Domesticating goal setting: soft targets and solar energy in India

Dr. Liz Chatterjee speaks on India's solar energy and multilevel governance. 

Image may contain: Sky, Azure, Rectangle, Slope, Composite material.

Solar Power Plant in Gujarat, India. Photo: United Nations Photo, Flickr


The conventional wisdom suggests that policy targets must be carefully devised and enforced to be effective. Yet the potential of governance through setting aspirational objectives has recently attracted public and scholarly attention, not least from scholars of the Sustainable Development Goals. Such soft targets typically lack robust empirical foundations and accountability mechanisms. This paper provides a longitudinal examination of one such soft target—the Indian government’s goal of installing 100 GW solar capacity by 2022—and its effects on multilevel environmental governance over time. Drawing on policymaker interviews and subnational comparisons, it argues that the target at first ushered in a dramatic expansion of renewable energy. For weak central authorities, soft targets can be a second-best tool of vertical coordination as commitment devices that offer subnational implementers interpretive flexibility. This comes at the cost of uneven performance, however, and the gap between ambition and reality eventually threatens government credibility. Governance by goal setting thus entails a trade-off between accountability and effectiveness that risks breaking down over time.

Register for webinar

About the speaker

Image may contain: Person, Face, Cheek, Smile, Lip.Dr. Liz Chatterjee is Assistant Professor of Environmental History and the College at the University of Chicago. She is also a Fellow of the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and, until the end of 2020, a “Fifty-Pound” Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.

Before this she was Lecturer in Regional and Comparative Politics (tenure-track assistant professor) in the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London and a postdoc at the University of Chicago. She holds a doctorate from the Oxford Department of International Development. She has also held visiting fellowships at UC Berkeley, the University of California Humanities Research Institute, and the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

She is an interdisciplinary scholar working on the politics of energy and state capacity in the age of climate change. Her research particularly focuses on India alongside comparative perspectives.

Published Oct. 5, 2021 9:22 AM - Last modified Oct. 12, 2021 1:59 PM