To protect our future, new infrastructure must be low-carbon, sustainable and resilient; from its design, as the issue sprung up at the 24th annual United Nations climate change negotiations (COP24) happening now in Poland, climate change is not just an environmental issue, it’s also a development one.
Over the next 10 to 15 years, the world is expected to invest about US$90 trillion in infrastructure — more than the cost of the existing value. In India alone, 70-80% of the infrastructure needed by 2030 is yet to be built. At the same time, we are already grappling with the impacts of climate change. In just the last few months, extreme rainfall and severe flooding, consistent with the weather pattern we expect from climate change, took the lives of nearly 400 people in Kerala.
Our cities face serious infrastructure and health challenges but they are also places of great hope for economic opportunity and development. By 2030, India’s urban population is projected to grow to 590 million, double the 285 million city residents counted in the 2001 census. Also by 2030, nearly 70% of India’s national income and its new jobs are expected to come from cities — even if it is business as usual. Research shows that better and smarter urban growth could be an even bigger economic opportunity for India, worth up to six per cent of GDP by mid-century.
If cities are built in more compact, connected and coordinated ways, they can improve residents’ access to jobs, services and amenities while increasing carbon efficiency. By avoiding the costs — congestion, pollution and inefficiency — of urban sprawl, city dwellers gain significant savings. Globally, filling gaps in finance for infrastructure — much of which is urban — will require roughly US$2-3 trillion per year between 2015 and 2030. However, better designed and compact cities can more than recoup much of this investment by saving up to US$17 trillion from now by 2050.
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Industry also has a crucial role to play in shaping India’s path to sustainable development. Cement and steel are the building blocks of modern infrastructure, and the two industries account for roughly 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
However, Indian cement and steel companies are already taking steps to shrink their environmental footprint.
Governments and international institutions can help companies and cities accelerate this transition to sustainable infrastructure. For one thing, multilateral development banks need to double their collective investment in infrastructure and vet projects for sustainability, aiming to invest at least US$100 billion per year by 2020.