnes of construction and demolition (C&D) waste and recycles a miniscule 1%.


Read more: Bangalore’s Changing Rainfall Patterns: Climate Expert Insights


Connecting urban ecology, construction and climate change

On May 19, a number of organizations and individuals came together to organize a meeting to understand the challenges of existing practices and find a way to reimagine and reshape our urban ecology.

The sustainable building event brought together cross-industry experts working on urban ecology, environmental sustainability, design and construction, materials and policy. The presentations and conversations attempted to capture the current scenario of the construction industry in India and its implications on urban ecology.

Insights into the role of construction

The sessions clearly brought out the why of sustainable construction – the impact of the industry on the impact on nature, emissions and climate change, the C&D waste generated, as well as the political economy it supports.

Dr. Champaka Rajagopal spoke about the endless outward growth of Bengaluru. Recent trends in Bengaluru include aspirations for high end luxury homes especially post COVID which in turn is putting pressure as public infrastructure cannot keep pace with growth. It also leads to a decrease in groundwater, an increase in the use of cars and two-wheelers and an increase in air pollution. Sriram Kuchimanchi pointed out that the built environment has contributed to an 88% decrease in vegetation, a 79% decrease in water bodies and an increase of about 1004% in paved surfaces in Bengaluru.

Graphic map of temperature ranges in central Bengaluru
Temperature ranges in central Bengaluru. Graphic: Raj Bhagath Palaniswamy, World Resources Institute (WRI)

Vaishnavi Shankar highlighted climate risks in India and said heat waves are expected to increase 75 times under a business as usual scenario; more than 140 cities in India are subject to high risk of flooding and about 77 cities in the coastal region of India are prone to frequent cyclones. In 2020, ten of our cities experienced intense flooding. She spoke about the impacts of disasters on the built environment, including loss, damage, economic stress and sociological and psychological stress and the need to look at climate change mitigation and adaptation from the perspective of infrastructure view.


Read more: Heat, dust and floods: what’s going on in Bangalore?


Although there are innovative and alternative choices, these approaches have been adopted in a piecemeal and fragmented way. It’s time to start having conversations and commitments about holistic approaches.

For that to happen, we have to change the way we do things. Chitra Vishwanath called for the need to reinvent where people live and work and stressed the need for a new approach to human rights. Dr. Bhakti Devi spoke about community-led infrastructure and said urban neighborhoods can be transformed if residents take ownership of the visioning and planning process. Sathya Prakash Varanashi spoke about the need to introspect ecology and see design not as a way to decide how to build, but to decide how we want to live.

In the future, the aim is to create a platform for the exchange of innovations in sustainable construction.

Panels and presentations


Click here for presentations, hosted on Open city.


Panel 1: Cities and ecology Look at the panel

Moderated by Dr Shaila Bantanur (BMS School of Architecture)

  • Responding to Bengaluru’s Endless External Growth: Downgrading Buyer’s Demand and Developer’s Motivations for Supply by Dr. Champaka Rajagopal (Azim Premji University) Click here
  • The climate is changing, why not us? By Vaishnavi Shankar (NIUA) Click here
  • Links between blue, green and gray infrastructure by Shreya Nath (ATREE) Click here
  • Community-Driven Infrastructure: Planning Renewal to Make Neighborhoods Water Positive by Dr. Bhakti Devi (Rishihood University) Click here

Panel 2: Construction: tools, techniques and sustainable transitions Look at the panel

Moderated by Dr Chandrashekar Hariharan (IGBC)

  • Urban construction and environmental impact by Sriram Kuchimanchi (Smarter Dharma) Click here
  • Challenges and Obstacles to Sustainable Practices in the Construction Process by Ajay Koshy (Brigade Group) Click here
  • The Q&A method of Regenerative Architecture! by Manu Gopalan (Sacred Groves) Click here

Panel 3: Building materials: impact, emissions and green alternatives Look at the panel

Moderated by Maya Chandrasekaran (Green Artha)

  • The social, ecological and economic impact of cement-based construction, compared to sand mining by Siddharth Agarwal (Veditum Foundation) Click here
  • Technologies for low carbon construction by Dr. Nikhil Bugalia (IIT Madras) Click here
  • Importance and role of eco-leveled products in sustainable construction by S Karthikeyan (IGBC) Click here

Panel 4: Impact of architectural design on environmental sustainability Look at the panel

Moderated by Meera K (Citizen Matters)

  • Tyranny of Small Decisions by Chitra Vishwanath (Biome Environmental Solutions) Click here
  • Climate Change, Energy and Urban Resilience by Nirmita Chandrashekar (Selco Foundation) Click here
  • Challenges and Barriers to Implementing Environmental Thinking by Naresh Narasimhan (Venkataramanan Associates) Click here
  • Introspection of Ecology by Sathya Prakash Varanashi (Sathya Consultants) Click here

With contributions from Meera K and Pinky Chandran.

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