India made global headlines during COP-26 as one of the first low-to-middle-income countries to commit to a net zero target. While rightly lauded, India’s commitment highlights a challenge that recurs across the developing world: how countries facing rapid urbanisation should manage their cities in a way that unlocks both the economic and environmental benefits of urban growth.

This moment comes ahead of the three-decade anniversary of India’s 74th Constitutional Amendment, that situated urban governance in urban local bodies (ULBs) by allowing state governments to devolve a fixed schedule of responsibilities and jurisdictions. The urban landscape has changed very significantly since then, with rising urbanisation manifesting in much higher resource consumption in urban areas.

The local and global implications of urban consumption is reflected in the emissions arising from India’s towns and cities. High energy consumption results in a higher concentration of greenhouse gas emissions, which are around two-thirds more per person than in rural areas. Interestingly, neither energy nor environment (local and global) are included in the 12th Schedule that lists the functions to be devolved to ULBs under the 74th, with the sole exception of urban forestry.  Yet, there are a number of functions that directly or indirectly influence energy consumption, including emission from energy use, that are part of the domain of ULBs.

The anniversary of the 74th therefore offers a point of reflection. In time with this, Artha Global has published a working paper, “Localising Green Transitions in India”, an attempt to sketch the full potential of the role of India’s urban landscape in the country’s transition to net zero. This spans the country’s energy transition, whether it is the energy demand of buildings, transport emissions from packed roads or the fumes of industry on city fringes.

Artha Global and Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy held a private roundtable to discuss the findings of the paper.

Jagan Shah, Senior Fellow, Artha Global
Sam Downes, Junior Fellow, Artha Global

Debolina Kundu, Associate Professor, National Institute of Urban Affairs

Dr Debolina Kundu is a Professor at the National Institute of Urban Affairs, with over 25 years of experience in development studies, spanning urban policy, migration, municipal finance, governance and exclusion. She is also a Country Investigator – India for the GCRF Center for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning cities and Neighbourhoods and was a member of the Fifth Delhi Finance Commission.

Ashwin Mahesh, Founder, Mapunity

Ashwin Mahesh is an urbanist, journalist, politician and social technologist in Bangalore. He was a climate scientist at NASA before switching to a career in urban governance and development. He founded and edits the public affairs magazine, India Together. He founded the social technology firm, Mapunity, and is a co-founder of the EV-based transportation company, Lithium.

Kaushik Deb, Senior Research Scholar, Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy

The attendees at the event included Siddharth Bhatia, Bijal Brahmbhatt, Labanya Jena, Radhika Khosla, Saira Kurup, Patrick Lamson-Hall, Abhay Pethe, Debarpita Roy, Vandana Sharma, Vaidehi Tandel, Sanjeev Vyas.