Towards decarbonised economy through localised efforts

The Government of India unveiled a five-point plan to combat climate change at the COP-26 Summit in November 2021, including a goal of net-zero emissions by 2070. The plan's multi-pronged approach, which includes a shift of 50 per cent of India's energy mix to renewables by 2030, recognises that achieving "net-zero" involves a wide range of transitions and adaptations.

In line with these commitments, various sectors of the Indian economy, from heavy industry to transportation to energy to agriculture, must make decisions and adaptations to reduce their emissions dramatically. To sustain the country's economic development, in alignment with the transition to a cleaner economy, a cohesive narrative and an integrated methodology will be required to sequence the tasks that must be followed.

At a foundational level, urbanisation must be at the heart of the government's net-zero strategy. Around half of the country's population will live in urban areas by 2050. India's economy would also be urbanised, with 49 metropolitan clusters expected to account for 77 per cent of incremental GDP growth between 2012 and 2025. Decarbonization plans will have to keep pace with these changes. Whether it is building energy demand, transportation emissions from congested roads, industrial fumes on city outskirts, or a lack of infrastructure connecting rural townships, all of India's net-zero transitions will manifest in and around its urban centres, implying that they will have to widen sustainably if both growth and decarbonisation are to be achieved.

Under this context, governments must make detailed decisions about what role each piece of land can serve, who can develop it, and how people, goods, and resources flow affect the property's value. They must track who owns the land and examine how to make land transfers more efficient. They must manage interactions with and between those who live, work, and play on the property, whether they are residents, businesses, or government entities. They must consider the land's value and the expenditures of maintaining what is on it. They must examine the location of public amenities such as hospitals and schools. These are the kinds of challenges that inform urban planning and governance as a whole.

The core reasons for inadequate local government capability must be addressed to accelerate India's urban decarbonisation efforts. Cities rely too heavily on the federal and state governments to implement policy and development programmes. Moreover, basic abilities, such as finance and human resources, are lacking among the personnel. Technical skills, such as those in climate science and urban planning, are becoming increasingly scarce. In some city districts, the proportion of land classified as public space, which includes roads, green areas such as parks, and other public infrastructure, is as low as 10 per cent, compared to the international benchmark of 30-40 per cent. Water scarcity and flooding have been linked to poor urban design decisions.

India needs to discover a significantly greener strategy to expand its cities. To do this, the Indian government and state governments must restructure policy implementation to position local governments as the key delivery units for development and growth. The 74th Constitutional Amendment, a legislative strategy, has allowed state governments to adopt devolution. However, as evidenced by the union government's 'Aspirational Districts' initiative, results have been achieved through a greater collaboration of agencies and programmes.

India's urban development will have far-reaching consequences for local welfare and environmental circumstances and climate mitigation and adaptation. Because most of India's urban areas are still under construction, the country has a unique opportunity to lock in low-carbon, resilient, and equitable urban forms for the future.

To achieve the requisite convergence, a holistic government strategy is required. Union and state governments will continue to prepare for decarbonisation and provide the legislative framework for implementation; nevertheless, they must enable delivery as close to the action as feasible, where development and growth appear. The framework in which each branch of government must play a specialised role while resolving potential disputes and tensions is known as urbanisation. Whether it is regulations governing building energy efficiency, infrastructure choices that encourage road use, industrial placement on city outskirts, or a lack of infrastructure connecting rural townships, local government's ability to monitor change, plan for development, enforce the regulation, and collaborate with the public, private, and non-profit sectors threaten to obstruct progress. It is also possible that if they are reformed, they will help India realise its national goals and ambitions.

To secure India's development trajectory in the direction of a just and green transition, reforming the metropolitan centres is imperative. Officials in the city have a number of priorities, including urban development goals—such as water, waste, energy, mobility, and land use—as well as climate change, which are intertwined and have varying levels of importance for different political actors and constituents. These interconnected aims include climate change consequences and remedies. As previously noted, an increasing number of instances show how national policy and city efforts integrate climate action into urban design.

This has been co-authored by Bhakti Jain and Srijata Deb.