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

Overview

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)

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

Introduction

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

Uneven and Combined Development and the Politics of Labour in an Eastern Indian Coalfield: Shifts and Changes from Late Colonialism to Neoliberalism

Introduction

Trotsky’s notion of uneven and combined development has been discussed extensively in the literature on extractive industries in the Global South. The debates originated in studies on Latin America but they are equally relevant for any other country of the Global South. In the Indian context, the development of extractive industries such as coal mining rests on, reproduces and constantly re-combines unevenness between India and other countries as well as within the country. This was the case when large-scale industrial mining began in India during the colonial period, primarily for railways, such as the East Indian Railway, and for local industries and export trade (Ghosh 1977). Mining continued to set the trajectory after the country gained Independence in 1947, when the state expanded the extraction of coal to feed its ambitious project of rapid industrialization in the name of ‘development’. Both, the ‘temples of modern India’ – as the first Prime Minister Nehru called the large integrated steel mills – and the large coal mines were concentrated in the subnational states in central and eastern India, such as Odisha, Jharkhand (formerly part of Bihar) and Chhattisgarh formerly part of Madhya Pradesh) (Das 1992; Adduci 2012; Adhikari and Chhotray 2020). As is well known, the expansion of open-cast coal mines entailed a plethora of environmental degradation as well as the large-scale dispossession and displacement of usually marginal agriculture-based communities and the dismantling of their agrarian structure (Nayak 2020; Noy 2020). The changing industrial policies since Independence also re-created and re-combined unevenness in the labour regimes, first by expanding the formalization of the erstwhile almost exclusively casual mining labour forces and later on by re-informalizing them.

Read more

Intergenerational Labour and Just Transition in Coalfields

Introduction

India’s coal dependency is more complex than that of countries in the Global North. Amidst deliberations on coal phase-down and just transition planning and strategies post COP-26, the intricacies of this dependence make any phase-down a delicate and intense socio-economic and political process. Apart from the country’s reliance on coal for energy security, this dependency is also spread across economy, especially amongst coal communities. More importantly, accounting for the impact on livelihoods and jobs of coal communities are at the core of coal dependency discussions in the country. There are two approaches to examine coal labour in India. The first is to map direct, indirect and induced employment and the other is to study formal and informal labour in the coal ecosystems. However, these studies largely focus on the magnitude of labour dependency.

Read more

Solar Rooftop Systems and the Urban Transition: Shall the Twain Ever Meet? Interrogations from Rewari, India

Summary

India is facing two major transitions. In 2040, its energy demand will double while 800 million Indians will live in cities by 2050. Situated at this intersection, this article contributes to the field of urban energy research by looking at Solar Rooftop Systems (SRS) in a district located in the extended periphery of Delhi. Using a multi-pronged qualitative methodology in a corridor made of villages and small towns, we argue that public policies are framed applying a rigid territorial grid opposing urban and rural, ignoring the motivations of both residential and professional users, which are not bounded by the rural/urban binary. This disjunction explains that renewable energy does not lead to a new imagination of urban and energy systems. These two fields remain disconnected while solar energy fuels consumption and the city expansion in its peripheries. Finally, the observed variegated urban energy landscapes (UEL) embody a land and energy intensive form of urban growth.

Read more

Coal extraction, dispossession and the ‘classes of labour’ in coalfields of eastern India

Introduction

Drawing upon long term fieldwork conducted in the coalfields of eastern India, the paper argues for the formation of multiple, fragmented and hierarchical ‘classes of labour’ in the ‘new public sector’ coal mines of India. Employing an intersectional lens, it shows that the organisation of ‘classes of labour’ is greatly dependent upon the differentiated negotiating powers for compensatory employments linked to pre-existing land and other social relations shaping up as ‘politics of incorporation’ in mining jobs. It demonstrates the exacerbation of socio-economic inequalities between Dalits, women and dominant caste and class communities in the dispossession process of open-cast coal mining.

Read more