While India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies it is also one of the countries that will be the most affected by climate change with a large, poor population vulnerable to its impacts. Protecting economic development remains the first priority of this vast country.

By Dragana Davidovic


  • World’s fifth largest energy consumer after China, the US, the EU and Russia
  • Per capita energy consumption is currently one-third of the global average, while energy demands are projected to grow 2.8 per cent annually
  • Shielding itself from binding growth-suppressing emission-reduction commitments
  • Few concrete signs of change in climate policy towards more ambitious emission cuts


Based on the new (2015) book The Domestic Politics of Global Climate: Key Actors in International Climate Cooperation edited by Guri Bang, Arild Underdal and Steinar Andresen and the chapter Climate politics, emission scenarios and negotiation stances in India by Sunil Tankha and Trude Rauken.

Other sources:

India Overview

Rising Fosil Fuel Use

The Salient Features of the Integrated Energy Policy of India

US-China climate deal lowers expectations of strong global climate deal in 2015

Key Facts

India is the world’s fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, the US and the EU, with 2407 million metric tons CO2 emitted in 2013, amounting to 7 per cent of the world total.  Per-capita emissions are still low (1.9 tCO2), but India is projected to emit about between 4 and 7.5 billion tons of CO2 annually by 2030. Between 1994 and 2007 GHG-emissions grew 58 per cent, while emission intensity of GDP fell by 30 per cent. India has the second largest population in the world with more than 1.2 billion people. About 70 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, and two-thirds of rural households use traditional firewood and biomass for cooking as do one-fifth of urban households. Primary energy consumption has more than doubled between 1990 and 2012, and is expected to increase even further when electricity is provided to the 300 million citizens currently lacking access to modern energy services.  

Coal is the biggest source of energy, providing more than half of total energy consumed in 2013, followed by petroleum (22 per cent), and traditional biomass (22 per cent). Natural gas, hydropower, nuclear and new renewables together account for 12 per cent of total energy consumption. While renewables are growing, they are still not competitive with coal. Despite having large reserves of coal and a strong growth in natural gas production over the past two decades, India is increasingly dependent on importing fossil fuel. This has led the government to encourage citizens to use energy fuels more efficiently.

Policy Supply and Demand

In 2006, the Planning Commission released India’s Integrated Energy Policy, presenting 11 potential scenarios of fuel mix. The policy explores alternative technologies and possible synergies that would provide for greater energy efficiency and meet energy demands in all sectors. Even under the best-case scenario India’s emissions are expected to increase. The only way to break these trends is a complete change in the economics of renewable energy production by technological advances or economies of scale. The supply of relevant policies and initiatives by the Indian government is limited in this regard.   

The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) adopted in 2008 has adaptation as its main concern. The plan is organized in eight climate-related missions of which the three largest missions are focused on adaptation, while two are focused on mitigation efforts. The latter include increasing investments in renewable energy, particularly wind and solar power, and increasing energy efficiency. The government’s solar power target is 100 GW installed capacity by 2025, and similar ambitious targets exist for wind power and small hydro. Although implementation challenges exist, the expected growth in renewables will limit the growth in fossil fuel consumption. Access to finance and technology will be important for implementation.   

When it comes to societal demand for climate and energy policies the picture is mixed. While climate change mitigation is not perceived as a political issue among the population, local environmental problems are. Vehicular pollution in large metropolitan cities has in particular created public pressure to do more to tackle air pollution. In rural areas the effects of climate change are the main concern since changes in monsoon patterns affect agricultural harvests, making adaptation more urgent than mitigation.

Domestic Drivers and Barriers

The government’s response to climate change mitigation is largely conditioned by energy sources and energy governance. As long as India’s energy supply is dependent on fossil fuels, mainly coal, emissions are likely to increase. Energy governance in India is divided among various levels of government, characterized by unclear and overlapping boundaries and fragmentation in authority and responsibility, causing inefficiencies. In addition, any mitigation decisions that hurt or limit economic growth are politically unfeasible. Poverty reduction and economic development are the main priorities of political parties. The development goal, however, could also mean possibilities for co-benefits in the cases where engaging in climate change mitigation will bring economic opportunities and development.  

The Future

Poverty-reduction and improved living conditions will continue to be the first priorities of the government. Developing low-carbon and renewable energy sources to increase energy efficiency and meet increasing demands on energy supply is part of these priorities. However, India is also expected to increase its domestic fossil fuel production to fulfill the goal of becoming energy independent before 2030.  

Internationally India will continue to push for environmental equity and defend the CBDR-principle. India will refuse to reduce emissions unless it comes with economic advantages, and will prioritize adaptation over mitigation measures.