India Has Seen Greenhouse Gas Emissions Increase by a Staggering 335% Since 1990

India Has Seen Greenhouse Gas Emissions Increase by a Staggering 335% Since 1990

Recently Reported Greenhouse Gas Levels: 2307.78 MtCO2e in 2018, an Increase of 335.33% from 1990 (Source: IEA)

Despite being among the first countries to join in the Paris Climate accord in 2015, India is currently the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the US. Coal power plants, rice paddies, and cattle are major sources of steeply rising emissions levels, although per capita emissions continue to remain below the global average. India ratified the Paris Agreement a year after they pledged their commitment through independently set ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDC). The country is vulnerable to climate change because of their vast natural resources and environmental diversity. For instance, the degree and periodicity of melting Himalayan glaciers and changing monsoons are intensifying, posing threats to the region.

India pledged to reduce the emission intensity of their economy by 33-35% compared to 2005 by the year 2030. In 2015, the country’s GHG emissions stood at 3,571 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) according to the data compiled by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Interestingly enough, India’s per capita emissions are less staggering with measurements identifying those levels to be 2.7tCO2e in 2015. As a country, however, they are trending quite poorly. According to the IEA, in 2018 India’s emission level was 2307.78 MtCO2e, an increase of 335.33% from 1990.

India firmly believes that climate finance, technology transfer, and capacity building are key measures needed to be secured by developed countries for the region to be able to fulfill its pledge of 1.5 degree C via the Paris Climate accord. The country is awaiting the response from the developed nations on their commitments to making climate finance, transfers of green technology, and promised capacity building before it can improve its pledges and submit its renewed NDCs before the end of December 2020. They are currently aiming to have 40% of their installed electricity to be renewable by 2030. In addition, India has outlined a plan to increase total tree cover so as to create a cumulative carbon sink of 2,500-3,000 MtCO2e by 2030—roughly on a par with its total emissions from a single year.

Despite having the fourth largest economy in the world, India faces deep inequities and uneven distributions of resources. Recently the country has accelerated its industrial and economic activities through investments into agriculture, infrastructure, power, manufacturing, and automobiles to generate economic growth and demand. In an effort to better provide for its population of 1.4 billion people, India has intensified their productivity. Consequently, they are producing greater emissions and experiencing rising pollution levels.


India’s CO2 Emissions

Carbon dioxide emissions stem from burning fossil fuels and manufacturing cement. They include carbon dioxide produced during consumption of solid, liquid, and gas fuels and gas flaring. India has also been taking tangible steps to keep its Paris Climate Agreement commitment intact, specifically by keeping CO2 emissions low and mitigating intensity.

In 2019, CO2 emissions for India were 2,597.4 million tonnes. Over the last 50 years, emissions rose substantially from 232.8 to 2,597.4 million tonnes with an annual increase rate that reached a maximum of 11.65% in 2009 but eventually decreased to 1.6% in 2019. The chart below displays historical data sets from 2008 (as a baseline) through 2019 across aggregate, per capita, and intensity indices. The value in the data set is in Mt CO2.

2019 2,597.4 1.60 percent
2018 2,556.5 5.41 percent
2017 2,425.4 4.46 percent
2016 2,321.8 1.26  percent
2015 2,293.0 2.55 percent
2014 2,235.9 8.09 percent
2013 2,068.6 3.39 percent
2012 2,000.8 7.65 percent
2011 1,858.6 5.52 percent
2010 1,761.4 5.25 percent
2009 1,673.5 11.65 percent
2008 1,498.8  



In 2019, India’s CO2 emission per capita was 1.9 metric tonnes. CO2 emissions per capita grew from 0.42 Mt to 1.9 Mt over the last 50 years with an all-time increase of 10% in 2009 and an eventual decrease of 0.51% in 2019. Values in the chart below are in  Ton CO2 per capita.

Year VALUE CHANGE, percent
2019 1.90 0.51 percent
2018 1.89 4.25  percent
2017 1.81 3.29 per cent
2016 1.75 0.10 percent
2015 1.75 1.36 percent
2014 1.73 6.81 percent
2013 1.62 2.13 percent
2012 1.58 6.30 percent
2011 1.49 4.14  percent
2010 1.43 3.83 percent
2009 1.38 10.08 percent
2008 1.25 Baseline


In 2019, CO2 emissions intensity for India was 0.28 tonnes per 1000 USD GDP. Though India CO2 emissions intensity fluctuated substantially in recent years, it tended to decrease between 2000-2019 reaching 0.28 tonnes per 1000 USD GDP in 2019. The value of the datasets as below is in Ton CO2/ 1000 USD.

2019 0.28 -3.26 percent
2018 0.29 -0.67 percent
2017 0.29 -2.41 percent
2016 0.30 -6.46 percent
2015 0.32 -5.04 percent
2014 0.34 0.63 percent
2013 0.34 -2.82 percent
2012 0.35 2.08 percent
2011 0.34 0.26 percent
2010 0.34 -2.99 percent
2009 0.35 3.52 percent
2008 0.34  Baseline


Emission projections for India are 9-12% lower in 2030 compared to previous projections in 2019 due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy. Given that India has a GDP intensity target, its estimate of the emissions level for the NDC target is 8-11% lower compared to our previous projections in December 2019.

India is on track to surpass its 2030 targets by a wide margin despite their ambitious target of 40% non-fossil fuel capacity share. Under current energy targets and policies, emissions are projected to increase by 24-25% above 2019 levels in 2030 because of the country’s continued commitment to the coal industry. Such an increase of emissions is not consistent with the Paris Agreement. Instead, domestic emissions need to peak and start reducing, with international support.

India’s existing target under the Paris Agreement “2°C-compatible” is still within the accepted range even though it allows the country’s total emissions to increase. According to Climate Scorecard projections, India could become a global climate leader with a “1.5˚C compatible” rating if they enhance their NDC target, abandon plans to build new coal fired power plants, and phase out coal for power generation before 2040. Moving to an absolute target instead of the GDP intensity target would enhance overall transparency and certainty.

Looking Ahead

While India has been taking suitable measures to lower its carbon intensive economy, a number of their current policy measures aimed at sector stimulation are likely to contribute to increased carbon emissions. Progressive steps have been taken to address CO2 emissions across industrial sectors. Through technological innovation, research, green job development, clean energy production, introduction of e-mobility, and adoption of measures phasing out coal, clean energy resources can be expanded.

These government efforts pay rich dividends and these gains are in turn being consolidated. Among the G20, India is the only nation ahead of other members to be on a pathway to exceed its Paris Climate commitments—which the Indian Prime Minister noted during the closing plenary of the G20 meeting in Saudi Capital, Riyadh.

India is gearing up to improve its Paris Accord pledge and are expected to make a definite decision soon. The Indian government is preparing to lead climate action going forward through major announcements of its actions and intent during COP 26 (to be held in 2021in Glasgow, UK) followed by India’s presidency of G-20 in 2022.


Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Minister of Finance

Telephone: +91-11-23793791/2


Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change

Telephone: +91-23384340


This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Pooran Chandra Pandey.

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