To Build Climate-Friendly Cities, We Need Not Sacrifice Economic Progress
By 2050, about 300 million more people will live in Indian cities. Even though population is an asset, Indian cities are not equipped for such a rise in population. Real estate developer Niranjan Hiranandani once said that in the 1950s, when he was growing up, the roads in central Mumbai were not congested. This is no longer true. While Indian cities are far more prosperous today, there are some important ways in which things have become worse. Estimates vary. Economist Alex Tabarrok points out that the task which is cut out for India to house the additional 404 million people who may flock to Indian cities by 2050 is comparable to building every city in the United States in a span of 35 years. This will prove to be a challenge.
According to a United Nations report, “India will need to build climate-friendly cities to address the challenge of accommodating the needs of the growing population”.
Further, air pollution is a crucial problem and the single-biggest cause of death. It is also true that climate change is real, and that human beings moderately contribute to it. But this does not mean that the environment will become worse in the next 35 years. This does not even mean that we need to sacrifice economic progress to build climate-friendly cities.
Much of the environmental progress in the next 35 years will come out of economic progress. For example, more Indians are likely to live, work and shop in buildings that have centralised heating and air conditioning. We are also likely to walk from one building to another in air-conditioned skywalks. We may not change the climate for good, but we will deal with it in the best way we can.
In 2050, Indian roads are likely to be much cleaner, too, because more prosperous cities tend to have much cleaner roads. Central and state governments and urban local bodies are more likely to have enough funds to clean roads, and provide better sewage and water supply. We are also more likely to have better regulations. Congestion pricing may become a reality by then, with authorities charging people for driving through roads. Vehicles and industrial plants may have to pay for polluting the atmosphere, too.
If international experience is any guide, carbon emissions from automobiles are likely to decline as well. The rising car ownership may cancel out some of its benefits, but cars in 2050 would be less polluting and more efficient.
Harvard economist Edward Glaeser points out that carbon emission from automobiles and energy usage in the greenest metropolises in the United States are over 10 times as high as that of an average Chinese metropolitan area. But this masks a more important truth. Chinese cities are still far more polluted than American ones. Despite everything, prosperous American cities have learnt to handle pollution. We can expect Indian cities to do a better job of handling pollution, too, though in some ways things may become worse.
India is also likely to have better mass transit services. Greater private participation in mass transit is also likely. This will lower carbon emissions, because more people may use transit instead of driving to office. Authorities may also charge for parking, and engage in better transport planning. For example, authorities may raise building density near transit corridors. Transit stations are also likely to be planned in areas where density is greater. We can expect this because now there is greater awareness of these problems among urban planners in India.