At the beginning of the COP26 conference on climate change in Glasgow in November, India announced that it aimed to achieve net zero emissions by 2070. Reducing carbon emissions, the United Nations says, is a key way to try to mitigate shifts in temperate and weather patterns that are affecting “human health, ability to grow food, housing, safety”. If India is to reach its goal, the Centre cannot act alone: it is essential for states to collaborate on sustainable development policies and crucially, financing.

Despite having one of the lowest emissions rates per capita, India has declared its intention to do more than its “fair share” compared to developed nations. With the three key pledges announced by the government of India on reducing emission intensity by 45% and getting 50% energy from renewable resources by 2030, and by the same year reducing total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes, India indicated how it plans to move towards rapid decarbonisation over the next five decades.

Collaborative efforts

The International Energy Agency estimates that “nearly 60% of India’s emissions in the late 2030s will be coming from infrastructure and machines that do not exist today”. Considering that the major sources of the emissions are likely to come from infrastructure for urban development, transport, energy consumption, waste generation, the full participation of states is essential to cut down future emissions.

Notwithstanding the fact that targets related to renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon intensity are largely determined by the Centre, going forward, the role of the state governments will become more important than ever.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a session at the COP26 in Glasgow earlier this year in November | AFP

State governments started mainstreaming climate change effects in their planning by formulating State Action Plans on Climate Change even before India signed the United Nations-driven Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, adaptation, and finance in 2015. The first version of the State Action Plans on Climate Change, formulated by most states before India signed the Paris Agreement, stress on fostering inclusive, sustainable and climate-resilient growth, integrating climate concerns into aspects of development policy and complementing and contributing to the national climate agenda.

Overcoming institutional challenges

In response to the global and national discourse, climate change is increasingly becoming a priority for state governments. States have now embarked on revising the action plans developed before 2015. While some incremental steps are being taken by the state governments, these are nowhere near the scope or the scale required to contribute effectively to the national goal of carbon neutrality. The multi-sectoral approach to climate action is limited or not being fully implemented at all levels in tandem with the changing development priorities at the sub-national level.

Many states have realised the challenges in implementing these climate action plans. The most prominent challenge states face is the lack of climate finance along with limited scientific knowledge, technical and institutional capacity constraints. Very few states have institutions with the required capacity to effectively assess the dynamic impact of climate change and implement strategies outlined in their action plans.

There is a need to integrate sectoral climate change considerations into existing policies and programmes. In most states, while state forest and environment departments prepare climate change action plans, adequate understanding of the effect of climate change on different sectors and concrete strategies to deal with it are often missing in other sectoral departments like agriculture, water resources, urban and rural development.

At present, climate models predict changes at the national or sectoral levels. However, there is a need for reliable downscaled climate models to predict district and block-specific climate impacts across the country.

Secondly, there is a need to fast-track the implementation of climate change-relevant actions as part of development planning at the sub-national level. Thirdly, states need to enhance coordination between institutions, departments, and stakeholders at various levels for collaborative action on these issues.

For instance, climate actions in the transport sector will require the transport, urban development, and energy departments to work together. An appropriate methodology to identify and prioritise adaptation and mitigation actions jointly by departments needs to be created by each state for effective implementation of the State Action Plans on Climate Change.

Foam floats on the polluted Yamuna River earlier in November | PTI

Money matters

The ambiguity around access to finance to implement State Action Plans on Climate Change needs to be cleared. In the absence of a dedicated fund to implement these action plans, states are dependent on their existing development plans and corresponding budgets. While at the national level, the National Adaptation Fund and the National Clean Energy and Environment Fund have been set up, clarity on their potential to support State Action Plans on Climate Change initiatives is still missing.

The same is true when it comes to tapping international funds. While several financing options have been discussed during COP26, it remains to be seen whether any of them will be operationalised to be able to match the resources required for implementing the mitigation and adaptation strategies outlined in the State Action Plans on Climate Change. This is a big question looming ahead of the states. Effectively confronting climate change as a shared responsibility of the Centre and the state as a collaborative effort within the federal system represents our best hope.

The author is National Programme Manager at the United Nations Development Programme in India.