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How will India travel in 2050? Insights from CEEW’s new Transport Energy Outlook

Poojil Tiwari
19 July 2022

More cars, more emissions but also tremendous growth in EV adoption — that’s the future CEEW’s India Transport Energy Outlook study spells for the country. As our economic growth accelerates, so will emissions, and the battle of balancing the two will remain as relevant in 2050 as it is today.

Here are five insights from the report that highlight areas that need policy intervention and investment for a sustainable and low-carbon transport sector:

1. 75 per cent of India’s new passenger vehicle sales could be electric by 2050

India looks set for a high degree of electric vehicle adoption by 2050 across all categories, provided the required charging infrastructure and support ecosystem is built and scaled in tandem. CEEW’s outlook highlights that around one-third of the four-wheelers and half of the two-wheelers sold in 2030 could be electric. This share could increase up to 75 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively, by 2050. Electrifying buses however, would prove to be a challenge, due to high upfront capital costs and charging infrastructure requirements.

2. Domestic air travel would drive up India’s CO2 emissions in 2050

Currently a marginal source of emissions, domestic aviation would become highly critical for the decarbonisation goals of India’s transport sector. The air travel sector in India has been growing consistently over the last the two decades, and this would only continue to accelerate with rising income levels. Poor fuel efficiencies of air travel mean that domestic aviation will contribute to almost half the energy use, and an even higher percentage of passenger transport emissions in 2050.

3. Preference for public transport could see a decline

In a concerning sign for policy-makers, the share of public transport in the overall modal share is expected to decline as the standard of living improves. Passenger rail, which has historically been one of the primary caterers of India’s passenger mobility needs, would decline by almost 60 per cent by 2050. This also has significant ramifications from an energy use and emissions perspective as it will drive up congestion and infrastructure requirements. It is apparent that the government deploys economic instruments like road pricing, carbon tax, congestion cess and behaviour nudging campaigns, early-on, to enhance the attractiveness, use and supply of transit modes like rail, metro, bus, para-transit.

4. Two-wheelers to reach their saturation point in 2040

Desire to own a personal four-wheeler and growth of on-demand mobility services would lead to a staggering increase in the share of four-wheelers, from 9 per cent in 2020, to 45 per cent in 2050. While two-wheelers would remain an important mode of transport in the decades to come, CEEW’s analysis predicts that they would reach a saturation point and decline around 2040. This is in keeping with similar decline observed in countries like China, at similar GDP levels as India is expected to achieve in 2035 (ITF).

5. Freight sector likely to be the toughest to decarbonise

Since high dependence will remain on trucking (beyond DFC and Waterways and coastal shipping) - clean tech for trucks is must. By 2050, natural gas is expected to account for 35 per cent of trucks’ fuel mix, thereby making emissions from trucks increase at a slower rate than their energy consumption. Investment also needs to made in scaling up nascent technologies like green hydrogen to reduce emissions from the freight transport sector.

Through the good and the bad, the only constant that remains is that the Transport Sector requires intelligent and robust policymaking. Policy has to intervene in specific niches to support and accelerate this transition while avoiding the pitfalls of unsustainable mobility behaviours driven by higher disposable incomes.

This post is based on our recent India Transport Energy Outlook Study. Charts by Poojil Tiwari.

Poojil Tiwari is a Communications Associate at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), an independent not-for-profit policy research institution. Send your comments to [email protected]

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