Indian States Must Establish Their Own Net Zero Targets

Indian States Must Establish Their Own Net Zero Targets SELCO & IKEA Foundation Usher Solar Solutions For 25,000 Healthcare Facilities

by Afeena Ashfaque

India announced its goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070 at the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November 2021. India can achieve this by enabling the states to develop and meet their own net zero carbon targets. While, in September 2021, Maharashtra became the first state to announce net zero targets, other states need to follow suit. To do this, the government should work towards improving national and subnational coordination between agencies; clearly demarcating center-states jurisdiction; accelerate the green finance ecosystem; and further technical expertise.

Center-state coordination

While important steps have been taken, further streamlining of coordination and clear separation of responsibilities between the national and state governments can go a long way. Currently, due to a directive under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) released by the Government of India in 2008, in general climate change adaptation is the responsibility of states whereas mitigation is the responsibility of the national government. Under the NAPCC, the center also directed states to develop their own State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCC), leading most Indian states to begin drafting more general climate action plans even before India signed the Paris Agreement in 2016. However, the plans did not often include net zero targets for carbon emissions reduction goals. Recently states have been revising these action plans, but many still lack the scope, or the scale required to contribute effectively to India’s national goal of carbon neutrality. A central government directive outlining minimum essential features would be a very good start.

Intra-state agency level coordination

While center-state coordination is important, coordination between all relevant intra-state government agencies should also be improved. Currently, the state-level approach to climate action is not being fully implemented in tandem with the changing development priorities. For example, in several states, responsible departments prepare climate change action plans. However, they often do not take carbon emissions reduction challenges in allied areas like agriculture, energy, water resources, and urban and rural development into account. To address this, states should establish inter-agency task forces that can better coordinate and guide states. Such task forces could better integrate sectoral climate change expertise into existing policy frameworks and plans. For instance, State Designated Agencies (SDAs) under the Bureau of Energy Efficiency provide a good roadmap. SDAs are state level agencies created by the central government’s Energy Conservation Act, 2001 but are operationally controlled by state governments. SDAs have brought stakeholders such as distribution companies, renewable energy agencies, electrical inspectorates, and power departments in the states under the common ambit of energy conservation, and enabled state level coordination, while also maintaining state agencies’ autonomy in agenda setting and implementation. Based on a similar structure, state level taskforces could also ensure representation from relevant state ministries by mandating board seats for ministerial representatives.

State and local level climate finance

Developing climate finance opportunities for states will be a crucial piece that will require states’ attention. Presently, most states do not have a dedicated climate fund to support the implementation of state-level net zero targets. Tamil Nadu became the first state to launch a fund on January 2, 2023, however, it is still nascent. Although the National Adaptation Fund and the National Clean Energy and Environment Fund, set up by the center support states’ climate action, state level funds can provide additional vigor. Additionally, state governments haven’t been able to localize climate action, given limited district involvement in agenda setting or implementation. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) report on municipal finances pinpoints cities’ inability to raise their own funds as a hindrance to their implementation capacity. Allowing cities to raise capital may fortify their ability to lead climate action initiatives in line with the state and central agendas. Apart from the central government, industrialized economies also must fulfill their commitment to provide climate finance opportunities to developing economies like India.

Assess scientific and technical expertise

There is a need to assess the technical and scientific capabilities of the states to effectively analyze the impacts of climate change and implement net zero targets. This will enable the states to understand their technical shortcomings, and thus seek appropriate assistance. To further this, India can deepen its engagement with domestic and international partners who can establish knowledge exchanges on best practices, assess the technical and scientific knowledge of state government policy offices and offer support where required to allow well-informed policy choices. New partners can help transfer new technologies to assist India’s state governments in establishing net zero targets and achieving carbon emissions reduction goals. For example, Indian states could learn from the experiences of state governments in the United States which have successfully adopted net zero targets. In this regard, the Wadhwani Chair at CSIS continues to bring together states, national laboratories and clean energy experts from both the US and India to advance technical knowledge exchange.

India’s net zero target by 2070 can only be fulfilled by effective state participation. In line, the central government will need to help states overcome existing challenges and meet their own net zero targets.

Afeena Ashfaque is the associate director with the Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies Afeena Ashfaque is the associate director with the Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at Center for Strategic and International Studies. Her research focuses on Indian domestic policy, particularly building subnational partnerships to drive energy development in India and the United States.

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