Climate Consequences 2022: If India Sneezes

As the warning goes, “when Paris sneezes, Europe catches a cold,” the same is true for India and the rest of the world when it comes to climate change.

Motorcycle and scooter traffic in India.


India faces the combined challenges of the COVID-19 and the climate crisis, as the country heads into Republic Day. Yet, India continues to fight the pandemic and climate change, as demonstrated by heroic efforts by public health officers and strong climate commitments. Given these commitments, 2022 is a critical year for implementation in India and around the world. As the warning goes, “when Paris sneezes, Europe catches a cold,” the same is true for India and the rest of the world when it comes to climate change.

While India is rapidly developing, the choices made today in terms of energy sources will have profound impacts on the world. Communities are already seeing the catastrophic impacts of climate change from unprecedented flooding to record-breaking heatwaves across India. The sobering 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report finds that if we do not radically change course, there will be dire climate change induced consequences for the world. India, a major economy where a large portion of the infrastructure needed for the future is yet to be built, is critical in this equation.

India’s Climate Targets

By definitively committing to 50% of India’s electricity generation from non-coal or gas sources by 2030 is nothing short of transformative. India is a leader in clean energy, especially solar and wind energy. India is on largely on track to meet its Paris Agreement targets, as discussed in recent analysis by NRDC and partners. Prime Minister Modi is sending a clear signal to business, industry and world leaders that India is moving forward with decarbonization and building a clean energy economy.

India also strengthened its Paris target by committing to: further reduce the carbon intensity of its economy to less than 45%, from the earlier target of 33 to 35 percent, from 2005 levels by 2030; increase non-fossil energy capacity to 500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, formalizing India’s earlier renewables commitment; and reduce India’s total projected carbon emissions by one billion tons from now to 2030. India also joined other nations in announcing a net zero emissions target by 2070.

India’s energy demand and emissions in a business as usual scenario are projected to double if not triple by 2050, despite the current COVID-19 economic downturn. While per capita emissions are low at present, India is already the third largest single-country emitter of greenhouse gases and has the second largest population in the world at over 1.3 billion. India’s cities are rapidly urbanizing and bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, making sustainable cities and employment with healthy communities a central priority.

Big Opportunities in 2022  

India now has several major national programs with the aim of growing the economy while fighting climate change: Clean Air Mission, National Electric Mobility Mission Plan, National Solar Mission, the Indian Cooling Action Plan, among others. This year and the upcoming 2022-23 budget are major opportunities to make even greater gains and implement these programs.

Here are five big ideas to advance on clean energy, climate and health solutions in India.  

Fighting Air Pollution

With dangerously high air pollution levels and continued respiratory threats from COVID-19, the need to protect public health in India is urgent. Aiming to reduce air pollution, India recently announced plans to scale clean air programs to a national mission, “Clean Air for All”. Elevating India’s clean air programs to “mission-mode” is significant, as demonstrated in the past by the National Solar Mission and other missions.

The new mission combined with the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) is active in 132 Indian cities with city-level Clean Air Plans (CAPs) aimed to reduce ambient particulate matter (PM) concentrations. Ambitious actions to implement pollution control strategies that stop pollution under the CAPs can help deliver transformative and lasting improvements for public health in India’s fight against dangerous air pollution and climate change.

Ramping Up Electric Mobility

India has one of the lowest motorization rates in the world, but is set to take off in a similar trajectory as China and the U.S. Motor vehicles are already driving the air pollution crisis in India. The Indian government has introduced programs to advance cleaner vehicles through the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan, Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and EV (FAME) scheme, the vehicle scrappage policy, charging infrastructure programs, among others. Several states in India have adopted electric vehicle (EV) policies.

A widespread, accessible public charging infrastructure network is needed to support a robust EV market – as evidenced by experiences in China, the United States, and around the world. In India, EV sales would need to reach 30% for private cars, 70% for commercial cars (i.e. delivery vehicles, fleets, and taxis) 40% for buses and 80% for two and three-wheelers by 2030 to achieve the government's electric mobility goals, according to analysis by the Indian government. Ramping up charging infrastructure along with vehicle supply with strong policy implementation toward electric mobility is critical to achieving India’s climate goals.

Building an Energy Efficient Economy

Scaling up successful building decarbonization programs in the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, states and cities across India could scale up efforts for energy efficient buildings. Buildings account for more than 30% of India’s electricity consumption, and the total built-up space in the country is growing at a tremendous rate.  Nearly 20 states and union territories have notified the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC). The Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) recently announced the National Energy Efficiency Roadmap for Movement towards Affordable and Natural habitat (NEERMAN), highlighting green building design. 

Energy efficient building codes can transform the way buildings are constructed and unleash significant energy savings while growing the economy and combating pollution. Major states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, among others, can move to stronger implementation and set examples of cities of the future with energy efficient and less polluting buildings.

Growing Clean Energy Jobs in Rural India

To achieve India’s clean energy goals, implementing innovative financing solutions is vital. India’s clean energy market is growing rapidly with more than 43 GW of installed grid-connected solar capacity in 2021, and record-low bidding prices below Rs.1.99 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) (~$0.027/kWh) for utility-scale solar. India has moved from a scenario of power shortages to a power surplus, and increased clean energy in the grid. However, distributed solar energy, in particular rooftop solar installations, are lagging far behind the national target, barely reaching 1 GW of the total 40 GW target.

The cumulative investment in rooftop solar is much lower than the needed $48 billion. Key financing solutions, such as a green investment fund that can amplify the impact of limited government funds by using public funds as a financial lever to attract private investments for clean energy development. Rural programs such as, Hariyali Green Village Plans, shows that investing in women-led programs can transform village energy use in India by making clean energy available and affordable while improving livelihoods. Achieving India’s new climate target could create 3.5 million jobs.

Keeping India Cool

Air conditioning use in India is also expected to rise dramatically in the next decade as the subcontinent continues to experience dangerously high temperatures.  Expanding cooling strategies ranging from cool roofs to improved air conditioners is vital in India. The India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) aims to phase down super-pollutants hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and reduce cooling demand through energy efficient room and mobile air conditioners, cold chain advancements, and reducing cooling demand through improved building energy efficiency and cool roofs. 

Brutally hot weather is a major health threat in India and many other parts of the world because climate change is fueling more frequent, intense, and longer heat waves. In response to this mounting threat, cities and regions across India are taking concrete actions to build resilience and better prepare and protect communities. A combination of strategies, such as the ICAP, Heat Action Plans, cool roof programs are critical to beat the heat and provide life-saving and sustainable cooling to over 1.3 billion people. Research that shows how heat action plans can help avoid heat-related deaths and build resilience to extreme heat across India.

India’s active participation in implementing climate solutions is critical to prevent the world from “catching a cold.” NRDC is honored to work with expert partners in India to implement and expand pioneering and innovate clean energy solutions with key stakeholders across India. Through clean energy solution, we aim to work with partners to increase clean energy access, grow India’s economy, and build healthy communities.

Read more:

Climate consequences: If India sneezes
May 2019, Jindal Global Law Review, DOI:10.1007/s41020-019-00089-y
Jaiswal, A., Joshi, M., Kwatra, S.


The author thanks Sameer Kwatra for his contributions to this post.

This blog was modified to include updated figures and formatting. 

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