UN Climate Summit: A Look at India's Climate Actions

The pressing crisis of climate change takes the world stage at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York next week. Over 120 heads of government will discuss global leadership and climate action as one of the final opportunities to build political will towards reaching a meaningful international agreement in Paris in December 2015. People from all over the world, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will also walk together in New York on September 21, in the largest ever climate march to demand strong action now.

News that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping, leaders of two of the largest growing economies respectively, will not attend the Climate Summit certainly dampened some momentum. India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar will attend in Prime Minister Modi’s stead. This step from the Indian and Chinese governments, however, also points to what matters is government action, not necessarily government representation.   

As our NRDC President Frances Beinecke emphasized, strong action at home can create real progress globally. Around the world, countries need to implement immediate, pragmatic solutions to reduce climate change emissions on the home front. And while Prime Minister Modi himself will not be attending this major international leadership summit, India can offer key examples of progress made domestically to fight climate change. While, of course, much more can be done, India has taken significant steps to build a low carbon economy through clean energy and fight global warning – and Prime Minister Modi’s new administration is poised to build leadership on these efforts.

Key domestic climate actions that India is taking now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow a low-carbon economy include:

  • Growing solar energy markets and green jobs: In 2008, India launched its National Action Plan on Climate Change, which included the touchstone National Solar Mission. The country exceeded 2.5 GW of installed solar power in March 2014, with the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan leading the way. The Solar Mission is now in its pivotal scaling up phase, aiming for 20 GW of grid-connected and 2 GW of off-grid solar power by 2022. The 2014 national budget includes allocations for ultra-mega solar power projects, tax breaks, and exemptions in customs and excise duties for solar components and raw materials for manufacturing.
  • Expanding Wind Energy: India is also the world’s fifth largest wind energy producer, with 20 GW of installed wind capacity, also supported by national and state policies. The country boasts a newly estimated wind energy potential of 100 GW, which could make up half of India’s current 220 GW of total installed energy.  To achieve the higher potential, the government announced plans in 2014 to launch a National Wind Energy Mission and restored the accelerated depreciation program for wind farms. Both the solar and wind sectors have huge opportunities to increase both local energy access and job creation.
  • Creating Green Energy Corridors: In the 2014 budget, the Indian government also announced plans to establish a series of Green Energy Corridors to facilitate evacuation of more than 30 GW of power generated from renewable energy sources into the national grid.
  • Accelerating energy efficient construction: India increased its green floor area from just 20,000 square feet in 2004 to 2.14 billion square feet in 2014, and announced its intention to implement a mandatory minimum efficiency building code by 2017. Many states with fast-growing cities, including Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, have already adopted green building codes.
  • Reducing industrial energy intensity: Perform, Achieve and Trade (PAT) — the country’s Enhanced Energy Efficiency Mission's flagship program—encourages Indian energy-intensive industries, such as aluminum and power plants, to become global efficiency leaders and also reduce carbon emissions.
  • Greening the transportation fleet: The 2010 National Electric Mobility Mission aims to facilitate the sale of 6-7 million electric vehicles in India. In February 2014, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency announced the Corporate Average Fuel Consumption policy, which are new obligatory fuel efficiency standards that mandate a 14% improvement in mileage by 2016 and an additional 21% improvement by 2021.
  • Building Climate Resilient Cities: Under Prime Minister Modi’s new administration, a National Adaptation Fund, currently worth Rs. 100 crores (over $16.5 million), was created to help finance climate adaptation projects and programs in the country. Cities are acting locally too. For example, the city of Ahmedabad implemented it’s first-ever Heat Action Plan in 2013, providing an early warning and preparedness system to increase residents’ resilience to extreme heat events.
  • National Clean Energy Fund: Within the first 100 days of the new government, the budget boosted the clean energy market by doubling India’s coal tax from Rs. 50 ($1) per ton of coal to Rs. 100 ($2) per ton of coal for the National Clean Energy Fund for clean energy and environmental projects.

Despite this progress, much more needs to be achieved on the domestic front within Indian states and at the national level. Although the newly-elected Prime Minister is missing the UN Climate Summit, Prime Minister Modi will meet with President Obama at the end of the month. Climate change and clean energy should be on the agenda and commitments to further both countries’ domestic efforts to this end can be strengthened.

India is vital in the global climate change discussion. Now is the time for greater action. Decisions and actions taken now will shape India’s development path and shape our future for decades to come. India’s leadership in making climate smart decisions locally, national, and international – such as community resilience planning, expanded clean energy access, and global action to phase down hydrofluorocarbons – is critical.  India along with world leaders must show leadership with strong domestic and collective actions to address global climate change.

Co-authored by Meredith Connolly, NRDC Energy Law & Policy Fellow