Author page for Chella Rajan


Chella Rajan
Sudhir Chella Rajan is Professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and Coordinator of the Indo-German Centre for Sustainability. Previously, he was a Senior Fellow at Tellus Institute, where he worked on energy scenarios and global politics and institutions He has an extensive research background in transportation, energy systems, and the institutional and political context of environmental policymaking. He is broadly concerned with the interactions among social, political, technological, and environmental factors relating to sustainable development. His research has included energy and environmental scenario analyses, the politics of automobility and pollution control, power sector reform in developing countries, and analysis of institutional reform measures to reduce corruption. Prior to joining the Tellus Institute, he worked at the California Air Resources Board and the International Energy Initiative and as an independent consultant for the United Nations Development Programme.

He holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles.


Tellus Publications (Selected)


Developmental Benefits from a Low-Carbon Pathway

Chella Rajan, Sujatha Byravan

The release of the Interim Report of the Expert Group on Low Carbon Strategies for Inclusive Growth in May 2011 gives us an occasion to place India’s climate stance in perspective. The Report, while useful in discussing opportunities for greenhouse gas emissions reductions in various sectors, does not make inclusivity its priority. Rather, with growth as its starting point, it gives us little or no sense of what “inclusive growth” amounts to or indeed what should motivate the country to embark on a low-carbon pathway. Although such a growth path is socially, financially, and politically the right way forward, it must be articulated in much more explicit terms.

Originally published in Economic & Political Weekly 36, no, 34 (August 2011): 15-18.

Poor Little Rich Countries: Another Look at the Resource Curse

Chella Rajan

Resource-rich countries are plagued by macroeconomic crises known as "Dutch Disease," which is associated with the inflation of local currencies on account of a large influx of foreign exchange and a dip in labor supply for non-traded goods. In developing countries, the historical context of state formation is often such that the revenues generated by natural resource exports bolster the stability of authoritarian regimes and the dominant state actors consolidate their power by managing boom-bust cycles to avert crises. Using Mexico, Venezuela, and Angola as paradigmatic cases, this article examines the relevance of outside forces, domestic policies, and the opportunistic forms of engagement with external power chosen by local actors that produced tragic outcomes in each of these instances.

Originally published in Environmental Politics 20, no. 5 (September 2011): 617-632.

The Case for Biome Stewardship Councils

Chella Rajan

Protecting global ecosystems is often hindered by the problem of insufficient political will within countries and the need for effective cross-boundary management. This paper proposes a novel solution in which the biome itself (i.e., large ecosystems with similar climate, soils, plants, and animals) becomes the basic governance unit. Biome Stewardship Councils would comprise groups of individuals elected or nominated by local community organizations that reside in the regions making up their respective biomes. They would lead regional collaboration to characterize threats to ecosystem services within the biome and develop and apply strategies to restore and maintain healthy services.

Contours of the Future: Alternative Scenarios for the Boston Region

James Goldstein, Paul Raskin, Chella Rajan

The Boston Scenarios Project explored long-range futures for the region within a larger global perspective. The scenarios span a spectrum of possible futures for the Boston region to the year 2050. The Project analyzed conventional scenarios that gradually unfold from current trends under the influence of various policy adjustments as well as a normative scenario of “deep change” in which sustainability, social solidarity, and global responsibility become major organizing principles for the cultural, economic, and social development of the region.

Technical documentation available here.

Bringing Global Thinking to Local Sustainability Efforts: A Collaborative Project for the Boston Metropolitan Region—Technical Report on Quantitative Scenarios

James Goldstein, Paul Raskin, Chella Rajan, A. Fleder

This report provides technical documentation for the quantification of scenarios developed by the Tellus Institute for the Boston Scenarios Project ("BSP"). It serves as a supplement to the BSP final report: Alternative Long-Range Scenarios for the Boston Region: Contours of the Future. The report analyzes three long-range scenarios for the Boston region (Business-As-Usual (BAU), Policy Reform, and Deep Change), presenting the quantitative inputs and assumptions used in developing the scenarios and projecting them out to the year 2050.

Blue Alert

Chella Rajan

This study shows that if global temperatures rise by about 4 to 5 degrees Celsius in the course of the century, as they are projected to under business-as-usual growth in greenhouse gas emissions, the South Asian region could face a wave of migrants displaced by the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise and drought associated with shrinking water supplies and monsoon variability. It concludes that the resultant catastrophe may well be the greatest humanitarian and economic catastrophe that the developing world will face in the coming decades and demands and recommends policy steps to mitigate climate change and steer development in a sustainable direction.

Global Politics and Institutions: A 'Utopistic' View

Chella Rajan

This paper emphasizes the political and institutional dimensions of a different possible world, one that conjoins the desires of progressive social movements everywhere and gestures towards a hopeful vision of new forms of collective action. Thus, it tries to outline the politics and institutions that would be most compatible with meeting humanity's complex and manifold goals, even as other social, technological, and economic changes take place. Its primary focus is the institutional arrangements that would facilitate a democratic global politics in the future, but it also lays out some current trends that show promise towards realizing such a future.

Essay #3 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

The Suicidal Planet: How to Prevent Global Climate Catastrophe

Chella Rajan, T. Fawcett, M. Hillman

Climate change is the single biggest problem that humankind has ever had to face, as we continue with lifestyles that are way beyond the planet's limits. Mayer Hillman, Tina Fawcett, and Chella Rajan explain the role technology can play, how you and your community can make changes, and what governments must do now to protect our planet for future generations. The Suicidal Planet proposes, among other things, a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions by the world's governments; global carbon rationing to reduce our individual carbon outputs to a fair and ecologically safe level; and helpful guidelines for the home, travel, and leisure.

Available for purchase here.

Automobility, Liberalism, and the Ethics of Driving

Chella Rajan

Automobility, or the myriad institutions that foster car culture, has rarely if ever been put under the lens of liberal political theory, even though driving is one of the most common and widely accepted features of daily life in modern societies. When its implied promise of guaranteeing both freedom and equality is examined more closely, however, it appears that the ethical implications of driving may be darker than initially supposed.

Originally published in Environmental Ethics 29 (2007): 77-90.

Hydrogen Transitions in a Greenhouse Gas Constrained World

Chella Rajan

In order to realize the promise of a hydrogen economy in this United States, it is essential to couple it with a simultaneous commitment to improve energy efficiency and increase the use of renewable energy. This study, which uses detailed scenario analyses for the country as a whole and for urban areas, finds that a large-scale switch to hydrogen produced by a clean energy system would lead to twice the environmental benefits compared to what would be achieved in a hydrogen transition under a business-as-usual energy mentality. By 2050, when a “clean” transition to hydrogen would be nearly complete, greenhouse gas emissions would be roughly half of what they are today, compared to about a billion tons more, even with hydrogen produced from coal and natural gas.

Climate Change Dilemma: Technology, Social Change or Both? An Examination of Long-Term Transport Policy Choices in the United States

Chella Rajan

This paper reviews the prospects for emissions reductions in the US passenger transport sector and the technical, economic, social, and political barriers to developing policies that focus solely on technology or pricing. Using scenarios, it shows that, in order to meet stringent emissions targets over the coming half century, technology and pricing policies may have to be supplemented by strategies to change lifestyles and land uses in ways that effectively reduce car dependence. In the medium to long term, bold initiatives that treat vehicle users as citizens capable of shifting their interests and behavior could form kernels of social change that, in turn, provide opportunities for removing many of the social and political constraints.

Public Avenues to Public Spaces: Regulating the Car

Chella Rajan

Environmental regulation of automobiles faces the problem that the burden of causing air pollution cannot be borne solely by the manufacturer, the owner, or the driver. This paper explores the implications that this constraint has had on the regulatory modes adopted by the state of California to curb automobile pollution for the past three decades. It argues that California’s experience provides us with a particularly stark view of the regulatory conundrum because of the dual nature of the stakes: a highly automobilized society having severe local air pollution problems. Moreover, by creating for itself the global reputation of being the intrepid pioneer in the field, the state’s leading regulatory agency may have become victim of its own remarkable success and gotten locked into a particular pattern of regulation.

Originally published in J. D. Wufhorst and Anne Haugestad, eds., Building Sustainable Communities: Ecological Justice and Global Citizenship (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), 1-9.

A Fine Balance: Controlling Automobile Pollution in California

Chella Rajan

Examines the factors behind the strategies of the California Air Resources Board to regulate owners of motor vehicles relating to air pollution. Argues that the agency felt it had to develop increasingly stringent regulations on sellers of new cars.