Five Reasons to Watch India This Year

National and state policies have played a crucial role in placing the Indian economy on a clean energy pathway.
Credit: NRDC

India is abuzz with a major national election coming up. National and state policies have played a crucial role in placing the Indian economy on a clean energy pathway. Here’s how:

  • India is now the fifth largest renewable energy producer in the world
  • The country has the fourth largest wind energy installed capacity and fifth largest solar PV capacity.

But there is so much more to be done. India remains the third largest greenhouse gas emitter and air pollution levels are spiking across cities. To top it off, 2018 was India’s sixth hottest year on record. As our leadership team prepares to head to the upcoming World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS) hosted by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), we’ve compiled a list of what to watch for 2019.

Big Opportunities for 2019

India is on track to meet its Paris climate targets. This year presents major opportunities to make even greater gains. Here are five big ideas to advance on clean energy, climate and health solutions in India. 

1. Fighting Air Pollution

Air pollution is the greatest contributor to pollution-related deaths globally, according to a major scientific study published in the Lancet. India accounts for the largest number of deaths with an estimated 1.24 million deaths. India recently released the National Clean Air Program (NCAP)—a good first step to combating toxic air pollution levels. The NCAP focuses on coordinating a national strategy, driven by city-level planning and implementation, to achieve clean air targets. The NCAP specifically promotes expanded monitoring and emissions inventories, better health risk communication, and stronger public health research on air pollution, similar to city initiatives, such as the innovative Ahmedabad Air Information and Response (AIR) Plan. In the coming year, cities and states can work to build health-based systems to protect local communities while putting into place measures to limit pollution. These include programs for children involving schools and awareness drives and local expert groups developing recommendations for mitigation and pollution reduction pathways—including plans for expanding electric vehicles. Watch for the much anticipated national Electric Vehicle policy as well as several state programs in 2019. 

2. Keeping India Cool

As the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues sober warnings on rising temperatures, India’s economic growth increases the demand for cooling, which is projected to more than double by 2027. The draft India Cooling Action Plan is slated to move forward this year and includes many critically needed measures on keeping India cool while addressing climate change. The plan marks a key milestone in India’s efforts to phase out chemicals used for cooling—including super pollutant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used for air conditioning in cars, buildings and more—under the Montreal Protocol. Strengthening and scaling up heat action plans and early warning systems across India is also critical to keeping India cool. Again, 2018 was the sixth hottest year recorded in India, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. Heat action plans include immediate and longer-term actions to increase preparedness, information-sharing, and response coordination to reduce the health impacts of extreme heat. Over 13 states and 30 cities have adopted Heat Action Plans in India. Both the National Disaster Management Authority and the Indian Meteorological Department are leading at the national level to engage local communities in preparing for extreme heat with forecasts and programs.

3. Building an Energy Efficient Economy

Energy saving buildings are a critical part of growing India’s economy, keeping India cool and addressing climate change. Building on the successful launch by the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and the hi-tech capital, Hyderabad, states and cities across India could scale up the groundbreaking online system for mandatory energy efficiency codes for commercial 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. Cool roof programs focused on low-income communities are also promising measures for saving energy and curbing cooling demand. Energy efficient building codes can transform the way buildings are constructed and unleash significant energy savings while growing the economy and combating pollution.

4. Affordable Clean Energy Access

While large scale wind and solar markets are growing at a rapid clip and are expected to expand in 2019, affordable clean energy access remains a challenge in communities across India. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), India needs $100 billion in asset finance in the period for 2016-22, to reach 135 GW in utility scale renewables by 2022. To achieve India’s clean energy goals, implementing financing and policy solutions is vital. Two major developments to watch are innovative catalytic financing and village-level clean energy programs. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency are developing key pilots, such as green windows, on clean energy finance aimed at amplifying the impact of limited government funds by using public funds as a financial lever to attract private investments for clean energy development. Women are also playing a significant role in combating climate change and creating clean energy jobs, as highlighted during the recent Sigma Summit in New Delhi.

5. Electric Vehicles

The rapid deployment of electric vehicles is a key solution to address global climate change, air quality and petroleum dependence. Transportation remains one of the largest, and fastest growing, global sources of climate pollution, air toxics, and smog. Globally, the sector accounted for 14% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2010 and represents the fastest growing source of emissions. By 2050, emissions of CO2 are expected to increase by 60% versus 2015 levels. The sector is also a major contributor to air pollution which is responsible for 5.4% of all deaths worldwide, including 4.2 million premature deaths annually from outdoor particulate matter alone. India still 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 estimated to contribute 20 to 40% of the air pollution in major cities such as Delhi. EVs are a hot opportunity in India this year with the highly anticipated national policy expected later this year as well as burgeoning EV programs in Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Telangana, among others.


We look forward to our discussion on developing joint climate and clean energy solutions at the upcoming World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS) 2019, including a special address by NRDC’s President Rhea Suh. In our 10th year of building partnerships in India, NRDC is honored to work with expert partners in India to implement and expand pioneering and innovative clean energy solutions with key stakeholders across India. Through clean energy solutions, we aim to work with partners to increase clean energy access, grow India’s economy, and build healthy communities.