The Paris Agreement set an ambitious target of keeping the global temperature “well below 2 degrees, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius” compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve the 1.5-degree Celsius goal, global emissions must decline by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050[i]. To achieve this, countries have pledged to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reduce emissions, with over 140 countries additionally committing to a net-zero target.

To translate international commitments into domestic action, several countries have established a legal framework to strengthen climate action by all stakeholders – the state, and the private sector – real and financial. As of 2022, 56 countries have enacted laws with greenhouse gas limitation as a direct objective, whose collective jurisdiction covered 53% of global emissions.[ii]

India has ambitious NDC targets but lacks legal frameworks for reaching economy-wide Net Zero targets.

India updated its NDC in 2022 and committed to a net zero by 2070. The country has taken proactive steps to introduce plans and policies such as the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC), the State Action Plan for Climate Change (SAPCC), and India’s long-term low-carbon development strategy (LT LEDS) signaling a strong commitment to climate action.

However, policy action in India needs to be supported by a legal framework, India does not have formal climate legislation at either the federal or state levels, and several environmental and sectoral legislations are often interpreted to implement climate action. However, the legacy environmental laws(in Table 1) pre-date climate change discourse and do not include greenhouse gases as an explicit focus.

Recent sectoral laws and amendments, such as the Electricity Amendment Act (2023), have made efforts to integrate climate action by promoting renewable energy. However, these laws are largely focused on improving regulation and sectoral efficiencies, and the discourse on climate action and emission reduction is largely ‘incidental and peripheral’[iii].

Table 1: Legacy laws and climate action in India

Act/ RegulationPrimary objective Climate Relevance
Legacy Laws
Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act (1981)The act provides an integrated approach to tackling environmental problems relating air to pollution.While it sets standards for emission, these only include Carbon Monoxide (CO) and not Carbon dioxide (CO2) or any other GHG emission
Environment Protection Act (1986)The act lays down rules for the protection of the environment and the prevention of environmental pollution. There is no explicit mention of emission reduction in the Act. However, the Act can be interpreted to encompass emissions within the definition of “pollutants”
Recent laws and amendments
Energy Conservation Amendment Act (2022)  The Act promotes energy efficiency and sustainable energy practices. It also established the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE).The Amendment to the Act in December 2022 included the Carbon Credit Trading Scheme. Based on this, the rules for an Indian Carbon Market were notified in May 2023.
Electricity Amendment Act (2023)  The act lays down the laws relating to the generation, transmission, distribution, trading, and use of electricity.It lays special emphasis on the promotion of renewable sources of energy.

Need for an overarching climate law in India …

While all these laws are relevant to climate action, the existing focus (or lack of it) may not be sufficient to drive India’s ambitious emission reduction target. While policy and targets demonstrate India’s commitment to solving the global climate problem, policy needs to be provided additional teeth through a legal framework and suitable laws. 

To address this gap, and provide support to execution, a net zero bill was recently introduced in the upper house of the Indian parliament.[iv]

While this is a welcome step, any legal framework for net zero might require recalibration of the existing environmental laws. One of the ways to do it could be to combine Air, Water, and Environment Protection acts under an umbrella Climate/ Environment Act which includes both mitigation and adaptation. Just an overarching union law may not be enough and the same needs to be followed up with institutions (including redefining existing ones like the National Green Tribunal, Pollution Control Boards, and State climate cells), rules and procedures, penalties and incentives for economic agents including sub-sovereign states to align on the low carbon trajectory.

[i] IPCC. 2018. Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. IPCC.

[ii] Sridhar A, Dubash K, Averchenkova A, Higham C, Rumble O. 2022. Climate Governance Functions Towards context-specific climate laws

[iii] Bhushan C, Gopalakrishnan T. 2021. Environmental laws and climate action: A case for enacting a Climate Legislation in India

[iv] Why legislate a Net Zero target?. 2023. Financial Express.


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