Spotlight: CEEW

The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) is one of South Asia’s leading not-for-profit policy research institutions. The Council uses data, integrated analysis, and strategic outreach to explain – and change – the use, reuse, and misuse of resources. The Council addresses pressing global challenges through an integrated and internationally focused approach. It prides itself on the independence of its high-quality research, develops partnerships with public and private institutions, and engages with wider public. In 2018, CEEW once again featured extensively across nine categories in the ‘2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report’, including being ranked as South Asia’s top think tank (14th globally) with an annual operating budget of less than USD 5 million for the fifth year in a row.

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In 2016, CEEW was also ranked 2nd in India, 4th outside Europe and North America, and 20th globally out of 240 think tanks as per the ICCG Climate Think Tank’s standardised rankings. In 2013 and 2014, CEEW was rated as India’s top climate change think-tank as per the ICCG standardised rankings.

Here is a Q&A with Dr. Hem Dholakia, Senior Research Associate at CEEW:

Can you tell us a little bit about CEEW? 

In over seven years of operations, The Council has engaged in more than 180 research projects, published well over 110 peer-reviewed books, policy reports and papers, advised governments around the world over 400 times, engaged with industry to encourage investments in clean technologies and improve efficiency in resource use, promoted bilateral and multilateral initiatives between governments on more than 50 occasions, helped state governments with water and irrigation reforms, and organised more than 210 seminars and conferences.

The Council’s major projects on energy policy include: India’s largest energy access survey (ACCESS); the first independent assessment of India’s solar mission; the Clean Energy Access Network (CLEAN) of hundreds of decentralised clean energy firms; India’s green industrial policy; the $125 million India-U.S. Joint Clean Energy R&D Centers; developing the strategy for and supporting activities related to the International Solar Alliance; modelling long-term energy scenarios; energy subsidies reform; energy storage technologies; India’s 2030 renewable energy roadmap; clean energy subsidies (for the Rio+20 Summit); clean energy innovations for rural economy; community energy; and renewable energy jobs, finance and skills.

The Council’s major projects on climate, environment and resource security include advising and contributing to climate negotiations (COP-23) in Bonn, especially on the formulating guidelines of the Paris Agreement rule-book; pathways for achieving INDCs and mid-century strategies for decarbonisation; assessing global climate risks; heat-health action plans for Indian cities; assessing India’s adaptation gap; low-carbon rural development; environmental clearances; modelling HFC emissions; business case for phasing down HFCs; assessing India’s critical minerals; geoengineering governance; climate finance; nuclear power and low-carbon pathways; electric rail transport; monitoring air quality; business case for energy efficiency and emissions reductions; India’s first report on global governance, submitted to the National Security Adviser; foreign policy implications for resource security; India’s power sector reforms; resource nexus, and strategic industries and technologies; and Maharashtra-Guangdong partnership on sustainability.

How and why did the organization decide to work on air pollution?

As an organisation, CEEW has been committed to using data, integrated analysis and strategic outreach to explain and change the way natural resources are used, re-used or misused. Our perspective is that air pollution has its roots in the way we produce and consume energy. Given CEEW’s extensive work in the renewable energy, energy access, industrial sustainability, low carbon pathways and the power sector, air pollution was a natural extension.

What projects are you currently working on?

In the framework of air pollution, we are working on four projects – first to understand the different policy portfolios that will help us achieve India’s ambient air quality standards; second to look at ways of promoting conservation agriculture among farmers in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, so that they stop burning paddy straw; third to test low-cost sensors and their use for pollution management; and fourth to look at the opportunities and challenges for implementation of the new thermal power plant standards.

Personally, for you, how do you view the air quality problem in India?

Personally, I see air pollution as the biggest environmental health challenge for the country. We struggle with a large burden of disease. Air pollution will likely exacerbate disease burdens due to respiratory as well as cardiovascular causes in India. Poor health has implications for economic growth. Air pollution has the potential to reduce productivity and impact India’s economic growth through the route of health. Reduced economic growth has implications for poverty alleviation. In a way, these issues are deeply interconnected.

What are the two biggest challenges towards addressing air pollution in India from your personal and organizational experience?

The first challenge is pooling financial resources to combat air pollution. Setting up monitoring systems, smog-alert systems, investing in clean energy, public transport etc. require resources. The costs of a transition to cleaner air are immense. We need a strategic approach to thinking about this, beyond the cess that is charged on coal.

The second challenge is moving from awareness to action. Several institutions are working to build awareness on the pollution issue, but what is missing are actions (across stakeholder groups) to help tackle the issue. Bridging this gap will help create sustained action to reduce pollution.

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