SFC Perspectives on Adaptation and Resilience, Climate Policy, Energy Transitions, and Environmental Governance and Policy


SFC Perspectives are intended to stimulate discussion by providing an overview of key issues and avenues for action to inform India’s sustainable development trajectory.

Read our Perspectives on:

1. Adaptation and Resilience: Building systems that allow India to adapt to climate impacts (by Aditya Valiathan Pillai and Tamanna Dalal)
2. Perspectives on Climate Policy: Embedding a development-centric, climate-ready approach to policymaking (by Aman Srivastava, Easwaran J Narassimhan and Navroz K Dubash)
3. Enabling the Energy Transition: Technology, politics & institutions in India’s energy system (by Ashwini K Swain, Sarada Prasanna Das, Suravee Nayak, Catherine Ayallore and Navroz K Dubash)
4. Perspectives on Environmental Governance and Policy: Systemic transformations to limit the health burden of air pollution (by Bhargav Krishna, Shibani Ghosh, Arunesh Karkun and Annanya Mahajan)

Perspectives on Adaptation and Resilience: Building systems that allow India to adapt to climate impacts


Climate projections and the lived reality of weather events drive calls for urgent and concerted attention to climate adaptation. But what does this mean in practice? Indeed, seen through a conservative lens, one could quite convincingly argue that India and several other climate vulnerable countries have a long and storied history of reducing disaster mortalities in some areas. They should – in theory – be able to build sufficient reactive capacity to deal with climate impacts. Both India and Bangladesh have, for example, used policy and awareness building tools to drastically reduce annual deaths due to cyclones. This perspective paper, however, argues that the scale and complexity of the climate challenge merits serious consideration of systemic change, and a re-examination of what is needed for economy and society to thrive in an era of frequent, and often ravaging, climate impacts.

This effort is particularly relevant to India’s present developmental moment. Three decades of sustained growth have established an economy characterised by expanded trade, infrastructural advances, and both greater wealth and inequality. This emergence coincides uneasily with alarming manifestations of a changing climate. India’s deep vulnerability to climate change is likely to worsen
as impacts become more frequent and intense in its teeming cities, along a 6100 km-long coastline, and across a mountain range that supplies water to a third of the world’s population. How does a modern economy simultaneously protect the gains of hardwon growth while climate-proofing the future? And, as the Indian state evolves, how should it shape itself to be appropriately responsive to these new threats?

Read more

Enabling the Energy Transition: Technology, politics & institutions in India’s energy system


India must build a 21st century energy system while simultaneously grappling with 20th century problems of energy access, operational inefficiencies, and financial leakages in electricity distribution. Unlike industrialised economies which are in a position to taper their demand, India needs to expand energy use to fuel economic growth and social aspirations. How India chooses to meet its future energy demand – how it produces and consumes energy – is consequential for India’s development future, but also the global energy transition.

India has positioned itself as a frontrunner in the energy transition by setting ambitious near-term targets for clean energy to contribute toward the long-term pledge of net-zero emissions by 2070. Its domestic energy targets include 500 GW non-fossil energy generation capacity, inclusive of 450 GW of renewable energy (RE), and renewable purchase obligations (RPOs) – a de facto generation target – of 43% to be met by 20302. Besides, as part of its G20 presidency, India mobilised a consensus to triple RE capacity and double energy efficiency globally by 2030, subsequently reflected in the Dubai Declaration.

The transition from fossil fuel to RE comes with the potential for energy self-sufficiency, a promise of low-cost power to meet welfare demands, and an opportunity for competitive, job-creating and green industrialisation. However, these opportunities are neither automatic nor free of costs. While an affordable, cleaner, greener, job-creating energy future beckons, the path from here to there will be disruptive, likely creating losers who have an incentive to slow-down changes, potentially risking stability of energy supply, and will depend on far greater finance and infrastructure investments. 

The technology shift that undergirds India’s energy transition will need to be accompanied by foundational institutional changes. Tapping the potential of RE depends on clear and coherent plans, institutional capacities, and governance processes that enable the unwinding of lock-ins to incumbent technologies, and create space for new and emerging technologies. Managing likely disruptions and enabling the transition requires fundamental shifts in politics and institutions in Indian energy along with adoption of new technology.

Our research and engagements at the Sustainable Futures Collaborative (SFC) focus on rethinking the configuration of technology, politics and institutions in Indian energy as a necessary complement to techno-economic solutions for enabling the transition. To explain the configuration and suggest priorities for change, we focus on three interlinked areas: the economic viability of electricity distribution, subnational preparedness, and just energy transition.

Read more

Perspectives on Climate Policy: Embedding a development-centric, climate-ready approach to policymaking


India is a rapidly growing country pursuing a range of challenging development objectives. Its continued growth and development – particularly in the face of a changing climate – will likely involve large structural shifts in its patterns of growth, urbanisation, and employment. Against the backdrop of this uncertain future pathway, India has also committed to decarbonising its economy over a multi-decadal timescale. To this end, it has instituted multiple targets and policies in relevant sectors, layering in further measures over time in response to evolving conditions. This approach has enabled the country to partially decouple its growth from emissions and grow its renewable electricity generation capacity over the last decade.

Like most countries, India has hitherto taken an opportunity-siezing approach to climate mitigation,green growth, and green industrialisation. But realising greater climate and development benefits requires coalescing these efforts into a strategic approach to low-carbon development that also builds climate resilience. Doing so can present significant opportunities to synergistically achieve these environmental and developmental benefits – navigating shifts in global economic conditions and the ongoing energy transition. Because the strategy-setting, coordination, and consensus building requirements of such a transition are large, such a strategy requires a capable state with a development-centric, climate-ready approach to policymaking. Such a policymaking approach requires 1) modelling capacities to estimate low-carbon pathways and their development implications; 2) institutions capable of coordinating and mainstreaming climate considerations to achieve greater coherence; 3) bureaucracies that work with industry to devise green industrial policy strategies; and 4) the ability to nudge and harness a financing ecosystem to steer investments towards low-carbon development (See Figure 1). A development-centric climate-ready approach to policymaking also requires revisiting the relative roles of the state and markets in steering the country’s low-carbon pathway and addressing problems of the global commons. The identification and appropriateness of these choices for the Indian context merits further study.

The Climate Policy group within SFC approaches policy challenges through a strategic lens, aiming for long-term structural change by shifting discourse, building stronger institutions, and aligning conditions for implementation.

Read more

Perspectives on Environmental Governance and Policy: Systemic transformations to limit the health burden of air pollution


Air pollution is the largest risk factor for ill health in India, ahead of high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, and poor diets, contributing to ~1.7 million deaths in 2019. Home to several of the most polluted cities in the world, India has witnessed a doubling of death rates from air pollution between 1990 and 2019. The associated economic burden of this high air pollution was pegged at 1.36% of GDP or ~INR 2 lakh crores in 20191. By any metric, air pollution is a national emergency, and while some important first steps have been taken over the last few years, there is a long way to go before India achieves acceptable air quality levels.

At the Sustainable Futures Collaborative (SFC), we view reducing air pollution not only as a technical challenge, but also as a structural one that requires re-thinking our approach and the institutions that are tasked with addressing it. Systematically addressing air pollution requires a long-term, strategic, goal oriented, health-protecting framework that also integrates short-term implementable technical solutions, all executed by a capable state. Reshaping India’s air pollution policy framework to that end, we believe, will require (1) making health the basis for crafting mitigation priorities, (2) strengthening regulatory institutions in the
ecosystem, (3) executing nested, coordinated, data-driven planning and action from local to airshed levels, and (4) focusing on root causes, not symptoms.

India is at a pivotal moment in its quest to reduce the harms of air pollution and this reshaping of the policy framework is an opportunity to build state capacity and ameliorate health harms while integrating air pollution concerns more deeply into the country’s development goals.

Read more