Newsletter.November 13, 2017

#Climate Change

UN Climate talks: Rich polluters spat with poorer countries, cities step up Climate action

In the latest UN climate talks in Bonn, trust deficit between the rich and poor countries widened. The big polluters – the US and Europe – refused to allow formal discussion on their pre-2020 promises to decarbonise, or provide funds to developing nations. The spat over the Paris rulebook threatens climate cooperation. Even as the EU downplays the divide, the UN chief fears the much needed $100 billion climate fund is far from guaranteed.

However, more ambitious pledges to decarbonise are coming from the states and cities of the US and Europe. India and China showed they would achieve their Paris targets ahead of their deadlines.

Meanwhile, while Trump ‘refuses to be educated’ and China assumes climate leadership, new studies show island nations and poorer nations are footing the climaterisk bill. Haiti has topped the list of nations worst hit by extreme weather, while America is ranked 10th. Regardless, US lobbyists and business firms are using Bonn as a venue to strike deals and change the focus from clean energy to “cleaner, more efficient fossil fuels”.


#Fossil Fuels

Top scientist's warning at Bonn: Paris targets 'too low', progress too slow

A top scientist who famously announced 30-years-ago that global warning was underway, has warned delegates at Bonn that their climate targets are too low, and that world needs to sharply cut down emissions and suck billions of tonnes of CO2 from the air to prevent today’s youth from future disasters.

Head of NASA’’s Goddard Institute until 2013, James Hansen, whose 18-yr-old granddaughter sued the US government for adding to the problem, added that the liberal governments were ignoring the problem by only taking baby steps, and keeping fossil fuels cheap. There were bigger problems than ‘Trump-type’ governments who were in the pockets of fossil fuel industry, he said.

‘We wIll lose our coastal cities, only question is how fast?’

Thousands of diplomats at the 12-day, 196-nation talks are haggling over the fine print of a ‘rulebook’ for a treaty that will go into effect in 2020.

The 2015 Paris Agreement called for capping global warming at 2°C. However, with only one degree of warming amplifying deadly heatwaves, superstorms and droughts, the Paris treaty also vows to explore the feasibility of holding the line at 1.5°C.

‘If we go to 2°C, it is guaranteed that we will lose our shorelines and coastal cities’ said Hansen. ‘The only question is how fast.’

UN Emissions Gap Report

The eighth UN Emissions Gap Report has warned that current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) will cover only one third of the emissions reductions needed for the world to achieve the 2°C target, which will therefore created a dangerous gap that even non-state actors would not be able to close.


#Air Pollution

Air Quality: North India in lifethreatening smog, hazardous levels breached in Delhi

North India’s air quality hovered near severe levels, with Delhi and neighbouring Ghaziabad and Noida registering hazardous AQIs (PM10) of up to 999, 932 and 1,119 respectively. The “life threatening” smog and mix of smoke from diesel vehicles, pet coke, coal plants, brick kilns, crop and waste burning, created conditions in the capital that the Delhi CM likened to living in a “gas chamber”.

The Indian Medical Association declared a “public health emergency”, shutting down Delhi and NCR schools. Trains and flights were delayed/cancelled as visibility dropped, and it even triggered a dangerous car pileup on an NCR highway. United Airlines has even temporarily suspended its Newark-Delhi flight over health concerns.

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The Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) enforced GRAP (Graded Response Action Plan) that included 4-times hike in parking fees to discourage cars, temporary bans on construction and entry of diesel vehicles into Delhi, and the rationing of cars through the odd-even scheme – that has now been scrapped by the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The decision will however be revisited on Monday.

Typically, authorities were caught napping with delayed implementation of GRAP, waiting for the Capital to recede into hazardous air pollution. A recent Nature study suggests that India may have already overtaken China to become the world’s largest emitter of toxic Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) – that is emitted from thermal power plants and industries. Additionally the Supreme Court’s ban on highly polluting pet coke and furnace oil has met with stiff resistance, with industry body ASSOCHAM.

Choked by Vehicles

There are now over 10 million vehicles registered in Delhi (66% two-wheelers), with a large chunk plying without valid “Pollution Under Control” certificates. Additionally, over 500,000 vehicles enter the capital every day, which roughly equals the total number of vehicles registered in Delhi each year.


#Coal

Perennial risk of coal plants? NTPC blast kills 43

The deadly boiler blast at NTPC’s 1,500MW Unchahar thermal power plant on November 1st has so far claimed 43 lives and injured over one hundred personnel. Independent analyses suggest the tragedy was avoidable, that the new Unit VI was connected to the grid hastily without having met all safety requirements, and that its ash handling system were also not fully constructed when the unit was given its Commercial Operation Declaration (COD) in September.

V.K. Singh, a coal handling plant manager at Kanti (Bihar) has even admitted that NTPC is under pressure to produce power, and that flouting of safety norms has become “normal”. An expert level committee will table its report on the cause of the incident within 30 days, and India’s industry safety protocols are already being questioned.

‘Human cost’ of coal power

In August 2017 the Centre’s chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian, had claimed that “coal should remain” a major part of India’s energy mix, and that renewables would be three times more expensive if their social cost was accounted for. While his view was publicly derided, the boiler blast incident again brings his claims into question.

Thermal power is linked to toxic air pollution, particulate matter emissions and respiratory diseases, and boiler blasts add a more horrific dimension to the debate, especially compared to safer and cheaper renewable energy installations.