Noah Sachs

Noah Sachs

September 1, 2014
Environmental law professor spends Fulbright semester researching India's climate change policies

During the Spring 2014 semester, University of Richmond School of Law Professor Noah Sachs lived in Bangalore, India on a Fulbright grant and researched the country's new climate change policies. As a Fulbright scholar, Sachs was based at the National Law School of India University, which has a strong program in environmental law, and he traveled throughout southern India. At the National Law School, he taught a course in international climate change law.

Professor Sachs is director of Richmond Law's Robert R. Merhige Jr. Center for Environmental Studies, and he teaches and writes in the areas of environmental law and international environmental law, toxic substances and hazardous waste regulation, and climate change.

Sachs said he chose to apply for a Fulbright grant in India because he had traveled there fifteen years ago and loved the experience. "India is so important in my field," he added. "It is growing so fast, it has huge environmental challenges, and its global warming pollution is increasing very fast. The India I just visited is very different from the India I saw fifteen years ago."

Though his main academic project was about climate change, Sachs also researched the massive solid waste problem in Bangalore. During his first week there, Sachs learned about a non-profit group called Daily Dump that offers a "Trash Trail": a tour of the city's most important trash sites. The tour involved ten hours of driving around the city to visit all of the major sites where trash is collected, handled, transferred, and disposed. "Bangalore has a severe garbage crisis," he said. "The streets are strewn with waste, it's a public health menace, and this is clearly the biggest environmental issue in Bangalore right now."

His experience on the Trash Trail prompted him to research the United States' garbage system. Although the U.S. has a cleaner and more efficient system than India's, he said, a lot of our problems are hidden and out of public view. When compared to India, Sachs said the biggest problem is the amount of trash U.S. consumers dispose of each day. "It's about 5 to 7 times as much each day as the average Indian citizen throws out," Sachs said. Sachs interviewed people involved in the city's waste management system and compiled a photo album of the trash sites, which were the focus of an article that he published in June in The Atlantic.

Professor Sachs explained that India has a number of environmental challenges as it expands its economy and its population rises above 1.3 billion. In addition to managing all the garbage, India has severe air pollution in its cities, problems with sewage and sanitation, and increasing water scarcity. "Most of the cities are overusing water as the urban population doubles and triples," Sachs said, "and it's becoming harder and harder to find clean water for drinking and bathing."

The focus of Sachs's Fulbright research is India's climate change laws. He explained, "In the past five years, India has gotten serious about looking at its own greenhouse gas emissions, even as it continues to state, in international negotiations, that climate change is largely caused by the wealthy developed countries, and they have to take the lead."

Sachs is now writing an article about a new Indian law, called Perform Achieve Trade (PAT), which aims to lower India's energy consumption through promoting energy efficiency. He explained that the ambitious PAT program uses a market trading system wherein companies that are successful at improving efficiency offer credits to struggling companies. "It has never been tried anywhere else in the world on the scale that India is trying it," he said. Sachs's research in India involved interviewing the key regulators and industry executives who will participate in the program.

During the past few decades, India's highest priority has been on development, so the country hasn't been willing to place a cap on its greenhouse gas emissions, which result from burning coal, oil, and other fuels. But now, India is committed to slowing the rate of growth in its greenhouse gas emissions, a move that Sachs views as a positive development. Sachs added, "Of course, we'd like to see more. Every country needs to think about how to reduce emissions, not just slow the rate of growth." He added that India is beginning to pass domestic legislation on climate change because it has recognized its own vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels. "With so many major cities located along India's coasts, such as Mumbai and Chennai and Kolkata, even one meter of sea level rise would be extremely dangerous and would displace millions of people."

Professor Sachs explained that he's examining India's PAT program as a case study in market-oriented approaches to promoting energy efficiency. He's analyzing how this system might apply to large economies, such as the United States and Europe. Because the Indian program will be gradually rolled out between 2012 and 2020, Sachs will be closely tracking developments to determine what the challenges would be for other countries adopting similar systems.

Sachs said he hopes to return to India to continue his research. He also plans to speak about India's climate change policies at universities and other venues here in the United States. "A lot of what I saw in India made me appreciate the United States," he said. "We don't have the massive air pollution problem that India has; our water is safer to drink; the environmental laws we've passed since the 1970s have largely been effective. So I think it's a positive story to tell."

When asked how the United States might assist India with its environmental problems, Sachs said, "the most serious environmental problems we face today are global. The U.S. acting alone can't solve them." He emphasized the importance of understanding both the development needs and environmental needs of India to be able address climate change.