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Last Updated : Dec 07, 2018 08:53 PM IST | Source:

Podcast | Editor's pick - India will be home to the world's fastest growing cities, but at what cost?

The Oxford Economics' report called Global Cities: The future of the world’s leading urban economies to 2035 headlines the fact that all of the world's 10 fastest growing cities from 2019 to 2035 will be right here in India.

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Bullet point journalism can be called reductionist or accessible depending on which side of the argument you are on, but economic and political surveys are tricky things to be summed up in top-10 lists.


It is however, our job to bring to you the nuance and the subtext beyond the headlines and so in this Moneycontrol podcast, we will attempt to decode the Oxford Economics' report called "Global Cities: The future of the world's leading urban economies to 2035".

So for India, the report headlines the fact that all of the world's 10 fastest growing cities from 2019 to 2035 will be right here.. in India.

Surat is the star of the report and it says that the diamond processing and trading center in the western state of Gujarat, will see the fastest expansion through 2035, averaging more than 9 percent. With an expected annual growth of 8.58 percent, Uttar Pradesh’s Agra is second on the list.

Bengaluru (8.5) is third on the list, followed by Hyderabad (8.47), Nagpur (8.41), Tiruppur (8.36), Rajkot (8.33) and Tiruchirappalli (8.29). Let’s find out more about what the report says right here on our Pick of the Day. My name is Rakesh, and you are listening to Moneycontrol.

India burgeoning

By 2030, the report predicts, India will have some 25 million more financial and business  jobs based on projections that poverty will be reduced and  economic development will see a rapid spurt.

Not too long ago,  World Wealth,  a global market research group, based in Johannesburg, had reported that Mumbai was the world's 12th richest city with a total wealth of $950 billion and  India was the sixth largest wealth market in the world (in terms of total wealth held) after USA, China, Japan, Germany and the UK.

But coming back to the Oxford Economics' report, what we learn is that while economic output in many of the Indian cities mentioned will remain rather small in comparison to the world’s biggest metropolises, aggregated gross domestic product of all Asian cities will exceed that of all North American and European urban centres combined in 2027. By 2035, it will be 17 percent higher, with the largest contribution coming from Chinese cities.

Further, says the report, mega cities like New York, Tokyo and London will defend their spots as Shanghai and Beijing — each boasting more than 20 million people — surpass Paris and Chicago. Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Southern China will also make the top 10, crowding out Hong Kong.

Expectedly. little will change at the top of the list of the world’s biggest cities between now and 2035.

The fastest-growing African city is the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, while the top spot in Europe is held by the Armenian capital of Yerevan, according to the report. San Jose will be the best performer in North America.

A down to earth perspective

Down to Earth, which is Asia's premier fortnightly on politics of environment and development assisted by the Centre for Science and Environment and helmed by environmentalist Sunita Narain, has also carried a piece on this report. The piece tries to read between the lines and to remind that while reports like this do indicate economic trends, there is a larger reality at stake.

We quote, "The world may be concerned about the effect of rapid urbanisation on the Earth’s climate—the 24th Conference of Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is currently underway in Katowice, Paris—but do not expect any dramatic change in the pattern. For, the world's economy will continue to be propelled by cities and much of that push will come from Asia, particularly India."

The piece cites the report and reiterates that the world's 780 major cities surveyed will grow at an average 2.8 percent per annum while the world economy is pegged to grow at 2.6 percent.

Though India and Bangladesh will corner the top of the fastest growing cities' chart, China will have the largest pie in the top 10, with four cities: Shenzen, which links Hong Kong to mainland China; the northeastern port city of Tianjin, the traditional financial hub Shanghai and Chongquing in the southwest.

Jakarta and Manila, the capitals of Indonesia and Philippines, complete the list, which means none of the fastest-growing urban centres will be outside south, east or southeast Asia.

But here comes the worry.

We quote the piece, "It is safe to assume that such growth will be on the back of a burgeoning working population. The faster the cities’ economies grow, the more migrants they will attract. This, in turn, will pressure already scarce resources such as land and water. More inhabitants will require more energy, adding to the carbon footprint of these cities.

Mumbai, in fact, is pegged by the report to be the 10th most populated city in 2035 with 23.1 million people. The metropolis already had 18.4 million people, according to Census 2011. Urban agglomerations of Delhi and Kolkata followed closely with 16.4 million and 14 million respectively. Chennai and Bengaluru more than 8.5 million each."

It goes without saying that such massive populations can push already stressed infrastructures to the limit. As the piece says, " The once-quaint garrison town of Bengaluru is now bursting at its seams. Its famous lakes now regularly make the headlines for frothing with fire.

Capital Delhi has been fighting a long battle with air pollution and plunging groundwater level (like Bengaluru) while Mumbai has to deal with excessive rainfall. Rapid urbanisation of of its fringes is also expected to hurt Kolkata. Overall, while the prospects of economic growth predicted by the report may be exciting for a large section, the need for careful urban planning to mitigate future woes can’t be ruled out."

A bigger picture

The link between economic  growth and environment health not just in India but globally cannot be ignored especially when many leaders around the world are pushing populist narratives and putting economic growth first.

The newly elected Brazilian president Jair Bolsanaro, for instance aims to boost mining, farming and dam building in Amazon forests, known as the lungs of the world.

Donald Trump has repeatedly negated the threat of global warming and instead  sought to increase fossil fuel use and scrap environmental regulations which he has often referred to as an impediment to business.

Budget cuts for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and repeated assertions that carbon dioxide is not the primary contributor to global warming, has marked Trump's agenda to boost wealth generation.

That economic policies cannot disregard their fall out on environment was obvious when a group of nine international investors with nearly a trillion dollars in assets under management between them recently urged G20 countries to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2020.

Radio Canada International reported how in a signed joint statement, investors warned that continued government support for fossil fuels increases the risk of creating stranded assets within the energy sector and can also decrease the competitiveness of key industries, including low-carbon businesses.

The statement further said, "As corporations are being asked to disclose the potential impact of climate risk on their balance sheets, we as investors are also asking governments to disclose the impact that fossil fuel subsidies have at country balance sheet level, providing us with useful information so that we can support economies as they make this important change.”

Emphasis on sustainable development, education, and health care or other areas where the entire economy, the entire country benefits rather than just economic growth charts was another point discussed.

Sustainable development is key cited on December 6, a consortium of researchers known as the Global Carbon Project. to state that global carbon emissions reached an all-time high in 2018, an extraordinary watermark in Earth’s history that underscores the need for faster and stronger action to address accelerating climate change.

Glen Peters, research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway and a co-author of the new report said, "Current  energy and climate policies are not sufficient to overcome the growth in economic activity or energy-use growth."

The report underlines the concern that economic projections cannot any more be discussed without urgent international discussions about environment.

It would be interesting to read the Oxford Economics' report in the context of this piece that says and we quote, "In nations where emissions are still rising, often in response to economic growth and improved living standards, the challenges are often greater. Even in countries with high rates of deployment for wind and solar, such as India and China, growing demand for energy is still eclipsing growth in renewables."

Decarbonizing the global economy by 2050 is an achievable goal and it remains to be seen if India synergises its economic engine with environmental policies that will make its citizens not just richer but healthier.

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First Published on Dec 7, 2018 08:52 pm
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