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What It Will Take for India to Address Climate Change? 

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What It Will Take for India to Address Climate Change? 

Climate pledges and the energy transition can only truly be achieved when these are linked with development promises. At present, however, there seems to be a gap. 

What It Will Take for India to Address Climate Change? 
Credit: Depositphotos

As the temperature is rising in India, so is election fever. But these elections are different. Measures against climate change finally feature in manifestos of national parties, which is very important. To make a difference, however, climate action urgently needs an unprecedented push from governments and businesses.

While elections in India are hard fought, political promises have largely remained the same over decades. Basic necessities covering livelihoods, water, education, and health have folded into a development and welfare plank, and these are prominently pushed during campaigning. This election year, however, the energy transition to renewable alternatives is a poll promise, and rightly so. But while in the manifestos, these pledges hardly feature on the campaign trail or in political rallies.

Climate and the energy transition can only truly be achieved when these are linked with development promises or are told in a way that resonates with the masses. At present, however, there seems to be a gap. While the development agenda is catered to the masses and the poor, the climate agenda is geared toward the nation’s elites and international and national observers. This gap needs to be bridged.

Climate change affects how we live, how and when we commute, it affects our food security, availability of water, soil health, air, and the built environment – the list is long. The impacts are increasingly felt everywhere whether in the form of slow onset climate change or increasing frequency and intensity of climate disasters. And while we adapt and build resilience to the effects of climate change, there is a collective duty across geographies to mitigate emissions.

India is the third largest energy consumer in the world already, and it has committed to achieving net zero by 2070. This target can be reached if businesses and governments come together to make large-scale changes.

For example, our work with businesses shows that big businesses do have an appetite for using renewable electricity. In the latest annual disclosure report under our RE100 initiative we noted that, in 2022, more than 180 major Indian and global businesses in the country sourced almost a quarter of their electricity from solar, wind, and hydropower among renewable energy sources.

A universal shift in the operations of such businesses is a challenge. To see the impact of climate action, we will need more businesses to commit to change and for them to in turn influence their value chains. And it’s possible – through our networks, more and more we see businesses demanding climate action from their suppliers as well. When demand increases, markets shift until renewables become the norm. This will pave the way for smaller businesses to transition.

That said, it is not only strong intent that will count, but also the availability of finance. This will particularly be the case for small businesses and value chain operators.

Besides this, robust policies can smooth the energy transition at various levels across sectors. Electric vehicles are an example. As India increases the mix of renewables in its power grid, one of the interim targets of net zero by 2070 is the transition to EVs. State governments preparing and implementing their EV policies can enable a quicker shift to electric vehicles. This could help EV prices to go down and address another big problem – that of readily available EV charging infrastructure. The EV transition will become swifter and both private and public transportation will transform.

Thus, the story about development can no longer afford to ignore the nuances. Elections and the host of conversations that happen during this time have the potential to break knowledge barriers and build consensus among the voters around the need for sustainable and just development. A voter must know that when they ask for 24/7 electricity, they are actually asking for renewable electricity.

If economic growth is a barometer of progress, then India’s aspiration to be the third largest economy by 2027 will demand rapid expansion. For the next government the challenge will be to swiftly reconcile development aspirations with climate realities. Climate action should not remain in the realm of a distant future versus immediate needs. Climate action is a matter of now.

In early April, India’s Supreme Court ruled that Indians have a right to be free from the adverse impacts of climate change. The same month, parts of the country reeled from unusually high temperatures. May, the final month of voting, is already in the grip of heatwaves. Legal battles set a valuable precedent, but the complexity and urgency of the climate crisis means much of what is to be done will never reach the courts. It’s on governments and businesses to do all they can.