India’s Climate Policy: A Formidable Conundrum
By Shweta Srinivasan, Research Scientist
Climate change and issues pertaining to mitigating adverse impacts of climate change are increasingly finding mentions in national policy dialogues, ever since India announced its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) at Paris in 2015. India had ratified the Paris Agreement shortly after. The agreement detailed out the need to reach a global peaking of human-induced CO2 emissions soon, while acknowledging that developing countries may take longer to reach their peak, keeping in mind their development goals and efforts to eradicate poverty. These countries, the agreement noted, will have to undertake rapid reductions thereafter so as to limit global warming.
This situation puts developing countries like India in a seeming conundrum. Around 22% of India’s population live in poverty; about 300 million people still lack access to electricity; 500 million people rely on biomass for cooking; 70 million families are in need of housing. Hence, bridging our development gap and addressing equity concerns need to be done in an increasingly carbon-constrained world.
India’s climate change policy has transformed since the 2008 National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) which included eight sub-missions with modest targets. It has gathered steam with the 2015 NDC pledges — 33% reduction in emission intensity of GDP over 2005 levels, increasing the share of installed capacity of fossil-free power to 40% and creating additional carbon sinks of 2.5–3 GtCO2e. India also founded and now leads the International Solar Alliance which seeks to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by focussing on opportunities to explore solar resources.
Many observers agree that these targets and the recent policy thrust are balanced and rightly safeguard India’s right to develop. The NDC itself remained anchored to principles of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) and is in line with India’s capabilities. So far, India has not yet undergone a high fossil intensive growth — its emissions intensity of GDP and per capita emissions are quite low. However, going forward, all eyes are on us. How will India marry its growth ambition with our goal to remain ‘sustainable’?
CSTEP’s Climate Policy team sees this as intrinsically linked to various factors:
1) Dynamic Structure of our Economy and Consumption Drivers: Will we manufacture more, incentivise growth of small enterprises or the service sector, or target improvements in agricultural incomes? What will be the role of rising per capita incomes on consumption patterns and lifestyles? These changes in the economic structure have wide-ranging consequences on India’s future emissions and climate policy.
2) The Role of Transformative Technologies: There are already options available like super-efficient appliances, electric vehicles, alternative building materials and diverse solar applications that can significantly alter the emission intensity of growth. Can we leapfrog to early adoption of these technologies? Will the implications across sectors vary? How can policy and markets facilitate this? With the second largest population in the world, can we demonstrate this at scale to actually facilitate the required global carbon reduction needed?
3) Technology and Resources Constraints: Even as we plan our infrastructure now, several technologies are still at lab-scale and not ready for large-scale deployment or are still very costly. Similarly, while we may plan for the use of alternate and green resources — there are physical constraints on the production or imports of these resources (e.g. Carbon Capture and Storage Technologies and Third-Generation Biofuels).
CSTEP’s research in this domain is informed by a stylised framework based on the Sustainable Development Policies and Measures (SD-PAM) approach. We use various modelling tools such as macroeconomic models, energy systems optimisation tools, techno-economic evaluations and qualitative multi-criteria analyses to evaluate the aforementioned factors in this framework.