How sustainable is New Delhi?

Yvo Hunink
Oct 15, 2017 · 6 min read

A comparison of the several indices that aim to measure the sustainability of cities.

This article is the result of a thought experiment during the online course at edX of ‘Co-Creating Sustainable Cities’ from The TU Delft, Wageningen University and Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute). It asked a set of questions, for which the topic of discussion was chosen to be New Delhi, India.

City Indices. Using an index is a very popular way to contrast the environmental performance of cities. Often, it is actively used by cities to promote their homes to tourists, business or investors. However, some indices measure the same cities, but not always have the same cities at the top of the charts. How do these differences come to exist and what is the result of the potential usage of such indices? A set of questions were set up, to which any city can be reflected. In this case, New Delhi was chosen, where I studied, worked and lived for three months.

In at least which sustainability rankings is your city included?

New Delhi is at least mentioned in the Cities in Motion, Sustainable Cities, Global Green Economy and Asian Green City Indices. They measure the following groups of indicators:

Cities in Motion Index: human capital, social cohesion, economic, public management, governance, environmental, mobility and transport, urban planning, international outreach and technology. IESE Business School

Sustainable Cities Index: people, planet and profit. Arcadis

Global Green Economy Index: leadership & climate change, efficiency sectors, markets & investments and environment. Dual Citizens

Asian Green City Index: energy, environmental governance, buildings, CO2, air quality, water, waste & land use, transport. EIU & Siemens

Is your city performing well? In which domains of the urban fabric is the city doing well, and in which domains is it doing poorly?

The scores are not high, especially in the indices that include more demographic indicators, showing that New Delhi is not performing really well. In two of the indices it is at the bottom of the scorecard. In the other two indices, it is more in the middle.

  • 174/181 Cities in Motion
  • 97/100 in Sustainable Cities
  • 23/50 in Global Green Economy
  • ‘average’ in the Asian Green City
Comparing Amsterdam to New Delhi (Cities in Motion)

Are there significant differences between the scores of the city in different sustainability rankings (if applicable)? If so, how can these differences be explained?

Already, clear differences can be noticed, especially where there is more influence of more demographic input. The Global Green Economy, focusses more on the planet-profit topics, whereas the people oriented indices score significantly lower. IT suggests that Delhi should be better on economic indicators. In the Cities in Motion report, however, New Delhi on scores low on the economy indicator, as can be seen in above image. This is a clear contradiction of expected result.

Also, in the Asian Green City index compared to the Sustainable Cities index, a contradiction can be found. In the first, strong results were found in the waste category. Only 147 kg of waste per inhabitant is generated, being the least amount of waste in the index. In the report, this was accounted to Delhi’s “traditional culture of careful consumption”. Delhi introduced numerous policies to reduce, re-use and recycle waste, demonstrating just how much can be achieved with limited resources and popular support. Surprisingly, on the indicator of waste in the Sustainable Cities Index, New Delhi scores quite low.

It appears no clear line of indicators can be found, seriously questioning the usability of such indicators to influence decisions on policy design. It might be explained from the presence of complex situations, where multiple objectives can lead to different desirable states, which influences the use of specific indicators. Industry requires another set of outcomes and maintains another set of values then, for example, Government.

How did the city authorities respond to the outcomes? Is the city using this ranking in marketing the city to (potential) residents and firms? Or, alternatively, is it downplaying, ignoring or contesting the results?

Naturally, these are not numbers to be shouting of the rooftops. Therefore, there is no mentioning found from the New Delhi government in a desk study of searching for comments. On a first impression, it appears to be ignoring the numbers in communication on the internet.

Is there any evidence of citizens or companies using these rankings to demand change? And how are they pursuing this goal?

The media, inevitably a reflection of civil society, does use numbers like these for story-making. On YourStory (a blog site for entrepreneurs and change makers), Nikitha Sattiraju has posted a blog where the result of New Delhi on the Sustainable Cities Index was discussed. She wrote the following:

Our population will increase tremendously in the coming decades, and unless we work towards creating a sustainable environment today the problems will pile on. It is imperative that the government works toward removing administrative and infrastructural hindrances. We should follow the example of sustainable European cities and focus on energy-efficient, eco-friendly and inclusive growth.

Also Dr. Munish Raizada wrote a piece in a news article once. He was critical and action-driven, quoting:

Looking at the results of Arcadis survey, the road to making Delhi a better city is next to impossible unless some drastic and reformative actions are taken. Delhi needs to be resuscitated in a fast yet steady manner. Rather than patch up work, a collaborative and comprehensive development agenda involving cooperation between the Center and the state needs to be put in place to develop a better Delhi.

Taking all your findings into consideration, is this what you had expected? What is most surprising to you?

Looking at the air quality and the overal logistics of the city, that I have experienced myself staying in Delhi, I was not surprised by the results. The World Health Organization states that New Delhi is the most polluted city in the world, clearly this is not the environment of a sustainable city. I was also not surprised that indicators generate vastly different results, because it might be expected that our world is to complex to corner in a set of indicators.

What did surprise me, was that even between indices measuring the same topics, those topics could differentiate tremendously. That waste management is found to be the highest scoring topic in one index, but found moderately low in another is arguably destructive. If a good score is used for promotion of activities, while the bad score on the same topic is ignored, activities will be reinforced that are not necessarily the best outcome for society.

What use is this information for Energy Bazaar?

Because of such widely varying results, it is advisable to use an exhaustive approach towards indices, using input from several for making design decisions. This is a lesson for Energy Bazaar, generated from the Academic sphere of activities, being incorporated in other parts of the project, such as impact measurement on policy advocacy. Currently, the RISE indicators have been used to determine the policy environment for legislation on energy access topics. This should be extended towards more impressions from other indicators, such as the Energy Governance Initiative.


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Energy Bazaar

Developing knowledge for distributed energy markets for emerging countries

Yvo Hunink

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Design goes where complexity takes it. Working on the boundaries of chaos and order, so that we can create a world of justice and peace @ City of The Hague

Energy Bazaar

Developing knowledge for distributed energy markets for emerging countries