Vol 1, Feb 2022 |Are India’s forests really growing? Look under the cover, say experts

Skewed picture: The government report has failed to capture the fact that forests are about food and water security and include forest dwellers and millions of other species, say experts. Photo: The Logical Indian

According to the State of Forest Report 2021, India’s forest cover rose 1,540 sqkm between 2019 and 2021, but unreliable methodology is painting a skewed picture, experts point out Read more

Skewed picture: The government report has failed to capture the fact that forests are about food and water security and include forest dwellers and millions of other species, say experts. Photo: The Logical Indian

Are India’s forests really growing? Look under the cover, say experts

According to the State of Forest Report 2021, India’s forest cover rose 1,540 sqkm between 2019 and 2021, but unreliable methodology is painting a skewed picture, experts point out  

India’s forest and tree cover has increased by 2,261 square kilometres (sqkm) compared to the last biennial assessment in 2019, according to the 2021 India’s State of Forest Report (ISFR) released this month. Independent assessments, however, reveal a contradictory story. One that speaks of huge loss of forest, biodiversity and wildlife on the ground to official norms, definitions and legal loopholes. 

According to the ISFR report, India’s total forest cover (TFC) rose 1,540 sqkm between 2019 and 2021. At 713,789 sqkm, the TFC in 2021 is 21.71% of the total geographical area (TGA) of the country as opposed to 21.67% of the TGA of the country in 2019. In 2017, the TFC was 21.54% of the TGA. According to the National Forest Policy 1988, India is chasing a target to get 33% of its geographical area under forest cover.

But experts point out that methodology reliant on satellite data is not equipped to assess forests with their social and ecological life. The data fails to capture the fact that forests are about food and water security and include forest dwellers and millions of other species. Experts say by including fruit orchards and monoculture plantations as forest cover, the aim is to show compliance with domestic forest policy and global climate targets. But all it ends up doing is showcasing a distorted picture of India’s forests. 

Tree canopy density: Criteria to skip a lot underneath? 

The Forest Survey of India (FSI), the government agency that conducts the official assessment, classifies forests into categories: Very Dense Forest (with tree canopy density of 70% or above), Moderately Dense Forest (tree canopy density of 40% or above, but less than 70%), Open Forest (tree canopy density of 10% or above but less than 40%), and Scrub (tree canopy density less than 10%).

According to official data, Open Forests have the largest chunk in forest cover, with 9.34% of the total forest cover (307,120 sq km). Very Dense Forests (natural forests) account for just 3.04% (99,779 sq km) of forest cover, which is the smallest share. Moderately Dense Forests account for 9.33% (307,120 sq km) of total forest cover.

India has reported an increase of just 501 sqkm under the Very Dense Forest category in the past two years. There is a loss of 1,582 sqkm under the Moderately Dense Forest category. Open Forests have reported an increase of 2,612 sqkm.

Experts point out that the sole criteria of “tree canopy density” simply fails to capture the unique compositions of forest biodiversity, including its wildlife and livelihood sources. For example, forests in central India are less dense than those in Western Ghats, but are very rich in biodiversity and wildlife. 

Forester Manoj Misra points out Indian forests have been classified by scientists into 16 different types, each of which have unique canopy formations, among other differences. To club all of them as either just ‘dense’ or ‘open’ forests betrays poor understanding of the natural diversity of forest systems, he writes. Some forest types might be naturally dense or open and their ecological characteristics would be ignored if each of them is assessed on whether the canopy density is good or poor and then actions called for to convert all to a dense status, he writes. According to him, such an approach also ignores the wilderness values of natural grasslands, wetlands and largely treeless areas like cold (Ladakh & Lahaul) and warm deserts (Thar & Rann of Kutch) etc. 

Misra also observed that artificially drawn state boundaries or tiger, lion, elephant reserves etc. should not be the assessment criteria of forest loss or gain. Instead the criteria should be the catchment area of major rivers, which is a well-defined ecological unit and its health in terms of vegetative cover can help determine India’s water security potential and locations where due to catchment deforestation flood risks have increased. 

Kanchi Kohli from the Centre for Policy Research points out that loss and gain in forest cover can’t be assessed through tree density since monoculture plantations may be shown as gain over an Open Forest. This could be a wildlife habitat and home to tribal communities that could be diverted for infrastructure projects. Kohli says the state of forest report considers  monoculture plantations and fruit orchards as forest cover only to show compliance with domestic forest policy and international climate targets. India recognises governance rights of forest-dwelling communities, including gaining their consent while accessing forest resources, but the state of forest report doesn’t reflect this.

Methodology: Meeting or missing the targets ?

According to the official definition, forest cover includes all patches of land with a tree canopy density of more than 10% and with area having more than 1 ha, irrespective of land use, ownership and species of trees. 

There is heavy reliance on satellite imagery for assessment of Forest Cover. The report says, “(the) wall-to-wall forest mapping of the country is carried out using remote sensing based methodology.” The methodology includes “ground truthing” , which “enables linking of image data to ground reality.” After the changes are discerned “doubt points are selected by analysts on the basis of certain criteria like significant change, mixing of signature and distortion in signature due to radiometry or phenological changes. More than 3,400 ground truth points were visited by analysts during the current Forest Cover Mapping exercise,” the report says. 

The report also flags limitations. For example, an area less than 23.5m on the ground cannot be captured. Cloud cover, shadows in satellite data, haze may obscure “considerable” data. Phenological changes in forests result in poor reflectance of data, while crops such as sugarcane, cotton and lantana weeds adjacent to forests cause mixing spectral signatures, making it difficult to interpret forest cover precisely. 

Consider the difficulties the report alerts about while capturing satellite pictures. About change in Forest Cover it says “…interpretational changes in classifications also pertains to areas where Forest Cover either went undetected due to snow or cloud cover, hill shadow effect, poor reflectance from trees due to leaf fall, or poor image quality the time of previous assessment or classified as forest due to poor tonal variation.”

In the section on Forest Cover in major mega cities defined as those with million plus population, the report identifies seven mega cities of Greater Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Chennai, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. Delhi is assessed to have maximum green cover (194.24 sqkm), followed by Mumbai (110.77 sqkm) and Bengaluru (89.02 sqkm). The states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Jharkhand have recorded the highest increase in forest cover, the report said. States in the North East have recorded the highest loss in forest cover. There has been a loss (.44 sqkm) in the total forest area of Delhi as well. Its total forest area in 2021 was 195 sqkm. Mostly open forest areas have been damaged. India had 4,992 sqkm of mangroves in 2021, which was an increase of 17 sqkm, according to the report. 

Climate change hotspots mapped: Notes on west, central and peninsular India 

The report has also mapped climate change hotspots in Indian forests, based on projections for 2030, 2050 and 2080. By 2030, 315,667 sqkm or 45% of India’s forest and tree cover are set to emerge as climate hotspots. The report said by 2050, 448,367 sqkm or 64% of India’s forest and tree cover is likely to face the ‘high severity’ (rise in temperature between the range of 1.5 and 2.1 degrees Celsius) of climate change. Hence, forests in large parts of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, the northern part of Odisha and western part of Jharkhand will be impacted by adverse impacts of climate change from 2050 onwards.

Variation to death: Which way will forest turn to climate impacts?

Scientists of forest hydrology say the combined impacts of extreme drought and heat waves exacerbated by climate change is resulting in the death of trees across India and the globe. A 2018 study found that concurrent drought and heatwaves in India expanded significantly between 1981-2000 as compared to the 1951-1980 period mainly in Gujarat, Central India and Peninsular India. The complex impacts on vegetation ranged from short-lived local mortality events to regional-scale death of forests, Scroll reported then

An analysis of forest fires in India between 2004 and 2011 released by the Forest Survey of India shows that the North East had maximum fires between the first week of March and third week of April, South India between the first week of February and first week of April and north and Central India between the last week of February and third week of June. The most fires were in 2009-’10 in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Tripura and Mizoram. The high number of fires coincided with scanty rainfall or a monsoon failure in these areas, the website reported. The droughts in 2004, 2004, 2009, 2012 and 2016 correspond with the total number of fires in these years, especially in peninsular India. In the northern states, Scroll reported, correlation between fires and drought is not evident, probably because of the practice of crop residue burning.

A  2013 study showed 55% of India’s forests are prone to annual fires, mainly in the peninsula and the Western Himalayas. The FSI estimated about 15% of the total area vulnerable to forest fire. Of the 348 vulnerable districts, the maximum number are in central India, especially Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. A 2017 study based on ISFR 2013 categorised forests into different vulnerability classes and estimated 40% of country’s forest grids showed high or very high vulnerability especially in peninsular and central India. Plantation forests showed more vulnerability than natural forests.

The study used models to predict future climate and vegetation type in India’s forest areas in the short term (2030s) and the long term (2080s). predicting a change in vegetation type in almost half (46%) of India’s forest grid cells by 2030; and upto 54% in the long term mainly in west and central India and in the interior peninsula – forests and plantations.

Forest cover vs legal cover 

 The ISFR says the marginal growth in India’s forest cover is primarily due to an increase in the area under open forests, led by commercial plantations. But the moderately dense forests or the area close to human habitations has declined between 2021 and 2019. Between 2021 and 2019, the area under open forests increased 0.09% (1,582 sqkm).

Union minister for environment, forest and climate change Bhupender Yadav defended the classification of forests saying ‘plantations play a crucial ecological role’ and it was not really necessary to separate them from natural forests. MD Madhusudan of Nature Conservation Foundation points out that India’s forest cover declined until 1997, after which it grew 45,000 sqkm over the next three reports because in the 2001 assessment FSI adopted a fully digital analysis workflow, and changed its definition of a forest. He said tea gardens in Assam and West Bengal, coconut plantations in Tamil Nadu as well as in sub-urban areas and offices in Kolkata and Delhi were counted as ‘very dense’, ‘moderately dense’ and ‘open’ forests in the report. 

Researchers point out that authorities divert forest land for mining and development projects such as irrigation projects, highways and even public toilets without changing the legal status of the land (the handbook of Forest Conservation Act is full of the phrase: “The legal status of the land shall remain unchanged.​​” So it would remain a ‘forest land’, but only on paper. Experts say the survey should acknowledge such diversions and provide information if such forests were replaced by compensatory afforestations.  Diversion of forest land through Amendments to the Forest Act, 1980, has also been raised by experts, who reminded that the government told Parliament that as much as 55430.13 hectares of forest land across the country was approved for non-forestry use under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 between April 2018 and March 2021. Analysts point out that the report does not take into account threats to existing forests, and FSI should expand its mandate to these issues to guarantee the long-term security of India’s forests rather than simply counting the tree canopy density.

Bracing for impact: The Indian government hopes a climate vulnerability atlas will help with disaster preparedness in India. Photo: India.com

Centre maps out Indian districts most vulnerable to climate hazards

In a first, the Centre released an atlas that mapped out districts vulnerable to extreme weather. According to the Climate Hazards and Vulnerability Atlas of India, the Sunderbans, districts in Odisha, and Ramanathapuram, Pudukkottai and Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu are most vulnerable to storm surges up to 13.7m high induced by cyclones. According to experts the atlas will help with disaster preparedness as India battles an increasing number of extreme weather events. 

The atlas includes 640 climate vulnerability maps, and the Ministry of Earth Sciences, which released the atlas, hopes it will mitigate the effects of 13 most hazardous weather events, including cold waves, heat waves, thunderstorms, floods, droughts, fog, wind hazards, dust storms, snowfall, hail storms, lightning, extreme rainfall and cyclones.

Tonga’s volcano-triggered tsunami exposes region’s climate vulnerability: Experts

Experts linked the intensity of the volcano-triggered tsunami in Tonga this past week to climate change. According to reports, waves as high as 15 metres crashed into the outer islands of Tonga killing at least 3 people. According to experts, the large waves were a result of rising sea levels. According to official data, sea levels are rising by about 6mm a year because of warming oceans. Experts warned of more such extreme events, including storm surges.  

Ghana farmers who adapted to climate change produce more yield than those who haven’t: Study

A new study revealed how farmers in Ghana who have adapted to climate change are more productive and own more household assets than those who have not. The study published in Springer Link obtained data from 1,440 farmers and found that access to information and increased awareness does lead to a more positive effect on the decision to adapt. The study found that farms that had adapted to climate change did not experience any drop in productivity as a result of temperature or rainfall increase.  

Optimal land management can increase terrestrial vegetation’s carbon sink potential substantially: Study 

Optimising land management is a promising way to mitigate climate change, a recent study concluded. According to the report published in the journal Nature, global land vegetation could sequester an extra of 13.7 billion tonnes of carbon every year by adopting “location-specific optimal land management practices”. The finding is important because Terrestrial vegetation sequesters 112–169 PgC (1PgC = 1 billion metric tonnes carbon) each year, which plays a vital role in global carbon recycling. 

A raw deal?: The Centre has proposed lowering the moisture content limit to 12% from 14% for wheat and 16% from 17% for paddy. Photo: China Daily

Govt proposal to reduce moisture content limit for wheat, paddy leaves farmers worried

The Indian government’s proposal to lower the moisture content limit for wheat and paddy has left farmers worried. After discussions between the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Food and Public Distribution and the Food Corporation of India (FCI), which procures produce from farmers at a minimum support price (MSP), it was proposed the limit be reduced to 12% from 14% for wheat and 16% from 17% for paddy. Farmers fear with this move, the government is trying to move away from the MSP regime. 

Currently, farmers are taking a price cut while selling wheat with moisture above 12%. The new government limit, however, would mean FCI will not procure this wheat at all, even with a price cut. This puts farmers in a tough spot as they struggle to keep the produce dry amidst unseasonal rainfall and lack of sheltered storage spaces. The ministry is awaiting comments from its state agricultural departments before taking a decision.   

Environmentalists irked as Centre decides to rate states on faster green clearances

The Indian government will now incentivise states by rating how effecient their environment assessment authorities are in giving out green clearances. This is part of the government’s efforts to boost its ‘ease of doing business’ goal. Environmentalists, however, demanded the government immediately withdraw this decision as they believe it would make environmental compliance a mere formality. The government had previously cut down the average time taken for environmental clearance from 105 days to 75 days. 

Rapid groundwater depletion causing parts of Delhi to sink: Study
Parts of Delhi seem to be sinking. A new study claimed the alarming rate of groundwater depletion is leading to a phenomenon known as land subsidence. Researchers said around 100 sqkm in the National Capital Region (NCR) is at high risk of ground displacement. The largest portion of this land (12.5sqkm) is in southwest Delhi’s Kapashera, which is just 800m away from the airport, according to satellite data.

Learning from the past: The NGT’s order follows the 2020 breach of fly ash dyke at Sasan Ultra project in Singrauli, in Madhya Pradesh, which killed six people. Photo: New Indian Express

Green court asks govt to set up mission to monitor disposal and use of fly ash

India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) asked the Centre to set up a fly ash management and utilisation mission. It will monitor scientific utilisation and disposal of environmentally hazardous remains of burnt coal and take strict action if coal plants do not comply. The mission will also see how thermal power plants can dispose of a massive 1670 million tonnes of legacy fly ash in the least hazardous way, aside from monitoring annual disposal of fly ash. 

The mission will be jointly run by top officers of power, coal and environment ministers along with chief secretaries of states. It will have to prepare a roadmap to utilise and dispose of legacy fly ash as per recommendations of the NGT’s expert committee. The NGT’s order follows the 2020 breach of fly ash dyke at Sasan Ultra project in Singrauli, in Madhya Pradesh, which killed six people, including three children. There have been various incidents of dyke breaches that have destroyed fields and properties of villagers around various power plants. 

15 Haryana units shut for ‘significantly’ polluting air and ground water 

Fifteen chemical industrial units in Haryana were shut down by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for “significantly” polluting air and ground water. The companies were manufacturing formaldehyde without environmental clearance (EC) and requisite safeguards. Out of the 15 industrial units, 10 are located in Yamuna Nagar district, two in Jhajjar, two in Karnal and one in Ambala. The factories discharge excess steam using chimneys during condensation, which adds to air pollution. The report also found some units didn’t have the mechanism to check leaking of cancerous methanol from underground tanks. Around 39% of national deaths from cancer are taking place in the state of Haryana.

A panel of the central and state pollution control boards observed discrepancies in their report filed on August 25, 2021. Environmental lawyer Shilpa Chouhan blamed the state pollution control board for permitting the illegal operations. “Now, the same board has been tasked to look into the violations by NGT,” Chouhan told DTE.  

Crop residue burning contributes to secondary particulate matter that travels long distances: IIT study

According to new research by IIT Kanpur scientists, crop residue burning contributed to around 31% of PM 2.5 concentrations (in the range of 15% to 47%) in Delhi and around 21% in the range of 6% to 36% in Kanpur during October and November of 2013 and 2014. The authors told HT that their research found that stubble burning contributes to secondary particulate matter. Vapours and gases like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, non-methane hydrocarbons and non-methane volatile organic compounds convert to particulate matter through photochemical reactions as they travel through the Ganga basin, the scientists said. This is why their contribution to PM 2.5 concentrations is high. The authors pointed out that studies normally only account for primary particulate matter emissions from crop residue burning. The paper also highlights how the gases and particulate matter from crop residue burning can travel long distances up to Kanpur.

During the study period, the contribution of crop residue burning to PM 2.5 concentration was on average 72 micrograms per cubic metres in Delhi and 48 micrograms per cubic metres in Kanpur. The average PM2.5 concentration was 246 micrograms per cubic metres (in the range of 117 to 375) in Delhi and 229 micrograms per cubic metres (in the range of 115 to 343) in Kanpur during October and November.

China expands air pollution monitoring to include GHG emissions

Reuters reported that China will force key industrial sectors and regions to take action to measure greenhouse gas emissions as part of a new initiative to improve data quality and oversight. 

China’s biggest coal-fired power providers, steel mills and oil and gas producers must draw up comprehensive new greenhouse gas monitoring plans by the end of this year.

China needs to beef up its measurement of carbon emissions in line with its monitoring of air pollutants to become carbon neutral by 2060, experts said, adding that expanding the emission monitoring and disclosure that is currently in place for air pollutants to CO2 would be a huge step forward.

Ground-level ozone pollution causes $63 billion damage annually to East Asian crops

Rising levels of ground-level ozone, mainly from vehicles, in China and nearby countries are reducing yields of staple crops such as wheat, rice and maize. The relative fall in yields of wheat, rice and maize in China, Japan and South Korea is costing $63 billion a year, according to researchers at Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology in China.

Ozone is a highly reactive gas. In the stratosphere it blocks dangerous ultraviolet light, but ground-level ozone harms plants and animals. Surface ozone forms when nitrogen oxides (NOx) react with volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight.

Surface ozone levels have increased because of NOx pollution, mainly from vehicles. Based on measurements from 3,000 sites in China, Japan and South Korea, scientists estimated that ozone pollution is causing relative yield losses of 33% for wheat, 23% for rice and 9% for maize.

Expensive but necessary: A report by consultancy firm McKinsey and Company highlights the high cost of India's net-zero transition. Photo: Blue Ocean Network

India needs to spend 11% of GDP to meet green targets, 40% spending needs to be in RE: McKinsey

Consultancy firm McKinsey said India would have to spend an average of $600 billion annually for the next 30 years, or around 11% of its GDP, in order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The report said annual capital expenditure on physical assets in India would rise from around $300 billion in 2020 to an average of $600 billion between 2021 and 2050. Much of the money will be used to expand renewable energy capacity and reduce the use of coal-fired power plants.

India may also have to invest more than other countries in climate adaptation measures given its relatively high physical risk exposure to climate change, the report added. For net-zero transition, spending on physical assets for energy and land use systems will cost $9.2 trillion per year on average between 2021 and 2050, or cumulatively $275 trillion globally. This means an annual increase of $3.5 trillion from current levels.

IREDA gets Rs1,500 crore, SECI Rs100 crore equity boost, PFC, REC cut lending rates to 8.25%

In a major boost to the RE sector, the government cleared Rs1,500 crore for the state-owned financier of renewable projects the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA). This will enable IREDA to lend Rs12,000 crore to the renewable energy sector. The company works as a specialised non-banking financing agency for the renewable energy sector. 

State-owned lenders like the Power Finance Corporation and Rural Electrification Corporation have cut interest rates for long term loans to renewable energy projects to 8.25%.

The government also approved an equity boost of Rs10 billion ($134.11 million) for Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI). This will enable SECI to float 15 GW of RE tenders annually, the government said. 

Reliance to set up 100 GW RE projects in Gujarat over the next 10-15 years

Reliance Industries Limited is set to invest Rs5.6 lakh crore (more than $75 billion) for green energy projects in Gujarat. The company will take more than 10 to 15 years to set up a 100 GW renewable energy project and a green hydrogen ecosystem, PV Magazine reported. Reliance Industries has already started scouting land for a 100 GW renewable energy power project in Kutch, Banaskantha, and Dholera. It has sought 4.5 lakh acres of land in Kutch. 

The company will invest another Rs60,000 crore ($8.1 billion) to set up manufacturing units for RE equipment such as solar modules, electrolysers, energy-storage batteries, and fuel cells.

Newly added installed capacity of China’s wind and solar power exceeds 100 GW in 2021

China’s installed capacity of wind and solar power has been expanded by more than 100 GW in 2021, China’s state broadcaster, CCTV reported. According to the data from the National Energy Administration, the state energy regulator, the installed capacity of China’s offshore wind power has risen to “the world’s number one” after the nation installed 16.9 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity last year. China’s current offshore wind capacity stands at 26.38 GW. 

China built more offshore wind capacity in 2021 than the whole world in the past five years, reported City AM. Newly installed RE projects and industrial raw materials producers are now exempt from the energy volume and intensity caps, China’s cabinet state council said in December 2021.

A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated renewable energy will meet more than 70% of China’s “additional” electricity demand in the next three years. 

Game's up: Despite all efforts to shore up diesel, the fuel has been overtaken by EVs in the EU and is unlikely to ever claw back its market share Photo: Green Car Reports

EVs overtake diesel car sales across EU for the first time

The latest figures from the Financial Times suggest that EVs outsold diesel cars in 18 EU countries for the first time ever, with the former selling 176,000 battery cars, as opposed to 160,000 diesel cars. FT found that the growth in sales has been driven by a bevy of incentives in the markets studied, and that the sales of diesel vehicles had been steadily declining in Europe since 2015, when Volkswagen’s “dieselgate” scam was uncovered. EVs are reported to be becoming so popular in the EU that Norway is expected to achieve 100% EV sales (new units sold) by as early as April this year, and the VW Group itself sold more than 452,000 electric vehicles worldwide in 2021, which was 96% higher than its sales in 2020. 

GM to build H2 fuel cell-powered network of mobile EV chargers 

General Motors (GM) is reported to be investing in developing hydrogen fuel cell-based mobile EV chargers that can be easily deployed at locations that do not have adequate grid-connected EV chargers. The Hydratec system of generators could also be deployed for disaster relief and hydrogen provides far greater energy density than any EV battery technology at the moment. The first customers for the generators are expected to be the US military and national energy suppliers, but GM — which will switch to manufacturing only EVs by 2035 — is also considering expanding its use of fuel cells to railways, trucking and aerospace. 

India: CESL launches Grand Challenge to aggregate demand for e-buses 

Convergence Energy Services Ltd. (CESL) announced the launch of the Grand Challenge scheme to aggregate demand for electric buses, under which tenders will be floated for the procurement of 5,450 single-decker units and 130 double-decker units. The buses will be deployed in Surat, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Kolkata by July this year and the idea behind the initiative is to lower the cost of procurement of these buses for state transport undertakings (STUs) by enforcing economies of scale. The budget allotted for the scheme is Rs5,500 crore (~USD 700 million) and is being touted as the world’s largest such initiative to spur EV adoption for public transport. 

New batteries with kevlar membrane could 5X EV range 
Researchers at the University of Michigan reported that they were developing a new sulphur-based lithium EV battery that uses a novel, recycled kevlar membrane to boost their charge capacity by up to 500%. The new battery chemistry replaces cobalt as the cathode material for sulphur, which is abundantly available, and overcomes the issues of dendrite formation and polysulphides by using the kevlar membrane to stop the flow of the polysulphide ions. The technology, if commercialised, would produce EV batteries with a theoretical energy density of nearly 2,510kWh/kg — vs. 300WH/kg for li-ion — and they would last for an average life cycle of 10 years.

A failure in reality: Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has failed to prove its mettle in the US against oil or natural gas, but the Biden government seems keen to continue its support | Photo: fivethirtyeight.com

US: Accountability report finds near-complete failure of CCS projects over past decade

A new report by the US’ Government Accountability Office found that all of the country’s eight clean-coal projects that had received funding from the Dept. of Energy (DOE) after the 2008 financial crisis had ceased operations. The report says that three of the projects never got off the ground as despite millions of dollars in funding, their economics could not be justified. The DOE also ended its support to the four other projects even before construction, and the last one — the Petra Nova plant in Texas — failed to compete against falling oil prices and was shut down in 2020. 

In terms of the funding, the report stated that a total of $5billion was spent on carbon capture and storage, but it has called out the fact that the US is still supporting CCS projects in spite of the dismal results. 

India: Delhi High Court refuses to let Tata Power exit PPA with NTPC’s Dadri coal plant

The Delhi High Court ruled against Tata Power (TPDDL) in its petition that NTPC not be allowed to bill TPDDL for any power output from the Dadri-I power plant in Uttar Pradesh beyond Nov 30, 2020. The petition was filed on the grounds that the plant had served its useful life of 25 years, and so TPDDL was free to exit its power purchase agreement with NTPC under the CEA’s guidelines. However, the petition was dismissed — without any possibility of relief — as the guidelines state that the exit has to be mutually agreed to by both parties, and NTPC had also submitted that the Ministry of Power had extended the useful life of its plants to 40 years.

China hits record coal output in 2021

China’s coal output jumped by 4.7% over 2020 to hit an all-time high output of 4.07 billion tonnes in 2021, as the country doubled down on its coal mines to see it through the winter season, and to avoid a repeat of the fuel’s shortage in September last year that lead to crippling power shortages. In fact, the country mined so much coal in 2021 that on Jan 21, 2022, its utilities’ coal stockpiles stood at 40 million tonnes higher than the volume in Jan 2020, and the mining spree comes despite the country — along with India — having at least committed to phasing down coal power

UAE suggests oil and gas drillers be included in climate discussions

The head of the UAE’s Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology was quoted as saying that the COP climate discussions in 2023 “should include inputs from the experts and professionals of the oil and gas industry”, as the country gets ready to host COP28 next year. The comment was justified on the premise that the world simply could not switch to zero carbon energy overnight, and that consultations with the oil and gas industry were needed for “economic systems work more efficiently with much less carbon”. Curiously, the UAE is aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, even though it will boost its oil output to 5 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2030 from the 4 million bpd today. 

UK: Court rejects appeal against North Sea oil and gas, drillers to announce record profits 

The UK’s high court rejected an appeal against subsidising oil and gas operations in the North Sea through tax incentives, as it ruled that the state-owned Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) had the responsibility to target maximum economic recovery (MER) from the basin. The appeal was filed by three climate campaigners, who argued that UK’s failure to regulate tax breaks for drillers in the North Sea was entirely incompatible with the nation’s net-zero target by 2050. However, given the OGA’s economic mandate, the judge ruled that taxpayer money could be used to fund its operations. 
Also, owing to steadily rising gas prices and demand for the fuel in mainland Europe, North Sea oil and gas firms are likely to report record high profits for 2021. Additionally, the drillers have together rallied against any imposition of windfall taxes on their profits. The move was called for partly by the UK’s Liberal Democrats, who want to raise funds for the poorer sections of the country, but the drillers have countered by saying that additional taxes would only hamper their efforts to invest more in clean energy.