Author : Vivek Kumar

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jul 10, 2024

The rise in population, paralleled by the increase in urbanisation, has amplified the immediate need for climate-resilient infrastructure in Indian cities.

Rising demand for robust sustainable infrastructure

This is part of the essay series: World Population Day 2024


The rapidly rising global population consists of over 8 billion people today, which is expected to grow to 9.7 billion people by the year 2050. Asia is projected to host the majority of this growth. India, one of the fastest-growing economies, is home to over 1.4 billion people. India will absorb the bulk of this population growth in Asia, having already surpassed China as the most populated country in the world. The rise in population will be paralleled by the increase in urbanisation as people move from rural areas to urban centres in search of employment, services, and overall quality of life. Over 30 percent of India already resides in cities—a number which is projected to grow to 40 percent by the year 2030. The rise in urban centres will lead to a demand for robust sustainable infrastructure to support the needs of ever-growing population.

Climate change will put further strain on infrastructure and the frequency of heatwaves, especially in cities in the northern states, has increased leading to health concerns and major cities like Bengaluru are facing water shortages amidst a growing urban population. As the severity of climate events rises, the need for climate-resilient infrastructure in Indian cities becomes urgent.

Climate change will put further strain on infrastructure and the frequency of heatwaves, especially in cities in the northern states, has increased leading to health concerns and major cities like Bengaluru are facing water shortages amidst a growing urban population.

Integrating the climate change concerns in infrastructure development requires extensive planning and development of policies that support and incentivise such development. According to the NITI Aayog, 65 percent of Indian cities currently do not have a master plan. The growth of urbanisation in India has been largely unplanned. This has led to both environmental and resource degradation. According to a paper by the National Institute of Urban Affairs(NIUA),  megacities like Chennai, Kolkata, and Mumbai had already reached their maximum threshold for environmental degradation before 2014. Although the National Mission on Sustainable Habitat(NMSH) has emphasised the importance of development planning, there is a long way forward in terms of application and compliance as Indian urban centres remain one of the most vulnerable in the world to climate disasters. A more proactive approach is required in policy planning for sustainable infrastructure development.

Sustainable infrastructure should balance between environmental protection and economic progress to achieve long-term prosperity. Infrastructure should be planned in a way which anticipates and prepares for future adversities such as climate as well as reduces the impact on the environment. Cities need to create and utilise knowledge management frameworks to tackle the rapidly evolving challenges of climate change and urbanisation. Resources can be used most efficiently and sustainably with location-specific knowledge, which is best generated and understood locally. This requires comprehensive data collection to understand the hyperlocal needs and challenges of the city and create sustainable solutions. 

Sustainable infrastructure should balance between environmental protection and economic progress to achieve long-term prosperity.

The success of transforming Indian cities into planned spaces for sustainable development hinges on effective ground implementation of such policies. Departments often operate in silos focusing on resources such as water, transport, energy, etc. independently, which further complicates outcomes. The availability of resources for managing a growing population is already strained, this necessitates a more comprehensive approach to utilise the limited resources efficiently and address sustainability challenges holistically. Recent literature has focused on the nexus between water, food, and energy but the scalability and use of such an approach remains an institutional challenge in Indian cities. Incentives to increase food production can lead to an increase in water consumption and degradation as well as high energy demand. Similarly, boosting energy supply may lead to water shortage for irrigation and consumption. Therefore, there is a need to align the different sectors and consider the spillovers from one to another at the city level. This harmony is necessary to ensure long-term sustainable development to meet the demands of an ever-expanding population.

Lastly, incorporating climate in the sustainable development of Indian cities to accommodate a rising population would require collaboration between the public and private sectors. While supporting the government efforts, the private sector can provide vital financing for the development of climate-resilient infrastructure. Public-Private Partnerships(PPPs) will be essential in addressing the funding needs of low-carbon and energy-efficient development. There is, however, a need for innovative methods of funding to attract private players. According to the Global Infrastructure Hub, private funding has remained stagnant in the last few years while the infrastructure funding gap has reached multi-trillion-dollar figures. The government needs to establish a clear regulatory framework for development planning and innovative incentive structures where private players can invest in long-term sustainable infrastructure.

While supporting the government efforts, the private sector can provide vital financing for the development of climate-resilient infrastructure.

While Indian cities will be at the centre of the Indian growth story, they will also bear the brunt of a rapidly rising population. The infrastructure needed to sustain the additional 456 million people in Indian cities by 2050 needs to be developed in a sustainable manner. The looming threat of climate disasters will further complicate the challenge of resource management. The solution lies in a comprehensive and integrated policy framework where institutions work together to anticipate and prepare for the needs of an ever-growing population in a sustainable manner.


Vivek Kumar is a Research Assistant at the Observer Research Foundation.

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Author

Vivek Kumar

Vivek Kumar

Vivek Kumar is a Research Assistant at the Centre for New Economic Diplomacy at ORF. His research interests include macroeconomics, institutional economics, econometrics, development economics.  Vivek ...

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