To limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030, as agreed upon under the 2015 Paris Agreement, India, along with the rest of the world, must strengthen and implement its mitigation ambition.
Over 75 per cent of India’s districts are vulnerable to extreme weather events, and with a rise in floods, droughts, and heatwaves, across India, investments in adaptation and resilience, such as early warning systems, are crucial. However, in a recent study launched at COP27, prominent scientists suggest that the potential to adapt to climate change is not limitless – reinforcing the need for urgent mitigation strategies. While funding for both mitigation and adaptation is still highly insufficient, increasingly investing in deep and swift mitigation efforts, through strong national action plans, can prevent us from crossing ‘tipping points’, and help India meet its climate goals.
Ranked 8th in the Climate Change Performance Index 2023, India’s updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) reflect a strong mitigation ambition – with a commitment to reduce its GHG emissions intensity by 45 per cent of its GDP by 2030, from the 2005 level; to reduce projected carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes by 2030; and to produce 50 per cent of its cumulative electric power from non-fossil-fuel-based energy resources by 2030. To implement this ambition, India requires an estimated INR 162.5 lakh crores by 2030, according to Climate Policy Initiative’s Landscape of Green Finance in India, 2022.
However, tracked green finance for mitigation across clean energy, clean transport, and energy efficiency (as of August 2022), amounts to just over 25 per cent of this amount. As India waits for developed countries to deliver on the promised USD 100 billion, we must look inward, to galvanise funding for strategic mitigation interventions. This will call upon a variety of funders, in the public and private sector, as well as donors, to support mitigation ambition that accounts for the most climate vulnerable and build a vision for inclusive climate action in the global South.
Rising climate leadership across the ecosystem
We can see rising commitment to mitigation across India – from inside boardrooms and start-up hubs, to donors and civil society organisations. Indian companies, including JSW Steel, Dabur, and Mahindra & Mahindra, among many others, are driving climate action by aligning business models with net-zero goals, adopting decarbonisation and sustainability measures across the supply chain, and disclosing Scope 1 and Scope 2 GHG emissions. Several corporations have also committed to the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), setting bolder targets to reduce emissions. Among other things, this requires companies to undertake mitigation measures, including land-based nature-based solutions (NbS) like forest restoration, improved forest management, and enhanced soil carbon sequestration on their lands. Further raising private sector climate ambition, start-ups are also working on a variety of climate and clean-tech innovations, such as energy-generating biofuels, hydrogen technologies, EV charging and infrastructure, and solar adoption processes.
To align mitigation with other development priorities, like livelihoods, food security, and biodiversity preservation, civil society organisations are tirelessly working alongside communities. For example, SELCO Foundation is building decentralised renewable-energy-powered cold-storage units to improve farmer incomes and minimise wastage of perishable food products – with the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 1,000 tonnes over the lifetime of the asset. Farmers for Forests aims to restore 30,000 acres of forest land by 2030, through conditional cash transfers with farmers, and sequester 25 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030.
Building equity into our mitigation ambition
As encouraging as these diverse efforts are, we are not yet progressing at the scale or speed required to solve the climate crisis. India’s quest for climate finance and bold, inclusive leadership, shared by many other developing countries in the global South, is not easy – we are tasked with developing while transitioning to a low-carbon economy. Any energy transition, which is a large component of our mitigation ambition, must be just and inclusive, ensuring access to electricity, creating green jobs, and securing other development priorities of vulnerable communities in India. For mitigation to align with long-term community well-being, we need voices, solutions, and strategies that bring diverse stakeholders within the climate ecosystem together, and make equity a priority for a developing India.
Philanthropists are uniquely suited to build this vision for equitable and collective climate action, having prioritised equity for decades in their work on livelihoods, education, and healthcare. By bringing visibility to an intersectional lens in climate solutions that accounts for multiple challenges, philanthropists can guide the ecosystem towards climate-integrated development.
Catalysing transformative change for inclusive development
Several levers for big impact are already available to philanthropists, through which they can catalyse transformative change in the ecosystem. For instance, with their extensive networks in policy and development spaces, they have the capacity to build coalitions and alliances with diverse stakeholders, uniting for mitigation action – whether for EV-powered public transportation systems, as in Maharashtra, or distributed renewable energy/universal electrification projects in India’s villages, such as under the Ministry of Power’s Saubhagya scheme. Philanthropists can also support R&D for climate solutions at nascent stages, such as green hydrogen or zero-emission fuels for aviation, to drive progress, align with policy incentives, and attract more finance from the public and private sector. This could, over time, unlock systemic change for climate innovation, in the league of solar. Where possible, strategic philanthropy can also plug finance gaps for critical data and evidence-building that are essential for mitigation solutions.
While philanthropy in India can play a key role in bringing the climate ecosystem together, there is a long way to go. According to ClimateWorks Foundation’s 2022 report, philanthropic giving to climate change grew globally by 25 per cent in 2021, far outpacing the 8 per cent growth in total philanthropic giving. However, climate change mitigation philanthropy is still less than 2 per cent of total philanthropic giving, and heavily skewed towards the global North, particularly, United States, Europe, and Canada. The difference is stark – the US and Canada received USD 550 million, as opposed to just USD 75 million in India. To date, Indian philanthropy’s top priorities remain education and healthcare. But there is a lot of potential for climate action among donors, as climate is a cross-cutting issue, affecting nearly every development priority. Organisations like the Rainmatter Foundation, Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, and Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies, are ramping up their climate focus, with the former even adopting a climate lens to all grant-making.
With their ear to the ground, philanthropists have the potential to align mitigation ambition with adaptation and resilience needs of communities – bringing sustainability (environmental, economic, and social) to climate action in India.
Padma Venkataraman is a lawyer and researcher, currently working with the India Climate Collaborative in the communications team.