India at Rio+20: Putting Commitments Into Action


As Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh heads to the Earth Summit to address the gravest global challenges of our generation, India has a key opportunity to show how strong economic growth can be coupled with environment leadership.  Even though media headlines suggest India could play the role of “spoiler” in creating a global green economy, India’s domestic actions show otherwise.  While more can be done, India has made significant commitments toward a sustainable economy through its National Action Plan on Climate Change and the 12th Five Year Plan.  At the Earth Summit, India can lead in commitments as highlighted in our new factsheet, India at Rio+20: Putting Commitments into Action.

Just before heading to Rio, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Obama reinvigorated U.S.-India cooperation by announcing education projects focused on food security, climate change, sustainable energy, and public health.  We urge President Obama to join Prime Minister Singh in showing strong leadership at the Earth Summit because as described by NRDC President Frances Beinecke:

Missing the Earth Summit means missing an opportunity to protect our planet and address the needs of the 7 billion people who live here. It means putting off – again — action that we need to take now.

At the Earth Summit, as a rapidly growing economy that is tackling the pressing challenges of development, India can lead in commitments during the Summit and in their implementation afterwards.  In our factsheet, India at Rio+20: Putting Commitments into Action, NRDC, along with the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, recommend practical actions aligned with India’s priorities that India can take to show leadership in developing green economy.

Climate Change and Clean Energy

To power its rapidly growing economy and reduce energy poverty, India continues to increase fossil fuel use and related greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, India is committed to reducing its energy intensity by 20-25 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels and adopting clean energy policies. To advance its objectives, India’s Rio+20 clean energy action items should be:

  • Accelerate adoption of energy efficiency standards for buildings across all states
  • Improve the penetration rate of energy-efficient appliances
  • Implement government and business policies to ensure India achieves its 20-gigawatts-by-2022 target under the National Solar Mission
  • Redirect fossil fuel subsidies to clean energy solutions, including rural electrification through renewable power, and deploy the National Clean Energy Fund
  • Significantly increase public transit, electric and hybrid car production and fuel efficiency standards
  • Charge groundwater withdrawal for irrigation by usage since agricultural pumping totals a fifth of national electricity use

Water Management & Pollution

India’s growing population faces severe water shortages. Freshwater withdrawals increased by 52 percent since 1990 while the flow of renewable water resources remained constant at 1,446 billion cubic meters since 2007. Water scarcity is compounded by fertilizer run-off and poorly treated waste. To address these problems, India’s Rio+20 action items should be:

  • Establish a Bureau of Water Efficiency modeled on the Bureau of Energy Efficiency
  • Adjust water rate structures for industry and agriculture on the basis of water-use levels and create incentives to scale up drip irrigation facilities
  • Improve water stocks to buffer vulnerable communities from climate-related uncertainties via scaled up water recycling and re-use, rainwater harvesting, and adopting appropriate watershed management
  • Improve water data collection and dissemination and oversight of wastewater treatment and discharge

Enhancing Agriculture and Forests

About half of India’s population works in agriculture4 and 33.8 percent live below the rural poverty line. To build resilience India’s Rio+20 action-items should be:

  • Implement the Green India Mission, which aims to double forested land by 2020
  • Engage with land users and community leaders to disseminate data on unsustainable land use practices and preserve traditional conservation knowledge
  • Enhance long-term agricultural productivity and sustainability with chemical-free and water efficient cultivation; support Water User Associations with skills, training, and resources
  • Minimize post-harvest food-grain losses by improving storage and farm-to-market supply chains
  • Increase green job opportunities in villages through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and other programs

Managing Urbanization

Nearly 369 million Indians live in cities, a 65 percent increase from 1990. Urban infrastructure cannot keep pace with rapid growth, leading to congestion, poor air quality, and inadequate housing. To create more liveable communities, India’s Rio+20 action items should be:

  • Encourage power utilities to increase their renewable energy mix and manage demand
  • Promote energy and water efficient buildings, smart meters, roof-top solar panels, and rainwater harvesting
  • Incentivize low-cost community water and sanitation systems in low-income areas
  • Improve solid waste management by integrating ragpickers into the system; prevent contamination of land by toxic chemicals and landfill leachate
  • Strengthen local capacity in disaster preparedness such as heat waves and floods
  • Green cities with expanded parks, public spaces, and green walls and roofs

Expected Outcomes at Rio+20 from India

India is signatory to all major treaties and covenants since the landmark Stockholm Declaration of 1972. At Rio+20, we expect India to show further leadership on:

  • An online registry of commitments to promote accountability and track progress on Rio+20 undertakings at national and regional levels
  • Green jobs creation for the estimated 63.5 million new members of the labor force between 2011–2016
  • New and scaled-up government, private sector, and civil society programs that deliver local sustainability solutions

Twenty years after the initial Earth Summit at Rio, we look forward to partnering with India, United States and the global community to take action in protecting our cities, our countries, and our planet.


(Adedana Ashebir, NRDC Yale FES Fellow, and Sangeeta Nandi, NRDC India Volunteer, contributed to this post and factsheet)