Built environment is responsible for up to 40% of overall global greenhouse gas emissions. While the operation of buildings causes 20% of these emissions, when we add the emissions from producing building materials, commuting and deliveries, related municipal solid waste, etc. this goes up significantly
India’s long-term goal is to reach net-zero by 2070, while reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 45 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. Achieving this will be possible by embarking on the mass movement for ‘LIFE’– ‘Lifestyle for Environment’ as the key to combating climate change.
The risks that are related to climate change have gradually crowded the global risk landscape over the past several years and now it is undeniably the central theme in environmental sustainability. The dilemma remains that if we do not abate emissions, we risk facing frequent and intense weather events in the short to medium term; and in the long term we shall be ready for irreversible climate change with unprecedented consequences. The best solution is to find a just and equitable transition path to decarbonise the future economic growth, that too swiftly and at a global scale. Our existing energy systems, i.e., how we produce and use energy needs to be completely overhauled. This needs massive innovation and a shift towards taking a whole systems approach.
India is the fastest growing large economy in the world and recent reports suggest that it will contribute to almost 1/6th of the overall growth in the world economy in the year 2023. What does this growth comprise? It primarily comes from infrastructure and housing, the built environment, upcycle that is here to stay at least until the end of this decade. There is no precedent of a major economy growing without this.
However, the fundamental question remains that how sustainably can India’s built environment grow? This built environment- the canvas where the bulk of human activity unfolds- is responsible for up to 40% of overall global greenhouse gas emissions. While the operation of buildings causes 20% of these emissions, when we add the emissions from producing building materials, commuting and deliveries, related municipal solid waste, etc. this goes up significantly. Built environment, so to say, is an aggregator of emissions from industry, transportation, buildings and so on.
It is therefore clear that transforming the built environment can be the single largest demand- side opportunity that can be tapped to achieve India’s NDC targets. It is also essential that we build from the long-term view which accounts for both resilience and decarbonisation in the planning of the built environment. By doing so we can create massive positive externalities across socio-economic and environmental domains.
We know that our urban development normally emerges organically, driven by immediate economic and operational efficiencies, while missing these long-term opportunities that can be unlocked in a more curated development. India’s future urban development can be built while focusing on enhancing resilience, health, affordability, and access to energy services for all by developing actionable initiatives across the carbon emissions spectrum of the built environment, namely reduction of embodied carbon, affordable and efficient thermal comfort solutions, promoting best in class equipment efficiency, clean energy, walkability and clean mobility.
Proximally located, at best at walkable distances, energy efficient homes, schools, market places and offices, powered by renewable energy are an ideal template of sustainable urbanisation. Ideally, such neighbourhoods should get integrated with the larger metropolitan region through mass transit public transportation infrastructure. Additionally, if we are able to gradually electrify transportation, and in parallel switch energy supplies to clean sources, we can achieve net-zero even at the city scale.
Achieving sustainable growth and net-zero requires visionary leadership, strategic partnerships, and knowledge exchange. We need concerted efforts by the entire stakeholder ecosystems, and platforms that enable policy makers, researchers, developers, and members of the supply chain community and end users to come together and cocreate a sustainable future and champion India’s Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) ethos. Together, we can take up this challenge of decoupling growth from emissions, and lead the transformation of India’s built environment and inspire reshaping of urbanisation globally.