Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set for a second term in office after winning an absolute majority at the recent elections in India. In his first term, he strived to raise India’s profile in the international arena, and one of his creditable contributions in the climate space was his leadership in the formation of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) launched in 2015. In addition, the country continued in its ambitions towards climate change mitigation, adaptation, and finance for various related projects.
At the domestic level, Modi’s government has been very keen on eradicating energy poverty by fast tracking India’s rural electrification program, and to a large extent, succeeded in it. Modi was elected on a ‘development first’ plank in the first term, and there are enough signs that there will not be much change in his development agenda moving in to the second term. This raises some critical questions. For one, would Modi’s government be able to steer the low-carbon transition within the bounds of social justice? Though there is a spurt in the investments in renewable energy, especially in solar energy, India cannot afford to slow pedal on the dependence of fossil fuel resources at least for the next decade. About 835 million people are still dependent on biomass resources for cooking and heating, this would mean that there will be increased electricity demand, and most of which will come from coal. India has competing demands on land and water resources and these competing demands will have a great impact on deployment of large scale solar and wind energy infrastructure.
Secondly, how will the government deal with air pollution, which is another key issue that will have implications on India’s climate policy? This needs urgent attention. Seven of the world's 10 worst polluted cities are in India, a new study has revealed. Air pollution is responsible for a staggering number of death and disease in India.
The support for adaptation and resilience related activities has been very limited so far and it is critical that Modi’s government focuses on this by providing clear policy guidance with provisions to enhance investments. Climate policy on adaptation and local resilience have to be strengthened. Farmers are one of hardest-hit communities experiencing the wrath of climate change and extreme weather events for the past few years. Farmers’ distress is a matter of huge concern and every effort has to be made to promote resilience at the local level. The timing is perfect as all 29 state governments are currently in the process of reviewing and revising their State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCC). This effort needs unstinted support from the central government with clear structures established to monitor and measure progress. Mainstreaming adaptation into policy and practice is key to the success of SAPCC, which also has enormous significance in light of India’s NDC commitments.
Without adequate climate finance, the proposed NDCs and SAPCCs would not be implementable. Despite considerable progress in reducing poverty, India remains home to a large number of the world's poor. Further, India’s NDC states that at least USD 2.5 trillion (at 2014-15 prices) will be required between 2015 and 2030 to address climate change. Considering India’s enormous developmental obligations, domestic resources alone are clearly insufficient to meet the finance needs of climate action. Modi’s government has to find ways to generate adequate resources both domestically and internationally to meet the finance needs. Currently, climate investments are very skewed to mitigation activities. While enhancing the allocations made under the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change (NAFCC) there is a critical need to improve the capacities to access climate finance from bilateral and multi-lateral sources, especially the capacities of state agencies. There is also a felt need to create a roadmap to ramp up the private climate investments.
Though Modi’s government revamped the Prime Minister’s council on climate change as soon as it assumed office in the first term, this body has not been active, and met infrequently to discuss the pressing climate issues that affect the country. This body should be reinvigorated to be more effective in providing guidance and support, and acting as a catalyst in furthering climate action. As India is a member of the Global Commission on Adaptation, it is imperative that the new government under Modi’s leadership should engage more intensively in giving life to the action tracks identified for implementation.
With the right leadership, the new cabinet can help shape policies, processes and implementation plans to enable India to achieve its NDCs and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).