Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy

Researching and editing climate papers

The Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP) at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies uses social and behavioral science to design, test, and implement sustainable energy policies in emerging economies.

As a graduate research assistant at ISEP, I’ve provided writing, copyediting, and research support for a series of journal papers, research reports, and books analyzing sustainable energy policies listed below.

Supply and Demand for Clean Power in the Belt and Road: Comparing the Political Economy of Pakistan and Indonesia

Understanding the energy mix in China’s electricity projects under the Belt and Road Initiative is critical to have a better sense of what comes next in the economic development of the Global South and the future of climate change. This report seeks to explore what factors lead to more or less green outcomes in Chinese-backed power plants under the BRI. In particular, we aim to answer the following questions:

  • Why do Chinese actors engage in the renewable energy sector in some BRI countries instead of others?
  • Why are Chinese-backed coal-fired projects cleaner in some countries more than others?

This report investigates the two questions in two key BRI recipient countries that have received a significant amount of China’s electricity investments: Indonesia and Pakistan. Our research is based on both newly gathered project-level data and in-depth interviews with a host of stakeholders of Chinese-backed power plants in Indonesia and Pakistan. We develop an analytic framework that examines the political economy of both “supply” and “demand” factors for clean energy, as well as how these “supply” and “demand” factors interact across multiple levels regarding the formulation and implementation of China’s overseas electricity projects.

Understanding Electricity Billing Preferences in Rural and Urban India: Evidence From a Conjoint Experiment

To address issues of non-payment, high costs, and theft, paying a fixed fee for electricity is common among many developing countries. We use a conjoint experiment to study electricity billing preferences among urban and rural communities in Uttar Pradesh, India. We find that 59.5% of respondents (95% CI: 58.2%–60.9%) prefer consumption-based tariffs as opposed to fixed fee ones, favoring lower base charges among a number of factors.

We additionally use Bayesian Additive Regression Trees to test for heterogeneous treatment effects. Respondents with more appliances, using more hours of electricity, and who live in rural areas with meters prefer consumption-based plans with lower base rates. Our results suggest that policy reforms should move beyond fixed rate schemes especially if respondents would accept higher unit tariffs with improved service.

Identifying Coal Plants for Early Retirement In India: a Multidimensional Analysis of Technical, Economic, and Environmental Factors

Coal-fired energy generation is the backbone of India’s power sector and considered a driver of its economic development. However, it is associated with detrimental environmental and health impacts in India and its fleet is currently struggling with overcapacity and inefficiency problems. In this paper, we introduce multidimensional indices that identify plants for retirement based on comprehensive criteria that include technical and economic characteristics of plants as well as their environmental impacts.

Our results show that top plants recommended for early retirement are typically 7 years older, 13% more expensive and have around 40% higher population exposure to emissions compared to an average plant in India. We estimate the potential costs saved from the retirement of the worst-performing 50 GW of generating capacity to be $21 billion resulting from shifting ownership towards a cheaper cost of capital and replacing coal by more competitive sources such as solar power.

Center-State Relations in India: A Political Economy Approach to Climate and Energy Policy

India plays a critical role in global climate and energy policy. Although India is only responsible for 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions today, it has a large population and considerable potential for rapid economic growth. India’s energy demand is set to increase by 35% by 2030 and by 70% by 2040. Yet India has announced a 2070 net-zero goal backed by a 500-gigawatt target for non-fossil fuel power generation capacity by 2030.

How can we best understand India’s mixed record in energy transition and climate action? What are the key drivers and obstacles to raising ambition? Here we argue that the prospects of India’s climate policy depend on balancing diverse social and economic agendas at the state level with global and national leadership ambitions. Striking this balance requires managing a complex set of center-state relations under India’s federal structure.

We argue that both Indian energy and climate policy reveal a deep conflict between the central government’s global, often climate-friendly ambitions and the more localized, development-dominated concerns that preoccupy state governments.

Global Environmental Politics: The Transformative Role of Emerging Economies

Emerging economies have fundamentally transformed global environmental politics. Led by China and India, they increasingly make or break international negotiations, which now require agreement among a large number of governments with widely varied preferences. Emerging economies—which still suffer from widespread poverty and frequently struggle with policy implementation—often feel that Western-led initiatives neglect their needs. What does the global environmental policy landscape look like in the age of a rising Global South?

This book explains why emerging economies have come to dominate global environmental politics and examines the implications for future international cooperation. Johannes Urpelainen shows that emerging economies continue to prioritize economic growth and often have limited institutional capacity to contain the environmental destruction that it causes. However, he argues, despite barriers to cooperation, innovative bargaining and institutional design offer a way forward. Bottom-up agreements that respect national sovereignty and invest in capacity building hold more promise than traditional top-down treaties with binding commitments.

The book features detailed discussions of attempts to address hazardous chemicals, loss of biodiversity, and climate change; a comparative analysis of China and India; and case studies of nine other emerging economies around the world.

Jharkhand Rural Energy Access: Enduring Challenges in Quality, Affordability, and Billing

Jharkhand is the biggest coal producing state in India, and yet also one of the poorest. Even as the fossil fuels extracted from its soil provide energy to the rest of the country- and abroad- its own population faces dire issues with electricity accessibility and affordability of electricity and alternative livelihoods to coal. This survey conducted in 2021 is a follow-up to a survey conducted in 2019 and reports on the enduring challenges around access to affordable and good quality electricity and clean cooking, satisfaction with energy services, structural challenges with metering and billing, and coal dependence in Jharkhand.

Institutional Roots of International Alliances: Party Groupings and Position Similarity at Global Climate Negotiations

A large literature in international relations explores the domestic origin of national positions at international organizations (IOs). Less researched is the institutional assembling within IOs, and how negotiation groups and coalitions affect countries’ positions. We explore this question in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), focusing on the role that institutionalized ‘peer groups’ have on members’ statement similarity. Our baseline expectation is that similar economic development is a main determinant of coalition-building, so more common preferences emerge among members of economically similar negotiation groups. At the same time, and in line with more modern institutionalist views, we hold that some coalitions can reflect alternative cross-cutting dimensions of interdependence.

In the case of climate cooperation, we suggest that a shared level of environmental vulnerability may cluster countries’ positions. We interrogate our expectations with new text-as-data measures that estimate associations of countries’ statements at the UNFCCC between 2010 and 2016. We find that states in more economically homogenous negotiation blocs share more similar national statements. Additionally, common themes and positions emerge among more vulnerable countries, although these are only amplified in small and uniform negotiation groups. Our evidence has implications for global cooperation based on a North-South dialogue and for the effectiveness of institutionalized coalitions at international organizations.

Forming a Green Council in Chhattisgarh

In 2018, the newly elected Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh Bhupesh Baghel vowed to empower farmers, women, and tribal groups by creating local and sustainable jobs. A combination of his prior experience and the return of workers since the onset of the pandemic have made this a priority. While this was happening, the Swaniti team had already started working with the state on sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Without creating economic opportunity, not much would move on the climate conversation. Swaniti argued that climate and sustainability projects need a people-centered approach with appropriate economic returns – this resonated with the Chhattisgarh government and the Green Council was formed. Since then, the state machinery has been mobilized and the Green Council has been working actively to take steps to address climate and sustainability issues. This note highlights how a social enterprise was able to establish an audience with the CM and successfully establish policy and process change.

Reducing oil from India’s road transport sector towards carbon neutrality

Road transportation accounts for 56% of India’s transportation sector CO2 emissions. Reaching carbon neutrality before 2070 requires decarbonization of this sector. This study assesses the potential of battery electric vehicles (BEV) and fuel-cell vehicles (FCV) as a least-cost pathway towards carbon neutrality. We estimate the future demand for passenger and freight services and evaluate the impact of EV policies using the Integrated Model of Energy, Environment, and Economy for Sustainable Development|Technology (IMED|TEC).

The study covers road transport emissions, energy, and air pollution transitions under four scenarios, including reference, low, medium, and high penetration of BEV and FCV, which align with the decarbonization target agreed under India’s national policy. Results show that the carbon neutrality target would be challenging with BEV alone in road passenger and freight transportation because it is less efficient. Combined penetration of BEV and FCV can reduce air pollutant emissions significantly. Operative implementation of FCV could diminish more than 96% of the total road transport CO2 emissions. The analytical framework also proposes local climate change policies towards a carbon neutrality strategy to escalate the share of BEV and FCV in the Indian road transport sector.