In the ever-evolving landscape of India, sustainability has emerged as a steadfast priority, transcending different economic contexts and reshaping the nation's outlook on development. Over the years, India has grappled with the delicate balance between economic progress and environmental preservation, with debates raging between those advocating for growth at any cost and environmentalists seeking to safeguard the nation's natural resources. However, in recent times, there has been a growing recognition within decision-making circles that sustainability and economic growth are intricately intertwined. One of the key factors that has propelled this transformation is the worsening climate change crisis which has a dire impact on the country’s economy.

Further, the rapid advancements in technology, particularly in the geospatial domain too emerged as a promising avenue for economic development as well as sustainability efforts. With its integrated-systems-based approach and understanding of various scales, ranging from local to global, it equips policymakers and stakeholders with the tools to make informed decisions. Policymakers in India in this regard are striving to strategically harness the potential of geospatial technology to drive India's economic growth and believe that 'Geospatial lies at the core of India's vision of becoming a USD 10 Trillion Economy by 2030.'

This, along with several other factors, such as India’s long history of environmental activism and changing legislative landscape, has collectively placed India in a unique position to spearhead global sustainability efforts. The following sections explore these factors and their influence on India's position as a frontrunner in driving sustainability efforts through geospatial technology.

Factors Shaping India's Position

Some of factors which shape India’s potential role as leader in sustainability through geospatial technology include:

1. Strides in the Geospatial Domain

With a rich history dating back to the 1960s when it embarked on a space exploration journey, India today has an advanced ecosystem for remote sensing and geospatial knowledge, positioning itself as a prominent player in the field globally. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has played a pivotal role in this regard through its pioneering efforts. ISRO has developed an array of satellites and cutting-edge technologies that have been extensively utilized for diverse geospatial applications.

The Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite series, for example, which is a flagship program by ISRO, has been instrumental in providing remote sensing data for a wide range of applications, including natural resource management, disaster management, and land-use mapping for several decades. Additionally, ISRO has successfully launched other satellite series like CARTOSATRESOURCESAT, and OCEANSAT, further elevating India's geospatial capabilities. Another notable contribution of ISRO is Bhuvan, an indigenous geospatial platform that offers comprehensive access to various geospatial data, such as satellite imagery, thematic maps, and geospatial services.

In January next year, ISRO’s mission in collaboration with NASA called NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission is set to launch into orbit. NISAR will be the first of its kind to map Earth systematically, employing two distinct radar frequencies (L-band and S-band) to capture changes in the planet’s surfaces, including movements as small as a centimetre! This revolutionary mission promises to enhance our understanding of this planet by providing “an Unprecedented View of Earth”.

Read our blog to learn more about NISAR and how Radar Imaging can benefit our planet.

Ground-based geospatial technologies, including geographic information systems (GIS) and global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), too have witnessed substantial progress in India. Numerous domestic companies and startups are now actively contributing to developing and applying these technologies in sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure development and climate action.

2. Susceptibility to Impacts of Climate Change

India, identified as a global hotspot in both the IPCC report and domestic Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI), is profoundly susceptible to the consequences of climate change due to its geographical and socio-economic vulnerabilities, providing it with a strong impetus to leverage technologies for climate action.

global study which ranked 26,000 regions based on the climate vulnerability of their built-up area listed nine Indian states among the top 50 most vulnerable regions.

Climate change has harrowing consequences on human lives and significant economic and sociological impacts. The economic effects of climate change specifically are high and are already being felt as the country is witnessing:

  • Rising healthcare costs: Mounting evidence demonstrates that climate change poses an increasing threat to public health security in India. These risks encompass a range of challenges, including the surge in extreme weather-related disasters and the expanded prevalence of vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue. According to the National Health Profile 2019, India allocated Rs 1,657 per capita towards healthcare in 2017-18. However, health experts have estimated) that to effectively address the additional pressures of climate change, India should be investing approximately Rs 4,000 per person.

  • Damage to infrastructure: The 15th edition of the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, conducted by Germanwatch, revealed that India incurred infrastructural losses and damages exceeding Rs 2.7 lakh crore ($37 billion) in 2018 due to extreme climate events. This amount is nearly equivalent to India's defence budget in 2018. Additionally, a 2021 study by CEEW highlighted that India's inadequate disaster preparedness over the past two decades resulted in a loss of Rs 13.14 lakh crore ($180 billion).

  • Dire Impact on the economy: In the report titled 'The Costs of Climate Change in India,' an analysis of the economic ramifications of climate-related risks in the country reveals serious concerns about the potential rise in inequality and poverty. By the year 2100, India faces the prospect of annual GDP losses ranging from 3 to 10 per cent, while the poverty rate could increase by 3.5 per cent by 2040 as a result of climate change.

Apart from being impacted by the effects of climate change, India is also home to a large number of carbon-belching industries and is the third biggest carbon polluter in the world.

These factors have additionally provided the country with a strong impetus to leverage technologies to monitor emissions, develop strategies to reduce carbon footprints and build resilience against the grave impacts of climate change.

A national level inventory of CO2 emissions and a breakup of sectoral level CO2 emissions. Source: Climate TRACE.

A national level inventory of CO2 emissions and a breakup of sectoral level CO2 emissions. Source: Climate TRACE.

3. Growing Geospatial Market

Over the past few years, India's geospatial sector has experienced a remarkable expansion, opening up new avenues for innovation and sustainability.

In 2022 the geospatial market in India reached a value of 28,000 crore INR, compared to 23,000 crore INR in 2019. This growth trend indicates the sector's potential to expand further, projected to reach 63,100 crore INR by the end of 2025, with an estimated growth rate of 12.8%.

One of the prominent factors to which the growth can be attributed is the initiatives taken by the government of India to promote the adoption of geospatial technologies. The National Geospatial Policy, for instance, in 2021 created a conducive environment for businesses, startups, and research institutions to leverage geospatial technology for innovative solutions by deregulating existing protocols and liberalizing the geospatial sector. Other factors that have helped expand the market include the increasing demand for Location-based Services with the growing use of smartphones and the internet. As Geospatial technology provides the foundation for such services, including navigation, transportation, and urban planning, it has been fueling the growth of the geospatial market. Moreover, India has seen the emergence of numerous geospatial startups, fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the sector. These startups are developing innovative solutions for various industries, including agriculture, transportation, urban planning, and renewable energy.

Additionally, the growing prominence of geospatial technology is expected to be further propelled by factors such as the introduction of carbon markets and the increasing need for sustainability-driven solutions. Geospatial data and analytics play a crucial role in understanding and mitigating the impact of climate change, making it an essential tool in emerging carbon markets.

By leveraging the expansion of the geospatial market, India can harness the power of location-based data and technologies to address sustainability challenges. This includes monitoring and managing climate change impacts, optimizing resource allocation, planning sustainable urban development, conserving biodiversity, and supporting disaster management efforts.

In recent years, India's geospatial market has experienced notable growth, presenting significant opportunities for employment generation, knowledge creation, sustainable solutions, and socio-economic advancement. Moreover, the potential integration of geospatial technologies with emerging fields like AI, ML, and IoT holds promising prospects for the industry's future.

In recent years, India's geospatial market has experienced notable growth, presenting significant opportunities for employment generation, knowledge creation, sustainable solutions, and socio-economic advancement. Moreover, the potential integration of geospatial technologies with emerging fields like AI, ML, and IoT holds promising prospects for the industry's future.

4. Evolving Legislative Landscape

India has consistently recognised the importance of geospatial technology in driving growth. In fact, the 73rd Constitutional Amendment provided for integrating geospatial technology into local-level planning. However, historically India has maintained a strict regulatory mechanism over mapping and geospatial data intelligence. This fragmented and restrictive policy environment deterred private players from actively participating and contributing to the field.

However, considering the growing market and recognising its importance in fostering sustainable development in the country, efforts are being taken by the Indian government to liberalise and boost the sector, which is amply reflected in the country's changing legislative landscape. The introduction of the National Geospatial Policy 2021, a key effort in liberalising the sector, marks a significant shift in this regard. This policy aims to democratise datasets generated using public funds and has paved the way for growth across various sectors of the economy. This, along with the Draft Space Bill, is expected to further support and leverage the potential of geospatial technology for development.

The recent enactment of the National Geospatial Policy in 2022, too has been widely lauded in this regard. With the vision to "make India a world leader in global geospatial space", the 13-year guideline envisages to promote India's geospatial data industry by developing a national framework that focuses on innovation and involves greater participation of the private sector. Read our blog to learn more about the policy.

Abhilasha Purwar, CEO, Blue Sky Analytics, stated "The National Geospatial Policy of India is a major step towards unlocking the immense potential of geospatial data analytics in the country. By creating a comprehensive policy framework that focuses on innovation and greater involvement of the private sector, the policy sets to rest a lot of grey areas and uncertainties in the geospatial industry. Additionally, the policy focus on enabling faster dissemination of raw data for a variety of value-added services and innovation is a huge impetus and assurance to the private sector. At Blue Sky Analytics, we are particularly excited to be part of India's Geospatial Revolution. As one of the pioneers in turning raw satellite data into value-added climate intelligence services, this policy provides much more support to us. We are committed to helping India make the most of this powerful resource and become a world leader in the global geospatial space."

These legislative changes create a conducive environment for India to lead and revolutionise sustainability efforts globally through the effective use of geospatial technologies.

Key highlights of the National Geospatial Policy 2022

Key highlights of the National Geospatial Policy 2022

5. India's History of Environmental Stewardship: Culture of Caring

India has a rich history of environmental stewardship and a culture deeply rooted in caring for the environment. From ancient traditions to modern environmental movements, India has demonstrated a profound awareness of the importance of ecological preservation. This is reflected in the many influential environmental movements in the country which have sparked awareness about ecological issues and catalyzed policy changes. Notable movements include the Bishnoi Movement, which can be dated as early as 1730, to the popular movements in the 1970s and 80s, such as the Chipko Movement and the Silent Valley Movement and to more recent activisms such as the #righttobreathe protests.

Further India has also established a comprehensive legal framework for environmental protection, including the Environment Protection Act, Wildlife Protection Act, the Forest Rights Act, and the Environment (Protection) Act. These laws provide a foundation for environmental conservation and regulation.

Even at the international level, India has demonstrated efforts to ramp up climate action through initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance, One Sun One World One Grid, and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. As India holds the Presidency of the G20 summit, it is poised to play a crucial role in shaping the agenda and discussions among member countries to drive climate action.

Shaping Global Sustainability Efforts

These factors place India in a unique position to spearhead global sustainability efforts, contributing significantly to both economic growth and environmental preservation. By leveraging its potential, India can emerge as a frontrunner in driving sustainability through geospatial technology, making a substantial impact on the global stage and inspiring other nations to follow suit.