Assessing the climate mitigation potential of Indian cities

We explored the potential of cities to contribute to India’s net zero emissions target and the financial, governance and legal barriers to realising this potential.

Project team members

Cities in India are centres of huge economic growth and consumption, and consequently large contributors to climate change. As the pace of urbanisation increases, so will carbon emissions from urban areas. In India, about 400 million additional people are projected to live in urban areas by 2050, double the number from 2014. Cities are also highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. These include heatwaves, flooding, cyclones and water scarcity, which have been experienced across Indian cities in recent years. Economic losses from the Chennai floods in 2015 were estimated to be USD 2.2 billion.


The Government of India has committed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070, which will require a fundamental shift in how natural resources are utilised, technology is deployed, and land is managed. The exact distribution of effort across sectors and states is still unknown, as is the combination of solutions to deliver the emission cuts required. Funders and civil society organisations are therefore considering where and how to best support the transition to net-zero. The Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation was unclear on the relative value of focusing investment on urban mitigation strategies. We were commissioned therefore to study the evidence on the share of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions cuts required to achieve net-zero emissions that will take place within cities. We also explored the role that cities play in achieving ambitious climate action, and the challenges that exist in realising the mitigation potential, particularly related to urban governance constraints in India.


We used literature and expert interviews to study both the theoretical potential of ambitious urban climate action in India, as well as the reality of what is likely and manageable. The study quantifies and unpacks the mitigation impact a new cities programme in India could have in reducing urban emissions in line with 1.5ºC global warming targets, and identifies the governance, finance and institutional challenges that will need to be overcome or managed. We interviewed other funders and practitioners supporting ambitious climate action in cities in India to document learning on the most effective way of supporting change. We presented and discussed the findings with the Shakti team and partners and used participatory tools to develop a set of transformative change pathways.


Our study highlights the scale of GHG emissions reductions possible in cities in India, particularly from buildings, transport, and waste systems. However, the most important element in achieving urban mitigation is decarbonising the power supply, which is outside the control of the city. There are a range of proven mitigation strategies, such as electric vehicles, fuel efficiency standards, and green buildings.

However, there are deep-rooted, systemic reasons why cities in India have so far not shown much leadership on ambitious climate action the way cities in the US, Europe and elsewhere have, including:

  • Lack of ambition on urban climate action
  • Very limited institutional capacity for climate planning and delivery
  • Lack of available financial resources and limited financial autonomy
  • Fragmented decision-making authority on urban issues and lack of coordinated policy framework.
  • No Monitoring, Reporting and Verification system

We supported the Shakti Foundation to identify policy-induced transformational change pathways that their new programme will pursue. This includes a top-down strategy of effective implementation and enforcement of national policies and mobilising bottom-up policy action to demonstrate ambitious and viable mitigation action in a sample of cities which then gets scaled up via the central government or through diffusion by other states.

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