Between a rock and a hard place: Lakshadweep locals set to fight tourism plans

Newsletter - July 16, 2021

Bleachers report: The Lakshadweep atolls in the Arabian Sea are directly dependent on coral health which locals and researchers believe have been put at risk due by the new development plans for the islands | Photo: Naveen Namboothri

Between a rock and a hard place: Lakshadweep locals set to fight tourism plans

Residents and environmentalists want administration to consider ecology, existing climate change impacts before undertaking development in the region

Lakshadweep is on the boil these days. The cause of mass resentment are the newly introduced draft laws–the Animal Preservation Regulation, the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (popularly known as Goonda Act) and the Panchayat Regulation. The furore is also targeted at administrator Praful Khoda Patel for initiating these measures and claiming to develop islands on the lines of Maldives under Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) 2021. Marine biologists and environmentalists have vehemently opposed the new plans and expressed grave concern over their possible impact to the fragile ecology.

An archipelago of 12 atolls (ring shaped coral reefs surrounding a body of water called a lagoon) and 36 islands, of which only 10 are currently inhabited, Lakshadweep is the smallest among India’s eight Union Territories. It is spread over a 32 sqkm area in the Arabian sea, about 200 km off the southwestern coast of the Indian Peninsula. While about 97% of the 70,000 residents of Lakshadweep are Muslim, the islanders are a matrilineal society who share ethnic links with the Malayalam speaking people of Kerala but there is significant Arabic, Tamil and Kannada influence on their culture. Patel, the first non-bureaucratic administrator of the region, took over in December last year. 

Altaf Hussain, former president of Androth island panchayat, told Carbon Copy, “We fail to understand what kind of development Patel [the new administration] is thinking of bringing into Lakshadweep by expelling people from tourism and various other departments, invading our culture by banning beef, imposing Goonda Act to threaten us against any rebellion and, incorporating provisions in LDAR to acquire our land for its ambitious projects.”

Voices against tourism plans rising

Residents of Lakshadweep held a 12-hour hunger strike and jal satyagraha (demonstrations while partially submerged) on June 7 to register their protest against a slew of decisions taken by the administration which include drafts of the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR). They demanded a full recall of the new policies, which they termed ‘anti-people’.

Photo: Naveen Namboothri

Minicoy is one of the three islands, besides Kadmat and Suheli, where ambitious plans for tourism along the lines of neighbouring island nation Maldives have been laid out.

Fousiya AA, a member of the newly floated Save Lakshadweep Forum (SLF) said, “Lakshadweep is so small in size that its largest island, Andrott, is just 4.90 sqkm. So it is not pragmatic to compare it with Maldives, which has hundreds of islands. Local people don’t want this kind of development because they are content earning their livelihood through sustainable tourism, fishing and coconut cultivation.” 

Potential impacts on the ecology

According to Muneer Manikfan, a diabetologist and the vice-chairman of the council of Minicoy, multiple episodes of dying coral reefs have already endangered the safety network of atolls, livelihood of local people and survival of marine ecosystems. Other threats such as cyclones and thunderstorms have also been steadily on the rise. “We request the district administration to carry out infrastructure development while keeping the necessity, availability of land and ecology in consideration,” he told Carbon Copy.

According to the IPCC’s fifth assessment report, the average rate of sea level rise over the 20th century was registered between 1.3mm and 1.7mm per year, but it has doubled since 1993. It is a matter of concern in regions such as Lakshadweep, where the distance from shore to shore is less than 500m. With practically no elevated land, there is little safety from the ominous prospects of a continued sea level rise.

Naveen Namboothri, director of NGO Dakshin Foundation told Carbon Copy, “The coral atolls of Lakshadweep are the only ones in the country and are a national heritage. Barely spanning 32 sqkm, these islands are basically uplifted corals that are a metre or two above sea level, making them extremely vulnerable to the effects of sea-level rise and climate change.” He further added, “The islands have the highest population densities in India, and resources such as freshwater are severely limited. The islands provide limited opportunities for development, and any development plan needs to consider the social and environmental fragility of these islands and their carrying capacities.” 

He further explains that many government and non-government institutions have recommended development frameworks that are based on precautionary principles with sufficient environmental and social safeguards. Of particular significance are the recommendations of the Justice Raveendran committee report, he said.

Photo: Naveen Namboothri

The Justice Raveendran Committee Report of 2014 made recommendations to prioritise protection of corals, sea grass and other ecosystems from anthropogenic activities such as waste disposal, dredging of navigational channels, port development, tourism activities, sand mining, and intensive fishing. Since the committee was formed to evaluate an Integrated Island Management Plan (IIMP), these recommendations are now part of this plan.

“The draft LDAR, in its current form, is not specific to Lakshadweep’s topography, ecology, cultural practices and livelihood needs and completely ignores all the existing regulatory frameworks and safeguards that have been painstakingly put in place. It will severely threaten the future survival of these beautiful atolls and its inhabitants,” Namboothri warns.

The Lakshadweep Research Collective (LRC), along with 60 other signatories from the scientific community, have written to the President of India, requesting him to intervene and withdraw the LDAR, implement and monitor the Justice Raveendran committee recommendations, and establish a panel of scientists, policy makers and local representatives to re-evaluate LDAR in the context of Lakshadweep’s unique culture, ecological fragility and climate vulnerability.

Problems with the existing draft plan

The LRC is of the view that the LDAR draft is not in consonance with existing laws, such as the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, the Biological Diversity Act 2002, The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, recommendations of the Justice Raveendran committee and the Lakshadweep Panchayats Regulation, 1994. The LDAR also does not address India’s commitments towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, marine protection goals under the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Ecotourism Guidelines, 2019.

Although there is always a balancing act of land erosion on one part and accretion (land accumulation) on the other–which occur simultaneously in coastal or island areas–the problem arises when the erosion rate rises. The island area is then likely to get smaller and, in an extreme situation,  it may disappear, too. The complete erosion and disappearance of Parali I island, with an area of 0.032 sqkm in Lakshadweep is one such proven example.

According to Mohammad Iqbal, a Lakshadweep local, “The district administration has failed to keep a record of the land added and lost during the process of erosion and accretion in the archipelago.”

“Things were never the same after the Tsunami hit our islands in 2014, followed by the Okchi cyclone three years later which, destroyed many houses, uprooted coconut trees and decimated a big chunk of Minicoy island,” Mohammad Auge, president of Lakshdweep Muslim Association and a retired banker, tells Carbon Copy. “Natural calamities such as storms have become more frequent, and are pushing up erosion rates. In such a scenario, human interventions by way of building resorts and villas may result in Lakshadweep vanishing from India’s map.”

According to Sajan John, marine biologist at Wildlife Trust of India, the problem of poorly suited development plans stems from a basic lack of understanding of local thresholds at the decision-making levels. “Bureaucrats who are delineating and developing plans for Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) and Lakshadweep do not understand the difference of morphology and ecology between them. A&N is borne out of tectonic and volcanic activity while Lakshadweep consists of coral reef islands. There are lots of water, trees, mountains and plains in A&N, which provides scope for development. This is not the case with Lakshadweep because these do not rest on hard rocks, but rather on fragile coral reefs made of calcium carbonate, and are easily destructible,” he says.

According to John, since lagoons cannot accommodate big ships, which would be required for the development plans, a lot of excavation will likely be done to make way for channels and harbouring. The removal of coral reefs for this would result in irreversible damage to the ecology of the region, he fears.

Atolls provide safety walls to the islands from the sea as these islands are situated just two-three metres above the sea, which make them more susceptible to waves and thunderstorms. Atolls are living and self-repairing natural formations, almost completely dependent on underlying coral reefs for ecosystem sustenance. The ability, however, of the island repair itself has been decreasing as the health of Lakshadweep’s coral reefs continues to suffer from rising ocean temperatures. This straightway poses a threat to the safety of the islands.

Neha Sinha, marine biologist at the Bombay Natural History Society, and a member of the Lakshadweep Research Collective, told Carbon Copy, “The impacts of climate change are already being felt as Kavarati is eroding faster. Therefore, it is important to keep climate change in consideration for any future development plans.” 

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), coral reefs would decline by 70-90% with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas almost all coral reefs are likely to be wiped out if the 2°C warming limit is breached.  

What lies ahead

Marine scientists studying the region have sounded the alarm that Lakshadweep may not be habitable by the end of the century and the residents may become the first internally displaced climate refugees in the country.

“In my research carried out from 2001 to 2018 on corals’ response to increasing temperature, it was found that their capacity to recover from bleaching is reducing since 1998 when more than 85% corals had bleached in Lakshadweep,” says Idrees Babu, a scientist working for the Department of Science and Technology of the central government.

The three major bleaching events from 1998, 2010 and 2016 have dealt a severe blow to the coral reefs in Lakshadweep in the past.

Babu says that the health of corals, which is an indicator of climate change, is declining in Lakshadweep. A similar story can be said of the sea grass pastures as well. Sea grass provides habitat, hide out and breeding ground for many of the marine organisms, particularly, herbivorous fish. Habitat degradation also impacts spawning of marine creatures and the entire marine ecosystem.

The study, conducted by the Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation in 2017, revealed a mind-boggling 80% reduction in the absolute coral cover in Lakshadweep over 19 years, from 51.6% in 1998 to 11% in 2017.

Development plans could worsen climate change impacts

The environment and forest officials, who chalked out the Lakshadweep Action Plan on Climate Change in 2012, too, presented a sorry state of affairs with regard to the impact of climate change in island clusters.  

“The open sea coral islands of Lakshadweep are one of the low-lying small groups of islands in the world. The low level of the islands of Lakshadweep makes them very sensitive to sea level rise. The IPCC Report [2007] predicts a global sea level rise of at least 40 cm by 2100 that shall inundate vast areas on the coast, and up to 88% of the coral reefs, termed the ‘rainforests of the ocean’, may be lost,” says the report. 

About 114 scientists from more than 30 universities and research institutes wrote a joint letter in January to the Lakshadweep administration to reconsider the new projects.  

“It (the draft LDAR) will severely threaten the future survival of these beautiful atolls and its inhabitants… All these inshore reefs and underwater grasslands may be in deep peril if an ambitious tourism project—involving the construction of beach and water villas offering 370 rooms—becomes a reality,” the petition reads.

Rajkumar Rajan, scientist, marine biology at the Regional Centre Zoological Survey of India,  Chennai, who is running a long-term coral reef programme, told Carbon Copy, “Enhanced anthropogenic pressures due to increase in construction, lack of proper sewage disposal, unsustainable developmental activities, uncontrolled resources extraction may all worsen the climate change impacts in Lakshadweep.”

The issues of scarcity of drinking water, electricity and waste disposal management, and sanitation are looming large in the wake of the tourism expansion scenario in Lakshadweep.

“There are desalination plants operating at three islands–Kavaratti, Agatti and Androth–in Lakshadweep, which make sea saline water potable. In the rest of the islands, the residents are dependent on groundwater. After two to three meters below the ground, the water turns brackish. This is the reason why the water is more saline in many of the islands. With this low level of ground water, there is always fear of faecal bacteria abounding in the water,” said a scientist with the department of Science and Technology.

To deal with this, he said new bio toilets have been provided in Androth island, while Kavaratti and Bitra islands have been half covered till date. The facility is yet to be taken up on other islands.

Asker Ali, district collector and nodal officer for the tourism project in Lakshadweep told Carbon Copy, “The home ministry has been apprised about the feedback from the people of Lakshadweep with regards to the new proposals. Some people also moved the high court, which refused to impose a stay order and clarified that only the administration will look into the matter.”

Ali was of the view that protests are now coming down. About new proposals, he said, “We have taken consent of the Panchayat president of all the three islands where projects are to be implemented. People have the right to live a better life, access better education, amenities and development.”

He assured that all environmental concerns are being taken care of. “We are taking the carrying capacity of the islands into consideration and complying with all the environmental and Coastal Regulation Zone modalities.”

Reacting to the misgivings  of conservationists, he said, “We welcome all criticism and suggestions of our scientists and conservationists , as it will only  help us to improve. However, we want to assure we are sensitive towards coral reefs, which are a paradise for tourists and means of livelihood for local people. Why would we destroy that?”

While the administration may be talking the talk, wariness among locals is clearly growing. Any plans for development, therefore, should consider their concerns–the survival of Lakshadweep depends on it.

Climate Science

When it rains, it pours: Monsoon arrived in Delhi on July 13 after much delay. A swollen river due to torrential rains in Himachal Pradesh caused flash floods in Dharmashala | Photo: ETV Bharat

Monsoon covers entire country after Delhi gets rain, finally

After much delay, the monsoon season finally arrived in Delhi on June 13, several days after the India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) initial prediction. There were several reports of traffic disruptions as a result of the rain. The southwest monsoon has never arrived this late in the Capital in the past 15 years. According to the IMD, the season has not covered the entire country. The agency blamed this “rare and uncommon” failure to accurately predict the arrival of the monsoon in Delhi on numerical models.

Rain also wreaked havoc in other parts of the country, mainly Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In Dharamshala, floods because of an overflowing Manjhi river swept away shops and damaged vehicles. Tourists have been asked to stay away from Dharamshala because of a heavy rain forecast. In Uttarakhand, a landslide in a village killed 3 people after their house collapsed.  

Overall, as a result of the delay, the country-wide deficit of monsoon rainfall is 7% below normal as of July 12. According to experts, the reasons why the season stalled this year after getting off to a good start include global temperature anomalies such as the Madden Julian Oscillation and the Indian Ocean Dipole.

21 killed in flooding, landslides in western Germany 

Heavy rain and flooding killed at least 21 people and left dozens missing in the west German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North-Rhine Westphalia. There were several reports of building collapses and villages being cut off by floodwater and landslides. Rhineland-Palatinate’s state premier Malu Dreyer called the event a “catastrophe” the likes of which has never been seen before in the region.

Pacific northwest heatwave impossible without human-caused climate change: Study

Researchers found that the chances of an extreme heatwave like the one seen in the Pacific northwest region in June would have been almost impossible if it weren’t for human-induced climate change. In today’s climate, the study estimated that this kind of heatwave is a 1 in 1,000-year event. It stated that this heatwave was 2°C hotter than it would have been if it had occurred at the start of the industrial revolution (when it was 1.2° cooler than today). 

In the future (as early as the 2040s), where global warming is expected to be at 2°C (0.8°C hotter than today), such an event would be a degree hotter, the study stated. Heatwaves such as this one would be a lot less rare – occurring once every five to 10 years – in a 2°C warming scenario, compared to the 1 in 1,000 years frequency that has been estimated in the current climate, according to the study. Temperatures in the Pacific Northwest areas of US and Canada almost reached highs of 50°C in June as a result of a deadly heatwave. While the US states of Portland and Oregon observed temperatures far greater than 40°C, the village of Lytton, Canada, recorded an all-time high Canadian temperature of 49.6°C. A subsequent wildfire destroyed the village.

New oil, gas facilities in Permian basin major emitters of methane, finds study

A new study discovered new oil and gas production facilities in the US’ Permian basin to be major emitters of methane. While it is known that the basin produces almost half of all methane emissions from oil and gas producing regions in the country, the contribution of each of the facilities is unknown. The study, therefore, aimed to quantify individual contributions using the latest satellite measurements. The study found new facilities to be major emitters often because of inefficient flaring operations.   

Study aims to quantify effects on climate change on labour productivity and supply

That labour supply and productivity is on a decline as a result of climate change is known. But a new multi-model study aimed to quantify this decreased productivity. It found that in the future, climate change will reduce global total labour in the low-exposure sectors by 18 percentage points (range −48·8 to 5·3) under a scenario of 3·0°C warming (24·8 percentage points in the high-exposure sectors). 

Individually, Africa will lead the list of reduced total labour (reduction of 25.9 percentage points) followed by Asia (18.6 percentage points) in low-exposure sectors. The reduction effects on outdoor labour would be substantially higher–32·8 percentage points in Africa, 25·0 percentage points in Asia, and 16·7 percentage points in the Americas. The study stated that these reductions would lead to increased inequality and poverty, especially in developing countries. 

Last Ice Area in Arctic more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought: Study

The Arctic’s ‘Last Ice Area’, a part of the region that has thick ice cover, may be more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought, according to a new study. The study arrived at the conclusion after studying an event in the region’s Wandel Sea in the eastern part of the Last Ice Area, which lost 50% of its overlying ice in the summer of 2020. According to the researchers, the decline was triggered by weather conditions, but climate change is already thinning the region’s ice every year. The study predicted more such low summer sea ice events in the future. 

Climate Policy

Hunting ground: New government guidelines for ecotourism in forest areas could affect the ecology and wildlife, warn environmentalists | Photo: Hindustan Times

National wildlife board approves guidelines for ecotourism projects in forest areas

In a move that has been criticised by environmentalists, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) gave its nod to guidelines that boost ecotourism projects in forest areas. The NBWL, in a June 11 meeting, also appended a list of protected areas where such projects can be developed. In a previous meeting, held on March 8 this year, the Union environment ministry had told the NBWL that the guidelines aim to provide a deeper understanding of conservation of forest and wildlife areas and simultaneously help to boost incomes and opportunities for local communities in a sustainable manner. Experts, however, pointed out that temporary and permanent infrastructure that is built for such ecotourism projects can fragment forest areas and also disrupt wildlife areas. 

Arunachal govt refuses to reply to RTI query on cost-ratio analysis of Etalin hydro project  

The controversial Etalin Hydroelectric Project in Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, is once again in the news. The state government refused to divulge details of the cost-benefit ratio analysis as part of a query under the Right To Information (RTI) act. The government said it was not at liberty to disclose the data because it did not have the consent of the developer. The 3,907MW project has been flagged by experts because it involves clearing 270,000 trees in sub-tropical evergreen and rainforests that are also a vital tiger area.

Prevent debris dumping while four-laning NH-44 or project will be halted, NGT tells NHAI

India’s green court reprimanded the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) for violating environmental norms while four-laning National Highway 44 from Udhampur to Banihal in Jammu and Kashmir. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) observed that no work had been done to prevent the illegal and unscientific dumping of debris on the site of the project, which has been ongoing for the past four years. The debris dumping has been polluting the nearby Chenab river and its surrounding water bodies. The NGT warned NHAI that it would halt the project if necessary action is not taken.  

EU adopts ‘Fit for 55’ climate plan

On July 14, the European Union adopted a “Fit for 55” package of proposals. These will make the region’s policies on climate, transport, energy use, taxation and land use suitable for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. 

These “comprehensive and interconnected” sets of proposals aim to apply emissions trading to new sectors, tighten the existing emissions trading system, up the usage of renewable energy, launch low-emissions transport modes faster along with the infrastructure and fuels to keep them running, and align taxation policies to the European Green Deal. 

Govt’s duty to protect Australia’s youth from climate crisis impact, rules federal court

Australia’s environment minister Sussan Ley is still to approve Whitehaven Coal’s plans to expand its Vickery coal mine project near Boggabri, New South Wales. But the country’s

federal court recently reminded Ley of her “duty to take reasonable care” to ensure the nation’s youth don’t suffer due to carbon dioxide emissions as a result of the expansion. The court was hearing a case filed by eight schoolchildren and an octogenarian nun against the expansion. Experts said this court declaration about “duty of care” could have far-reaching consequences as far as fossil fuel projects are concerned. The minister has 28 days to reply to the ruling.

Australia, meanwhile, ranked last on climate action out of a list of 193 countries in a report that assessed progress made towards global sustainable development goals. The Sustainable Development Report 2021, first reported by Renew Economy gave the country 10/100 while assessing emissions from fossil fuels, imports and exports, and carbon pricing policies.  

A new study linked the loss of sea ice in the Kara Sea region of the Arctic to the trend of extreme monsoon rainfall in central India in September. The study conducted by the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research stated that since the 1980s especially, while the frequency of extreme rainfall for that month in central India has been increasing, 

Court gives French govt 9 months to take steps necessary to reach 2030 emissions goal

 The Council of State, France’s top administrative court, ordered the government to take all necessary additional steps in the next nine months to ensure the country reaches its climate crisis targets. Failure to do so would lead to possible sanctions, which include hefty fines, the court warned. The court observed that France was not on track to reach its goal of cutting 40% emissions by 2030 from 1990 levels. Environmentalists and experts hailed the judgement, calling it “historic”. The decline of greenhouse gas emissions in France between 2015 and 2018 was only half of what it should be if the country is to meet its 2030 target.

Air Pollution

Protecting the polluter? The environment ministry has stirred fresh controversy with a new SOP which paves the way for “amnesty” towards some polluting industries | Photo: MoEF&CC

‘Polluters pay’ vs ‘pay and pollute’: New norms regularise illegal projects?

An office memorandum issued by India’s environment ministry on 7 July lays out a new standard operating procedure for infrastructure and industrial projects that have violated environment clearance norms. According to the memo, violators will have to pay a penalty and projects that were never eligible for environmental clearance because of their environmental footprint to be demolished. The memo, however, also includes provisions for “amnesty” for violating infrastructure and industry projects, reported HT.

According to the new provisions, projects that violate norms, but are “permissible”, will have to submit a bank guarantee to the central or state pollution control boards. Also, projects that don’t have prior environmental clearance (EC) would be appraised afresh. Experts call it a move to regularise industry, irrespective of size, scale or impact. Report points out that a similar “amnesty scheme” for the violators had also figured in the draft environment impact assessment notification 2020, which drew widespread public criticism last year for “post-facto” clearances.

The Centre has responded to criticisms by saying that the new scheme follows a National Green Tribunal order which said that “for past violations”, the authorities were free to act in accordance with polluter pays principle. Experts argue that this will be the largest regularisation scheme for illegal projects.

Off the hook: Delhi govt withdraws SC plea seeking to shut down polluting coal plants 

Delhi may continue to choke by the deadly coal plant emissions. The state government withdrew a plea in the Supreme Court to shut down 10 thermal power plants in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana over failure to install Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) technology.

Delhi had sought that the Supreme Court quash orders by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which allowed extension of the deadline for installing FGD and also set aside the Centre’s notification that extended timelines for compliance. DTE reported that Delhi’s plea said despite many orders passed by the apex court and the National Green Tribunal (NGT), hardly any progress has been observed in controlling air pollution.

Delhi Cabinet approves “one of its kind” real-time source apportionment study for the NCR

The Delhi government’s Cabinet approved a real-time source apportionment study to curb air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR). The study, to be jointly conducted by researchers from IIT-Kanpur, IIT-Delhi, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and IISER-Mohali, will provide real-time diurnal source apportionment and suggest short-term daily and weekly actions to systematically prevent air quality deterioration in the long-term.

According to the government, the real-time source apportionment of pollution has not been implemented in any other city in the country. Scientists involved in the project said the “one of its kind in the world” mobile laboratory will provide apportionment of the sources at multiple locations in the city. 

Crop yield grew 20% in cleaner air, farther away from coal plants: US Study

A new study by scientists at Stanford University concluded that reduction in air pollution between 1999 and 2019 contributed to about 20% of the increase in corn and soybean yields during that period—an amount worth about $5 billion per year. Scientists used satellites to measure very fine scale patterns to assess impact of pollutants such as ozone (emitted from cars exhaust), particulate matter, and coal plant emissions of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.  Scientists found a clear yield increase the farther away the crops were cultivated from the coal plants. According to the analysis, the pollutants accounted for an average loss of about 5% of corn and soybean production over the study period.

Britain to ban new petrol and diesel trucks by 2040

After pledging to ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, Britain will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel heavy goods vehicles from 2040 in one of the moves to achieve net zero emissions.

The British government said it would ban the sale of smaller diesel trucks from 2035 and those weighing more than 26 tonnes from 2040, or earlier if feasible. The country also has a target to create a net zero rail network by 2050 and net zero domestic aviation emissions by 2040.


Long sited: A new tool shines light on the risks of improper siting of large renewable projects, which could encroach on agricultural and forest land | Photo:

New tool helps govts to identify sites for RE projects without conflict

According to a study, a new tool, SiteRight, can help select locations for solar and wind projects that can bring India closer to its green energy goals while avoiding adverse impacts on the environment and people. The study says if the projects are not at the “right site”, the country stands to lose 6,700–11,900 of forest land and 24,100–55,700 of agricultural land. SiteRight was created by organisations including Vasudha Foundation and Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) to help decision-makers make better site choices.

The tool, which is fully developed for two states, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, will soon include other states rich in renewable energy potential. SiteRight not only identifies socio-environmental risks to sites identified for renewable energy projects, but can also be used to find high solar and wind energy potential sites with lower impact.

Tribunal rules that states can’t reduce margins set by CERC

State regulators have no right to reduce the trading margins set by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), ruled the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (APTEL). The tribunal upheld the Solar Energy Corporation of India’s (SECI) plea regarding the trading margin of power. The Tribunal refused to reduce the margin from ₹0.07 (~$0.0009)/kWh to ₹0.02 (~$0.0003)/kWh as approved by the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) and the Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission (PSERC) in their earlier orders.

Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan DISCOMs were the worst paymasters: Official data 

According to official data, Tamil Nadu DISCOMs owed the highest to developers with dues at ₹139.52 billion (~$1.87 billion), followed closely by Rajasthan with an overdue amount of ₹107.90 billion (~$1.45 billion). Distribution companies (DISCOMs) owed ₹124.2 billion (~$1.66 billion) to renewable energy generators across 193 pending invoices by May 2021. 

Official data also revealed that the DISCOMs owed most to Tata Power Company, Adani Green Energy, and NLC India with ₹25.55 billion (~$342.93 million), ₹16.34 billion (~$219.32 million), and ₹9.93 billion (~$133.28 million), respectively. According to new norms, the DISCOMs will have to pay a late payment surcharge, which will be applicable for power-purchase agreements in which the tariffs have been determined through competitive bidding. A DISCOM with a late payment surcharge outstanding against a bill after the expiry of seven months from the due date will be debarred from procuring power from a power exchange or grant of short-term open access until the bill is paid.

Gujarat to witness three-fold increase in RE capacity by 2025: State projections

Gujarat’s renewable power generation capacity is expected to jump to 38,466 MW by 2025 and 61,466 MW by 2030, according to the state government’s projections. The projects include electricity generation as well as equipment manufacturing.

According to government data, installed capacity to generate power from renewable energy sources is expected to surge to over 38,000MW by 2025 and over 61,000MW by 2030, ET reported. The estimates are based on project plans that have already been finalised. 

Despite strong growth, electricity demand outpacing RE capacity additions

According to energy giant BP’s annual revie, disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic saw global energy demand to drop by 4.5% and crude oil demand to fall by 9.7% in 2020. The “biggest drop ever in crude demand” would have to happen every year for 30 years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Global wind and solar power capacity however grew in 2020 by a record 238GW on the back of strong activity in China. The growth in RE capacity, however, will only be enough to cover half the electricity demand increase in 2021 and 2022, projects the International Energy Agency.

Electric Vehicles

Quick to boil, quick to cool: Daikin's new EV refrigerant boils off at 10-15 degrees cooler than conventional refrigerants and could boost EVs' range by a whopping 50% | Photo:

Daikin’s new refrigerant claims to increase EV range by 50%

In a major new development, Daikin announced that it has developed a new refrigerant that may increase the range of EVs by almost 50% as it boils off at 10-15 degrees less than conventional refrigerants. Thus, an electric car with a rated range of 300 km could unlock an additional 150 km using the new refrigerant as its batteries would have to dedicate much less power to run its climate control system. 

The refrigerant may hit the market by 2025, although its pricing is still being studied and it will be tested by SAE International before being certified for commercial use in the US. 

46% of Kiwis willing to buy EVs

A new survey across New Zealand revealed that 46% of the respondents would buy an electric car as their next vehicle, with the strongest support (56%) coming from Gen Z (people born roughly between 1990-2010). The relatively small country stretches only 1,600 km from north to south and already has 350 free and paid EV chargers. However, amongst the ones that wouldn’t consider buying an EV, the concerns ranged from the higher upfront purchase cost to battery life. Curiously, 8% of the cohort also cited Tesla CEO Elon Musk as the reason they would not make the switch, although the reasoning behind that was not reported. 

BEVs account for more than 10% of all new car sales in the UK 

Battery EVs now account for more than 10% (10.7%, to be exact) of all new cars sold in the UK, with petrol Mild Hybrid EVs (MHEVs) posting a record 286.7% year-on-year jump in sales for June 2021. Purely electric cars saw a jump of 123% in the same period, while diesel cars numbers fell by 34.7%, possibly owing to the strict air quality standards enforced across several UK cities. Yet, although an impressive 186,128 units were registered in the UK last month, Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs) continue to post better numbers over fully-electric cars as customers still seem to prefer the safety of being able to access a petrol pump at any point, if needed. 

United Airlines orders 100 electric aircraft from Heart Aerospace 

One of the US’s largest airlines, United Group, ordered 100 electric aircraft from Swedish aerospace startup Heart Aerospace, after the latter revealed its latest 19-seater aircraft that could fly 250 miles on a single charge. The ES-19 aircraft are likely to enter service by 2026 after thorough certification tests, but Heart Aerospace claimed that they will cost 100X less in maintenance costs over equivalent, jet fuel-powered units. The aircraft will also use established airport systems instead of specially-built, vertical take-off infrastructure and would thus be easily integrated into United’s operations.

Fossil Fuels

Nothing caused this: Pemex has openly denied that an undersea oil spill caused the fire in the middle of the ocean, even though a lightning storm could not have set afire regular sea water | Photo: CNN

Pemex denies any oil spill despite infernal fire in Gulf of Mexico

Mexico’s state-owned oil and gas driller, Pemex, denied that there was any oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, despite a burst undersea pipeline and a lightning storm igniting a fire in the middle of the ocean. The firm was roundly criticised by environmental campaigners on Twitter, with one user saying “Pardon my ignorance, but how is there a fire and at the same time no spill?”. The incident also brought to light the impunity Pemex enjoys under the current Mexican government against paying for environmental disasters, as the incumbent President is vying hard to restore the once high-paying oil and gas jobs for the country and is very likely to protect Pemex from any litigation. 

However, Mexico is party to the NAFTA deal signed with Canada and the US, and the two could pressure it into prosecuting Pemex over the incident — which may adversely affect marine species and the local economy by having released toxins into the ecosystem. Interestingly, at $107 billion in debt, Pemex is also the world’s most indebted oil firm and is reportedly overrun by corruption. 

India: 48 of 67 auctioned coal mines receive no bids

48 of the 67 new coal mines put up for auction by the Government of India received no bids, while only eight received more than the minimum requirement of two bids (for either of them to be considered valid). Of the 19 mines that drew some interest, 15 were for non-coking coal, but the latest round demonstrated the flagging interest in coal in India despite the government’s best efforts. Earlier this year, half the coal blocks auctioned returned zero bidders, and this year all foreign players stayed away, even though the government has removed end-use restrictions to turn the country into a net coal exporter. 

The bidders for this round included Adani Power and Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corp. Ltd. The former is heavily expanding its renewable power capacity and the latter comes from a state that in 2019 announced a cessation of any new coal plants within its boundaries

NTPC to halve coal plants by 2032, nearly 40% of India depends on coal mining 

India’s largest power developer, NTPC, announced that it would halve its coal power capacity by 2032 to around 27GW. The move comes amidst the developer planning to significantly boost its renewable energy capacity, and it has upped its previous target of 30 GW of renewables by 2032 to 60 GW — with the larger target of developing around 50% of its power from renewables by the time, compared to only 18% today. NTPC is reportedly also considering making available viability gap funding for India’s offshore wind energy projects. 

Meanwhile, a new study published by a doctoral researcher showed that nearly 40% of India was dependent on coal mining, either through direct or indirect jobs, with the majority of them concentrated in Jharkhand, Odisha, eastern Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and parts of Telangana and Tamil Nadu. The study comes at a time when the conversation around Just Transition is gathering some acknowledgement in the country, and it details the enormous contribution of coal mines to their respective districts’ mineral funds  and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, which would be heavily impacted by a coal phaseout. 

China: Sinopec to start CCS plant, ICBC pulling out of Zimbabwe coal plant over env. impact

China’s petroleum refining corporation, Sinopec, will start a carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) plant in the east of the country to re-use up to 10.7 million tonnes of CO2 over 15 years. The CO2 will be captured from a refinery that makes hydrogen and will be pumped into oil wells to boost crude oil production by an estimated 3 million tonnes, and is part of Sinopec’s strategy to become carbon-neutral by 2050. Scheduled to start later this year, the project may be replicated in other provinces as well, and may become a part of the 800 million tons of CO2 that need to be captured (possibly annually) by 2030 — from 40 million tonnes today — to mitigate climate change, according to the IEA. 

In Zimbabwe, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) will most likely pull out of financing the 2.8GW Sengwa coal plant over “environmental problems”. The pullout is important as it’ll be one of the first instances where a Chinese bank may withdraw support for a project based on its own internal assessment (including that of environmental issues) rather than for issues with the host nation. China last year also banned support for overseas coal projects, but is yet to formally adopt the practice.