The Road Transport/Energy Challenge in India

Environment vs. Mobility? (Image source: Times of India)

“A few weeks ago, we (India Streets) had reported about India’s plans to reduce the climate change impact from its transportation sector. However, we saw that India’s plan, like many other plans out there, attempts to tackle the problem almost entirely by improving vehicle and fuel technology without adequately dealing with the most important factor – the number of vehicle-kilometers travelled. In the article below, we will read Prof. Madhav Badami of McGill University argue that “[fuel economy improvements will do little to mitigate [climate] impacts, and might even exacerbate them to the extent that the improvements increase motor vehicle activity by reducing the costs of driving… On the other hand, measures to curb vehicle-kilometers can provide major “co-benefits” by helping control energy consumption and related emissions, as well as other transport impacts.”

“I have always admired Prof. Badami’s ability to strike a balance between the demands of efficiency, equity and environment and to point to the synergies involved. For instance, this article in the Economic and Political Weekly is titled “Urban Transport Policy as if People and the Environment Mattered: Pedestrian Accessibility the First Step“. But for now, I leave you with this article from the Center for Advanced Study of India.”

- Introduction by Karthik Rao-Cavale, Associate editor of India Streets

The Road Transport Energy Challenge in India

The rapid growth in motor vehicle ownership and activity in India – motor vehicle numbers have doubled every six or so years from 1980 to 2004 – has provided mobility to millions, and contributed to employment and the economy. This trend is, however, causing a wide range of adverse impacts. Perhaps the most serious of these impacts, in health and welfare terms, result from road traffic accidents. Road traffic deaths, which stood at around fifteen thousand in 1971, have risen to well over one hundred thousand today. Other impacts include growing traffic congestion, vehicle emissions (which contribute significantly to poor urban air quality, and are a major source of fine particulates, which are strongly linked with respiratory and cardio-vascular illnesses and deaths), traffic noise, and the loss of accessibility, particularly for pedestrians.

Rapid motorization in India also has important implications for energy security and climate change. The growth in energy consumption in road transport, which has tripled since 1981 and accounts for 90 percent of energy consumption for all transport modes, has been the most rapid of all sectors, except for agriculture.

The residential and industrial sectors are the most important in energy terms, accounting for 43 and 29 percent respectively of the total energy consumed, but road transport is the most important in terms of petroleum products consumption. Whereas road transport accounts for 9 percent of all energy consumption, it does so for as much as 30 percent of the consumption of petroleum products; by contrast, the residential sector accounts for only 20 percent.

Globally, energy consumption has been increasing the most rapidly in road transport. Furthermore, the transport sector is by far the most dependent on petroleum products, which supply nearly all its energy needs; the share of natural gas, electricity and other energy sources in this sector is even now only around 5 percent (compared to over 85 percent in the residential and industrial sectors). While the shares of the other major sectors in petroleum consumption have declined since 1971, the share of road and other transport modes has grown significantly. The bulk of the growth in global petroleum consumption is due to transport; while road transport now accounts for a fifth, and the transport sector, as a whole, for about 28 percent, of all energy consumption, these two sectors account for as much as 45 and 60 percent of global petroleum consumption.

Read More–>

About the author:

Professor Madhav Badami has a joint appointment in the School of Urban Planning and the McGill School of Environment at McGill University. His research interests are in the areas of environmental policy and planning; urban infrastructure, services and governance in low-income countries; urban transport; and environment and development.

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