Nature and Biodiversity

India’s public-private partnerships for climate are a global model to follow

India is quickly becoming one of the most important countries globally for climate action, and its public-private partnerships are world-leading.

India is quickly becoming one of the most important countries globally for climate action, and its public-private partnerships are world-leading. Image: REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe (INDIA)

Anish Shah
Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Mahindra Group
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • With the world's largest population and 5th largest economy, the scale of the climate challenge in India is great.
  • But through public-private cooperation on everything from services and utilities to tech start-ups, the country is quickly becoming a model to follow globally.
  • Today, nearly 90% of India's corporate leaders consider sustainability a driver of competitive advantage, growth and lower costs.

Renowned as one of the world's longest and busiest rail networks, India’s railways have become an unexpected hero in India's battle against climate change. Far removed from the stereotypical image of trains chugging through industrial landscapes, India’s rail system is targeting net zero by 2030.

Indian Railways, which ferried 5.86 billion passengers last fiscal year, rolled out its first solar-powered train six years ago and it hasn’t looked back since. The department has installed solar power units at thousands of railway stations, electrified a significant portion of its vast track network, implemented waste-to-energy projects, adopted energy-efficient technologies and undertaken numerous afforestation and tree plantation drives along railway tracks.

The ‘Green Indian Railways’ project is just one of several efforts that have set India on the path to long-term, sustainable growth. The country is also demonstrating its commitment to addressing the global climate crisis through a combination of proactive government initiatives, innovative policies and growing cooperation between the public and private sectors.

Public-private cooperation for climate

At COP28 held in Dubai, India reaffirmed its status among global top performers, ascending to 7th position in this year's Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) — one spot higher than in the previous year and a significant climb from 31st position in 2014.

It is clear that India, despite its massive population, 139th rank on per capita GDP, unequal incomes and dogged last-mile execution challenges, is taking significant strides towards progress on climate.

India was quick to recognize that the complexity and interconnectedness of climate action demands cooperation between government and business. And that this was even more necessary in the world’s fastest-growing major economy, where the pursuit of rapid GDP growth needed to be environmentally conscious and sustainable to lift living standards and meet the aspirations for a better life of hundreds of millions of people.

After nearly four decades of liberalization and a more recent “minimum government, maximum governance” approach to economic growth, collaboration between India’s government and private sector on climate is uncharted territory. It is by no means easy – but it is gathering momentum.

To set out a clear national Climate Agenda, India has made public commitments towards achieving net zero emissions by 2070 and reducing carbon intensity by 45% by 2030. India is also pursuing climate-resilient urban development, waste management, recycling and circular economy and large-scale afforestation. A slew of policy changes, private sector actions and government and private investments are being employed to drive progress towards these ambitious targets.

Private sector action picking up pace

India’s private sector sees the moral imperative as well as a business case. India’s transition to a net zero economy can build business resilience, catalyze new industries, generate over 50 million jobs and have an economic impact of more than $15 trillion. It is no surprise that nearly 90% of Indian corporate leaders consider sustainability a primary driver of competitive advantage, long-term strategic growth and lower costs.

The $21bn Mahindra Group, for example, has made public commitments on net zero, energy productivity, water and waste and is investing significantly in building a green business portfolio across electric vehicles, renewable energy, green buildings, logistics and hospitality sectors.

India’s focus on domestic manufacturing presents a significant opportunity for economic growth and job creation in green industries. The government of India has allocated $2.2 billion to the development of 5 million metric tonnes of green hydrogen capacity and 125 GW of renewable energy. The private sector, for its part, has pledged over $200 billion to support India’s energy roadmap. The government’s Production Linked Incentives scheme has attracted over $8 billion in private sector investment, a large part of which has been into electric vehicles, renewable energy and battery production.

Leveraging India's start-ups and culture

India’s more than 90,000 start-ups — 107 of which are unicorns worth over $1 billion — are playing their role too. Climate start-ups are working across sectors including agriculture, energy and transportation. To create an enabling environment, the government is promoting digitalization through initiatives like the Digital Agriculture Mission. By encouraging the development of sustainable technologies, the government’s Startup India Scheme fosters the growth of start-ups that tackle pressing environmental challenges.

Underpinning government and business effort is the Mission LiFE, a mass awareness mobilization effort unveiled in 2022 to encourage Indians towards sustainable living. 'Mission LiFE' aligns with the ethos of the Indian way of life, which is deeply ingrained in the principles of sustainability. The journey of a cotton shirt in India — from being a weekday work wear to a weekend wear a few months later, a nightwear several months later and a floor duster a few years later — may seem amusing to some, but it highlights the reduce-reuse-recycle practice that has been hard-coded in India for hundreds of years. The Indian ethos, grounded in respect for resources and limited wastefulness, is being harnessed to contribute to a more climate-friendly society that will support the government and business efforts on sustainable growth.

In the times to come, India will be seen as a torchbearer not just for progress on national climate goals, but also for how government-business collaboration played a pivotal role in getting there.

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