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India and Sustainable Development Goal 13: Battling Climate Change During the Pandemic

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Pooja Paswan
October 27, 2021

“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.”
~Barack Obama, Former United States President

Climate is one of the most formidable challenges the world is facing. It is affecting us now and will affect future generations even more. India is already witnessing severe water shortages, flooding and droughts, and these effects are threatening the country’s development. India has been severely impacted by COVID-19 during the second wave in the first half of 2021, which has further reduced the resilience of populations particularly vulnerable to climate change, such as those already at risk of displacement by storms, floods, droughts and other climate disasters. India needs to increase its capacity to deal with climate change.

Existing Government Policy Initiatives

The government has announced action plans at the national and sub-national levels. In 2015, the government announced a plan to implement the ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These include promoting renewable energies as well as additional forest cover, enhancing adaptation measures and guiding producers and consumers for a sustainable lifestyle.

The Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is guiding the country’s actions for combatting climate change. This includes advising sector ministries and state governments on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable production and consumption patterns. To do this, the ministry needs to strengthen its capacity, improve its use of existing knowledge, formulate suitable policies and monitor results. 

Tackling the Pandemic

The Indian government has responded to the economic crisis by unveiling one of the largest stimulus packages in the world, equating to a share of around 11% of the country’s GDP in 2019. India’s overall COVID-19 recovery stimulus package mainly supports activities related to industries likely to have a large negative impact on the environment by, for example, increasing the use of fossil fuels, and unsustainable land use.

However, India’s most recent stimulus (2021) is more climate-friendly, with two-thirds of the resources targeted towards a green recovery, including roughly USD 3bn in battery development and solar PV. While the additional stimulus is a positive step, India continues to support coal, with fresh loans to a number of thermal power projects, undermining a green recovery. There is a significant risk that India’s coal assets will be stranded, especially when considering that two thirds of India’s coal-fired power plants were built in the last 10 years. This may cause further economic fallout in a post-COVID recovery phase. The coal-fired power sector in India accounts for a significant financial loss due to the falling price of solar and wind.

Institutionalisation of Capacities on Climate Change Studies and Actions (ICCC)

The project Supporting the Institutionalisation of Capacities on Climate Change Studies and Actions (ICCC) provides studies and models for climate protection and resilience to the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). It also supports the ministry in implementing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Moreover, the project promotes network-building between key stakeholders, creates links with national and international research institutions and supports the creation of a publicly available knowledge platform. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) is supporting the project as an international knowledge partner. PIK is also involved in the process of setting up an Indo-European Expert Group to advise on policy formulation regarding climate issues in India. The ICCC project reinforces the Indian Climate Action Programme and the country’s climate strategy. Its activities are aligned with and support India’s major climate policies, including the road map for the implementation of the NDCs, the National Action Plan on Climate Change and contribution to UNFCCC dialogue on the climate. 

What is the Price to Pay?

But India has been arguing that it should not be expected to make deep carbon-cuts like developed countries because it is still developing and fighting poverty while having to rely on a mix of energy that largely relies on fossil fuels. 

While going big on renewable energy, particularly solar power, the Indian government has announced plans to significantly increase coal production as part of post-COVID economic recovery. Countries across the world have demonstrated their leadership in climate action and its convergence with the development and disaster risk mitigation agenda. India needs to work out a mechanism to participate in this global collective.

Author: Pooja Paswan is currently enrolled at the John.F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India. She has Ph. D in Public Administration and specializes in Public Policy. She was recipient of the ASPA 2019 Founders Fellow. She has worked extensively in the area of development administration and policy. She can be reached at https://jmi.academia.edu/PoojaPaswan and [email protected]. Twitter @poojapaswan

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