Welcome to the website of the Megacity Project Hyderabad!

“Greater Hyderabad”, a fast growing metropolitan region in Southern India, will reach 10.5 million inhabitants by 2015. The emerging megacity experiences rapid economic growth enabling higher living standards and modern lifestyles for the emerging middle class. This is, however, accompanied by escalating energy and resource consumption and constantly increasing greenhouse gas emissions per capita. These new issues arise while the old problems are still unresolved. Approximately one third of the population is living below poverty line and continues to suffer from severe food and health problems. In addition to this, climate change is predicted to lead to extreme weather events, disastrous floods, strong heat waves, extreme droughts and increasing water scarcity.

Given this natural, social and economic context of the emerging megacity, the question arises what can be considered a reasonable response to the anticipated climate change impact? This guiding research question of the Project requires exploring greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation strategies and ways towards increased energy efficiency and renewable energy. However, it is important to note that this project is a social science project, or to express it more precisely, the core modules of analysis follow the hypothesis that “getting the institutions right” is one main key to solve the problems of sustainable resource use in general and sustainable demands on climate and energy in particular. Whether or not a society will be able to cope with the climate change impact and increased scarcity of energy depends on its capacity to change human behavior. This requires changing institutions, defined as “sets of rules”, and governance structures, i.e. those “modes of organization” that are necessary to put rules into practice.

Generating knowledge for an effective transition of institutions and governance structures can lead to a “Sustainable Hyderabad”, provided that the actors in the action arenas of Greater Hyderabad will be successful in transforming this knowledge into collective action that supports such basic social change. Unfortunately, the existing “rules-in-use” are not always supporting sustainability in terms of climate change and energy efficiency:

  • One main reason is that social dilemmas cannot be overcome due to a lack of institutionalized potential for collective action. For example, all groups in Hyderabad might be more well off if the city’s water resources were to be less polluted and better used as drinking water, instead of building costly new water pipelines from distant rivers that contribute to Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and cause conflicts with rural water users.
  • A second frequently observable reason is the dominance of particular interests by so-called rent-seeking mechanisms, as illustrated by the following example. Politicians in Andrha Pradesh campaign for rural votes by promising free electricity for irrigation. Consequently, institutionalized constraints to avoid the resulting waste of energy and increase of green house gases are missing or ineffective.
  • Thirdly, who has to carry the costs of adjustment? Sustainable strategies regarding climate and energy production may require new technologies and production techniques for, among others, small entrepreneurs in Hyderabad, who may lose the value of their irreversible investments – sunk costs are sunk!
  • Lastly, low-income consumers may be reluctant to adopt sustainable consumption patterns and instead aim to improve their livelihoods in the same way as the citizens in developed countries have done in the course of economic development. In other words, can the urban poor in Hyderabad really be expected to contribute towards climate change and energy efficiency objectives?

Isn’t it necessary for those who are better off (within the city, but also at higher scales) to offer the poor fair rules for adjustment-cost sharing? Without tackling the issues of poverty, nutrition and health, a major contribution from more than one third of the city’s population may solely for this reason prove unlikely to emerge.

Designing and crafting such changes in the rules and organization that regularize human behavior (i.e., institutions and governance) is a difficult task, requiring deep insight into the extremely complex social and resource systems in question. Thus, there will be no simple and quick solution – and the warning against panaceas expressed so clearly by Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics 2009 and member of the Scientific Council of our project [1] needs to be taken seriously.

Prof. Ostrom, Prof. Opschoor, Prof. Hagedorn, Prof. Messner
(from left to right)

As the different types of natural resources (climate, soil, water, biodiversity, energy, etc) are closely interrelated, any impact on one resource will simultaneously affect others, meaning that any solution focusing on one resource will at the same time produce (potentially undesired) effects on others. From the very beginning, the Hyderabad project has emphasized these society-technology-resource relationships by looking at the main cross-cutting issues, beginning with the main impact paths, such as Temperature Change and Changes in Water Availability & Rainfall Patterns, Lifestyle Dynamics, GHG Emissions and Climate Change as well as Energy Management for Hyderabad. These issues are combined with thematic resource-related research areas: Transportation, Energy/ Water/ Environmental Pollution and Food Supply and Health. At bottom, it is the outstanding interdisciplinary capacity the Project and its excellent Consortium Members have established that makes such a demanding approach possible.

As designing institutional change and governance reform and, at the same time, being aware of the complex society-technology-resource nexus are the overarching principles of the Project, indispensable maxims for our research process have been: We cannot follow blueprints! Institutional transplants may be disappointing! What may have been successful in one case may fail in another! Actors’ characteristics, action situations, pre-existing rules-in-use and community norms, geophysical and ecological/biological systems’ attributes may vary – in short, relevant components of the social and natural context may be unique.

The only adequate response to this situation is to try out which institutional and organizational solutions, what policies and technologies, are feasible and effective given the sustainability objectives Hyderabad wants to achieve according to its Master Plan. Numerous capacity building and pilot projects are devoted to this task. Particularly in this part of the Project, we have been building on the creativity and cooperation of our Indian partners and stakeholders. Together with them we are discovering through mutual learning and will be demonstrating by real action what works and what doesn’t. It is important to note that both successes and failures are equally valuable – the latter showing what mistakes should not be repeated.

The art of cooperative research is a true specialty of the Megacity Project Hyderabad: Planners are cooperating with institutional economists in improving the transport system, while energy experts develop pilot projects on solar energy solutions. Communication experts constantly try to mobilize the public and involve the civil society in discourses for a sustainable future. Researchers together with governmental actors and local stakeholders develop jointly a “Sustainable Street Food Plan” aiming at improving livelihood security and improved working conditions of street food vendors. All these cooperative actions generally target a climate friendly urban development and the crafting of a stable urban institutions and governance structures in an inclusive social-political environment.

However, conducting research, no matter how practically oriented it is, and initiating cooperative actions or setting up mechanisms to enhance institutional innovation alone is not considered adequate by our Project to achieve the ambitious target of a sustainable Hyderabad. In the end, it is not what we will have written into papers, articles and books that may turn out to be the most important contribution of the Project, but rather what has been learned by our young researchers, who will return to their own country for teaching, research, advising policy and other decision makers, and who will hopefully become shining examples of how to build institutions and governance structures for a sustainable future. Thus, education of young researchers maintains a predominant role in the Project. In addition to eleven German PhD researchers, the Megacity Project Hyderabad has integrated eleven PhD students, three post-docs and
supported four Master’s students from India. This reflects our commitment to excellent academic education.

Read more about the educational activities of the Project

[1] Ostrom, E. (2007). A Diagnostic Approach for Going beyond Panaceas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104: 15176–15178