Climate change has had real economic consequences in India. A recent Stanford study estimated that the Indian economy is 31 percent smaller than what it could have been in the absence of global warming. The World Bank calculates climate change, if unaddressed, will shave nearly 3 percent off India’s GDP and depress living standards of nearly half its population by 2050. There are a number of factors that have contributed to this, including India’s historical dependence on coal for power generation, an increasing population and its effect on the limited resources, inefficient agricultural policies, and water disputes. Perhaps, it is time to rethink our approach to addressing climate change.
In Indian context, it is important to note that “protection and improvement of environment including forests and wildlife” is enshrined as a Directive Principle of State Policy by Indian Constitution (Article 48A). It is a fundamental duty of citizens (Article 51-A(g)) to “protect and improve the natural environments including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife.” The Supreme Court of India has interpreted clean air and safe environmental conditions as a fundamental right of all citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution (Right to Life). India is a signatory to the 2002 Kyoto Protocol. In 2008, a comprehensive National Action Plan on Climate Change was launched by the Indian government comprising eight missions: (1) Solar Energy, (2) Energy Efficiency, (3) Sustainable Habitat, (4) Water, (5) Himalayan Ecosystem, (6) Green India, (7) Sustainable Agriculture, and (8) Knowledge regarding Climate Change. In this backdrop, the Supreme Court of India has upheld a regulatory framework established to promote the purchase of a certain amount of power generated by renewable energy sources in order to comply with the constitution and treaty.
Amongst other advisable initiatives, there is an emergent need for India to steadily migrate from coal-based power generation to renewable sources such as hydroelectric, wind, and solar, with appropriate incentives to attract investment and reduce the carbon footprint. The government’s aspirational goal of achieving 175 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity based on renewable sources by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030 seems to be a step in the right direction. It must be realized with the right policies and proper implementation. Some recent initiatives are afoot to adapt to and mitigate climate change––including promoting e-mobility, building 100 smart cities across India, switching automobile engine technology from Bharat IV to Bharat VI emission norms from April 2020, and replacing 360 million incandescent bulbs by efficient Light Emitting Diode (LED) or Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) bulbs.
It is time that there is coordinated policy toward achieving a unified goal of handling climate change and its adverse impact on the world economy. Any failure in doing so will have catastrophic effects way beyond the anticipation of the human race.
To attain change at the global level at a necessary scale, we need mitigation action led by the main emitting countries, while securing proliferation of finance and technology suited to secure low-carbon sustainable growth globally. Such change must be rooted in policy decisions with a transparent and efficacious legal and regulatory regime with clear incentives and disincentives to catalyze the change at national and regional levels. Each country must own up to the problem and present a definitive plan for low-carbon growth and emissions reduction. Only a clear national agenda can provide the foundation for regional and global cooperation and action plans to mitigate the imminent risk.