A little over a year ago, the global community proposed an ambitious new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to protect the environment and enhance human well-being. Three months later, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, CoP21 in Paris, announced equally ambitious new targets for action on climate change. Such bold commitments have been facilitated by development trends in several emerging economies. India, for one, has made truly astonishing gains: the World Bank reports that in over just seven years, from 2004 to 2011, the number of Indian citizens living in acute poverty fell from 426 million to 263 million, a reduction in the proportion of the population in poverty from 38% to <22%
At the same time, however, industrialization has reduced India’s natural forests, dried up rivers and aquifers, eroded ecosystem services and biodiversity, extracted a heavy toll on public health, and exacerbated social and economic inequities. As millions more are lifted out of poverty, per capita energy consumption in India—currently just a third of the global average—is expected to double by 2040. India may soon overtake China as the primary global locus of growth in energy demand (1).
Thus, India joins the United States, Europe, and China as a major player in global efforts to mount a coherent climate response. Implementation of the Paris Agreements depends crucially on India’s continued cooperation in meeting its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) commitments. However, India’s stated plans to implement its INDC while pursuing parallel SDGs fail to add up, largely because planned carbon sink expansions cannot compensate for increased aggregate emissions. As the global community moves enthusiastically toward ratification of the Paris Agreements, possibly even this year, INDCs must be subject to appropriate critical scrutiny.
India’s current and anticipated rates of energy production and consumption demand a reevaluation of its proposals in light of the policy instruments, institutions, and governance needed to reconcile INDC and SDG goals through green economic growth. To achieve this difficult balancing act, India will need to rethink its reforestation targets and processes, rapidly build out its strengths in satellite technologies, and reorganize several government initiatives to avert delays, conflicts, and redundancies.