India is Not China: India as a Distinctive Player on Climate Change

by Arturo Herrera on February 19, 2015

“India is not China,” stated Manish Bapna, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of the World Resources Institute (WRI) at the January 30th briefing on President Obama and Prime Minister Modi’s Climate & Clean Energy Agreement. Indeed, occurring only two months following the U.S.-China climate negotiations, although all the nations have a similar need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, India and China and the U.S. are very disparate nations. While the goals are the same — to combine environmental security with improved human health alongside economic growth — India is no more China than the U.S. is India.

For context, China and the U.S. hold the first and second place, respectively, for total greenhouse gas emissions. India comes third (or fourth, if you put the EU together). Yet, India is around 1/11th per capita greenhouse gas emissions of the U.S., which is about 1/3rd the global average per capita [1]. This is attributed to India’s 300 million people who lack access to electricity [2].

This also plays an important factor in food, health, and quality of life demands in India versus China or the U.S. At the briefing, Jake Schmidt, International Program Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), noted that China has a vast middle-income society now demanding restrictions on coal burning to improve quality of life. Although India houses dense populations in thirteen of the world’s twenty most air-polluted cities, the “public angst,” as Schmidt phrased it, has not yet risen as it did with China’s middle-class. This is in spite of over six percent of India’s GDP already going to the costs of premature deaths resulting from air pollution. That number may rise as air pollution is rapidly becoming a leading cause of premature deaths [3]. As Indian Prime Minister Modi has made ambitious announcements regarding renewable energy, one wonders if India can leapfrog both “public angst” along with high-carbon energy technology through the U.S.-India agreement and other robust domestic renewable energy plans.

An optimist might think it is just possible. While Prime Minister Modi must now focus on poverty, job creation, and public health because these are pressing, constant drivers, India’s participation in several bilateral programs promoting clean energy indicates that he clearly recognizes the multi-faceted opportunities that renewable energy can bring from access to electricity to improved human health to jobs. In the span of four years, India grew its solar market more than 100 fold to almost 3 Giga-watts by the end of last year [4]. It is already the world’s fifth largest wind energy producer and third in the world for LEED certified and registered buildings [5]. Still, Prime Minister Modi’s low-carbon path may be more ambition than pathway because unlike China that invested in job creation through manufacturing, India invested in services [6]. Combine manufacturing needs with affordable renewable energy infrastructure financing woes and a pressing need for policies that enable and encourage investment, and India and its state governments have a lot of work to do.

Much of this work will involve creating stable policy plans that encourage clean investment without stalling economic growth. Prime Minister Modi recently announced a plan that includes bringing electricity to all Indians by 2019, much of it through solar energy. This solar scheme could make cleaner, solar energy cheaper than coal [7]. Proper policies that would encourage investment in solar also means job creation and long term goal-setting to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable populations from climate change as sea level rise threatens nearly half of India’s 28 states [8].

The State governments of India are important players in finding solutions. For example, the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) announced that it would extend exemptions to grid usage charges to new solar plants commissioned through March 31, 2018 and provide the exemption for ten years (previously it was only a five year exemption). Policies such as this may give banks and private investors the stability they want from long-term projects in the Indian states [9].

Crucially, India must remain a global player and leader. Already leading in aspects of clean energy and “green” buildings, India is still running against time in its hopes to meet the needs of its fast-growing population and better the status for those in poverty. It is estimated that the population living in Indian cities will increase from 380 million to almost 600 million in the next 15 years [10]. Compound this predicament with what World Bank researchers presented at the Climate Change and Poverty conference (February 9-10, 2015) about the chances for sea level rise causing environmental migration, with trends into cities, and that city dwellers can be particularly vulnerable to shocks from climate events creating more poverty. It is no wonder that India’s leadership is so motivated to build a more stable, electric grid with new goals set at 100 Giga-watts of solar capacity by 2022 and plans to develop 100 sustainable urban areas (“smart cities”) through the nation [11].

Leadership will play an important factor, in all nations, but how leaders find support for domestic climate change policies and enact international agreements is a very different process in India, China, and the U.S. For example, if a similar method for negotiating the 2014 U.S.-China climate deal was used in India, the public would perceive the U.S.-India agreements skeptically, and feel their political leader caved to President Obama’s “imperialist agenda,” as some quarters felt following President Obama’s November 2010 visit [12]. Jake Schmidt stated that there must be a more “organic approach” in India, from the bottom to the top for publically supported agreements.

Prime Minister Modi is setting bold agendas to address this daunting responsibility, and lead India into the international forefront and remain true to the political and cultural nature of the country. In making a statement about taking action on climate change, he said that his lofty goals are not motivated by international pressures. Instead, “there is a pressure of a different kind, the pressure of what kind of legacy we want to leave for our future generations. Global warming is a pressure. . . We understand this pressure and we are responding to it” [13].

Sources and Links:

[1] Damassa, T., Friedrich, J., Ge, M. (25 Nov. 2014). 6 graphs Explain the World’s Top 10 Emitters.

[2] Bapna, M. (15 Jan. 2015). India’s Energy Moment: Ready for a Low-Carbon Future?.

[3] Id.

[4] NRDC. (Dec. 2014). India: Addressing Climate Change and Moving Toward A Low-Carbon Future.

[5] Id.

[6] Bapna, Manish. “Briefing on President Obama and Prime Minister Modi’s Climate & Clean Energy Agreement.” World Resources Institute Briefing. Washington, DC. 30 Jan. 2015.

[7] Bapna, M. (15 Jan. 2015). India’s Energy Moment: Ready for a Low-Carbon Future?

[8] Bapna, M., Waskow, D. (27 Jan. 2015). US-India Climate Partnership Can Benefit Environment and Economy.

[9] Parthasarathy, T., Perera, A. (18 Dec. 2014). New Solar Policy Gives Boos to India’s Energy Market.

[10] Bapna, M. (15 Jan. 2015). India’s Energy Moment: Ready for a Low-Carbon Future?.

[11] Bapna, M., Waskow, D. (27 Jan. 2015). US-India Climate Partnership Can Benefit Environment and Economy.

[12] Kronstadt, K. India: Domestic Issues, Strategic Dynamics, and U.S. Relations. 1 Sept. 2011. RL33529. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.

[13] The Straits Times, Asia. 25 Jan 2015. Indian PM Narendra Modi says no climate change pressure on India after US-China pact.


– By Ruth Hannah White, The Security & Sustainability Forum

*For background on the U.S.-China Climate negotiations, visit the SSF Archives and watch the recording of “What’s the Deal with the U.S.-China Climate Deal?” where international experts discuss the November 2014 climate negotiations.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Eugeniusz April 5, 2015 at 12:33 pm

The concept of “peak oil” and “global wairnmg” is not talked about very much in major media in the U.S. because it doesn’t help you sell the latest gizmo from China. Our media is way too perky for my tastes. As ocean levels rise and climates change, there will be crop failures, human displacements and starvation in poor countries.The Western standard of living will be hurt as we reach the peak of oil production/capacity world-wide. We still rely on fossil fuels for about 86% of US energy needs, and of course just about every tangible product and even food crops (fertilizer & transportation) rely on oil production.The irony of all this is the fact that most major businesses and countries realize the phenomenon of Peak Oil and Global Warming and they are positioning themselves to take advantage of it. The passage North of Canada will open up and has already been a point of international controversy.We’ve had the internet bubble, we’re experiencing the downside of the housing bubble. The latest issue of Harper’s predicts the rise of the green industry bubble, which will help keep the economy going until it too bursts.


Caca April 5, 2015 at 6:21 pm

This forum needed shkiang up and you’ve just done that. Great post!


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