Perspective of India: Mitigating and Adapting Climate Change Impact

Updated: Feb 17

Executive Summary

Over the next half century, temperatures across the world are projected to touch extreme highs due to climate change. Up to one-third of the world’s population is going to be exposed to ‘near unlivable’ conditions as a direct result of human induced changes to the climate. The basic fabric of sustenance is in delicate balance with our actions today impacting our as well as our future generations’ lives going forward for better or for worse.

India’s low emergency preparedness, high population density, large coastline, and high dependence on agriculture make the country especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As an emerging superpower, India can set an example for other nations as it transforms from fossil fuel sources of energy to renewable energy sources.

The abundance of greenhouse gas (GHG) in the atmosphere traps heat, causing the Earth to warm up. India ranks third in greenhouse gas emissions and it is expected that carbon emissions will continue to rise. The Industrial sector in India relies heavily on coal-powered plants and other fossil fuels and is the biggest contributor to GHG emissions in India. While 78 % of the GHG emissions come from the energy sector, the agriculture sector too contributes a meaningful share, mainly due to lack of proper regulation.

This paper provides an analysis of the causes of climate change, its effects so far and potential impacts going forward detailing environmental, economic, and social costs for India. It also explores the factors that make India disproportionately vulnerable to long term effects of climate change as well as how India plans to achieve its ambitious targets for adopting renewable energy sources.

The country needs a comprehensive policy that standardizes the legislative framework for renewable energy, attracts credit-worthy buyers of renewable energy, and enhances overall power reliability by upgrading outdated grid infrastructure. It is important that the country maintains its low per capita emissions throughout the implementation phase of the policy.

Innovation coupled with policy interventions will pave the path for a more sustainable India. Efforts to engage resources in nuclear and solar energy sources is a promising endeavor, and India should tap into the potential of rooftop solar power. Afforestation can create carbon sinks for the country, helping India achieve its target of 2.5-3 billion tonne carbon sinks by 2030. International collaborations for nuclear fusion energy projects can

prove to be a groundbreaking solution to reducing India’s carbon footprint as well.


The science is clear; the climate is changing. The observed changes over the decades have been triggered by human-induced global warming. Global warming is the rapid increase in Earth’s average temperature due to excessive combustion of fuels like coal, oil, and gas, forming a heat-trapping blanket in the atmosphere. According to the 2018 Emissions Gap Report by the United Nations Environment Programme, burning fossil fuel dumps over 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gases every ten minutes, which means that every day we add a

layer of carbon dioxide to the atmospheric blanket that is 1.27 pieces of paper thick. As indicated by NASA Climate Change, human activities have increased carbon dioxide levels by 47% above pre-industrial levels. The second decade of the New Millennium has been the hottest on record, and 2019 has been the hottest year. These changes exceed the natural increase in temperature as indicated in the graph below.

Figure 1: Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index

The change in climate has resulted in financial and human capital loss globally. A report on weather-related loss events in 2018 revealed that Japan, the Philippines, and Germany were the most affected countries with about 495,000 deaths as a direct result of more than 12,000 extreme weather events globally (Global Climate Risk 2020, Germanwatch). Losses between 1999 and 2018 amounted to around US$ 3.54 trillion (in purchasing power parities). In 2018, India was ranked as the fifth most affected country with 2,081 deaths and a loss of 0.36% per unit in GDP. The Monsoon season (June-September) was notably affected due to these changes, facing unreliable levels of the annual rains. Its impact was recorded in the state of Kerala in 2018 when landslides provoked by flooding led to 324 deaths, 220,000 displacement people, and economic losses worth US$ 2.8 billion 1 . These events highlight the severity of a changing climate and its devastating consequences for both the environment and humankind. Hence, solving the issue should be a priority.

Figure 2: Kerala Floods, 2019

The extent of carbon emission reduction will depend on global commitments. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been ratified by 189 countries and professes that atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases would be limited to prevent dangerous interference with the climate system. International consensus has been building to contribute to common but differentiated activities with a special focus on developing countries for taking the lead, so looking at India becomes a priority, and we will explore this further in the next section. Certain countries have also made progress in accordance with the Paris Agreement - France has committed to a no-oil drilling policy after 2040, New Zealand has committed to net zero emissions by 2050, and India has made changes to domestic policies to mainstream renewable energy by committing to achieve

about 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil-fuel energy resources by 2030 . While there has been momentum towards devising innovative and transformative policies towards a low carbon future, there is a greater need for a more resilient endeavor. The quest is to solve not just an environmental crisis but a humanitarian one as well.


India is particularly vulnerable to the wide ranging impacts of climate change due to its geographical location in the tropics, demographic factors such as its large population, and social factors such as high levels of poverty.

2.1 Population Density

India is home to approximately 1.4 billion people or 18% of the world’s population. The average population density in India is 464 people per sq. km., which is 31 times the global average. In the event of a natural disaster, a significantly larger percentage of the population will be at risk as compared to a low population density nation such as the United states of America or which has about 1/13th the population density of India.

2.2 Low emergency preparedness

Under the Disaster Management Act of 2005, India set up the NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) to serve as the country’s primary line of defense against natural disasters and to combat their risks and threats. While the organization aims to save lives before and during a natural calamity, it has no authority or funds to deal with the aftermath. This inefficiency leaves thousands of people homeless, hungry and without any government support post natural disasters. The organization also suffers from

the lack of pre-warning to large scale disasters, leading to greater loss of lives and displaced citizens as was witnessed during the flooding of the Godavari and the Uttarakhand landslides in 2017.

According to Government of India data, 60% of the Indian landmass is susceptible to earthquakes of varying magnitudes, 40 million hectares of the landmass is prone to floods, 8% of the total area can be hit by cyclones, and 68% of the area is susceptible to droughts. Thus, India’s overdependence on the central agency comes at a cost to both human life and infrastructure. According to research conducted by the Carnegie Endowment, India’s bureaucracy is largely undermanned, and the capacity of the Indian states suffer from a serious lack of penetration in most areas. Given the current constraints of resources,

India’s best chance at mitigating the effects of any natural disaster is to prepare for them in advance.

2.3 Vulnerable population along the coastlines

As an equatorial country with approximately 7500 kilometers of coastline (49.4 % of the total boundary line), India is especially vulnerable to tropical storms and rising ocean levels. For example, Mumbai has a population density 157 times the national average. ( Mumbai Population 2020 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs) , 2020 ); its vast population is threatened each year due to stronger cyclone formations caused by global warming and rising temperatures of the seas. While cyclones in general are destructive, the effect

of these storms on India is much more severe due to the density of population living on the coasts. For instance, super cyclone ‘Amphan’ touched India’s Eastern Coast causing damage to infrastructure at such a scale that it has been challenging to assess its monetary costs. While the general answer to rising storm intensities along the coast is to migrate inland, India has a frightening population density which makes inward migration difficult for coast dwellers. This makes approximately 400 million people vulnerable to cyclones and hurricanes, which have been hitting the Indian coast with increasing frequency and intensity. This factor is one of the prime reasons India should be and is increasingly one of the focal points for the fight against global warming.

Figure 3: Cyclone Amphan

2.4 Poverty

Poverty and natural disasters along with persistently high levels of air and water pollution place India among one of the most disadvantaged countries. In 2018, 10.7 % of India’s population was living on less than a dollar a day and almost 2/3 rd of the Indian population was living under two dollars a day.

In 2020, super Cyclone Amphan, alone caused $13.6 billion worth of damage, affecting people under poverty disproportionately. Some effects of climate change such as the air quality index affects everyone, however, it is especially dangerous for the poor and the homeless. Air pollution can cause respiratory infections, cancers, strokes, and premature deaths, and for people with little to no access to healthcare, they are more vulnerable to its harmful effects. A healthy AQI is between 0 and 50, but in 2019, Delhi hit an AQI of 999. For a country with millions under the poverty line, natural disasters due to global warming not only take lives, but also place pressure on future generations to remain under


2.5 Dependence on agriculture

India is predominantly an agrarian society and almost 50% of Indians work in agriculture or related industries, which in turn are highly dependent on the southwest monsoons; these bring 75% of India’s total rainfall, making 55% of India’s arable land dependent on monsoons. The entire northern Indian landscape of cash crops as well as subsistence agriculture is almost entirely rain fed through seasonal streams enriched by monsoon rainfall. According to an estimate, 350 million Indians directly depend on the stability of the monsoon with the food security of not just India but several other nations which import food from India being threatened if monsoons fail to deliver enough water to crops. In addition, the monsoons are also especially concentrated in the coastal regions of the Western Ghats making them a prime region of India’s agriculture. However, due to their over-dependence on monsoon and the constant threat from tropical storms, their bounty is never fully realized.

India’s social and geographical conditions make it particularly vulnerable to the long-term impact of the climate crises. In the next section we will discuss the generalized scientific processes that explain why the climate is changing, with respect to the key causes and contributors of climate change in India.

3.0 Energy Sector Deep Dive

India continues to rely heavily on its energy resources to drive and sustain its economic growth, which has been substantial in the past two decades. The energy demand in all the sectors including agriculture, industrial, commercial, and household has increased. Additionally, an increased level of electrification has resulted in the electricity consumption to grow at a higher rate than the GDP. The manufacturing industries referenced below (Figure 10) include industries engaged in manufacturing of Cement , Iron & Steel,

Chemicals, Pulp & Paper , Textile/Leather , Fertilizer etc. This has resulted in the Energy Sector contributing to more than 70% of GHG emissions, as seen previously, with the sub-sectoral split as below.

Figure 10 : Distribution of CO2e emissions (Gg) across the Energy Sector Categories in 2014

Evidently, the energy industry sector, which is the total of all the industries involved in the production and sale of energy, including fuel extraction, manufacturing, refining and distribution, has a significant contribution. The huge amount of CO2 emissions from this industry can be attributed to India’s heavy reliance on conventional methods of energy production, namely combustion of coal and fossil fuels, in Thermal power plants, which remain primary sources of energy supply, as is evidenced in Fig [10].Diving further, a key category assessment conducted for India’s Second Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change revealed that within Energy Industries, 95% of emissions were from electricity production, ~4% from the refinery and ~1% from manufacturing of solid fuels.. Below graphic summarizes the key sector, industry and activity primarily accountable for India’s contribution to Global Warming owing to GHG emissions.

The high emission of GHGs from the energy sector is tied to India’s heavy reliance on conventional methods of harnessing energy, i.e., by combustion of coal and fossil fuels in thermal power plants. Currently, 62% of India’s installed capacity consists of Thermal power (refer Fig. 11).

Figure 11 : Category wise installed capacity in India (2020), as per National Power Portal

Until now, this dependence could be justified because energy production from coal was the cheapest form of producing energy in India. However, with recent advancement in technology to harness renewable energy, it is critical to shift focus from thermal power. As per Bloomberg NEF’s latest analysis solar is the cheapest source of producing electricity in India, which is in fact 14% less than the cost of electricity generated from coal. 4 This further underlines the importance of making harnessing renewable sources of energy mainstream. The impact of global warming and the repercussions of an increase in GHG concentration in the atmosphere can be better understood by looking at the multi-faceted changes observed so far.


The global temperature has shown a strictly increasing trend worldwide since the last 50 years. There have been several instances which have resulted due to the change in climate, be it the deteriorating marine life, due to changing pH and increasing heat content of the oceans globally, or the increase in incidents of floods, and heatwaves in India. Unfortunately, the world still links economic growth with carbon emission, and does not seem to treat its emission as a threat. This has created both an environmental and humanitarian crisis as discussed below.

4.1 Seasonal Variations

As per the India Meteorological Department, the past decade has been the warmest and driest ever on record. A study by the Centre for Science Environment (CSE) showed that In Southern India, winters in 2017 have turned to be warmer by 2.95 degree Celsius, which has been the highest in recorded history. Following this, the worst drought of the century hit Southern India in 2019.

Trends have shown that summer monsoon rainfall (which comes from June to September) has declined by 6% in the last 50 years. This has led to an increase in drought incidents over India, with notable decrease in Indo-Gangetic plains, along with a decrease in the crop production in the Kharif season cropping in these areas. The areas affected by drought have also shown an increase of 1.3%. This has led to a 27% rise in the frequency of dry spells in India during 1981-2011 as compared to that in 1951-1980.

4.2 Food Security and Crop Yield

The increasing surface temperature has impacted the food security by impacting the precipitation, water availability, weather, rainfall patterns, and sea levels. India’s grain production is vulnerable to climate change, say scientists who have found that the yield of the country’s rice crop has shown larger declines during extreme weather conditions. The impact of climate change on food security is substantive. As per Dr. B Venkatachalu, former director at International Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture

(CRIDA), Hyderabad, climate change has affected all the three aspects of food security i.e., availability, accessibility, and absorption. Such effects of climate change hit the poor the most. He also stated that climate change has about 4-10 per cent impact on agriculture each year. Considering agriculture contributes 15 per cent to India’s GDP, climate change presumably causes upto 1.5- per cent loss in GDP.

4.3 Ocean Acidification and Rise in Ocean Heat Content

Almost 93% of excess heat energy trapped since the 1970s has been absorbed into the oceans, leading to a variety of changes in ocean conditions, including sea level rise and ocean circulation. Since the late 18th century, the earth’s oceans have absorbed almost 30% of the additional carbon dioxide created due to human activities.

This extra CO2 in the oceans has decreased the pH levels of oceans, which is a process known as ocean acidification. Ocean heat content (OHC) is an ideal variable to monitor changing climate as it is calculated using the entire water column, so ocean warming can be documented and compared between regions, ocean basins, and depths.

As per the U.S. Government climate report trends show that Indian Ocean has been the worst affected amongst all the oceans. This has adversely impacted the Marine fish, seabirds and marine mammals, including high levels of mortalities, loss of breeding grounds and mass movements as species search for favourable environmental conditions.

Figure 12: Ocean Acidification and Rise in Ocean Heat Content

As per a report by the United Nations, it is estimated that marine and freshwater capture fisheries and aquaculture provide 4.3 billion people with about 15% of their animal protein. This change in the dynamics of the oceans has added more to the already existing threat to food security and livelihood. Economically, on a global scale, losses related to ocean warming are estimated to run from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. Considering that the fish consumption in Indian states like Goa, and Kerala is almost 170% of the global average consumption, such effects could be seen on a greater level in these areas.

4.4 Health Risks

Climate change has had a major role to play in the advent of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, and chikungunya. The geographical incidence and distribution of the dengue virus has shown a change due to climate change. A.C. Dhariwal, who is an advisor at the National Vector Borne Diseases Control Programme (NVBDCP), reported that dengue cases used to surface around monsoon, but with changes in the climate and other environmental factors, dengue occurrence is changing as cases are reported round the year. As reported by NVBDCP in Figure 13, till June 24, 2020, more than 87,000

cases of dengue were reported in India.

Figure 13: Number of case of mosquito-borne diseases before monsoon

The data compiled by the World Health Organization suggests that malarial parasites have shown a significant drop in its breeding speed at a higher temperature. P. Falciparum, which is one of the most prevalent malarial parasites has shown almost a 50% fall in the duration required for sporogony on increasing temperature from 20 degree Celsius to 25 degree Celsius. Such findings indicate a positive correlation between the increase in the incidents of mosquito-borne diseases pre-monsoon, and the climate change. Such changes are alarming indeed and show a much more disastrous picture of the

future, if left unmanaged.


The 2019 Global Climate Risk Index revealed that South Asian and South-East Asian countries will suffer the worst effects of climate change. India, the third largest contributor of carbon emissions, is on the cusp of dramatic human induced climatic changes in the coming decades and if the emissions are left unmanaged, the effects of these changes could be catastrophic as they will incite environmental, economic, and social costs.

5.1 Environmental Effects

A report by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) suggests that India will suffer worse heatwaves, droughts, floods, cloud bursts and the vast coastline will be adversely affected. Similar findings were reported by a study by Germanwatch that historically (1998-2017) the South-East Asian band of countries, and India, have suffered extreme weather events. India’s average temperature increased by 0.7 degrees Celsius between 1901 and 2018. The current emissions scenario will be responsible for an increase of a whopping 4.4 degrees Celsius for India by the end of the century.

5.1.1 Temperature

A change in an external driver of climate change, such as, the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs), specifically, carbon dioxide (CO 2 ), for example leads to a radiative forcing 5 . In simpler terms, it explains the energy imbalance in the atmosphere caused due to changes in the climate, causing the global temperature to rise. Figure 15 below illustrates the increase in average temperature for India. The temperature change can increase the frequency of hotter days, which will increase the frequency of heat waves across India.

Figure 14: Projected increase in average temperature (for India)

Another imminent threat is to the majestic Himalayan ranges. It is forecasted that under the RCP8.5 scenario, the surface temperature of the Hindu Kush Himalayas would increase by approximately 5.2 degrees by the end of this century. This will lead to a dramatic rise in the retreating of glaciers which are the major sources of water for the rivers of northern India. This impact would increase manifold, especially in seasons other than the

monsoon season, which would directly affect water supply in the northern parts of India.

5.2 Economic Effects

The impact of climate change is not limited to the environment alone. It is estimated that the economic costs will be considerable too, in addition to being non-linear in nature. Countries that have a large section of people living in poverty will suffer much more than richer countries. According to a working paper by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the economic costs are borne primarily by the rural population as well as the disadvantaged low income groups living in urban areas. One of the hazards they are exposed to are intermittent floods that destroy farmlands and crops. Slum dwellers residing in low lying areas of major cities are also the most prone to flooding during monsoon. India is a net importer and carries out 95% of its international trade (by volume) through shipping ports (Dellink, R. et al, 2017). Due to increase in ocean temperatures, storms and disasters will increase in the coming years, creating impediments to trade. This impact also translates directly to a reduction in foreign investments pouring in for emerging economies. Figure 15 illustrates how India’s exports and imports are going to be the worst affected as compared to other regions.

Figure 15: Changes in trade volumes due to climate change impacts (Projected % change in 2060 vs no-damage baseline scenario)

5.3 Social Costs

The environmental costs are very closely related to the social costs of climate change.

5.3.1 Mass Displacement

Looking at historical data, the sea around India has risen by 3.3 millimetres (mm) per year between 1993 and 2017. By 2100, under a medium emissions scenario, it is estimated that the seas will rise by an additional 300mm. This translates to an acceleration in the depletion of the coastline and an increased frequency of storms and flooding along the coastline. This also means that displacement of people living along the coastal regions is inevitable. Figure 17 illustrates the increased displacement of people as the frequency and severity of disasters


Figure 16: Cumulative Disaster Displacements in India

5.3.2 Human Cost of Disasters

It has been established through widespread research that climate change is linked to increasing extreme weather events such as storms, cyclones, and floods. These disasters have taken a toll on human lives across the world. India has been affected much more due to a vast proportion of its population living along or near the coastline. India, with 1083 million affected ranks second, only after China in terms of the total population affected by disasters from 2000-2019. If we look at the top ten countries in terms of the deaths, India comes sixth as shown below in the figure. If strict climate policies are not enacted, the situation will become worse in the future with a higher percentage of the population being exposed to the disastrous effects of climate change.

Figure 17: Top ten countries (in dark red) by total deaths (2000-2019)

5.3.3 Food Security

According to a recent forecast, it is estimated that if climate change is not controlled, then the yield of major crops is going to decline by up to 25%. India’s high dependence on agriculture coupled with rising population levels makes this a very serious issue. A study done by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute has also shown that increasing temperatures are detrimental to the fish population residing in the oceans. Being a staple

diet of a lot of people along the south-western and eastern coastline, increasing temperatures will put stress on the availability of fish as a source of food. The below figure illustrates that by 2060, India is going to be the most affected with major crop yields (such as those of rice and wheat) decreasing by almost 30-40% due to higher temperatures.

Figure 18: Impact of climate change on yields of selected crops (projected scenario based on climate change impacts)

The above sections show the precarious position India is in with respect to the effects of climatic changes. The average income levels of Indians are also quite low suggesting the fact that rising disasters due to human induced climate change are going to impact them even severely. The unfortunate truth is that even though these climatic changes are global in nature, the effects are going to be felt much more in countries such as India. As the world is switching to renewable sources of energy, an emission free future in India is heavily reliant on how fast the country can adapt to clean energy sources, foregoing its dependence on traditional sources of energy. The section below explores India’s journey to utilizing cleaner and greener sources of energy.


While India ranks third in the world in annual carbon dioxide emissions (UCUSA, 2020), the country’s large population serves it well as it results in low levels of per capita emissions and a high ranking in efforts to combat climate change. As we explore the initiatives taken by the Government of India to control the effects of climate change, we will use a critical lens to understand their effectiveness and drawbacks. Since the global carbon system is interlocked, more mitigation in India does not mean that the country gets to keep those benefits. However, India has the potential to facilitate positive spillover effects in other economies despite the country’s 7 % contribution to global emissions (UNEP, 2019).

83 % of electricity and heat generation in India is dependent on coal, oil, and gas sources, while only 17 % is produced through renewable sources like hydro, wind, and nuclear. To reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels for energy, the Government of India started laying emphasis on emission mitigation policy to control GHG emissions and energy use and encourage the use and adoption of renewable energy. In recognition of the measures taken by India to achieve its Paris climate targets, the country was ranked 9 th by the Climate Change Performance Index in 2020 (Bals et al, 2019).

Figure 19: Progress So Far

6.1 Challenges to renewable energy

The use of renewable energy sources in India has grown due to several factors such as concerns about the environmental impacts of conventional fossil fuel sources, growing populations and urbanization, as well as the decreasing cost of renewable technologies (Sonnichsen, 2020). Despite the obvious benefits, several factors have prevented the mainstreaming of renewable energy. First, India lacks a comprehensive national policy and

legislative framework for renewable energy. Existing policies and programmes are technology-specific and vary across states restricting strategic intent.

Second, there is an acute shortage of willing and credit-worthy buyers of RE-based electricity. Most of the financially distressed power distribution companies, also the bulk purchasers of power, have held back from buying expensive power (whether conventional or renewable-based) thus confining power markets.Finally, inadequate, and outdated grid infrastructure and operations have affected not just the renewable energy sector but also overall power reliability. Placing renewables at the center of India’s power system will therefore require a paradigm shift in planning and governance practices. In the succeeding sections, we will look at the government initiatives to decrease net carbon emissions and increase the use of renewable energy.

6.2 Renewable Energy Objectives

In 2015, India set a target to install 175 GW from renewable energy sources by 2022, of which 100 GW will be from solar photovoltaic (PV), 60 GW from wind, 10 GW from biomass, and 5 GW from small hydropower stations (MNRE, 2018). As of October 2019, of the 175 GW interim target, 83 GW is already operational, 29 is under installation, 30 GW is under bidding, and remaining 43 GW is under planning. This has been made possible due to a drop in equipment and material prices and a strong global and private interest in renewables.

There are environmental benefits (less pollution), social benefits (local employment opportunities) and investment inflows, which may need to be monetized to assess the complete range of benefits (NITI Aayog, 2015). However, this goal is being met by certain hurdles like a slowdown in capacity addition and arbitrary barriers, resulting in postponement or cancellation of bids.

6.3 Alternate Energy Objectives

Under the Paris Agreement, India has committed to achieve about 40 % cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil-fuel energy resources by 2030. India’s non-fossil fuel electricity capacity, which includes renewables, large hydro, and nuclear, was 38 % of its total installed electricity mix, as of September 2019—just 2 % short of its 2030 target. Of this, the share of installed renewables alone (grid-connected solar, wind, small hydro, biomass, and waste-to-energy) is 23%. During the UN’s Climate Week in New York 2019,

India’s Prime Minister committed to a target of 450 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy installations , likely by 2030—equivalent to five times more than India’s current installed renewable capacity (82.6 GW) and bigger than the size of India’s electricity grid size in 2019 (362 GW).

6.4 Carbon Sink Objectives

Additionally, India also committed to creating a cumulative carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. However, the progress has been limited and the country has more work to do on this target. Over half of this target could be achieved by the Green India Mission, which is expected to enhance annual carbon sequestration by about 100 MtCO 2 e (Government of India, 2015). The other half of this target could be met through afforestation on non-forest land. The main hurdle for this goal is financing - more than $13.5 billion per annum is needed till 2030 or later to achieve this target (Sharma, 2017). The drawback of this target is that the money required would have to be pulled out from existing poverty alleviation and rural development schemes (Sharma, 2017).

6.5 Where do we stand today?

One of the long-term goals of climate policy in India is to remain below the world average of per capita emissions. However, UNDP’s Climate Change report of 2009 reported that no country in history has improved its level of human development without corresponding increase in per capita use of energy. The current initiatives and policies of the government do not focus on controlling for this measure, which could be of concern soon. To encourage alternative sources of energy, coal and gas subsidies need to be removed. India’s response to climate change largely centers around the goals set by the Paris agreement and there is no good way to know if it is enough to combat the crisis. The fact that India has started to move towards a low carbon system is promising, however, these goals should ideally set the floor for India and not the ceiling.


The primary focus of India should be on ambitious climate targets and actions that contribute towards the transformations required to align global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions pathways with the Paris Agreement goals. The report hopes to enhance ambition and action. India’s population is on the rise and we expect to peak at 1.6 billion in 2050. As all nations are striving for economic growth, with an increase in GDP/capita, we would have more emissions. To realistically achieve the 1.5 C targets set by Paris, the government needs to ensure strict action, slow down emissions, cap emissions for the future and then gradually reduce annual emissions. India needs innovation, a more robust global collaboration, and an action oriented government. Transformations in all areas mentioned above will require major shifts in investment patterns and financial flows, as well as several sectoral and economy-wide policy targets (Refer to Figure 22).

Figure 20: Investment patterns and Financial Flows in Policy Strategy

Technological and economic developments present opportunities to decarbonize the economy, especially in the Energy Sector, at a cost that is lower than ever before. India needs to exploit the synergies between climate action, economic growth, and development objectives. An analysis by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate estimates that climate action could generate trillions of dollars in economic benefits between now and 2030 and create millions of jobs, while avoiding more than a 100,000 premature deaths from air pollution. If managed responsibly, most mitigation options are consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C and would have strong synergies with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, investments in local production of sustainable battery technologies will add to the economy and help decrease GHGs.

Figure 21: Solutions

7.1 Scaling Up - Current Sustainable Technologies

To speed up the transition away from fossil fuels, we need to leverage and exploit present technologies as much as we can. India needs to scale up present sustainable technologies.

7.1.1 Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Energy is the largest source of energy in France at 70 % of total installed capacity, whereas in India, it is only 3 % to 4 %. India has an installed nuclear power capacity of 7 GW with 7 more nuclear reactors in construction increasing the capacity to 13 GW. Nuclear power in India has suffered from low capacity factors due to lack of nuclear fuel with modest reserves of 96,000 tons of low grade Uranium. The 48-nation NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) granted a waiver to India on 6 September 2008, allowing it to access civilian nuclear technology and fuel from other countries. India is the only country with known nuclear weapons which is not a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but is still allowed to carry out nuclear commerce with the rest of the world. This has helped India to sign agreements with various countries to supply Uranium and Nuclear technology.

The bold target of 60 GW of Nuclear Power set by NCIPL till 2032 may not see the light at the end of the tunnel as a rather modest 22 GW Nuclear Power is now estimated to come to fruition. India faces issues on and around fuel use, importing nuclear technology, and legal foundations of safe equipment from technology suppliers. Introducing new technology and creating policies to invite public-private partnerships will enhance opportunities to reach the desired goal of reducing carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

7.1.2 Solar Energy

India is leading the world in Solar Energy by forming the International Solar Alliance (121 countries) with nearly 36 GW of installed capacity and setting a bold target of 100 GW of Solar Energy by 2022. The potential of this renewable resource has been realized and huge investments of nearly $100 billion are targeted. Solar energy installation can also benefit individuals living in the rural part of the country, who are currently living without electricity due to the under-developed power grid. Solar power complements wind energy which generates power during the monsoon months in India. Finding strategic locations for a hybrid Solar Wind farm is key. India needs to tap into the potential of rooftop solar power as it requires no additional land.

Figure 22: A typical rooftop solar panel setup

7.1.3 Afforestation - Are we sinking the Carbon Sink?

India has a forest cover of about 24.5% of its land and has a target of a 33% cover. In India, projects that necessitate the use of forest areas for non-forest purposes, such as mining and infrastructure projects, are required by law to undertake compensatory afforestation on an equivalent piece of non-forest land. Forest departments have largely created monoculture plantations of non-indigenous, commercial species such as eucalyptus, acacia, and teak under compensatory afforestation projects. The government counts such plantations

as forests.

The plantation scheme is a component by which the government maintains that it is increasing forests, thus fulfilling a key commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to counter climate change by creating carbon sinks. However, these monocultures create more problems than solutions and destroy biodiversity. Natural forests once destroyed are hard to recover. While afforestation takes effort and a certain amount of time to

develop forest cover, it can help create carbon sinks . India needs a more inclusive and conservative policy to maintain our natural woods and ensure rehabilitation of local tribes.

Figure 23: India’s forest cover as of 2017

7.2 Innovation

India will require policies that price carbon emissions harshly, increase carbon taxes each year, and subsidise sustainable technologies to incentivise the industries to transition into a greener world. The government should work closely with the automotive industry in phasing out fossil fuel vehicles, especially passenger diesel cars, reducing tariffs for electric vehicles, and incentivising technologies that enable sustainable battery systems.

7.2.1 Nuclear Fusion Energy

Nuclear Fusion Energy is produced when two atoms of Hydrogen fuse together to form Helium. It offers the prospect of an almost inexhaustible source of energy for future generations, with no carbon emissions and no radioactive waste. International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is an international nuclear fusion

research and engineering megaproject. It is an experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor being built in France. The project is funded and run by seven member entities—the European Union, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. It is designed to create a plasma of 500 megawatts (thermal) for around twenty minutes while 50 megawatts of thermal power are injected into the tokamak (reaction vessel), resulting in a ten-fold gain of plasma heating power. The machine aims to demonstrate, for the first time in a fusion reactor, the principle of producing more thermal power than is used to heat the plasma. The use of fusion power plants could reduce the environmental impacts of increasing world electricity demands because they would not contribute to the greenhouse effect. Fusion power could easily satisfy the energy needs associated with continued economic growth, given the ready availability of fuels. There will be no danger of a

runaway fusion reaction because this is intrinsically impossible. Any malfunction would result in a rapid shutdown of the plant. It is safe and abundant; India should not lose out on Nuclear Fusion because of lack of technology as we have seen in other sectors.

7.2.2 Blue Hydrogen and Green Hydrogen

Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas, with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology scooping up the resulting CO2. Green hydrogen, in contrast, is produced by using (ideally dirt-cheap) renewable electricity to power an electrolyzer that splits the hydrogen from water molecules. Blue hydrogen relies on natural gas, with all the price volatility and geopolitics that comes with it, and also, the development of cheap and effective CCS. Green hydrogen, however, requires cheaper electricity than is currently available as well as an end market for hydrogen that can sustain high electrolyzer utilization rates. Both these technologies offer solutions for industries, seaports, agricultural irrigation, and remote areas where the power grid is inconsistent.

7.3 What can India do?

The major long-term sectoral transformations needed to reach net zero GHG emissions globally can be summarized as follows:

1. Full decarbonization of the energy sector based on renewable energy and electrification across sectors, including phasing out coal-fired power plants.

2. Decarbonization of the transport sector in parallel with modal shifts to public transportation, making major cities conducive for cycling and walking.

3. Enhanced agricultural management as well as demand-side measures such as dietary shifts to more sustainable, plant-based diets and measures to reduce food waste.

4. Zero net deforestation and the adoption of policies to conserve and restore land carbon stocks and protect natural ecosystems by aiming for significant net CO2 uptake in this sector. India needs to decouple GDP growth with carbon emissions by increasing GDP and reducing carbon emissions simultaneously. This needs cogent and effective policy changes across industries and innovation will play a crucial role in achieving the goals.

8.0 Conclusion

As a developing nation with a large population, India is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. The country’s reliance on traditional sources of energy, specifically in the energy sector is alarming. Through this paper, we have attempted to analyse a complex issue that is defining India’s present and will continue to define the future. India’s developmental projects aimed at reducing poverty should particularly calculate the environmental costs as the latter can induce the former. Balancing environmental, economic, and social costs and benefits of climate change policies will be pivotal to the future growth of the country. India is a rising superpower; therefore, a judicious strategy is indispensable not only for India but for the world. The country must attach importance to the issue of climate change, formulate and implement a sustainable strategy through technology and policy.


Shatakshi Sharma is a management consultant with BCG and Co- Founder of Global Governance Initiative with feature publication on Yourstory.

Prior to graduate school at ISB, she was Strategic Advisor with the Government of India where she drove good governance initiatives and her work was featured by the Economic Times. She was also felicitated with a National Young Achiever Award for Nation Building. She is a part time blogger on her famous series-MBA in 2 minutes.

Naman Shrivastava is the Co-Founder of Global Governance Initiative. He has previously worked as a Strategy Consultant in the Government of India and is working at the United Nations - Office of Internal Oversight Services. Naman is also a recipient of the prestigious Harry Ratliffe Memorial Prize - awarded by the Fletcher Alumni of Color Executive Board. He has been part of speaking engagements at International forums such as the World Economic Forum, UN South-South Cooperation etc. His experience has been at the intersection of Management Consulting, Political Consulting, and Social entrepreneurship.

Anmol Vermais the Chief Mentor at GGI and­­­­ Director of Growth at Proactive for her, a women’s health start-up. Before this, she worked at Arisaig Partners as an investment analyst and was a founding team member of the Arisaig Next Generation (a global impact) Fund. After graduating from SRCC in 2015, she also spent 1.5 years at BCG. Anmol is a running enthusiast, an avid reader and loves working on projects at the intersection of technology and social impact.


Nitya Garg is an undergraduate pursuing a degree in Policy Analysis and Public Financial Management from Indiana University, Bloomington.

Pragya Srivastava is pursuing a degree in Political Science from Hindu College, University of Delhi

Shramay Jha is an undergraduate pursuing a Political Science degree from Ashoka University

Arjun Vasant Kumar is an MBA in Finance from NMIMS Mumbai and currently working at Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance

Sarthak Singal is anMBA candidate at Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode

Soukhya Rawool is an MBA candidate at Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow.

Ishan Gautam is an alumnus of Shri Ram College of Commerce and currently an MBA candidate at Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow.

If you are interested to apply to GGI Impact Fellowship, you can access our application link here .


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1: NASA Climate Change

2: DNA India

3: OpIndia

4: mindthegraph.com

5: The Natural Resources Defence Council

6: Centre For Energy And Climate Solutions

7: MoEFCC. (2018) India: Second Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

8:MoEFCC. (2018) India: Second Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

9: MoEFCC. (2018) India: Second Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

10: MoEFCC. (2018) India: Second Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

11: National Power Portal

12: Climate Science Special Report

13: World Health Organization

14: Data Source: The Third Pole

15: OECD Trade and Environment Working Papers

16: Data Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

17: UNDRR Report on Human Cost of Disasters (2000-2019)

18: OECD Trade and Environment Working Papers

19: Progress So Far

20: Investment patterns and Financial Flows in Policy Strategy

21: Solutions

22: iStock

23: Forest Cover 2017

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