Ambition and prioritisation of climate action in national policies coupled with fuelling international cooperation can help India emerge as a global leader
As the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitting country, India is often criticised by the international community. However, it justifies itself by stating its minuscule per capita emissions and low historical emissions as compared to the developed world. This analysis explores whether India is playing its role in tackling one of the world’s most pressing issues.
Why is it essential for India to address climate change?
According to a study by the World Meteorological Organization in 2020, India is estimated to have suffered an average annual loss of US$ 87 billion (more than INR6 lakh crore) from climate-induced extreme weather events such as heat waves, tropical cyclones, floods, and more. Climate change has also made heatwaves in India 30 times more likely. As the most vulnerable country to climate change, as per a ranking by HSBC, the loss incurred is not only substantially harming India’s GDP but is also uprooting the lives of millions of people and exacerbating food and water insecurity, health risks, and environmental degradation.
India’s climate Nationally Determined Contributions
In 2015, India released its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Back then, the key targets were mainly to increase the cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil sources to 40 percent, and reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 33 to 35 percent compared to 2005 levels, by 2030.
These targets were well overachieved. For example, India’s carbon emissions had already reduced by 24 percent by 2016 as compared to 2005 levels. Thus, India revised its NDC in 2022 with new targets in place.
As the most vulnerable country to climate change, as per a ranking by HSBC, the loss incurred is not only substantially harming India’s GDP but is also uprooting the lives of millions of people and exacerbating food and water insecurity, health risks, and environmental degradation.
The key highlights of India’s updated NDCs include:
- Target to reduce the emissions intensity of India’s GDP by 45 percent by 2030;
- Achieve about 50 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030; and
- Prime Minister Modi’s global initiative to combat climate change—‘Lifestyle for the Environment (LiFE) Movement’.
The targets are raised significantly higher than before and accommodate the “Panchamrit”—goals presented by PM Modi at COP26—which are to raise the non-fossil fuel-based energy capacity of the country to 500 GW by 2030; to reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes between now and the year 2030; and to achieve net zero emissions by the year 2070. This NDC serves as a first-of-its-kind step in the journey of realising the goal of net zero, and deeply focuses on improving the share of renewables in the energy sector. It is complemented by several government schemes at home such as PM-UJJWALA, PM-KUSUM, and PM-UJALA yojana, and internationally like the “One Sun, One World, One Grid initiative”.
Taking a step further, at COP27, India submitted its Long-Term Low Emission Development Strategy (LT LEDS) to UNFCCC, which included plans for rapid expansion of green hydrogen production, three-fold increase in nuclear capacity by 2032, 20 percent ethanol blending in petrol by 2025, and more. With this, India joins the select list of fewer than 60 parties that have submitted their LT LEDS and shows India’s readiness to fulfil its climate pledges. While all these steps portray the bold climate leadership of India, but certain areas remai unaddressed.
Areas of Improvement
- Energy Transition
The utilisation rate of coal power plants is falling. India’s coal mines use only two-thirds of the capacity with some large ones using only 1 percent, according to a Global Energy Monitor (GEM) analysis. Despite this situation, India hosted its biggest ever coalmine auction (141 new sites) just a few weeks ago, allowing mining in some of India’s most ecologically rich and fragile forests, and rural areas populated by tribal communities.
India’s coal, with its high ash content, is notoriously polluting and inefficient to burn, requiring twice as much to produce the same amount of power as imported coal. With falling prices of renewables, these new coal mines can become stranded assets in future, while adding heavily to emissions in the present. To get on a 1.5°C emissions pathway, Indian needs specific plans from now until 2070 to phase out old, low-efficiency power plants and reduce or stop new coal capacity additions.
India provides subsidies for both fossil fuels and renewable energy, including direct subsidies, fiscal incentives, price regulation, and other government support. According to a 2022 report by International Institute for Sustainable Development and Council on Energy, Environment and Water, as compared to previous financial years, the support for fossil fuels increased in 2021, with subsidies for coal, oil, and gas being nine times higher than the subsidies for renewables and Electric Vehicles (EVs). There is an immediate need to provide price support in the form of feed-in tariffs and to transfer subsidies from fossil to non-fossil sources to achieve higher penetration of renewables in the energy mix.
India must also develop a detailed assessment of the finance and time required for transition from coal to renewables, and a clear plan for its implementation.
India has initiated great schemes like FAME and tools like the e-Amrit portal for boosting EV sales. For instance, EV sales grew by 185 percent year on year this October. However, for EVs to truly contribute to reducing India’s emissions, the share of renewable energy over fossil fuel sources in India’s electricity generation must also increase. India’s climate pledge on renewable energy is based on installed capacity and not actual generation. According to actual generation, coal dominates while renewable energy holds a low 26 percent share. India must also develop a detailed assessment of the finance and time required for transition from coal to renewables, and a clear plan for its implementation. This will help India negotiate better for international financial support at intergovernmental dialogues and other key partnerships such as the G7-India Just Energy Transition Partnership.
During final days of COP27, India suggested including ‘phase down’ of all fossil fuels (not just coal) in the cover decision of COP27 which did not succeed this time. It will be a crucial point to persist on in the upcoming negotiations to promote emission reduction drastically worldwide.
- Carbon Sink
Since 2015, India has been planning on increasing its forest and tree cover and has initiated several programs like the Green India Mission, green highways policy, financial incentives for forests, plantations along rivers, and more to achieve the same. However, the total forest and tree cover in India in 2015 was 24.16 percent of the total land, barely increasing to 24.62 percent by 2021. While India has made bold commitments to restore 26 million hectares of deforested and degraded land (Bonn Challenge) and sequester an additional 2.5-3 billion tons of CO2 by 2030, in order to realise these goals, forest conservation and reforestation must be catalysed with appropriate funding. Ironically, the budget for the Green India Mission afforestation programme decreased from INR246 crore in 2020-21 to INR235 crore in 2021-22.
During 2015-16, India set up a National Adaptation Fund with an initial allocation of US$ 55.6 million (INR3,500 million) to combat the adaptation needs in crucial sectors, further assisting national and state-level adaptation measures financially. However, there exists a lack of accountability in monitoring the impact of the projects and a severe lack of information on its progress and financing in the public domain. Furthermore, the state adaptation plans need to downscale to the district level and develop comprehensive district-level plans. To promote locally-led adaptation. , local governing institutions, civil society organisations, and other stakeholders like indigenous people, youth, and women must be given direct access to finance and decision making on adaptation actions and must be further engaged via jobs, advisory boards, and consultations..
Around 60 percent of Indians depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and climate change is an existential threat to their yields and to India’s food security.
Moreover, there is an immediate need to specifically address agricultural adaptation. Around 60 percent of Indians depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and climate change is an existential threat to their yields and to India’s food security. Along with scaling and redesigning current programs, like on-farm water management and simplifying soil health cards, India must also develop robust programs on skill development for farmers , and implement financial security mechanisms enabling them to shift to climate-friendly agricultural practices like agroecology, crop diversification, use of organic fertilisers, promoting plant-based agriculture, alternative proteins, and more. This will in turn help reduce the massive share of carbon emissions from the agricultural sector, which is around a massive 14 percent in India.
The 2022-23 Union Budget announced sovereign green bonds under the government’s overall market borrowings in 2022-23, which will be used to raise funds for climate-friendly infrastructure. This is a great milestone accomplished to attract scalable capital for green projects in India. However, when compared with several developed and even developing countries, this move has come slightly late. It will be crucial to continue increasing the size of green bonds in the coming years to realise its true impact and further explore blue bonds to enhance climate action via investments in ocean ecosystems. Moreover, there is a significant need to mainstream climate change in India’s budget across sectors.
The 2022-23 Union Budget announced sovereign green bonds under the government’s overall market borrowings in 2022-23, which will be used to raise funds for climate-friendly infrastructure.
COP27 and beyond
Although India has only 2.4 percent of the world’s land area and is using only 6.1 percent of the world’s primary energy, it supports around 18 percent of the global human and the largest livestock population in the world. The actions India is taking to support climate action while over 228.9 million Indians live in poverty are unparalleled. However, looking at the magnitude of the challenge staring at us, more needs to be done. To go the extra mile, international climate finance (grants and concessional loans) can play a very significant role. At COP27, India pushed for climate finance (including implementing the annual funding from the floor of US$100 billion), but the progress has been slow. India must take a leading role in helping operationalise the finance and stocktaking mechanisms of the UNFCCC and the historic loss and damage fund adopted at Sharm el-Sheikh.
Ambition and prioritisation of climate action in national policies coupled with fuelling international cooperation can help India overcome the climate crisis and ambitiously lead global climate action to safeguard the future of our planet.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).