Interview: Making low-carbon transport work for people – Insights from India

Low-carbon efforts will deliver broader societal objectives if a multidisciplinary approach underpins the projects. On March 28th, I interviewed Subash Dhar, a Senior Economist from India who manages a low-carbon transport project in three Indian cities on behalf of UNEP Risø Center and in partnership with local and international institutions.

Meeting these broader societal objectives in developing countries is critical because of the need to improve the daily life of billions of people through improvements in transport and energy access as well as better quality of air, food and water. Our countries benefit from giving priority to low-carbon interventions that catalyze development for the benefit of the majority of citizens. Leave behind the narrow notion that a low-carbon project sole objective is to “reduce carbon”.

Low-carbon transport efforts are a fertile area for combining social, economic and carbon mitigation objectives. In fact, exciting developments are underway. This interview distills the essence of this project and discusses its transformative potential given that there are around 100 cities of more than half million plus people in India that could replicate some of the lessons in transport planning and the mainstreaming of societal objectives.

Nivela: Tell us about this project?

Mr Subash Dhar: A key part of our work consists on helping prepare low carbon comprehensive mobility plans which include the analyzing business-as-usual trends in the demand for mobility in the future, the generation of alternative scenarios and the evaluation of whether these strategies help India meet its climate strategy.

We know that transport aggravates road congestion, local air pollution, noise and accidents, particularly in urban areas. In the case of India, the transport sector is the second largest contributor of CO2 emissions.

The project operates in three cities:

  • Visakhapatnam is a fast-growing coastal city, the 7th largest in India,
  • Rajkot, a city with strong industrial base and going through rapid growth and,
  • Udaipur, known as “City of Lakes,” a major tourist destination.

The project links what India needs to do under the National Action Plan on Climate Changefor urban transport, which was released in 2009, and Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission which called for a renewal of transport system in 2005. In 2010, our low-carbon project was launched with the funding from the German Government’s International Climate Initiative in consultation with the Government of India’s Ministry of Urban Development, a variety of city authorities, local partners (including the Indian Institute of Management, Indian Institute of Technology and Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University (CEPT) University) UNEP in Nairobi and UNEP Risø Center.

Nivela: What is this project trying to do differently?

Mr Subash Dhar: One distinctive attribute of this project is the notion that mobility and planning objectives need to incorporate other goals such as improvements in equity, safety and environment. We promote a broader planning vision. In order to do this in practice, we have brought together professionals from different fields. That means combining expert views on transport planning, urban planning, social inclusion, gender, safety and climate change.This hybrid approach to problem solving can of course add complexity (experts tend to naturally prefer to stay within their own fields of expertise).But at the same time, the benefits for these cities will be bigger if we succeed with this multidisciplinary approach and provide low-carbon mobility solutions that are informed by social and gender realities that lead to strategies that do improve the lives of people in India, especially the poor.In order to inform our work, we did surveys and studied demographics and learned about key social and demographic trends.For example, the data revealed that women used far less public transport than men in India.. We also realized that traditional transport projects favor the building of roads by default neglecting the reality of pedestrians, bicycles and public spaces that can make huge positive impact on people. We have also analyzed data and trends regarding land uses in these cities and what that meant for low-carbon planning.

Nivela: What is the vision for scaling up this project?

Mr Subash Dhar: What is interesting is that we are conducting these projects in three very different city environments: a coastal, a industrial and touristic and therefore identifying insights that could be very helpful for other cities in India that are of similar size or attributes.We estimate that the three cities where we work could be a prototype for about 100 more cities in India.

Ultimately, the driver for scaling up these solutions to other parts of India is local ownership of these solutions. Local authorities and actors will need to own solutions.To the extent they are part of the process, seize the ideas and make them their own, the process of problem solving will be sustained in these cities and, hopefully, replicated in India.

We have founded very positive that the Ministry of Urban Development has integrated some of our solutions in their revised Toolkit for comprehensive mobility planning.

We ended the conversation with an invitation by Nivela.Org to hear more about these three projects and help diffuse the good stories outside India as examples of the power of collaboration in promoting development that works for people while reducing carbon.

More information about this project in India is here

Relevant publications by Subash Dhar include “Low carbon city: A guidebook for city planners and practitioners”. For more publications click here.

Upcoming article sneak peek

What to Expect on Climate from Latin America's New Presidents?