Climate Change in India: Challenges and Solutions

Sai Charan Bandaru

To begin with, India is the fourth largest emitter of Green House Gases (GHG) and has the obligation to take a proactive stance since it is going to be one of the worst victims of climate change as mentioned in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5). The estimated countrywide agricultural loss in 2030 will be over $7 billion. It could severely affect the livelihoods of at least 10 percent of the population. Wheat yields in the Gangetic plains are expected to experience a 51 percent reduction in the most high-yielding areas due to heat stress. This region currently produces 14 to 15 percent of the world’s wheat and feeds around 200 million people of the region. Extreme temperatures are expected to increase by 1-4°C, with a maximum increase in coastal regions.

If the impact of climate change is felt at local levels then adaptation measures should also focus on the same instead of imposing it from the top. The need of the hour is not to wait for global aid or wait for the negotiations to be successful, but to act intelligently at the local levels since small, consistent efforts bring about lasting change. The AR5 suggests that about 80 percent of the agricultural losses could be reduced if climate resilient and cost effective agricultural practices are followed. For example, simple measures like rainwater harvesting can prevent intensive groundwater usage and the need for constructing large dams which will eventually harm the ecology. However, the real challenge lies in implementing the same across India. Constitutional challenges like division of powers between the Centre and the States – agriculture belonging to the state list, lack of political incentives for the policy makers to take far-reaching steps, non-homogeneity of geographical features etc (e.g. rain water harvesting measures for the plains of Uttar Pradesh and the dry land regions like Vidarbha in Maharashtra are entirely different) are major hurdles. Most importantly, we should take into account people’s reaction to any changes in their agricultural practices. Particularly in India, where more than 80 percent are small and marginal farmers, their willingness to adopt a new practice is fraught with difficulties and it compounds when it is taken for the entire country. Under such circumstances, the optimal policy level solution is to tweak the existing programs instead of framing a new program altogether.

One alternative is to create a separate component in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) that includes climate change adaptation measures like rainwater harvesting and climate-resilient agricultural practices in the dry land. NREGS is well penetrated in all the states where dry land agriculture is practised, namely Maharashtra, Telangana, Rajasthan, parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand (constitutes nearly 60 percent of the net area under cultivation). The awareness regarding the harmful effects of climate change and adaptation measures must be penetrated to the local levels and demand for sustainable agriculture must come from the people. Once the demand is created it will be easier for the climate resilient crop varieties to enter the market. Moreover, the process involves participation which is a necessary prerequisite to enhance the people’s capacity to handle climate change.

In the energy sector, the obvious solutions are to increase the energy efficiency of coal plants and to promote the renewable sector. In the former, India is investing in supercritical and ultra-supercritical technologies to improve the efficiency of power generation in coal plants and phase out the older generation power plants. Such measures are necessary but not sufficient in cutting the GHG emissions. Moreover, coal continues to have a major share in power generation since we still have 30 crore people who do not have access to electricity and coal is still the cheapest option. The real challenge lies in the augmentation of solar energy since compared to biomass, wind, and other renewable sources India has a geographical advantage of receiving 4-7 kWh of solar radiation per on an average. Presently, India is running the largest renewable energy capacity addition program in the world with the target of 1,75,000 MW of renewable energy by 2022 of which solar itself constitutes about 1,00,000 MW. In the year 2014-15, it witnessed 42 percent increase in the solar capacity. Funding mechanisms like diverting additional revenues from coal cess increase ($6/ton, which is the highest clean energy cess among developing countries) to fund renewable energy projects have been initiated. But such momentum can only be sustained if it is backed by indigenous R&D, innovation, and manufacturing capability. Solar systems are dependent on local conditions and need to be optimised for specific applications and geographical factors. Therefore, a flourishing R&D base in the country is critical if India wants to convert this solar energy vision into a reality. Such an innovation ecosystem requires close collaboration between the research community and the industry. India can be a laboratory for the global R&D institutions and industry to collaborate with their Indian counterparts to come up with innovative solutions. The innovations should also focus on utilising solar power to low-cost home appliances especially in rural areas where more than 60 percent of the energy needs are met through traditional biomass-based fuels. These innovations in solar energy also need a consistent demand to make them viable in the long run. Online platforms like e-commerce sites can be incentivized by the government to market them with competitive pricing. By virtue of its geographical advantage, it can actually be a focus point for research in solar energy provided right incentives are given from the policy side.

Another area where creative solutions are required is the creation of carbon sinks. They are necessary to trap the emissions in the atmosphere and bring them back to the carbon cycle. India is following the afforestation program to increase its carbon intake capacity. For the past 27 years, India has been trying to increase its forest cover from the present 23 percent to 33 percent, which still remains a pipe dream due to increasing pressures to achieve rapid industrial development. The problem lies in the poor implementation of the afforestation program. Afforestation is often seen in India as a compensatory mechanism for the forests destroyed and not as a source of revenue generation for the timber products and other forest produce, particularly for the local communities. Sufficient studies in this area are required to market afforestation as an innovative tool for climate change adaptation. Nearly 40 percent of the forest cover in the country is degraded and the trick lies in increasing the productivity of this land instead of searching for new barren lands through mapping using satellite data already available for these lands. The administration becomes easier if the local communities were made a part of this process. If they are allowed to sell the forest produce it becomes an incentive to protect them. Also, agroforestry can be coupled with it to augment their revenues. Research focus should be on promotion of those species of plants that have high carbon sequestration potential.

Innovations are also required for a sustainable habitat through energy efficiency and smart urban management. More than 30 percent of the emissions are from the urban areas. The National Mission on Sustainable Habitat (one of the eight missions under NAPCC) talks about improvements in waste management, recycling of waste water, sewage utilisation, sludge management and extensive increase in public transport like Rapid Bus Transit, Metro Rail improving the energy efficiency of buildings etc. in urban areas. Each of these problems requires separate attention and they are much bigger issues even if we do not consider the climate change aspect. For example, urban waste management is a vexing issue with problems ranging from bureaucratic apathy to lack of appropriate technologies suited for local needs. Even more is the increasing vehicular pollution. Before we see the complete effects of climate change, India needs to address its homegrown pollution which has more immediate and direct impact on its people. For example, the Uttarakhand floods in 2012 were caused by poor urban management meddling with the sensitive Himalayan ecology.

To achieve that target of limiting the temperature rise to below 2ᴼC by 2100, the world can emit only 2900 Giga ton (Gt) of Carbon dioxide. Till 2011 the world has emitted 1900 Gt, meaning the carbon budget is highly constrained and the remaining 1000 Gt has to be used judiciously for the next 80 years through the means of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. Although it requires collective action, India cannot wait for anyone. The focus of the mitigation and adaptation measures in India should be to find innovative indigenous solutions which will complement foreign-funded programs like Clean Development Mechanism. After all, we are living in a time borrowed from our future generations and it is never too late to act.



This essay was submitted for the European Union-The Hindu Centre Essay Competition

(Sai Charan Bandaru is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at


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