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Climate co-benefits of air quality and clean energy policy in India


Sustainable development goals connect policies addressing air quality and energy efficiency with complementary benefits for climate mitigation. However, a typically fragmented approach across these domains hinders effectiveness in addressing short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs)—including methane, carbon monoxide, non-methane volatile organic compounds and black carbon—to supplement CO2 mitigation. Here, to support policy coordination in India, we assess climate co-benefits of air quality and clean energy policies, using multiple metrics (global warming and temperature change potentials). We estimate an emission reduction potential of −0.1 to −1.8 GtCO2e yr−1 in 2030. The largest benefits accrue from residential clean energy policy (biomass cooking) and air pollution regulation (curbing brick production and agricultural residue burning emissions), which cut black carbon. In the next 1–2 decades (using global warming potential—GWP20), emission reduction potentials of warming SLCFs exceed those of CO2, which is not evident on longer timescales. Concurrently, policies in the electricity generation and transport sectors reduce cooling SLCFs (SO2 and NOx), potentially unmasking 0.1–2.4 GtCO2e yr−1. Integrating these interventions into national climate policies can strengthen both climate action and sustainability. The crucial impact of black carbon suggests that it should be included in the international climate accord.

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Fig. 1: Schematic of methodology.
Fig. 2: Evolution of emissions and ERP.
Fig. 3: ERP by sector for 2030.
Fig. 4: ERPs for individual short-lived climate forcers.
Fig. 5: Monitoring and evaluation framework.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.


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This work was supported by the Indian Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change under the NCAP-COALESCE project (Grant No.14/10/2014-CC(Vol.II)). We thank the internal review committee of the NCAP-COALESCE project for their comments and suggestions on this paper. The views expressed in this document are solely those of authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the ministry. The ministry does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication.

Author information




C.V. and K.T. conceptualized the study. K.T. collected all the relevant data, performed calculations and prepared the figures and tables. K.T. and C.V. analysed the results and drafted the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chandra Venkataraman.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Myles Allen and Katsumasa Tanaka for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Clean technology fractions under three scenarios.

Clean technology fraction for various interventions under climate, air quality and clean energy programs respectively in 2030 under three scenarios. One reference (REF) scenario with policies fixed at 2015 levels, while two mitigation scenarios comprising different levels of achievement of declared targets from ongoing national programs—a) Conservative (CON)—50% achievement and Ambitious (AMB) – 100% achievement. The abbreviated programs are as follows, i) Climate programs: Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC – shifts to renewable power generation), National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC – shifts to higher efficiency boilers), National Electricity Plan (NEP – Emissions standards for thermal power plants promoting FGD), Perform Achieve and Trade Scheme (PAT – energy conservation in industries), National Solar Mission (NSM – shifts to solar operated devices); ii) Air quality programs: Brick emission standards 2018 (BRC_ES18 – shifts to zigzag-fired bricks), Transport emission standards 2016 (TRA_ES16 – shifts to BS-VI norms), National Electric Mobility Mission (NEMM – shifts to electric vehicles), National Policy for Management of Crop Residue (NPMCR – ban on agricultural residue burning); iii) Clean energy programs: Biomass gasifiers for industries (BGI – gasifiers for informal industries), Prime Minister Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY – shifts to LPG cooking), Saubhagya Scheme (SAU – household electrification).

Extended Data Fig. 2 Emissions reduction potential by programs for 2030.

Emission reduction potential of CO2 and net SLCF emissions (in GtCO2-e yr−1) by different programs using GWP20/GWP100/GTP100 in Conservative (CON) and Ambitious (AMB) scenarios. The abbreviated programs are as follows, i) Climate programs: National Solar Mission (NSM—shifts to solar operated devices), Perform Achieve and Trade Scheme (PAT—energy conservation in industries), National Electricity Plan (NEP—gas-based power, FGD), Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC—shifts to renewable power generation), National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC—shifts to higher efficiency boilers); ii) Air quality programs: Brick emission standards 2018 (BRC_ES18—shifts to zigzag-fired bricks), National Policy for Management of Crop Residue (NPMCR—ban on agricultural residue burning), Transport emission standards 2016 (TRA_ES16—shifts to BS-VI norms), National Electric Mobility Mission (NEMM—shifts to electric vehicles); iii) Clean energy programs: Saubhagya Scheme (SAU—households electrification), Prime Minister Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY—shifts to LPG cooking). The error bars indicate uncertainty arising from metrics as ± 1σ around the mean.

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Supplementary Methods, Discussion, Figs. 1 and 2 and Tables 1–5.

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Tibrewal, K., Venkataraman, C. Climate co-benefits of air quality and clean energy policy in India. Nat Sustain 4, 305–313 (2021).

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