India at the climate crossroads

India lock-down seems to be working


Sameer Kwatra is acting director for India at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, DC. The views expressed are his own.


On earth day, there is good news for the planet, but a lot more still needs to be done. The climate crisis is already affecting millions around the world even as global energy-related COemissions are heading for their second-largest annual increase ever. Saving the world as we know it needs urgent collective action as world leaders, including the United States, China, and India, reiterated today at the Leaders Summit on Climate. India has historically contributed little to the climate crisis, but as one of the world’s largest economies, the country is critical to solving it.

India and the United States announce a new climate partnership

At the Summit, Indian Prime Minister Modi announced a new partnership: the US-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030, to mobilize investment, demonstrate green technologies, and increase collaboration on climate solutions. The partnership would move along two tracks, the Strategic Clean Energy Partnership and the Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue. Collaborating to combat climate change is a good forward-thinking initiative by the two largest democracies in the world and builds on a strong strategic partnership established over the last two decades. With renewed climate focus within the U.S., the two countries now have opportunities to reinvigorate their partnership on clean energy, climate finance, climate resilience, sub-national actions, and global climate policy.

Other major economies are stepping up

India has often called for climate justice and the need for greater action by developed countries that have had a far greater contribution to the global carbon inventory. Fortunately, almost all major economies are acting on climate. At the Summit, the United States announced bold action of halving its emissions from the 2005 baseline by 2030. The revised U.S. targets are nearly double from what President Obama committed in Paris in 2015. China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, has committed to peaking its emissions before 2030 and the Chinese Premier today pledged phasing down coal use – a big step forward from the world’s largest coal consumer. Other large economies such as the European Union, the United Kingdom, JapanCanada, and South Korea have also recently upped their climate targets.

Acting on climate provides many benefits for India

As Prime Minister Modi said at the Summit, India is one of the few countries on track to meet its Paris Agreement targets and its targets are compatible with limiting warming to less than 2°C. India is already a leader on solar energy and has a goal to install 450 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2030, more than the current installed electricity capacity of Brazil, South Africa and Russia put together. As a country facing a unique challenge of raising millions out of poverty and providing basic health and wellbeing to all its inhabitants, India has a unique opportunity to shift the paradigm of development and deliver economic growth that is environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive.

As one of the countries most vulnerable to climate risk, India is already experiencing increased frequency of heat waves, floods, glacial bursts, and other climate related disasters. The raging health crisis in the country, engendered by a severe second wave of COVID-19, for example, may seem like a short-term priority but recovering from it also intersects with key long-term issues such as economic growth, community resilience, employment generation, and climate change. As experts have noted, climate risk is health risk, and investing in critical health infrastructure is complementary to building climate resilience through programs such as the city-level Heat Action Plans. Investing in clean energy and clean technologies is key to generate jobs of the future and will help fuel a resilient and Atmanirbhar economy. Similarly, switching to climate friendly cooling will not just abate emissions and reduce power demand, but also provide much needed access to affordable cooling.

India’s climate choices will have far-reaching consequences for the planet

The climate summit brought together countries responsible for the majority of global emissions and serves as a prelude to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November where nations will convene again to pledge their commitment to urgent climate action. India has several options to enhance its climate credentials. India can ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and help prevent up to 0.5°C of global warming; it can solidify its existing sectoral targets, such as the renewable energy goal and the India Cooling Action Plan, to set even stronger climate targets; or, as is currently being debated, commit to a path of deep and rapid decarbonization. As an environmentally responsible nation, hopefully, India will make the right choice, for whichever path India chooses, will have far-reaching consequences for our planet.