People queue up for potable water at a ‘water ATM’ at Rajarajeshwarinagar. (Express photo by Jithendra M) Image Source: Will Bengaluru run dry this summer? | Bangalore News — The Indian Express

Understanding Bengaluru’s Environmental Crisis: A Call to Navigate Planetary Boundaries and Sustainable Growth

Dr Manoj K M Chaturvedi
3 min readApr 11, 2024

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The scorching summer of 2024 paints a stark picture for Bengaluru, revealing a critical moment in its environmental journey. With experts warning of future ecological challenges, it becomes essential to scrutinize the city’s trajectory through the lenses of planetary boundaries, sustainable growth principles, and the preservation of ecosystem services.

Leading this examination is the Center for Ecological Sciences (CES) at the Indian Institute of Science, which highlights Bengaluru’s diminishing natural capital. The city has experienced a drastic 66 percent reduction in green cover and a concerning 74 percent decline in water bodies, coupled with an alarming 584 percent surge in built-up areas. These trends serve as glaring indicators of ecological imbalance, demanding immediate attention and strategic intervention.

Looking forward to 2038, CES forecasts a troubling scenario where forests are expected to dwindle to a mere 0.65 percent, a significant drop from the 3.32 percent recorded in 2022. Bengaluru’s once lush landscape is swiftly succumbing to sprawling paved surfaces, poised to cover over 98 percent of its land area. Similarly, urban expansion in Bengaluru Urban is projected to skyrocket to 69.90 percent by 2038, a sharp increase from 55.71 percent in 2022, according to CES research.

Professor T V Ramachandra from CES sheds light on the consequences of unchecked urbanization, particularly the exacerbation of the urban heat island effect. The alarming rise in land surface temperatures, soaring from 33.04 degrees Celsius in 1992 to a scorching 41.4 degrees Celsius in 2017 during March to May, underscores the city’s vulnerability to heat stress and related health risks.

Ramachandra emphasizes the pivotal role of ecosystem services in mitigating these adverse effects, expressing concern over the depletion of natural heat sinks such as water bodies and green cover. This degradation not only compromises Bengaluru’s resilience but also undermines its capacity to provide essential services to its residents, amplifying the urgency for sustainable solutions.

Professor Harini Nagendra, an expert in ecology, offers invaluable insights into Bengaluru’s historical ethos and its relevance to the current environmental crisis. The historical establishment of “gundathopes” by rulers exemplifies the multifaceted benefits provided by these ecological sanctuaries, serving as vital reservoirs of biodiversity and water resources.

Through the lens of the five-capital model, an examination of Bengaluru’s environmental crisis underscores the profound impact of ecosystem services on the city’s water management practices. There is an intricate interplay between natural, human, social, manufactured, and financial capitals, advocating for a holistic approach to urban development.

The trajectory of Bengaluru’s environmental crisis necessitates a comprehensive approach that extends beyond immediate concerns to encompass long-term sustainability and resilience. As the city grapples with the consequences of unchecked urbanization and ecological degradation, it stands at a critical juncture, urging stakeholders to envision a future where human prosperity harmonizes with the health of the planet.

This journey towards environmental stewardship requires a collaborative effort across sectors, involving government agencies, civil society organizations, academia, and the private sector. It demands inclusive decision-making processes that prioritize the voices of marginalized communities and vulnerable populations, ensuring equitable distribution of environmental benefits.

Furthermore, it calls for the development and implementation of innovative policies and practices that promote resource efficiency, biodiversity conservation, and climate resilience. Bengaluru has the opportunity to pioneer transformative solutions, inspiring cities worldwide with its green infrastructure projects and sustainable urban planning initiatives.

At its core, the pursuit of sustainability is not merely an environmental imperative but a moral one. It calls upon us to safeguard the well-being of current and future generations. By embracing this collective responsibility and working towards a common vision, Bengaluru can emerge as a beacon of sustainable urban development, demonstrating that prosperity and environmental stewardship are intertwined.

In the face of complex environmental challenges, Bengaluru has the opportunity to redefine its identity as a city that thrives in harmony with nature. By harnessing the power of innovation, collaboration, and collective action, Bengaluru can chart a course towards a future where ecological integrity, social equity, and economic prosperity intersect, ensuring a legacy of resilience and vitality for generations to come.

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Dr Manoj K M Chaturvedi

PhD (IITB), CEnv (SoWE,UK), FIEMA (UK), CEO at GSustain and RSustain, EX-Metito, Ex-QDC, Ex-HCC, Ex-GIZ, Ex-GobalTech, Domain Expertise in Water & environment