Green lights, black vetoes: the subnational politics of renewable energy in India

Authors: Elizabeth Chatterjee*, Queen Mary University of London
Topics: Energy, Asia, Political Geography
Keywords: Energy, environment, political economy, federalism, South Asia, sustainable development
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Virginia C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


A growing literature argues that sustainable energy transitions are shaped by political factors, yet it typically extrapolates from Europe and the United States. This paper examines the political determinants of renewable energy expansion in the Global South by analyzing regional variation across India, where key elements of energy policy are vested with subnational (state) governments. Official estimates of solar potential bear little relation to the ambition of subnational renewable policies. Against existing predictions, there is also no simple relationship between compliance and wealth, available technology, or utility finances. Drawing on policymaker interviews alongside analyses of three renewable policies in India’s major states, I suggest that the strength of pre-existing constituencies for and against renewable energy is critical in determining state strategy within India’s complex federal geography. Where private energy investors are already active, state governments opt for more ambitious renewable policies, especially where a political link exists with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Yet where coal enterprises are locally significant and deeply embedded in local political economies, state governments avoid enforcing compliance. Rather than signifying environmental commitment, renewable energy policy appears to be deployed to signal business friendliness and allegiance to the ruling party. Effective enforcement is therefore secondary to the symbolic value of clean energy rules, as subnational governments navigate relationships with the central government, corporate investors, and global pressures for climate action.

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