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Big Story: After a brief lull, UN climate talks progress

Newsletter - December 14, 2018

Big story : After a brief lull, UN climate talks progress

The negotiations at COP24 are progressing at a snail’s pace, albeit they are progressing. The Polish Presidency text (Guidelines) are finally out. Guidelines of how the Paris Agreement will be implemented, adequate flow of climate finance from developed to developing countries, and crucial traditional items like the retaining the basic distinction between developed and developing nations, are some of the key issues to be finalised for the outcome package. With the trust deficit between the country blocs, the last 24 hours to go until the COP is supposed to close, are crucial moments. Outside of Katowice, the loosening of French President Macron’s hold on leadership amid French protests on rising carbon taxes made this COP a perilous climate moment. Last week’s dilution of the IPCC’s 1.5C report by USA, Kuwait, Russia and Saudi Arabia also came as setback to the negotiations. Their fight to replace the term “welcome” with “noting” the latest science report in the final text was seen by countries as a push for fossil fuels, while taking away the focus off the vital issues of climate finance and differentiation. Saudi Arabia – as OPEC’s de-facto commander – denied it was jeopardizing climate action, and instead offloaded the responsibility to US, Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan – which it argued had long histories of emitting carbon. Saudi Arabia’s Ayman Shasly told Carbon Brief that IPCC report denies his country climate justice as a developing country because it says “let’s all do it together” – without accounting for either equity or history.

Climate Policy

COP24: Katowice hammers out Paris rulebook despite headwinds, countries agree to enhanced ambition by 2020

The two week long UN climate conference in freezing Katowice agreed to a  decision at around 10 pm local time, after talks went into overtime on Saturday, December 15. In the final outcome, the hardwork of all countries has given a ‘decent’ outcome on operationalizing the Paris Agreement.

COP24 was supposed to develop a set of rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. It was tasked to set in place procedures and guidelines which will determine how the Paris Agreement will be delivered. Accounting and review of climate commitments, commitment and review of finance, and setting up mechanisms that keep transparency for reporting and sharing information were the central elements to this discussion. COP24 has at least set a platform from which to enhance and aim for a strong rulebook.

From the start of the negotiations two weeks ago, the climate meet came a long way. Technical and specific as it was, it is clear that the meed made fragmented progress, even though much ground is yet to be covered, to make the guidelines robust, and those can deliver on the mandate of the Paris Agreement- the first multilateral agreement to combat climate change which acknowledged contribution from all countries to able to mitigate  and adapt to a warming world.

The decision on carbon markets which became crucial as the crunch moments built up, held up the talks for one working day, with the discussion now being moved to the next year. Decisions on finance and differentiation demand more attention.

Against geo-political headwinds the climate talks did offer signs of hope. Countries agreed on common rules that will ensure greater scrutiny and transparency on the progress of global climate action, building confidence between countries and their citizens, businesses and investors. They also agreed that 2020 is the year for countries to come forward with tougher climate plans. And that the UN Secretary General’s 2019 summit will mark the halfway point in that journey.

 

Headline outcomes

  • Rulebook got signed off, operationalizing the Paris Agreement, putting all countries on a level playing field to account and report on their climate action.
  • Governments will update their climate plans by 2020, and several countries have used the COP to announce that they have already started their preparations.
  • Parties agreed to use the 2019 United Nations Secretary General summit as an opportunity for Heads of States to demonstrate their plans to enhance ambition by 2020.
  • Donor countries agreed to increase predictability on climate finance, with the aim of providing greater confidence to vulnerable countries.
  • COP25 will be held in Chile, with a pre-COP in Costa Rica.

 

Highlights of country commitments for higher climate targets

  • Costa Rica declared it is planning to review its NDC by 2020
  • The Maldives announced that it will review its NDC in 2019
  • Chile said it has already started a process of reviewing its NDC
  • Ukraine announced that it would review its NDC by 2020
  • Vietnam announced that it is planning to update their NDC available by 2019
  • Norway said that they are looking at how it can enhance ambition by 2020
  • Qatar mentioned that they are now elaborating a new NDC
  • Lebanon commented that they are trying to revise their NDC before 2020
  • Barbados mentioned a new NDC

 

Highlights of finance commitments

  • Adaptation Fund: total contributions US$538m before COP24 (total: US$127.14m with CER sales) with COP24 pledges totalling US$129m / Largest contributions: Germany pledged €70m, Italy pledged €7m, France: €15m, EU commission: €10m
  • Green Climate Fund: total contributions (as of November 2018) US$10.3bn / Largest contributions: Germany and Norway pledged to double their GCF contributions (€1.5bn and $516m respectively) in the upcoming replenishment
  • Least Developed Countries Fund: total contributions (up to date) of US$1.33bn with COP24 pledges totalling US$28.2m / Largest contributions:  Sweden pledged $5.5m (50Kr), France pledged €20 million

 

What the experts said:

Laurence Tubiana, CEO European Climate Foundation and key architect of the Paris Agreement

“Despite all the headwinds, the Paris Agreement has stayed course at COP24, demonstrating the kind of resilience it has been designed for. The decisions made here on the Paris rulebook give us a solid foundation to keep building trust in multilateralism and accelerate the transition all across the world.”

“The societal concern about global warming grew substantially over the year, also due to extreme weather events and the IPCC’s 1.5 degree report. We’ve seen climate marches and children going on school strike for more climate action all across Europe that built momentum for COP24. The Future of Europe Summit in May is a golden opportunity for EU leaders to increase the climate pledges for 2030 substantially and describe the EU’s long-term decarbonisation pathway.”

Jonathan Pershing, former U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change

“The completion of almost all parts of the Paris Agreement ‘Rulebook’ is a major milestone accomplished at this session in Poland, although the crucial rules governing carbon markets must still be decided. It sends a very clear signal of the global community’s intent to continue to aggressively press forward on the urgent task of addressing climate change.  Governments, the business community, and civil society must now turn their attention to the next phase of the process–ratcheting up ambition, and undertaking critical on-the-ground implementation through policies, investments and concerted action to avoid the damages that will arise from unabated emissions.”

M Kurtyka, Polish Presidency

There are close to 200 countries involved in the process. You have made a thousand little steps together. You can feel proud. This deal hangs in fragile balance. We will all have to give in order to gain.

Mr R. R. Rashmi, distinguished fellow TERI & former Indian negotiator

“This COP has made reasonably good progress despite all odds. The conclusions adopted by the COP on the rules and modalities for implementing the Paris agreement are fairly substantive if not as ambitious as were expected. However, the continuing work programme on some issues and the likely climate summit convened by the UNSG next year give ample opportunity to all the stakeholders to close the remaining gaps and scale up their ambition in the post-2020 period.”

Arun Kumar Mehta, Head of Delegation for India –  Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change – 12/14/2018 – Said at the media briefing organised after the closing of the India Pavilion

“Our brief was very clear, we are hear to move forward, to play a positive and constructive role. And we have done so.

Our desire would be that everyone is happy with the text. Addressing loss and damage arising due climate impacts is a discussion that will not end here, and will continue to go on in future negotiations as well.The important details around finance from developed to developing countries  have been adequately captured and we feel that by the time the talks close, the details on the finance will meet the mandate of the Paris agreement. Text needs to be developed in a way that would allow parties to work together rather than allow parties to walk away.

We believe that we must have a robust agreement, build  transparent rules, and factor in the concerns of the vulnerable people of the world.”

David Levaï, IDDRI

“The COP finally agreed on a set of rules to allow for the full implementation of the Paris agreement. It also called on countries to launch a domestic process to determine how they will be able to enhance their climate ambition. The responsibility is now in the hands of world leaders to come ready to the UN summit next year with a clear plan on how they will transition their economies to become resilient and low carbon.

During this COP substantial progress was made on climate finance: contributions to multilateral funds (GCF AF LDCF) as well as progress towards the goal of mobilizing 100bn USD per year from 2020 (almost 75bn in 2016) have contributed to strengthen trust between developed and developing nations.

It is clear, nevertheless, that it’s only a step in the right direction: further concrete signals and commitments will be needed to assure developing countries that they will be supported in their efforts to accelerate their transition towards resilient and low carbon societies.”


Climate Science

Highly threatened: India’s Assam and Mizoram could be the worst hit by climate change due to their poverty and low forest cover. | Image credit: Assamtouristspots.com

Assam and Mizoram face biggest climate threat among Himalayan states in India

According to new research presented at the COP24 climate conference in Katowice, Assam and Mizoram are most vulnerable to climate change among the Himalayan states.
Assam has the least number of  areas under irrigation, lowest forest area per 1,000 rural households and the lowest per capita income among the 12 states. Mizoram has the same issues, and at least 30% of its land is under slope. Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has the third-highest vulnerability ranking.

Extreme weather events killed over 70,000 people in India in 20 years: Report

A report by NGO Germanwatch says over 5.2 lakh people died in extreme weather events across the world in the past 20 years, with India accounting for the second-highest number of these casualties after Myanmar. Between 1998 and 2017, India lost, on an average, 3,660 people every year, with a total of 73,212 casualties. In 2017 alone, 2,736 people perished in extreme floods, rain or cyclones in India. This was the second-highest number of such deaths in the world, topped by Puerto Rico, which witnessed Hurricane Maria in September 2017 that claimed 2,978 lives.

Sea levels rose by 3mm in first half of 2018

The latest report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says Global Mean Sea Level in first half of 2018 was 2 to 3mm higher than for the same period in 2017. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report said, in October this year, that sea levels would continue to rise for centuries even if we cap warming at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, which is prescribed the lower limit of the Paris Agreement.

Past four years world’s hottest: WMO

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says 2018 will be the fourth warmest year on record. WMO said the global average temperature for the first 10 months of the year was nearly 1°C  above the levels between 1850-1900. If the trend continues, the WMO says temperatures may rise by 3-5°C by 2100.

Heatwaves overwhelming hospitals with patients, India among worst hit: Lancet

The latest findings of the Lancet Countdown report on health and climate change said extreme heat threatens a “systemic failure” of the world’s hospitals. The report said the output of India’s workforce declined 7% in 2017,  equivalent to the loss of 75 billion man hours, last year due to extreme heatwave conditions. The figure is almost four times that of China. The study says 200% more Indians have been hit by heatwaves in four  years, and India accounts for half of the global labour loss because of global warming.

India’s wind power potential declining due to warming

A new research says India’s wind power potential is slowly declining because of the warming of the Indian Ocean. Scientists from the Harvard John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) said  India is investing heavily in wind power to tackle climate change and air pollution issues, but the benefits of these substantial investments are vulnerable to the changing climate. The study found that the Indian monsoon is weakening as a result of warming waters in the Indian Ocean, leading to a steady decline in wind-generated power.


Air Pollution

Top Court: “Spending More On Treating People Than Curbing Air Pollution”

The overall air quality of Delhi’s national capital region (NCR) remained “severe” (413 AQI) for the third consecutive day on December 12th.  The Supreme Court said that more money was being spent on treating victims of toxic air than on measures to control it. The top court gave the Central Pollution Control Board two weeks to upload on its website all studies conducted by it on impact of deteriorating air quality on health and economy.

WHO: India can gain $8 trillion in climate action, 1 million lives can be saved from air pollution alone

India can earn health benefits worth $3- $8 trillion if it follows targets to limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end this century, says a special report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) released at the UN climate conference in Poland. The study says over 1 million lives can be saved worldwide every year from air pollution alone by 2050 if the 2015 Paris goals are met. The report stressed that the value of health gains is estimated to be around twice the cost of the policies, while the largest gains would be expected in China and India.

EPCA to meet Delhi industries to check if they have stopped using polluting fuels

The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) said it plans to meet Industry representatives in Delhi to check if they have shifted from polluting coal to natural gas. The EPCA said that even as they crack down on industries and industrial areas, they all move to non-conforming areas or neighbouring areas where nobody can control them. “We cannot compromise ease of breathing for ease of business,” EPCA member Sunita Narain said.

India’s top court pulls up law ministry for sitting on plan for fuel stickers on private cars



The Supreme Court pulled up the government for sitting on the transport ministry’s plan for stickers on private cars to identify the fuel they use and the year of manufacture. The proposal is pending with the Law ministry since August 13, when the transport ministry had received the top court’s approval for the plan.

The failure to clear this file is one of the reasons why the Environment Protection Control Authority (EPCA) could not stop private diesel vehicles from running in Delhi when pollution levels reached the ‘severe’ category.


Renewables

Waiving off of inter-state transmission charges could help bring down RE tariffs even further

India to bid 80 GW of renewable projects by 2020

India said it will bid 60 gigawatt (GW) of solar energy and 20 GW capacity of wind energy by March 2020. The country has set up about 73.35 GW renewable energy capacity as of October, 2018.

$100 mn Green Climate Fund to boost rooftop solar in India

On the sidelines of the UN climate conference, India signed a $100 million agreement with the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to boost rooftop solar capacity through private sector initiatives. Tata Cleantech Capital Ltd will receive GCF support through India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard).  Meanwhile, a Bridge to India analysis says India added a record 1.5GW of rooftop solar in the twelve months to September 2018, which is a substantial 75% year-on-year rise. At this rate, India is on track to reach 15GW by 2022 (as opposed to the original 40GW target), the report says. The top five states account for 54% of the market:

  1. Maharashtra – 473MW
  2. Tamil Nadu – 312MW
  3. Karnataka – 272MW
  4. Rajasthan – 270MW
  5. Uttar Pradesh – 223MW

India-led ISA, EU sign pact to promote solar energy

India-led International Solar Alliance (ISA) signed a joint declaration with the European Union (EU) to boost solar energy. As per the agreement the countries will jointly work to raise finance for the development of “affordable solar energy”. The ISA aims to mobilize $1 trillion by 2030 to generate 1,000 GW of solar energy.

India planning rooftop solar scheme SRISTI

Meanwhile, India plans to launch a new solar rooftop scheme SRISTI or Sustainable Rooftop Implementation for Solar Transfiguration of India to meet its rooftop solar target of 40,000 MW by 2022. Discoms will play a key role in implementing SRISTI.

Govt spends half of annual renewable budget in first half of current fiscal

India has spent nearly half of its Rs5,146-crore annual renewable budget in the first half of the fiscal year 2018. Of the total expense, Rs3,762 crore was allocated for grid-interactive renewable power projects (Rs2,045 crore for solar power, Rs. 750 crore for wind power). India is chasing a target of 175 gigawatt (GW) of installed renewable power by March 2022.

Indian govt refuses to change tariff ceiling for solar projects

The government said it will continue imposing  a tariff ceiling on solar projects, rejecting the industry’s demand to allow them to bid at a price that companies find viable to enable higher participation.
Developers have been protesting against these ceilings, maintaining they are too low and are thereby restricting auction participation. When competition lowers tariffs anyway, then why the need to control, they ask.

FInally, India conducts its first major wind-solar hybrid auction

Softbank and Adani have won 840 MW of the 1,200 MW put on sale at  India’s first wind-solar hybrid auction. Softbank won 450 MW at Rs2.67 per unit of electricity generated, while Adani won 390 MW at Rs2.69. Only two developers put in bids, leaving the remaining 360 MW with no takers. This was the government’s second attempt to attract bidders after the last auction in May had no takers at all.
Vinay Rustagi, of Bridge To India, said, “I think it was pretty clear that both bidders will get the capacities at the tariffs they have already bid, so it was not an authentic process in that sense.”

Maharashtra’s solar plans see a surge

Maharashtra announced a 1GW grid-connected solar tender with the upper price capped at Rs2.80/kWh. Maharashtra’s expansion of solar projects is impressive. Months ago, the state issued 1,400 MW solar tender in 30 circles of the state. 50 MW solar projects will be developed in 26 circles, while 25 MW solar projects will be developed in four circles. The state also announced two tenders (50 MW each) for 100 MW of grid-connected solar projects to be developed in the western region of the state, with the upper tariff ceiling for both the tenders at ₹3.05 (~$0.04318)/kWh.

Tamil Nadu, Odisha announce fresh solar, wind tenders
Tamil Nadu’s electricity board TANGEDCO announced a 500 MW tender for wind projects with the upper tariff ceiling fixed at ₹2.65/kWh. A single bidder must bid for a minimum capacity of 25 MW with at least 5 MW of the project at one site. Meanwhile, Odisha plans to invite bids for a 550 MW solar project, after the state had its first moderately successful auction in July.

Solar power tariffs drop further in UP auction

In its latest tender, Uttar Pradesh attracted bids for 550 MW of solar power at Rs3.04-3.08/kWh. While higher than other states, this tariff sets a new low for the state of UP “given lower radiation & higher discom risk.” Solar radiation in UP is low compared to Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.
After hitting a record low of Rs.2.44 per unit in May 2017, tariffs in India have been rising ever since the government imposed a safeguard duty of 25% on imported solar panels and modules in an effort to support local manufacturing.

China set to launch renewable power quota system
China plans to launch a new renewable power quota system before the end of 2018, “to cut renewable power wastage rates to 5% by 2020 from as high as 12% this year.”
The new quota system will set minimum renewable power consumption targets for each region. Companies covered by the scheme will receive renewable energy certificates when they buy renewable power and will be forced to buy additional certificates if they fail to reach their targets.


Electric Vehicles

India to explore “feebate”, import duty cuts to nudge EV sales, but not battery swapping

India’s top planning body NITI Aayog is exploring the feebate model – taxing polluting vehicles more and subsidizing less polluting/zero-emission ones by an equivalent amount – to nudge more customers into buying EVs. The Centre may also cut import duties on metal and plastic parts for EVs – they  currently attract 28% import duties – and promote indigenous manufacturing to make EVs more affordable.

The Centre, however, is reportedly cagey about battery swapping – which has been proposed by experts to slash re-charging time for EVs – over fears that it could lead to China dumping its li-ion batteries on India. China leads the world in the manufacture of  li-ion EV batteries and may command up to 56% of the global market share by 2020.

Kia signs MoU with Andhra Pradesh for first EV plant, Fortum to install 720 charging points by 2020

Kia Motors has signed an agreement with Andhra Pradesh to build its first EV manufacturing plant in India in the district of Anantapur. The South Korea automaker previously expressed confidence that India would transition to electric mobility – despite its current lack of clear government policies – and could roll out its first India-specific electric car in 2021.

Meanwhile Finland’s Fortum Oyj will install 720 charging points across India by 2020. The energy giant already operates 30 charging points across Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai.

VW to roll out last combustion cars by 2026; Audi to invest $16billion in EVs, autonomous driving  

Volkswagen has announced that it will roll out its last generation of petrol and diesel cars by 2026. The world’s largest automaker will also invest $50 billion over the next five years in accelerating the group’s shift to zero-emission vehicles.

VW is reportedly scouting for locations for a new EV manufacturing plant in North America, while its subsidiary, Audi, plans to invest $16 billion in EVs and autonomous/self driving vehicles by 2023.

EU fails to finalize sharper CO2 reduction targets for cars and vans
The European Union has so far failed to reach a consensus on sharply reducing CO2 emissions from cars and vans, with Germany voicing the strongest opposition to the proposed target of 40% reduction over 2021 levels by 2030. Germany is Europe’s largest automotive producer and has warned of heavy job losses and industrial costs over the cuts.
Austria, which currently holds the EU presidency, has been criticised by countries rooting for greater emissions reduction as waiting for Germany’s approval to officially adopt stricter standards.

German research firm warns of heavy job losses over EV transition, US may rescind all federal EV subsidies
 
Germany’s Institute for Employment Research (IAB) has warned that the country may lose nearly 1,14,000 jobs by 2035 – and suffer nearly €20 billion in economic losses – as the country transitions to manufacturing electric cars, which have much fewer components. IAB’s warnings assume that EVs will corner 23% of the German automotive market by that date.

Meanwhile, the White House may rescind all federal subsidies for EVs by 2020 or 2021, apparently as retaliation to General Motors shuttering several of its US plants and accelerating its shift to EVs. Americans currently enjoy $2,500 – $7,500 in tax credits for purchasing EVs, but several Republicans – including President Trump – reportedly consider it a “waste of taxpayer money”.

UK launches largest commercial EVs trial to study electricity demand, optimise charging infra

The UK has launched the world’s largest three-year trial of about 3,000 commercial electric vehicles to study their impact on the country’s electricity demand, identify the factors holding back businesses from opting for EVs, and to optimise the placement of charging facilities for both commercial and private EVs.

The trial will also employ Internet of Things (IoT) to study peak electricity demand times for EVs, and whether they can be used to supplement grid power during off-peak hours.


Fossil Fuels

More trouble, yet again: Rising coal prices and costs of compliance with air pollution norms could render 70% of global coal plants uneconomical by 2040. | Image credit: Grist.org

42% of world’s coal plants running on losses, phase-out could save India’s taxpayers $76billion

Carbon Tracker’s new study revealed that 42% of the world’s 6,685 coal power plants are running on losses due to rising coal prices. The study also says the proportion could rise to 72% by 2040 over higher carbon taxes, and the costs of compliance with stricter air pollution norms.

Carbon Tracker further says that if India stopped sheltering its uncompetitive coal power plants through state subsidies, it could save its taxpayers nearly $76 billion. Additionally, the report calls for a ban on new coal power investments since renewables in India were already a cheaper option.

Poland defends heavy dependence on coal amidst surging imports from Russia, USA

Poland has defended its heavy reliance on coal for its power generation, with its Prime Minister denying that Poland’s use of its own resources (for energy security) conflicted with the country’s climate goals. Poland currently derives about 80% of its power from coal, even though its draft energy strategy may reduce the share to 60% by 2030.

Meanwhile, its coal imports from Russia have almost doubled to 9.3 million tonnes (from 5.2 million tonnes) for January – September 2018 (over Jan – Sep 2017), while its imports from USA jumped by over 400% in the same period. Poland is currently hosting COP24 – where fossil fuels are a huge bone of contention.

Clean coal found to release more NOx than raw coal

US utility Duke Energy has found that burning so-called ‘clean coal’ in fact produced between 33% to 76% higher NOx emissions than burning raw coal – instead of its claimed benefit of reducing it by 20%.
Clean coal receives a billion dollars in federal tax subsidies every year – specifically over its NOx emissions benefits – and the US will have burned 160 million tonnes of clean coal in 2018. The technology did, however, achieve a 75% reduction in mercury emissions over 2009-2017.

US may allow new coal plants to emit more CO2 even as coal power faces record low demand

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed that new American coal plants be allowed to emit up to 1,900 pounds of CO2 per MWh of electricity – up from 1,400 pounds currently – to roll back ‘burdensome Obama-era regulations on the country’s coal power sector.

The proposal comes despite demand for coal power in the US being at its lowest since 1979. Around 14GW worth of coal plants have already shut down in the country in 2018 – double that of 2017. Also, Xcel Energy – one of the US’ largest coal utilities – has promised to slash emissions and move to 100% clean energy by 2050.