Key Messages

India’s rapid urbanisation underscores the need to balance growing consumption patterns, development goals, and climate commitments. The scenarios presented in this paper were created using our Sustainable Alternative Futures for India (SAFARI) model, a system dynamics model that simulates interlinkages between sectors in India and their competition for resources and energy at the national scale. This study presents insights from scenarios based on SAFARI’s housing and transport modules, as well as synergies and trade-offs with the industries, water, land, and agriculture modules. It focuses on urban form scenarios and their implications for energy, emissions, and resources. Using a vertically compact residential built form and less energy-intensive materials (such as aerated autoclaved concrete blocks), coupled with greater uptake of public transport and shorter trip lengths, was found to be most beneficial overall. This scenario could reduce residential land consumption by 85%, particulate emissions three-fold, embodied emissions of construction by 11%–13%, and total space cooling energy by 31%–46%, compared to the business as usual scenario. Overall, this scenario could offer a 9.1%–9.6% reduction in cumulative economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions between 2020 and 2050. An urban sprawl scenario (with longer trip lengths) could have the opposite effect, impinging on agricultural land and furthermore, exacerbating food security concerns by 2050. The paper concludes with future research directions, which include exploring the combined potential effects of urban heat islands, alternative materials, and compact urban form on space cooling energy in India.