What can India learn from the West regarding Climate Change?

Rahul Das
7 min readOct 26, 2020
We have until 2030 to reverse the impacts of Climate Change until it is too late to do so. Representative Image

The countries in Europe have been pioneers of growth, be it in terms of GDP or the attempts to mitigate Climate Change. Several countries in Europe have been subject to several wars, famines, and adverse effects on their economies, but their development structure remains exemplary for the entire world. Their per capita GNI is highest among the world, along with improved standards of living as demonstrated by their demographic indicators. However, the development in Europe has traditionally been due to them fuelling their growth from the resources of other nations, and events such as the Industrial Revolution prove so. India being a fuel source of this growth, held around one-fourth of the world’s GDP in the 1700s, however is a developing nation even in the 21st century (7.74 percent of world GDP, 2020). Due to such patterns of growth during the 19th and 20th centuries, Europe’s present growth trajectory is much comprehensive including development that ensures sustainable livelihood. Their initiatives to deal with the climate crisis provide ideal examples for nations like India, that have a huge amount of pollution resulting from the regressive development strategy.

Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India. In fact, Britain’s Industrial Revolution was actually premised upon the deindustrialization of India .

-Shashi Tharoor (Oxford Union, 2015)

As India follows the trend of higher economic progress, Climate change is a major issue. However, it has added constraints like any other low-income nation, creating a trade-off between socio-economic development and environmental conservation. Issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, etc. are barriers in the attempt to protect the climate.

If anything the West owe it to developing nations such as India, is to work together, share technologies and strategies, that can help them not mirror the same mistakes the British made in the Industrial Revolution of the 20th Century.

-Kriti Joshi (Oxford Union, 2016)

One way that Europe can give back to India what it owes, is through sharing innovation and technology and restrict India from making mistakes it did during the Industrial Revolution. Scandinavian countries particularly Sweden can provide great insights into the design of climate change programs.

What Scandinavia does differently?

The ideas related to climate change mitigation involve ‘wicked problems’ and require widespread replicability and scalability to ensure desired results. The program designs are an amalgamation of a superior governance structure, planned and targeted investments, and good citizenship. Some cities in the countries of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, as well as other European nations, provide replicable models of such programs.

Sustainable Mobility

Situated in the southernmost part of Sweden, is a city known for its Sustainable Transportation System; Malmö. The city of Malmö has a great network of subway lines, connected with major urban centres through a low-carbon public mobility system. More than 30 percent of Sweden’s carbon emissions are a result of the increased use of vehicular transportation and fossil fuels. Though transportation is a major driver of economic growth, it is also a major contributor to Global Warming. Malmö introduced the system of using Biogas to produce electricity, as a fuel for its Public Transportation system, thus reducing the possible ecological footprints. The idea of the fork to wheels, viz. fuelling your rides from the kitchen wastes has been appreciated by several environmentalists around the world. Though emission of other Greenhouse Gases, such as Nitrogen Dioxide and Sulphur Dioxide has reduced considerably in Sweden, air pollution still poses a significant risk for Malmö residents, especially children due to their faster rate of breathing. As a fact, in Sweden, the number of deaths from air pollution is higher than from car accidents!

City Buses in Malmö, Sweden run on 100 percent renewable energy sources, mainly Biogas. Representative Image: Captured by Monica Westman

Currently, there are around 200 buses in Malmö that are fuelled by a mixture of Biogas and compressed natural gas, which is being expanded on a larger scale using hybrid technology of biogas fuel motors and batteries for energy storage. This transformation is the result of the improved participatory governance from the Municipality-owned waste company and the innovative ideas of urban planners. Thus, Malmö can be a great example of an Urban Low Emission Development Strategy (Urban LEDS).

Several cities around the world, such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen have shifted to the use of bi-cycles for regular transits. However, bi-cycle usage should be complemented with proper and well maintained cycling infrastructure to provide incentive for such transformation. Representative Image

Such sustainable transit systems are also present in other cities across Scandinavia. Oslo in Norway has increased and advised the use of Electric vehicles, with free charging stations powered by hydroelectricity, making the entire process a zero-emission structure. The exemption of road charges and taxes on the use of fossil fuels has stimulated the shift from diesel and petrol vehicles to more sustainable means of transportation. Copenhagen in Denmark proves to be another great example of sustainable mobility, where bicycles create more congestion than regular motor vehicles due to stringent policies and awareness regarding the benefits of cycling! Such results are generated after 50 years of implementing sustainable structural transformation. Amsterdam in the Netherlands has 58 percent of its population above age 12, who cycle daily. Stockholm is another city in Sweden that has designated bus lanes to emphasize the convenience related to public transportation.

Sustainable Housing

The concept of Urban Living Labs was developed and gained popularity in Europe during the participatory design movements in the 1960s and 1970s and has been largely successful in several urban centres thereafter. Malmö in Sweden, the town of Milton Keynes in England, Veerkracht Carnisse in Rotterdam is all examples of location which have transformed small localities into urban experimental labs. The idea of such Urban Living Labs is to bring together several stakeholders, such as the government, citizens, private-players, and knowledge institutions, to transform urban centres into self-sustainable sites with the help of testing, designing, and improving innovative technologies and monitor the technical interventions in real-time. Milton Keynes was used to testing sustainable housing structures that are energy efficient and used smart-metering technologies in residential establishments. Milton Keynes proves to be an example of how NGOs and neighbourhoods can connect environmental benefits with social benefits.

Urban Livings Labs are pilot projects, however can be replicated and expanded on a larger scale with the help of citizens participation and a good governance structure. Representative Image, Photo: Copenhagen Solutions Lab

The functionings of such localities are based on the idea of a Circular or Shared economy. Circular economies are usually zero-waste locations, and use everything available in a limited space and depend solely on reuse and recycling procedures; whereas, more congested urban centres can function efficiently in the form of Sharing Economies, thus reducing excess and unnecessary use of resources. Sharing Economies are very strategic methods to involve the use of testbeds and are actively being planned under the Sharing City Sweden Program.

Sustainable Finances

An important issue that arises to complement the climate sustainability programs is the requirement of funds to implement such ideas. From being a traditionally industrial heartland to a global leader in the climate war, Sweden has emerged with innovative methods to fund its innovative ideas. The city of Gothenburg in Sweden was the first to issue ‘Green Bonds’ to finance its climate change mitigation programs. The first Green Bonds worth INR 4 Billion were issued in 2013, where 75 percent of all such borrowings till 2015 were used for low-carbon and climate-smart growth strategies. Green Bonds allow borrowing funds to invest in such projects that ensure climate sustainability, however, constitute a very small portion of the entire bonds market. This entire structure is a result of the Gothenburg Environmental Project, which originated back in 1987, based on which the government set high environmental standards for all industrial and transportation-related developments.

Nature-based solutions are increasing in popularity, attracting institutions and organizations to show their support in several programs across Europe. The Nature-Based Urban Innovation (Naturvation) Project funded by the Horizon 2020 Sustainable Cities and Communities Program at the European Union, is an example of how organizations can motivate urban planners and push innovative ideas into the implementation phase.

Can India Replicate?

The entire discussion boils down to just one question; can we replicate the ideas seen in Europe actively and efficiently in India?

To answer the question, we must discuss certain issues. The most ‘wicked problem’ that arises in India relating to climate change is that the government is not ambitious enough to establish policies that reduce our environmental impacts. They consider climate mitigation voluntary rather than obligatory. The one thing that the government must understand, is that pushing towards higher growth and urbanization may create short term gains, but increases the economic costs of climate change in the long run. As urbanization increase, a major portion of the country’s GDP is generated from urban regions. However, as a fact, around 70 percent of the world’s carbon emission is from urban centres. Participatory Governance and citizens involvement play an important role in such agendas. However, do we have an efficient enough structure to hold citizens accountable in terms of climate action?

The entire structure should involve CSOs, NGOs, and institutions working closely with the national government, to ensure transformation with the idea to support, change, and grow in terms of innovative solutions. Calculated planning, targeted investment, and timely monitoring must ensure that the traditional grey-infrastructure is replaced by an advanced green-infrastructure. Not experimenting in the name of doing something, but also committing to complete missions with a risk-sharing attitude will help take-off in the transformation trajectory. Thus, Climate mitigation is possible in India, given individuals and national decisions conform with each other, and work efficiently to expand and replicate the ideas of climate change.

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Rahul Das

Post-Graduate Student | Symbiosis School of Economics | Economics, Urban Development