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An Indian city

Cities can be the potential drivers for sustainable development of an economy

20 October 2021, 9:26 BST 3 min read

Divya Sharma

The relation between economic development and energy usage is a closely knit one. We cannot imagine one without the other. Economic development heavily relies on energy sources in an economy, and energy is deeply impacted by the political, social and environmental impacts of development. In this sense, cities, drivers of economic growth, are quite firmly linked to energy use. Various energy sources fuel the development of a city, and thus cities, along with being engines of growth, also stand to be energy guzzlers.

With rapid urbanization and population increase in cities of India, the energy demand has only increased and will continue to grow in the future. Unfortunately, India's current energy market is heavily dependent on non-renewable sources of energy. Fossil fuel-based energy and transport systems have primarily fuelled the city and its models until recent times, and there is much more work to be done to change that scenario. It is important to note that we need a massive transition in the way cities run today.

Sustainable Cities – Inclusive and Accessible

As one may perceive, future cities are not a distant utopia to be created in a day where people and services could shift one fine day. Instead, future cities or the concept of a sustainable one would mean gradual and concerted change in city planning, the city's value proposition and policies that govern energy use, land use and urban planning. Bringing in renewable-based energy to main grids, providing charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, better city planning that includes cities being built to accommodate renewable energy sources have to be at the forefront of the discourse on the city of the future.

India's urban planning has not followed a very sustainable approach. For example, in the recent past, growing cities in India have taken pride in building massive flyovers that carry vehicles from one place to another quickly and without any obstructions, such as traffic lights. We have instead failed to make these cities walkable and cyclable and completely disregarded the need for human-driven paratransit systems like 'hath thelas.' It's disheartening to see regular cyclists struggling their way through a flood of cars on a long stretch of flyovers that have no service infrastructure that a ‘human’ could use.

Sprawling cities of the present, even in a country like India, have increased car dependency for those who can afford it. These cities have failed in building city systems and services that are inclusive and accessible to all. One can even say that the cities we live in today are designed for machines and not humans, and this approach has given way to increased and wasteful energy demand.

Energy Usage and Resilience

India's energy landscape lacks relevant policies for energy transition or energy efficiency, particularly as it relates to urban areas. In the absence of clear guidelines on energy transition, cities have become the highest consumers of fossil fuel-based energy. Transition to renewable and clean energy has been prolonged in the past. There is an urgent need for effective and transparent policies linked with the availability of finance, technology and the socio-political environment of the area.

Resilience and energy usage are closely linked. Smart and sustainable energy management is an integral component of building resilience to climate change and its impacts. Energy is one of the crucial elements in building resilience in cities. Smart energy usage is indispensable to sustain diverse urban functions, including homes, institutions, transport, services and industry, and cities' overall economic growth.

Conclusively, cities have great potential for managing energy well and promoting clean transport towards a sustainable future. Cities can be the potential drivers for the overall sustainable development of an economy. India must note the rising need for clean energy immediately, and all governments must work in synergy to achieve the same. This calls for participation from the central, state as well as local governments. Urban development is a state subject in India. Therefore, state governments are well placed to bring in elements of energy management, efficient planning, and management of cities to promote resilience. A close interaction between state policies and city-level implementation is significant for a country like India, with complex city functions and geographic and climatic diversity that dictates energy demand and energy use.