The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.

Climate Change in India: A Security Challenge with Political and Economic Opportunities

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Jared Williams

The impact of global warming in India presents some interesting security challenges in South Asia in the coming decades.  While widely accepted forecasts of temperature rising between 2 and 4 degrees Celsius will affect the security of the entire planet, the results will be particularly acute in India. With a population forecasted to reach 2.2 billion by 2100, India will face a critically stressed water supply, migration from Bangladesh, and food security issues. Furthermore, India will also have to contend with these issues with an increasingly aggressive neighbor, China.[1] In order to offset the domestic security issues created by Global Warming, India must invest more heavily in onshoring wind and solar production for use inside India. Given the enormous upfront costs of these green initiatives, India can simultaneously improve its security through low-cost investments in military cooperation, access, and even alliance with the US.

Although India desires to grow to be a superpower, it faces both political and economic challenges. “Green” initiatives must be framed through the lens of a benefit to politicians, and their constituents, to make it a politically feasible issue. India’s political leaders will be initially hesitant to invest in climate change initiatives, failing to see it as a driver of security instability when contrasted with perceived “bigger” threats (i.e., security and social issues).[2] Their primary concern is job creation for their extensive populous.  Thus, efforts to establish “green” policies will be met with resistance as they are perceived to stifle growth.  Thus, green efforts must be framed to highlight how they will spur economic development and create jobs lost in older energy sectors, such as coal and oil.[3]  

India faces a number of issues that heighten the dangers of global warming.   With nearly 310 million people living in coastal areas that will be affected by global sea level rise, nearly 30% of the population living below the poverty line, and over 50% of the people working in the farm industry, global warming will have an impact on every aspect of Indian society.[4]  Not only is nearly 70% of its population dependent upon climate-sensitives sectors and natural resources, but many of them do not possess the capacity to adapt to climate change. Thus, “climate change is likely to impact all the natural ecosystems as well as socioeconomic systems.”[5]  These conditions would present Indian decision-makers with massive economic and social problems, which would likely be exacerbated by similar issues in its large neighbors, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

With more research demonstrating how global warming can also drive conflicts, it is important to consider how this will be an emerging driver of instability in South Asia. In addition to dealing with its own domestic problems caused by global warming, India also faces the very real security threat of massive migration from Bangladesh.  With a population of 165 million, some scholars estimate that as many as 13.3 million Bangladeshis could be displaced by climate change-induced flooding by 2050.[6]  Already scarcely able to tend to its own poor, India’s internal security would completely break down if a large number of Bangladeshi migrants sought refuge in their country.

In addition to any refugees, India will likely also struggle to find a way to feed its own populace.  With more frequent dry spells and more intense wet spells by 2050, India will likely face dual threats to its food security as the combination of droughts and flooding by major rivers could lead to a decline in grain production.[7] Another study found that "simulations using dynamic crop models indicate a decrease in the yield of crops as temperature increases in different parts of India.” That can be devastating in a country that already faces chronic malnourishment thanks to its exploding population. It is estimated that nearly 50% of children and 33% of adults in India are chronically malnourished.[8]  The potential instability that these conditions pose in the near future will immensely challenge both internal and external security in India, as well as the broader region.

Despite these enormous challenges, there is a vast opportunity for India to be a global leader in climate change. Not only could India benefit economically, but the ruling Modi party could boost its political support. First and foremost, the Indian people are conscious of global warming and think something needs to be done to minimize its impact. [9]Not only does this present a massive opportunity for the Modi government to gain "wins" on an issue that concerns its population, but also a chance to deliver on the campaign promises outlined in the 2014 BJP Manifesto.[10] Much like recent policies that have focused funds on infrastructure, India should set forth policies that encourage businesses to produce wind turbines, blades, solar technology, and others in India through tax benefits, manufacturing subsidies, and other incentives.[11]  

Not only would this support the government's "Make in India" policy, but the growth in renewable energy would also lead to an increase in crucial skilled jobs. Currently, renewable energy remains a small fraction of the Indian energy sector. Despite being the third largest energy consumer, behind only the US and China, India receives just 1% of its energy production from non-hydro renewables.[12]  While India's National Offshore Wind energy policy has slowly increased the amount of power generated by renewable energy, a large proportion of the wind turbine blades produced in India are exported rather than used internally. [13]  Although India has advanced its solar panel production capacity, it still relies on China to produce the silicone used inside the solar panels.[14]   Bottom Line, "going green" while combatting global warming can turn India's PMEC challenges (Political and Economic) into wins.

Of course, "Going Green" will not come without costs.  The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that the global cost to transition the energy sector to net-zero emissions by 2050 will be nearly $3.5 trillion per year, with much of those costs being front-loaded. Additionally, this will have an outsized effect on India, as the WEF points out that “developing countries and fossil fuel-rich countries are more exposed to the net-zero transition compared with other geographies.”[15] One way to help offset this cost is to increase US/Indian Defense cooperation and access to the United States. There has been a recent marked warming in US/India relations, as SecDef Lloyd Austin noted in a recent DoD article. Although there has been remarkable progress in the relationship over the last 20 years, more can be done to help strengthen India's Defense sector which could free up the capital needed to invest in "Going Green" thereby improving the prospects of future stability on the Indian subcontinent.[16]  Security Cooperation Programs, Foreign Military Sales, and Exchanges are some of the many ways to further the military relationship between India and the United States in the face of Global Warming.

In conclusion, global warming is a national security issue for India.  Rising global temperatures and sea levels coupled with an exploding population will present India with enormous challenges. Critically stressed water supply, possible mass migration from Bangladesh, and resulting food insecurity could leave India in an extremely weak position while dealing with an aggressive China that seeks to re-write the norms of behavior regarding sovereignty and the openness of the high seas.  However, Indian politicians will only be willing to invest political capital into climate change initiatives if they can see the direct ties to their constituents and their reelection.  Thankfully, increasing public sentiment in India favors climate change initiatives. Similarly, India blistering annual GDP growth of 6-8% makes it ripe for investment in green technologies, production, and infrastructure.[17] While green efforts are often met with resistance due to initial outlay costs and the perception that they stagnate growth, there is ample room for sound economic investment that creates enough eco-friendly jobs to offset the losses in the sectors of petroleum or coal-based power production. Finally, these environmental policies will present India with unique fiscal challenges that could provide an opportunity for the US to improve its defense cooperation with them. By offsetting defense costs through FMS, Security Cooperation, and Exchanges, the US will enable India to invest more heavily in non-petroleum-based power generation. If implemented, this would provide a more stable security environment in South Asia in the near future as India would be better equipped to handle potential domestic problems caused by global warming, have greater energy independence, and improved capabilities to deter an aggressive China through security cooperation.


Lt Col Jared Williams
Lt Col Jared Williams is currently a student at Air War College, AY23, Seminar 4.  He previously commanded the 67th Special Operations Squadron, RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom, and is projected for assignment at United States Special Operations Command HQ (USSOCOM) following graduation.  Lt Col Williams is a 2017 graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College and a 2023 Graduate of Air War College.

This article was based on a paper written as part of the Air War College’s Regional Security Studies course.



[1.] Laura Silver, Christine Huang, and Laura Clancy.  "Key facts as India surpasses China as the world's most populous country." Pew Research Center.  Last modified February 9, 2023.

[2.] Abhishek Gupta, "India insight: $10 trillion GDP by 2030?  Not quite, but almost." Bloomberg.  Last modified October 2, 2019.

[3.] Mira Kamdar, India in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2018), 151.

[4.] Anthony Leiserowitz and Jagadish Thaker.  "Climate Change in the Indian Mind." Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 5. Last modified 2022.

[5.] A. Gur and J. P. Majra. "Climate Change and Health: Why Should India Be Concerned?" Indian Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine. vol. 13,1 (2009): 11-16. Last modified April 13, 2009.

[6.] Tim McDonnell, "Climate Change Creates a New Migration Crisis for Bangladesh." National Geographic.  Last modified January 24, 2019.

[7.] Leiserowitz and Thaker.  "Climate Change in the Indian Mind," 5, 9; M. Mujumdar et al. “Droughts and Floods” in R. Krishnan et al (eds), Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region, (Springer, 2020), 118.; Kamdar, India 21st Century, 224.

[8.] Gur and Majra. "Climate Change and Health". 

[9.] A recent Yale study found that "…a large majority of people in India (84%) said they think global warming is happening." Furthermore, the same study found that, “More than eight in 10 people in India (84%) say global warming is either “extremely important” (39%), “very important” (29%), or “somewhat important” (16%) to them personally,” with “Large majorities of people in India either “strongly” or “somewhat” favor policies to address environmental problems in India.” Ibid., 16-18.

[10.] These are Energy Security, Renewable Energy, and Energy efficiency and conservation. “BJP Election Manifesto 2014,” 8. Last modified 2014.

[11.] Mihir Sharma, "Modi Should Focus on People, Not Just Big Projects." The Washington Post/Bloomberg.  Last modified February 7, 2023.

[12.] "Country Analysis Executive Summary: India." US Energy Information Administration (EIA),  1-2.  Last modified November 17, 2022.

[13.] While GE has produced nearly 50,000 wind turbine blades in almost 30 years of operations in India, GE's admission in a 2021 press release stated that "Currently, about 70% of blades manufactured in India are exported, supporting the Government of India's vision to 'Make for the World'. "GE Renewable Energy's LM Wind Power." General Electric Press Release.  Last modified July 7, 2021.

[14.] Lauren Frayer, "'Sunny Makes Money': India Installs a Record Volume of Solar Power in 2022." NPR.  Last modified November 21, 2022.

[15.] Douglas Broom, "What's the Price of a Green Economy?  An Extra $3.5 Trillion a Year." World Economic Forum.  Last modified January 28, 2022.

[16.] Jim Garamone, "U.S., India Take Steps to Increase Cooperation, Ties Between 2 Largest Democracies." US Department of Defense.  Last modified April 11, 2022.

[17.] Gupta, "India insight" Bloomberg.

Wild Blue Yonder Home