Climate Change and the Energy Challenge: A Pragmatic Approach for India

India has been famous for arguing that it (and the rest of the developing world) should incur no expense in controlling emissions that cause climate change. The west caused the problem and it should clean it up. That argument is increasingly untenable — both in the fundamental arithmetic of climate change, which is a problem that is impossible to solve without developing country participation, and in the political reality that important western partners will increasingly demand more of India and other developing countries. India’s own public is also demanding more.

The Indian government has outlined a broad plan for what could be done, but the plan still lacks a strategy to inform which efforts offer the most leverage on warming emissions and which are most credible because they align with India’s own interests.

This paper offers a framework for that strategy. It suggests that a large number of options to control warming gases are in India’s own self-interest, and with three case studies it suggests that leverage on emissions could amount to several hundred million tonnes of CO2 annually over the next decade and an even larger quantity by 2030. (For comparison, the Kyoto Protocol has caused worldwide emission reductions of, at most, a couple hundred million tonnes of CO2 per year.) We suggest in addition to identifying self-interest — which is the key concept in the burgeoning literature on “co-benefits” of climate change policy — that it is also important to examine where India and outsiders (e.g., technology providers and donors) have leverage.

One reason that strategies offered to date have remained abstract and difficult to implement is that they are not rooted in a clear understanding of where the Government of India is able to deliver on its promises (and where Indian firms have access to the needed technology and practices). Many ideas are interesting in theory but do not align with the administrative and technological capabilities of the Indian context. As the rest of the world contemplates how to engage with India on the task of controlling emissions it must craft deals that reflect India’s interests, capabilities and leverage on emissions. These deals will not be simple to craft, but there are many precedents for such arrangements in other areas of international cooperation, such as in accession agreements to the WTO.