Between now and 2027, India is set to become the world’s most populous country. No one questions its right to development, or the fact that its current emissions per person are tiny. But when building the new India for its 1.4 billion people, whether it relies on coal and oil, or clean, green energy will be a major factor in whether global warming can be tamed.
What is clear is that a low-carbon transition is in the country’s best long-term interests. India is extraordinarily vulnerable to climate change, with high baseline temperatures that make it particularly sensitive to additional warming. It also has a long coastline susceptible to intensifying cyclonic storm surges and sea level rises. Adding to these are the human-made factors of runaway pollution, a vast informal economy, unplanned development, and lack of disaster preparedness.
Many recent natural disasters highlight and foreshadow India’s heightened risk from the impacts of climate change exacerbated by its developmental choices. The heat waves of 2015 and 2016, the extreme flooding in Kerala in 2018 and 2019, the devastation in the Sundarbans by Super Cyclone Amphan in 2020, and the 2021 Uttarakhand landslides and flash floods. These have not just extracted heavy tolls on lives and livelihoods, but also caused extensive damage to infrastructure such as roads, dwellings and electricity grids.
The missing piece of the climate adaption puzzle
In the coming years, India will need policies that not only lower pollution and carbon emissions, but also alleviate energy poverty and create jobs for its growing workforce. At the same time, it needs to adapt to the climate changes that are already under way.
In this context, the mass roll-out of distributed renewable energy (DRE) technology throughout India is a panacea that can facilitate India’s development goals, by providing clean, reliable energy access to all, while limiting future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.