India’s climate change policy: Creating a better future

India’s climate change policy: Creating a better future
Children wave Indian flags during a full-dress rehearsal ahead of Republic Day celebrations in Amritsar. (AFP)
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Updated 26 January 2020

India’s climate change policy: Creating a better future

India’s climate change policy: Creating a better future

As a populous, tropical, developing nation, India faces a bigger challenge in coping with the consequences of climate change than most other countries.

Climate change is a global phenomenon, but it is one that has local consequences. 

There are both external and domestic dimensions to India’s climate change policy, which has been articulated in two key documents. 

The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was adopted on Jun. 30, 2008, while India’s Intended Nationally Determined Commitments (INDC) was submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on Oct. 2, 2015.

The focus of the NAPCC is essentially domestic, while the INDC is a statement of intent on climate change action.

The NAPCC incorporates India’s vision of ecologically sustainable development and the steps that need to be taken to implement it. 

It is based on an awareness that climate change action must proceed simultaneously in several closely interrelated domains, such as energy, industry, agriculture, water, forests, urban spaces and the fragile mountain environment.

This was the backdrop to the eight “national missions” that are detailed in the NAPCC. This need for interrelated policy and coordinated action was recognized, several years later, by the UN with its adoption of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

India’s national missions focus on: Solar energy, enhancing energy efficiency, creating a sustainable urban habitat, conserving water, sustaining the fragile Himalayan ecosystem, creating a green India through expanded forests, making agriculture sustainable, and creating a strategic knowledge platform to serve all the national missions.

The NAPCC acknowledged that climate change and energy security are two sides of the same coin — that India has to make a strategic shift from its current reliance on fossil fuels to a pattern of economic activity based progressively on renewable sources of energy, such as solar, and cleaner sources, such as nuclear energy. Such a shift would enhance India’s energy security and contribute to dealing with the threats posed by climate change.

Therefore a co-benefit approach underlies India’s climate change strategy. The NAPCC constitutes India’s response to climate change based on its own resources, but also recognizes that it is intimately linked to the parallel multilateral effort, based on the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC, to establish a global climate change regime.

It was India’s hope that the ongoing multilateral negotiations under the UNFCCC would yield an agreed outcome based on the framework’s principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility and Respective Capabilities. This would enable developing countries such as India to accelerate its shift toward a future of renewable and clean energy through international financial support and technology transfer.

While India has made significant progress in implementing several of its national missions, its expectations of a supportive international climate change regime based on equitable burden sharing among nations have been mostly belied. It is in this context that one should evaluate the INDC, which was submitted to the UN on the eve of the crucial Paris Summit on Climate Change in December 2015.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the world leaders who has taken a keen interest in climate change issues. Under his leadership, India decided to adopt a more proactive, ambitious and forward-looking approach to the issue in the run-up to the Paris summit. This is reflected in the INDC, which links India’s commitment to ecologically sustainable economic development with its age-old civilizational values of respecting nature, incorporating a sense of inter-generational equity, and common humanity.

The targets India voluntarily committed to are unprecedented for a developing country. The energy intensity of India’s growth will decline by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 compared with 2005. This means that for every additional dollar of GDP that is generated, India will be using progressively, and significantly, lesser amounts of energy.

There is confidence, based on the achievements of the National Mission on Enhancing Energy Efficiency, that this target will be met. Given that India is one of the world’s largest emerging economies, with a large energy footprint globally, this constitutes a major contribution to tackling global climate change.

The INDC set a target of generating 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by the year 2030. Based on the strength of the outstanding success of the National Solar Mission, it has been reported that this capacity could be achieved 10 years ahead of schedule, and the government might raise India’s target for 2030 to 227GW.

The target of obtaining 40 percent of power from renewable sources by 2030 is also likely to be achieved several years earlier, as the figure already stands at 21 percent.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the world leaders who has taken a keen interest in climate change issues.

India is actively reducing the component of coal-based thermal power in its energy mix. It is not widely known that the country has a very high cess (additional tax) on coal, of the order of 400 rupees a ton, the proceeds from which go into a Clean Energy Fund. India has also committed to not building any new thermal plants that are not in the most efficient, ultra-supercritical category.

The nation played a major role in assuring the success of the Paris Climate Summit, and Modi’s personal intervention in the adoption of the landmark Paris Agreement was acknowledged by several world leaders. His initiative to set up an International Solar Alliance for the promotion of solar power worldwide was welcomed.

India is advancing on a broad front to ensure a future of clean energy for its people. To do this, it is drawing upon its ingrained civilizational attributes and putting in place a wide range of policy interventions under the legal framework of the Energy Conservation Act, covering 15 energy-intensive industries, and the Energy Conservation Building Code, covering all new urban infrastructure.

Thirty-two states of the Indian Union have formulated and started to implement their own State Action Plans on Climate Change. There is also an active and vibrant civic society that is promoting public awareness of the threat posed by climate change and what each of us can do, as individuals, to tackle this threat.

It is hoped that the work of India’s leadership to deal with the challenges it faces as a result of climate change and energy security will act as a spur to other countries to raise the level their own contributions to the efforts to tackle this global and existential challenge. 

Failure to do so will condemn humanity to an uncertain, and possibly catastrophic, denouement.

• Shyam Saran is a former foreign secretary of India.