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OPINION: Policies for a green construction sector in India

Kriti Nagrath from Development Alternatives in India outlines the key policy recommendations which have emerged from a partnership with CDKN and three State Governments on ‘green’ construction.

The construction sector is an important part of India’s economy, steadily contributing about 8 per cent to the national GDP over the last five years. Fuelled by strong economic growth, rising population and rapid urbanisation, it is one of the fastest growing sectors in India today. It also provides employment to 18 million people directly.

The downside is the enormous resource and energy footprint of the sector. The sector emits about 22 per cent of India’s total annual CO2 emissions. This impact is set to only increase with a housing shortage affecting more than 60 million households in the country. Add to this the expected reconstruction processes to rehabilitate climate refugees – especially due to freak weather events – and the resource and carbon footprints of the industry sky rocket. Given the massive growth in new construction and the inefficiencies of the existing building stock worldwide, if nothing is done, greenhouse gas emissions from buildings are expected to more than double in the next 20 years.

Attention is now shifting towards achieving low carbon climate resilient (LCCR) development that looks at both mitigation measures against climate change and adaptation measures to deal with the impacts of the change. The UNFCCC has identified the construction sector as being one of the cheapest avenues for mitigating climate change.

As a response to the global attention on climate change, the Indian Government in November 2009 pledged to voluntarily reduce domestic emission intensity levels by 20-25% by 2020.The Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-2017) also focuses on achieving a low carbon inclusive growth. The National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC), 2008 provides clarity on key measures required to achieve low carbon development. As part of this, the National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency and National Mission for Sustainable Habitat propose solutions for buildings and urban infrastructure. The Ministries of Rural Development, Panchayati Raj and Human Resources Development have articulated the need to incorporate climate change in rural and semi-urban infrastructure development and reduce the demand for energy and resources required in the processes. Further, the Ministry of Rural Development intends to fill the gap in rural housing in an ecologically responsible manner by requesting state governments to develop region specific construction techniques.

Thus the policy intent is very clear. But due to lack of information and research in this field, no specific actions were taken to reduce or mitigate the damage. Also the huge existing capacity gaps have been a barrier to addressing these issues.  Through an initiative supported by CDKN, a series of capacity building workshops were held for policy makers, building professionals and artisans in three states of Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.  While each of the states have very different physiographic and socio-political contexts, there were some points that had resonance in all places.

The movement towards a Low Carbon, Climate Resilient (LC-CR) development pathway is dependent on creating an enabling environment focusing on the three key factors of: knowledge (building a technology base), finance (devising innovative mechanisms), and policy (strengthening the institutional framework).


Technical capacity building was identified as a gap in all nine trainings. At all levels stakeholders felt that there were not adequate opportunities available to build and strengthen skills in the area. The existing network of building centres and technical institutes would be an ideal place to start. However there is an urgent need to build the capacities of this network to be able to deliver.

Across the three states, participants expressed a lack of customised information and knowledge available on alternate technologies and their (financial and environmental) benefits. While LCCR is proclaimed to have multiple benefits, there is no method for assessment, quantification and comparison.  There are design softwares available in the market, that provide some insights into the process, however there is no consolidated tool to provide a bird’s eye view that can help in decision making. There is an urgent need to plug this knowledge gap. Carbon, water and resource footprints can be used as indicators to aid decision making.

Another very important aspect to emerge was around the aspect of creating awareness about LCCR concepts, technologies and tools among all stakeholders, especially the end users. Creating localised inventories of technologies, experts who can execute these projects and existing buildings for exposure were suggested. Similar steps have been undertaken for energy auditors by the government. This is important to create a demand for this type of construction.


‘Green’ building and construction are often associated with an increase in costs. While this is not always the case, perception is a major barrier in promoting these alternate technologies.

One of the foremost recommendations involved providing incentives for people adopting such practices. Incentives in the form of bank rebates, reduced interest rates, government subsidies, and reduced taxation for using LCCR construction will go a long way in promoting uptake. This can be coupled with de-incentivisation and possibly taxation of energy- and resource-intensive construction.  Prizes and rewards for innovation in this field by the government will promote research. Awareness about these incentives among users is also important.


Policies on LCCR construction are nascent and scattered at present. There is a need to consolidate guidelines in one location. Also, there is a need to revisit guidelines and byelaws at the state level based on research and customisation. Some states like Himachal Pradesh have taken a step forward and issued solar passive architecture guidelines. Inclusion of LCCR in the state schedule of rates, town planning guidelines, and setting of performance targets are some of the common threads. As an immediate step, there is a need to build and strengthen capacities of local administrative units to ensure smooth and transparent implementation of existing laws.

We will soon be publishing a set of training modules which have been developed and piloted as part of this initiative, tailored to each state and each target audience. Scaling-out this capacity building effort is urgently needed to ensure that those with the authority to put in place the above recommendations, have the necessary understanding and commitment.


For more information, contact: Kriti Nagrath, Development Alternatives,

 We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN


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