Transportation in Developing Countries: Greenhouse Gas Scenarios for Delhi, India

Greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries are increasing most rapidly in the transportation sector. Even people with low incomes are meeting their need for mobility, and projected income growth over the next two decades suggests that many more will acquire personal modes of transportation. How this will affect the earth’s climate is a great concern.

In Delhi, India, transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions are expected to soar. There are policy and technology choices that could significantly lower the emissions growth rate while increasing mobility, improving air quality, reducing traffic congestion, and lowering transport and energy costs. To realize these benefits, vision, leadership, and political will must be brought to bear. Delhi has high vehicle ownership rates for the city’s income level, increasing congestion, poor air quality, poor safety conditions, and insufficient coordination among the responsible government institutions. Travelers in Delhi desire transportation services, reflected by the increasing numbers of inexpensive but highly polluting scooters and motorcycles.

This report creates two scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions from Delhi’s transportation sector in 2020. It finds:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions quadruple in the high-GHG, or business-as-usual, scenario; but only double in the low scenario.
  • Transportation policies are readily available that will not only slow emissions growth, but also significantly improve local environmental, economic, and social conditions.
  • Improved technology would maximize the efficiency of automobiles, buses, and other modes of transportation and could play a key role in reducing emission increases.
  • Keeping many travel mode options available – including minicars and new efficient scooters and motorcycles – will help individuals at various income levels meet their mobility needs.
  • The time to act is now. The issues facing Delhi represent opportunities for improvement, but the longer authorities wait to address transportation inefficiencies, the more difficult and expensive it will be to produce a positive outcome.

Transportation in Developing Countries: Greenhouse Gas Scenarios for Delhi, India is the first report in a five-part series examining transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries. The report findings are based on (1) a regression model developed by TERI to forecast future increases in vehicle ownership and travel by different modes and (2) a Lifecycle Energy Use and Emissions Model developed by the Institute of Transportation Studies at U.C.-Davis which estimates greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

The Pew Center gratefully acknowledges Anita Ahuja of Conserve, Ralph Gakenheimer of MIT, and Michael Walsh, an independent transportation consultant, for their review of earlier drafts.

Executive Summary

Delhi, India is a rapidly expanding megacity. Like many other cities its size, Delhi faces urban gridlock and dangerous levels of air pollution. Vehicle ownership is still a fraction of that in industrialized countries, but remarkably high considering the population’s relatively low income. Worldwide, energy use is increasing faster in the transport sector than in any other sector, and fastest of all in developing countries. From 1980 to 1997, transportation energy use and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions increased over 5 percent per year in Asia (excluding the former Soviet Union) and 2.6 percent in Latin America, compared to one percent growth in greenhouse gases from all sectors worldwide.

Delhi faces the same transportation, economic, and environmental challenges of other megacities. Population, motor vehicles, pollution, and traffic congestion are all increasing. Air pollution levels greatly exceed national and World Health Organization health-based standards, and transportation is by far the largest source of pollution. In the past 30 years, Delhi’s population more than tripled and the number of vehicles increased almost fifteenfold.

By 2000, Delhi had about 2.6 million motor vehicles – 200 for every 1,000 inhabitants, a rate far higher than most cities with similar incomes. Most of these vehicles are small, inexpensive motorcycles and scooters, rather than automobiles. This proliferation of vehicles in a relatively poor city indicates the strong desire for personal transport – a phenomenon observed virtually everywhere. Delhi is an example of how that desire can now be met with relatively low incomes.

Delhi is expected to continue growing at a rapid rate. Its population is expected to surpass 22 million by 2020. Motor vehicles, including cars, trucks, and motorized two- and three-wheelers, are expected to grow at an even faster rate. The domestic auto industry is predicting car sale increases of 10 percent per year. With an extensive network of roads and increasing income, there is every reason to expect vehicle sales and use to continue on a sharp, upward trajectory.