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India 2050: scenarios for an uncertain future

Report | 30-07-2007
Photo of a busy street in New Delhi, India

India is playing an increasingly important role in the global economy and, correspondingly, in resource use and emissions. Yet, the modelling tools for exploring the opportunities and threats for India, and for other parts of the world as a consequence of this development, suffer from conceptual limitations. This report explores options for improvement, especially given the large heterogeneity of India that is difficult to capture in aggregate average data. Model-based simulations indicate that India's population by 2050 will be over 1.5 billion, displaying a large population momentum that is one of the drivers of economic growth.

Forward calculations with the demographic model, PHOENIX, and the IFs Economy model show that such developments of population and income are possible, provided that sufficient and timely investments in health care and education take place. Additional model simulations, including those using the TIMER energy model, indicate that ecological and socio-economic constraints might bar these positive developments. Only rigorous government policy initiatives striving for sustainable management of India's resources (land, water, energy) and appropriate investments in education and health can lead to a real increase in well-being for a large part of the population.

India becoming more and more important

India will experience an extremely dynamic period over the next decades. Fuelled by the ambitions and skills of an large, young and educated population, it will aspire for a more prominent place in the globalizing world of the 21st century. In the process, it will be confronted with large opportunities as well as threats. How India responds is a concern for everyone in the world. In this report, the authors explore past and future trends in India with regard to population, economy and the derived demands for food, water, transport and energy. It is of interest to anyone who tries to get some grasp of the larger picture of India in the 21st century world.

Trends in population and economy

Important trends shown in India during the second half of the 20th century are: a declining but still large rate of population growth; an improvement of the food situation; a rapid but unbalanced and unequal economic growth since the 1990s; and a rapid growth in energy and water demand that can only partially be met. Official projections expect a slowly stabilizing population and a sustained high rate of economic growth for the next three to five decades, with a significant increase in the average level of the standard of living.

Responding to ecological and socio-economic constraints

Forward calculations show that such population and income growth pathways are possible, provided that the country can adequately respond to the ecological and socio-economic constraints. Most important among these are the large and rising income inequalities; the provision of health, education and transport infrastructure; the political and financial risks of oil and gas imports; and the deterioration of the ecosystem service base which may, in combination with climate change, threaten the adequate provision of food and water.

About this study

This exploratory study is done as part of the objective of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP) to support national and international policymakers by providing a conceptual and modeling framework for long-term policy making. The study also investigates which simulation models are available for such Integrated Assessments and which are the strong and weak points. Improving the submodels and their interlinkages is one of the major challenges, if we are to understand and anticipate in more depth the opportunities and threats inherent to the rapid growth in numbers and income of large human populations.

About the authors

Bert de Vries works in the Methodology and Modelling group of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP) and is Professor of Global Change and Energy at Utrecht University. Aromar Revi and G.K. Bhat work at TARU Leading Edge, Delhi, an interdisciplinary research and consultancy group set up by a team of experienced professionals from public, corporate and cooperative institutions. Henk Hilderink and Paul Lucas work in the Climate and Sustainable Development team of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP).

Author(s)Vries HJM de ; Revi A ; Bhat GK ; Hilderink H ; Lucas P - Petersen AC (eds)
Report no.550033002
Publication date31-07-2007