Climate Change: Perspectives from India


Climate change is perhaps the biggest developmental challenge for the planet today, and its economic impacts, particularly on the poor, have made it a governance issue as well. This collection of essays, published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) India, looks at these issues from the perspective of the poor and makes recommendations for the way forward.

In her essay, Sunita Narain, director of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, provides a framework for a just and effective global climate deal based on the idea of the world’s environment as a ‘common property resource’ and the climate agreement as a ‘property rights framework’ that encourages cooperation among countries.

Economics, policy and climate change expert Prodipto Ghosh (who helped prepare India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change) draws our attention to six myths around India’s stand in the global climate change negotiations.

N.C. Saxena, advisor to UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank, pushes for climate change adaptation strategies that can save livelihoods and ensure food security, particularly rainwater harvesting and soil conservation.

Jyoti Parikh, executive director of the Integrated Research and Action for Development, New Delhi, argues in her essay that climate change and natural disasters impact women differently and more severely. She recommends that taking women, children and the poor into consideration while evaluating the vulnerability of social groups to climate change.

And Preeti Soni, the head of the Energy and Environment Programme at UNDP India, says that India’s small-scale industries are significant energy users contributing greenhouse gas emissions (despite their small size and scale of operations), but they could also potentially help to save a huge amount of energy.


  1. In ‘A Just Climate Agreement: The Framework for an Effective Global Deal’, Sunita Narain talks about the importance of differentiating between the emissions of the poor – from subsistence paddy cultivation or animal rearing – and those of the rich – from, say, cars. Narain says that ‘survival emissions’ should not be equivalent to ‘luxury emissions’. 

  2. Narain also says that as long as the world economy is carbon-based, that is, driven by energy from coal, oil, and natural gas, growth cannot be de-linked substantially from carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

  3. Under the Kyoto Protocol (1997), the industrialised world agreed to cut its emissions by just 5.2 per cent of 1990 levels by 2008-2012. However, emissions increased during this period, with rich countries unwilling to ‘compromise their lifestyles’ and poor countries unwilling to accept a premature cap on their right to development.

  4. Narain recommends the concept of ‘equal per capita emission entitlements’ so that rich countries reduce their quota of emissions and poor countries do not go beyond theirs, thus collaborating on climate-responsible action.

  5. Prodipto Ghosh’s essay ‘Is India a Solution to the Problem or a Problem to the Solution?’ says that India has, over several decades, pursued policies and public programmes focussed on energy conservation and renewable energy technologies. Since the mid-1980s, India’s energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of GDP) has been declining, and the 2009 National Geographic Greendex (which evaluates countries for environmental sustainability) ranked India as the world’s most environmentally sustainable society.

  6. Among India’s proposals to tackle global climate change is one which says that technology is key to mitigation and adaptation – specifically, creating cost-effective clean technologies, making them available in developing countries on non-commercial terms, and supporting research to develop more clean technologies.

  7. N.C. Saxena’s essay ‘Food Security in India’ says that despite the country’s fast economic growth and piling food stocks in government godowns, India is home to over 360 million undernourished people and 300 million poor people.

  8. The assets and livelihoods of the poor are tied to climate-sensitive factors of production. A large proportion of the population derives its livelihood, directly or indirectly, from agriculture, which consumes more than 80 per cent of usable freshwater. Saxena recommends water conservation, agro-forestry, and crop management in semi-arid and rain-fed areas.

  9. From 1996 to 2008, foodgrain production in India increased by only 1.2 per cent annually, compared to an annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent per year in the 1980s. The incidence of floods and droughts is likely to increase due to climate change, leading to crop loss and leaving large patches of arable land unfit for cultivation. To ensure food and job security for the poor, Saxena advocates investments in irrigation, rural electrification, roads, diversifying livelihoods, and basic infrastructure.

  10. In her essay ‘Gender: The Ignored Other Half’, Jyoti Parikh says that international efforts are needed for policy negotiations on how gender can be integrated into climate change mechanisms, especially since women are affected by climate treaties like the Kyoto Protocol, the Clean Development Mechanism, and the Marrakech Accords.

  11. Women, who are largely responsible for collecting water in their communities, are more impacted by changes in the seasons and climatic conditions that affect water quantity and accessibility.

  12. Parikh says that we must focus on gender-related activities at the community level (such as increasing access to energy and water in rural areas), and help communities make their livelihoods more resilient to climate change. She insists that women should be involved in dialogue, disaster risk management and conflict prevention.

  13. In ‘Small-scale Industries: Small yet Significant’, Preeti Soni notes that around 13 million small-scale industries (SSIs) employ 42 million people. Together, these SSIs are responsible for 45 per cent of India’s manufacturing output and 40 per cent of its total exports.

  14. SSIs are often thought of as inefficient and unfriendly to the environment, especially at the local level. While unit-level emissions may be small, collective emissions of SSI clusters are high and significant from a climate change perspective.

  15. Soni says that there is an urgent need to increase the knowledge about SSIs and provide incentives at the national level so they can become more energy-efficient. International climate policy needs to be translated into effective national action and reach the local level in order to motivate SSIs to change their way of working.

    Focus and Factoids by Aditi Chandrasekhar.


Sunita Narain, Prodipto Ghosh, N.C. Saxena, Jyoti Parikh, and Preeti Soni


United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) India, New Delhi


Nov, 2009