Climate Change Policy Regime in India


Mahatma Gandhi rightly said that the Earth has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed. Today man in order to fulfil his endless desires is putting a huge burden on mother nature and is compromising the health of the planet for future generations. The adverse consequences of man’s greed can be seen through signs of climate change like rising sea levels, global warming, shrinkage of ice sheets, glacial retreat, ocean acidification, and decreasing snow cover. Climate change is one of the biggest crises that humanity has ever faced and the problem is further aggravated by the fact that it is not the “great equalizer”. As per the report of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) the global impacts of climate change are inherently unequal. Very often, the most severe damages from droughts, hurricanes, and other disasters occur in places that are least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, the need of the hour is to formulate a comprehensive policy to address the issue of climate change at both the national and international levels.

India and Climate Change:

Climate Change is one of the major challenges faced by India today. The recent report released by the London-based global think tank Overseas Development Institute is just another reminder of India’s vulnerable situation with respect to climate change. The report throws much-needed light on the impact of climate change on inequality and poverty in India. It argues that India may lose anywhere around 3 to 10 percent of its GDP annually by 2100 and its poverty rate may rise by 3.5 percent in 2040 due to climate change.

Another research conducted by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics (commissioned by World Bank) reveals India’s vulnerability by highlighting the adverse effects that climate change will have on India in terms of agriculture productivity, groundwater, rainfall, droughts, etc. According to their findings, the droughts are expected to be more frequent in some areas, especially in north-western India, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh, and the crop yields are expected to fall significantly because of extreme heat by the 2040s. The report also highlights that the increasing variability and long-term decreases in river flows can pose a major challenge to hydropower plants and increase the risk of physical damage from landslides, flash floods, and glacial lake outbursts. The coastal areas of India are at a greater risk because the Sea-level rise and storm surges would lead to saltwater intrusion in the coastal areas that will impact agriculture, degrade groundwater quality, and contaminate drinking water. Thus, India needs to have a robust policy in place to fight climate change.

India follows a “dualist system” meaning that international agreements must first be translated into national legislation before they can be applied by the national courts. It means that to become enforceable Paris agreement and the UNFCCC must be translated into domestic law. Same of the key domestic climate change-related policies and actions include- National Environment Policy 2006, and Individual legislation such as the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), 2008

The beginning of the twenty-first century was marked by intense political and economic discussions around climate change. The great irony was that the developed countries who had hugely benefitted from industrialization were badgering the developing countries to reduce their carbon emissions. Another major development during this time was the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report concluded that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal and most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. As a result of these developments, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government constituted the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change (PMCCC) in mid-2007. Following several intense secessions, the government announced the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) on 30th June 2008.

One unique feature of NAPCC is the “co-benefits approach”, which focuses on duplicating areas of action, through which development needs of society and climate change concerns are addressed simultaneously. A co-benefits approach stresses the synergies between climate response and development needs. The core of the NAPCC approach is the creation of eight national missions “representing multi-pronged, long-term and integrated strategies for achieving key goals in the context of climate change”. The eight submissions are- National Solar Mission, National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency, National Mission for Sustainable Habitat, National Water Mission,
National Mission for Strategic Knowledge on Climate Change, National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, National Mission for Green India, National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem. Apart from these eight sub-missions that encompass a range of climate-related issues like solar, water, forest, Himalayan ecosystem, etc. the Central Government in 2009 also requested the State Governments to prepare State-level Action Plans on Climate Change consistent with the objectives of NAPCC.

Implementation of NAPCC

As per NAPCC, the eight National Missions were to be institutionalized and implemented by the respective ministries. The ministries were responsible for developing the objectives, implementation of strategies, timelines, and monitoring and evaluation criteria that were to be submitted to the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change (PMCCC). The Council was made responsible for periodically reviewing and reporting on each mission’s progress. Further, the states were asked to formulate and implement their respective State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCC). The
formulation of SAPCCs was seen as an important achievement in developing decentralized domestic policies on climate change in India. As per information available on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MоEF&CC) website, the National Steering Committee on Climate Change has endorsed SAPCCs of 32 states and Uts. Despite being a gamechanger in the field of decentralized policymaking the formation of SAPCC faced various challenges as highlighted by Navrоz K Dubash and Anu Jоgesh in their report published by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR). Dubash and Jоgesh highlighted that there was a very high variation in budgets allocated across states. For instance, Orissa pegged the budget at Rs 17,000 crore for five years while Haryana’s plan costs Rs 55,000
crore. Moreover, there was no systematic framework for arriving at these numbers. Another challenge faced by the states is the lack of clarity on how to proceed further for requirements like conducting vulnerability assessments. A major obstacle for government departments in addressing climate change concerns is the lack of dedicated personnel. Climate change action is a new and fairly technical field and for that, the officials need to be highly skilled and trained.

Evaluation of NAPCC:

The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), 2008 displays India’s resolve to combat climate change. Still, there are some of the challenges and loopholes in the current framework of NAPCC that need to be addressed to make it more efficient. One major challenge according to Vijeta Rattani, (environment expert) is that of ineffective or absent monitoring systems. This can be seen from the fact that the Progress reports for National Solar Mission (NSM), National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency (NMEEE), and National Water Mission (NWM) is currently available in
the public domain but mapping of progress for other missions has been difficult to obtain due to their cross-cutting nature. Secondly, as per the NAPCC plan, the Ministries are required to report progress and have regular meetings with the PM’s Council on Climate Change, but the Council itself has met only once since its reconstitution. So, there is a need for regular meetings of ministries with the PM’s council so that the progress of the missions can be mapped regularly. NAPCC has also come under criticism for being too broad and lacking specificities. According to the critics, while the energy efficiency and forestry missions include mitigation components in the form of quantified targets,
missions on sustainable agriculture, water, and the sustainable Himalayas are purely adaptive in nature.

Another major challenge is with respect to the formulation of the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) as there is a large-scale variation between the SAPCC across different states because of reasons like the different priority that states assign to climate change, resource availability, developmental circumstances, etc. Moreover, the SAPCCs framed by almost all the states are very vague and there is also a large disparity in the amount that the states spend to combat climate change. In a nutshell, the challenges in the efficient implementation of the missions range from the
presence of financial constraints, inter-ministerial coordination, lack of technical expertise to project clearance delays.

Despite these challenges, the National Action Plan on Climate Change has also been successful on many counts. One such indicator of India’s good performance is reflected by the latest Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) 2021, which has placed India among the top ten countries to have adapted substantial measures to mitigate climate change. It is argued that NAPCC is very comprehensive in its coverage and creates cross-cultural links through the eight National Level Missions. Greenpeace, a non-governmental environmental organization regards the focus on solar
energy as the highlight of the NAPCC. According to them, the solar and renewable programs show foresight in energy planning and an intention to capitalize on India’s potential for solar energy.

Way Forward

The Indian position on climate change has always faced a dilemma between binaries of economic development and climate protection. It is felt that ecologically sustainable development is in contradiction to achieving our growth objectives. However, this is not true as sustainable development is the only way we can meet the needs of today, without compromising the needs of tomorrow. Thus, we need to integrate the binaries of economic growth and climate protection and develop a sustainable policy framework. The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) is one such policy document that adapts the co-benefits approach. It aims to move on the path of development while at the same time addressing climate concerns. It presents a comprehensive strategy to combat climate change but we need to address the loopholes in the policy to make it more efficient. Inter-ministerial cooperation, adequate budgetary allocation, regular progress mapping, effective implementation of State Action Plans on Climate change (SAPCC) are few initial steps that can be undertaken to boost the performance of NAPCC. We saw how COVID-19 caused serious disruption to economies around the world including the Indian economy will contract for the first time in over 4 decades according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data. However, after the devastating second wave, the countries have now started their journey on the path of recovery and this can be seen as a ripe time to rethink the idea of “green budgeting”. Green budgeting includes evaluating the environmental impacts of budgetary and fiscal policies and assessing their coherence towards the delivery of national and international commitments. Adapting green budgeting can help countries transition towards environment-friendly policies and improve their resilience to future shocks.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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