EU’s climate plans: Fit for whom?

Newsletter - July 30, 2021

Hard bargain: EU’s Fit for 55 legislative package for emissions reductions has raised as many eyebrows as cheers | Photo:

EU’s climate plans: Fit for whom?

The European bloc’s green deal, that has many developing nations up in arms, blurs the lines between economic protectionism and ambition

This past fortnight, the European Commission released its ‘Fit for 55’ package. This includes 12 pieces of legislation that aim to change the EU’s existing framework for climate and energy policies in order to cut down on greenhouse emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

There are two objectives here. This target, which is more ambitious than the previous 40% reduction goal for 2030, is part of the EU’s short-term aim to become climate-neutral by 2050, and also to push the rest of the world to act on their 2015 Paris Agreement targets. The long-term objective is to push out a European “Green Deal” that will make the EU economy more sustainable, inclusive and competitive.

Some components of the package such as introducing a carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) for carbon-intensive imports and a major overhaul of the Emissions Trading System (ETS) to include transport, shipping, aviation and buildings have drawn more attention than the rest. This is because some experts believe these “green reforms”, while good on paper, are likely to hurt not just unsuspecting consumers, but low-income countries, which are major exporters to the EU. Will these draft legislations lead to new forms of ‘greenwashing’ that serve to protect EU industries more than solve the climate crisis? The jury is still out on this.

But this is a cautionary tale for countries like India, which is a major exporter to the EU, where environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing is still in the nascent stage and policies against greenwashing are still a long way ahead.

Not trading lightly

The ‘Fit for 55’ package includes expanding the current ETS to include buildings and transport. While it has proven to be an effective decarbonisation tool in countries such as Germany, experts, workers’ unions and even France argue that the move will work to push up the electricity and fuel bills of already overburdened low-income households.

Making transport a part of the EU carbon market, for example, would push up fuel prices, but this factor alone will not incentivise people to drive less. Similarly for buildings, such a move will only push up energy bills and won’t decrease consumption, except for maybe higher-income households who would have the means to switch to low-carbon alternatives, say experts.

“Putting a price on carbon emissions of transport and buildings needs to be considered carefully in order for it to be a sensible climate policy. It is essential that existing regulatory measures and standards are maintained and strengthened. A key precondition is that a social redistribution instrument is put in place to ensure that lower-income households and consumers are not negatively impacted,” says Sam Van den Plas, policy director at Carbon Market Watch.

The Commission has recognised this unfair outcome and announced a €72 billion European social climate fund as part of the package to help those who will bear the cost burden of such a reform. The fund will receive support from revenue from the carbon price on buildings and transport. But questions over its limited size have been raised. The underlying problems that have led to its creation also remain unaddressed.

Legitimising greenwashing

As green norms become an increasingly common feature in governance, one persistent complaint has been the ambiguity of the language that is used in these pieces of legislation. This provides a thriving ground for greenwashing. The ‘Fit for 55’ package, sadly, is no different as already seen above in the ETS expansion plans, where the low-income consumer bears the environmental cost.

This fear of costs being public and profits being private can be extended to other proposals in the package, such as those on hydrogen reforms, in particular low-carbon hydrogen. These proposals seek to amend the existing Renewable Energy Directive, which was introduced by the EU in 2018, by setting a more definite decarbonisation deadline, revamping tax rates and basically making it easier to produce hydrogen. But once again, the truth lies between the words that have been said and those that have not been said. Green campaigners have repeatedly warned about the carbon footprint of low-carbon hydrogen, for it is just another term for fossil-based hydrogen. This means these tax breaks and allowances on emissions will eventually benefit fossil fuel firms that manufacture hydrogen. Public finance will, therefore, continue to fund the fossil fuel industry.

“While we welcome the emphasis on the ‘energy efficiency first’ principle, we regret that the package strongly overestimates the potential of both hydrogen and biomass as if they were a magic wand that could decarbonise all sectors. The environmental impacts of these expensive and rare resources are overlooked, while a broader perspective of decarbonisation, by saving emissions via the circular economy and rethinking production and consumption patterns, is largely dismissed,” says Davide Sabbadin, EEB senior Policy Officer for Climate and Circular Economy.

Another proposal under the package, CBAM, could have similar outcomes.

Pushing the boundaries

CBAM proposes imposing a levy on carbon-intensive imports such as aluminium, steel, cement, electricity and fertilisers from countries that don’t meet the EU’s environmental standards. The scheme starts in 2023 and allows countries to transition until 2025. From 2026 onwards, importers will have to buy CBAM certificates that will cover their carbon emissions at prices that are in line with the EU’s carbon price under the ETS. On paper, this creates a level playing field for the EU’s domestic manufacturers, who continue to pay high mandated decarbonisation costs and importers from low-income countries (LDCs), who continue to make products that are low on costs, but high on emissions. 

The European Commission says that its intention for introducing CBAM, is to reduce “carbon leakage”. This term refers to two trends– the first is when manufacturers in the EU move their carbon-intensive production abroad, to countries where environmental standards are lax; the second is when EU products are replaced by carbon-intensive imports. According to the Commission, carbon leakage shifts emissions outside Europe, seriously jeopardising the EU’s and global climate efforts.

Experts point out two major issues with this piece of legislation. One is that CBAM allows non-EU companies to individually assess its emissions as opposed to following the EU’s default emissions entities. This means a foreign firm could divert all its renewables-generated electricity towards manufacturing goods meant for the EU markets, and use the fossil-fuel generated power to make products for non-EU markets. This will achieve nothing apart from reallocating already existing renewable energy towards EU imports. In other words, this is just another form of greenwashing. 

Another concern with CBAM is that major exporters to the EU, such as China, the US and India, worry that the lucrative EU market will eventually close the doors on them in the long run as a result of the stringent green norms. According to experts, the Commission must introduce mitigating measures to ensure CBAM doesn’t harm the economies of LDCs, which have already taken a hit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. India has already expressed its displeasure over the carbon border tax, calling it “regressive” with “no principle of equality adhered to”. This sentiment that these mechanisms are protectionist rather than progressive is echoed across the developing world.

And the discontent is now showing, spilling over into other trade and climate change negotiation platforms. Last week, India expressed dissatisfaction with the mid-century timeline set by developed countries for net-zero emissions at a G20 meeting in Naples, and called for aggressive targets for emissions cuts by 2030 from the developed world. This was followed by the Indian contingent skipping a crucial G20 meeting on climate change.

A ripple effect

By introducing measures such as CBAM, expanding its ETS to include transport and buildings, and banning new petrol and diesel cars from 2035 onwards, the EU’s message is clear– “lead or be left behind”. The EU is on a mission to clean house and any country wanting to export emissions-heavy products covered by CBAM might need to pay a price for that. This includes India.

“Countries like India will be unfairly at a disadvantage as their products will no longer be competitive. So while India has accelerated the deployment of clean energy to reduce their carbon footprint, it will take them a few years to shift their industries to adopt clean energy. The EU should either delay the imposition of carbon taxes on the developing work for some years or compensate them financially for the loss on account of such taxes. Further, the EU should provide technology support for developing countries to adopt cleaner technologies,” says Vibhuti Garg, Energy Economist, IEEFA.

To its credit, however, the EU has not completely shut its doors to carbon-heavy imports from LDCs and has mentioned that a “dialogue with third countries should continue and there should be space for cooperation and solutions that could inform the specific choices that will be made on the details of the design of the measure.”

India-EU: A growing partnership

Between 2010 and 2020, India’s trading partnership with the EU has steadily grown. In 2020, India was the eleventh-largest partner for EU exports of goods (1.7 %) and also the eleventh-largest partner for EU imports of goods (1.9 %). For India, the EU is India’s third-largest trading partner. According to the Indian Ministry of Commerce, India exported $216.88 billion worth of goods to Europe over the past five years. Major exports include organo-inorganic compounds, petroleum oils other than crude, medical supplies, motor vehicle parts, clothes and shoes. Needless to say, some of these products are carbon-intensive. CBAM, therefore, is bound to affect this relationship.

India’s economy, which has already been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, is also at a nascent stage when it comes to ESG. While Indian businesses and investors are waking up to the importance of sustainable products, a transition is still a long way ahead.

The country’s market regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has already taken the first step. It has asked the top 1,000 listed companies to publish an annual Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR), first voluntarily in the 2022 financial year, and then compulsorily from 2023 onwards.

The BRSR is to include data on the company’s carbon emissions, discharge of other effluents, and reports on the privacy and data security of customers. The BRSR is based on the nine principles of the National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business put forth by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs in 2011.

According to these guidelines, businesses should:

●      Businesses should conduct and govern themselves with Ethics, Transparency and Accountability

●      Provide goods and services that are safe and contribute to sustainability “throughout their life cycle”

●      Promote the well-being of “all employees”, including those in its value chain

●      Respect the interests of and be responsive to all their stakeholders, including those who are marginalised, disadvantaged and vulnerable

●      Respect and promote human rights

●      Respect, protect and make efforts to restore the environment

●      When engaged in influencing public and regulatory policy, should do so in a responsible and transparent manner

●      Support inclusive growth and equitable development

●      Engage with and provide value to their consumers in a responsible manner.

A recent NSE study that analysed ESG in 50 listed companies, however, found while policy disclosures were a strong point, environment and social factors did not get the same weightage. “Companies have largely scored better on policy disclosures followed by governance factors, compared to environment and social factors. This can be attributed to the fact that governance reforms have transformed into laws by various regulatory agencies within India, in the last two decades,” the study stated.

Concerns, therefore, for exporters, big and especially small, in India and other countries like it, where the ESG transition is just beginning, are legitimate. ESG reforms such as “Fit for 55” have been packaged as a roadmap to a sustainable future not just for the EU, but for the world at large. And it is not an exact science. Policy makers, with the EU at the helm, will play it by the ear and continue to introduce revisions and reforms to their version of the Green Deal.

EU’s package of climate legislations represents a monumental shift towards decarbonisation. Making carbon more expensive, for the nation bloc, is an unavoidable consequence of broader, more aggressive climate action. But while the EU will hope that this package will set a precedent for similar legislation and tax adjustments in other parts of the world, it is clear who the winners and losers are in this ambition. Developing countries, like India, that have large export volumes with the developed world, are justifiably wary of the implications this will have for their trade interests. But while demands for rich countries to step up action are legitimate, they cannot come without recognition that the developing world is not immune from blowback. With the rifts deepening, the next G20 meet in October and then the COP26 in November will be closely watched battlefields that are likely to define the lines of control between equity and ambition.

Climate Science

Unprepared: Heavy rain led to the collapse of section of a highway in Mahad, Maharashtra. Several death have been reported due to flooding and landslides in India this monsoon | Photo: The New York Times

Floods, landslides kill hundreds in India; experts blame climate change for intense monsoon

Landslides, flooding and cloud bursts claimed the lives of many in India this past fortnight, especially in Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa. In Maharashtra, 164 people have died as of July 26 and more than two lakh people have been evacuated from areas battered by floods. The district of Ratnagiri broke a 40-year-old record for most rainfall in July.  It received 1,781mm of rain between July 1 and July 22, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). The average rainfall for this region is 972.5mm. Mumbai witnessed short bursts of intense rain that wreaked havoc in the city, with several areas severely waterlogged. One of these intense spells late at night on July 17 triggered landslides in the suburbs of Chembur and Vikhroli that claimed at least 22 lives.

According to the IMD, between July 10 and July 23, Goa received rainfall that was 122%  above average. It recorded 1043.7mm of rainfall in this time period when the normal average is 471mm.  In Himachal Pradesh, nine tourists were killed after rocks and heavy boulders crushed the vehicle they were travelling in because of a landslide on July 25. Uttarakhand also reported several landslides this past month. Experts linked these extreme weather events and erratic rainfall patterns such as the kind seen in Mumbai to climate change. Despite spells of extreme weather, rainfall distribution has remained inconsistent with around a third of the country currently registering deficit rainfall for the season.

Floods kill 33 in China’s central province of Henan; lakhs evacuated

At least 33 people died in China’s central province of Henan after rain led to landslides and floods. Social media was flooded with images of Zhengzhou’s partially submerged underground rail system. Twelve people drowned due to the flooding. Lakhs of people were evacuated in Henan and soldiers were deployed to carry out emergency rescues and diversions.  

Floods in Germany expose country’s ill-preparedness to tackle extreme weather events

Severe flooding in West Germany in the beginning of July, which killed 200 people, exposed the ill-preparedness of the government to tackle extreme weather situations. Residents pointed to the failure of the warning systems and complained they were not given messages to prepare for the intense rainfall. Roads, houses and bridges were unable to withstand the intensity of the rain, especially in 2 of the worst-hit states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia.

A recent study found floods of this magnitude will only increase with a rise in global heating. Slow-moving storms such as the one that caused the floods in Germany are likely to become 14 times more frequent by the end of the century, according to the study.

Wildfires rage in US’ Oregon, Siberian city of Yakutsk

Oregon reported the US’ largest active wildfire last week, which burned through more than 3,50,000 acres of land. The fire joins more than 80 other fires burning through the US, which have been triggered by unusually high temperatures and high winds. 

The Siberian city of Yakutsk, one of the coldest regions in the world, reported a heatwave that sparked blazing forest fires. Experts called it one of the world’s worst air pollution events as the smoke is believed to contain dangerous levels of particulate matter, ozone, benzene and hydrogen cyanide. Around 3,20,000 residents have been advised to stay indoors. 

Elsewhere massive wildfires were also reported from British Columbia in Canada, Spain and the Italian island of Sardinia. While the northwest of Turkey was ravaged by floods, large wildfires in southern Turkey killed three and injured hundreds of people.

Climate Policy

Climate policy Running wild: The Chhattisgarh government’s nod to auction 17 coal blocks that cover areas that are home to elephants and leopards is cause for concern | Photo: ET Energyworld

Chhattisgarh gives nod to auction of 17 coal blocks

The Chhattisgarh government approved the auctioning of 17 of the 18 coal blocks that had been zeroed in by the central government, HT reported. These blocks are located in areas that are rich in wildlife, including elephants and leopards, and activists pointed out that the blocks have been approved even though there has been no increase in demand for coal.

The Union environment ministry, meanwhile, allowed mining permits to be transferred from previous leaseholders to new lessees without obtaining fresh forest clearance, HT reported. The government granted this exemption to make it easier to handover mines that are up for auction in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, HT reported sources as saying.  

EU unveils ‘Fit for 55’ package to tackle climate change

The European Union (EU) announced its ‘Fit for 55’ package, which aims to act on the green goals set by the region in the coming decade. The EU’s collective goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels. The plan includes introducing a carbon border tax, levying taxes on aviation and shipping fuels and raising the cost of carbon emissions from heating, transport and manufacturing. 

100 days to COP26: Developing nations urge rich countries to cut emissions faster

With less than 100 days left for the COP26 in Glasgow, more than 100 developing nations urged their rich counterparts to speed up their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. They also asked developed nations to provide financial assistance to low-income countries that are worst-hit by climate change and are struggling to mitigate. Least developed countries (LDCs) presented five demands ahead of the COP, which included urging developed countries to push up the deadline and upgrade their national plans to cut emissions and providing LDCs with $100 billion a year in climate finance. In a separate but related development, India decided to skip a crucial G20 meeting on climate change and called for more aggressive climate action in the near term from developed nations, while also raising objections with the coal phase out schedule proposed by the G20.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), meanwhile, warned greenhouse gas emissions are likely to reach record levels by 2023 if governments’ COVID-19 green recovery plans fail to take off. Scientists warned that failure will ensure the Paris climate goals are well out of reach, and emissions must be halved in this decade if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C. 

China launches much-awaited carbon emissions trading scheme

China’s national emissions trading scheme (ETS) went live this month. According to reports, 4.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide quotas worth 210 million yuan ($32 million) were traded. The world’s largest carbon market and the first phase of trading includes 2,000 power plants that are responsible for more than 4 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions. The average transaction price closed at 51.23 yuan ($7.92) per tonne on the first trading day, which was up 6.7%. Companies such as PetroChina and Sinopec participated in the first day of trading. 

Indonesia’s updated 2030 climate plan to still rely on coal in 2050s

Indonesia’s updated 2030 climate plan could mean the country will continue burning coal well into the 2050s. According to the plan, in a low-carbon scenario, 76% of coal-fired power plants will have carbon-capture technology that will bring down their emissions to zero. But experts said the jury is out on whether this technology will be able to capture all the carbon emissions in a cost-effective manner. An IEA analysis showed that currently, generating power using coal and carbon capture technology is an expensive affair when compared to using renewable energy. Indonesia is the second-largest coal producer in the world. 

Air Pollution

No jail time: The new Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR bill to be tabled by the Centre has reportedly dropped the jail term for crop stubble burning in favour of “environmental compensation fees” | Photo: News 18

MoEF to table bill for panel on NCR air pollution, drops jail term clause for crop stubble burning

The Centre plans to table the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill this week in the Parliament. According to the Indian Express, the government dropped the clause of a jail term over burning the crop stubble. Instead, the Centre proposed to levy environmental compensation fees on acts of stubble burning. A ministry official said the farmers do not have an issue with compensation, but they wanted the clause of imprisonment to be dropped. 

The proposed commission will replace the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA). It will coordinate the actions of the states of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in curbing air pollution as well as stubble burning.

The all-powerful commission will have the powers to shut down polluting units and overrule directives issued by the state governments in the region, which may be in violation of pollution norms.

Air-pollution primary cause of heart diseases, strokes and Type-2 diabetes in India: Survey

A survey conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce of India (Assocham) revealed that air pollution is the primary reason behind a rise in non-communicable diseases such as heart diseases, strokes and Type-2 diabetes in India. The survey suggested that the prevalence of having any NCDs among the population is 116 per 1,000 population in India. 

The survey found the state of Odisha to have the highest prevalence of NCDs (272 per 1,000 population), while Gujarat registered the lowest prevalence (60 per 1,000). The prevalence of NCDs among males is 119 per 1,000 male population, while for females it is 113 per 1,000 female population.

Prepared by Thought Arbitrage Research Institute (TARI), the survey revealed that NCDs increase after 18 years and rise sharply when an individual crosses the age of 35 years. The survey said that more than two-thirds of individuals suffering from NCDs are in the most productive-life age groups i.e., 26-59 years. 

Delhi to implement “system” to identify precise sources of air pollution, real time

This year, Delhi plans to implement the Decision Support System (DSS), a real-time pollution tracking model developed by the scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, in order to identify the contribution of known sources, such as vehicle tailpipe emissions, road dust, and farm fires.

The DSS will reveal the precise sources of air pollution in Delhi, which will help authorities to turn their attention to specific triggers. The system will plug into existing networks of air quality monitors, and leverage tagging of pollution sources. This will be the first real-time pollution source monitoring system to be used for Delhi. Experts say, for instance, it will help determine if the air is bad due to traffic or because of smoke from farm fires at a particular time.

Smoke from wildfires in west US spike pollution in the cities on the eastern coast

Smoke from more than 80 major wildfires burning in western US spiked the air pollution to hazardous levels in eastern American and Canadian cities, including Philadelphia, Washington DC, Pittsburgh and Toronto, and New York. The air quality in New York City was among the worst in the world and state officials advised vulnerable people, such as those with asthma and heart disease, to avoid strenuous outdoor activity as air pollution soared. 

Experts said satellite images showed the smoke from the western fires entered into Canada and spread to the east, plunging states such as Minnesota into unhealthy air conditions. Experts pointed out that this is the second consecutive year that smoke from huge wildfires in the west has traveled 2,000 miles east, with the western region baked by ongoing drought and soaring temperatures fueled by human-caused climate change.


Renewable EnergyHalving event: Subsidies provided to renewable energy in India dropped by nearly half in the past year while oil and gas subsidies have increased | Photo: PARF

India’s RE subsidies drop by 45%, need urgent revival: Study

Subsidies to the renewable sector have dropped by nearly 45% since they peaked in 2017 and the government needs to revive them urgently, a recent study stated. 

The study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) found that subsidies to renewable energy fell from Rs154 billion (Rs15,470 crore) in (FY) 2017 to Rs85.77 billion (Rs8,577 crore) in (FY) 2020, reported Mongabay. 

The research revealed that the subsidy increased for the oil and gas sector. Analysts explained that the renewable energy subsidies have stagnated due to a combination of factors, including grid-scale solar and wind achieving market parity, lower deployment levels, and subsidy schemes nearing the end of their allocation period. 

Meanwhile, state-run Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Limited (GUVNL) withdrew subsidies to small-scale distributed solar projects, affecting around 4,000 projects with an aggregate capacity of around 2,500 MW signed power.

SECI to set up 2,000 MWh standalone energy storage project

The state-run Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) is planning to set up a 2,000 MWh standalone energy storage system, which will be run by the private sector. The projects will be set up on a build-own-operate (BOO) basis with a 25-year agreement. India announced renewable energy targets of 175 GW by 2022, 275 GW by 2027, and 450 GW by 2030. Experts said the capacity value of these variable renewable energy sources is limited without grid-scale energy storage.

Experts estimated the cost for storage at $203/kWh in 2020, which they expect to come down to $134/kWh in 2025.

Indian Oil to build India’s first green hydrogen plant at Mathura refinery

The state-owned Indian Oil Corporation Limited said it will build India’s first ‘Green Hydrogen’ plant at its Mathura refinery. The Indian Oil chairman said the company will use power from its wind power project in Rajasthan, to produce green hydrogen through electrolysis.

The company said Mathura has been selected because of its proximity to Taj Mahal. The green hydrogen will replace carbon-emitting fuels used in the refinery to process crude oil into petrol and diesel. Mercom reported that the company wants to sensitise people about protecting the monument from pollution. The firm will likely utilise green power from the grid to power the project, thereby decarbonising some parts of the manufacturing.

Manufacturers of off-grid solar products warn of 12-18 months disruption

A survey of over 30 manufacturers of off-grid solar products such as solar TVs, fridges, water pumps and lanterns warned that the disruption caused by material shortages and raised shipping costs could continue throughout next year. The survey was conducted by Netherlands-based off-grid solar body GOGLA. 

Manufacturers were mostly troubled by the global shortage of chipsets and controllers–which feature in inverters. The respondents to the GOGLA survey also mentioned rising prices of polysilicon affecting solar panel production costs and rising copper prices driving up the cost of cabling, PV magazine reported.

Uttarakhand to make solar panels mandatory for homes 

Uttarakhand is set to make it mandatory for residents to produce their solar power and rainwater harvesting plans while seeking clearance for their house maps. Impacts of climate change and depleting water levels have pushed the state to introduce the norms, ET reported. 

While the state generates power from solar, hydro and thermal sources, it continues to buy electricity from other states. The state’s environment directorate wants to end this dependence. Uttarakhand has 295 MW installed capacity of domestic solar power plants, which includes both domestic as well as ground mounted solar plants.

India’s share of renewable power capacity, including large hydel projects, rises to 39% 

The Centre told Parliament that India’s renewable energy capacity, including under installation projects, stood at almost 97 GW (gigawatts) as of June 30. This does not include large hydel projects, which are also categorised as renewable. According to a report by ET, as on June 30, the total non-fossil fuel based generation capacity stood at 150 GW, which is 39% of the total installed capacity. This will help the country surpass its nationally determined contribution (NDC), according to which 40% of India’s generation capacity was to be non-fossil fuel based by 2030, the newspaper reported. 

Electric Vehicles

Ugly behind the photo-op: Toyota's attempts to sabotage EV sales in the US to somehow gain market share for its hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may extend to other markets | Photo: NBC News

Toyota accused of sabotaging EV sales to shore up hydrogen fuel cells

A shocking new report by the New York Times said that Toyota Motors has been lobbying state governments and politicians in the US to try and stymie the sales of electric cars. It has been doing so as it has poured billions of dollars into developing hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars, in the hope that it would be the dominant technology in the transition to clean mobility. 

However, with the cost of the technology not able to compete with the increasingly more affordable lithium-ion batteries (and some other chemistries), Toyota had resorted to lobbying lawmakers on watering down auto emissions standards, and had been spreading misinformation and doubt about EVs. Known as a FUD campaign — fear, uncertainty, and doubt — it included statements such as, “If we are to make dramatic progress in electrification, it will require overcoming tremendous challenges, including refueling infrastructure, battery availability, consumer acceptance, and affordability”, made to the US senate by the head of energy and environmental research at Toyota Motors North America. Incidentally, Toyota was supposed to stop doing so in January this year, but it hasn’t.

Toyota’s lobbying also went far enough to enlist the support of lawmakers who eventually objected to certifying the last US presidential election results and declare Joe Biden as the winner. Despite all this, sales of plug-in battery hybrids have doubled in the US and 30-40% of customers would now consider buying an EV as their next vehicle. 

India: Rajasthan announces EV policy, no subsidies for electric cars

The Indian state of Rajasthan announced its EV policy and it allows for customers to receive between Rs5,000-Rs20,000 on the purchase of electric two- and three-wheelers — based on battery size. However, the state has excluded any subsidies for electric cars or buses, even though it receives heavy tourist traffic through both modes. The subsidies will reimburse the State Goods and Services Tax (SGST) to customers and are on top of those available under FAME-II. 

Tesla asks India to lower import duties, will open Supercharger network to other EVs

Tesla Motors asked the Indian government to lower its import duties for electric cars priced above $40,000 from 60% to 40%. The request comes as part of the manufacturer’s plans to import some units to test the market, before it sets up a factory in the country. The reasoning behind the figure of 40% is that it would allow wealthier customers to buy the cars — the base Tesla Model 3, for instance — but still spur enough domestic competition in the lower segments and boost local manufacturing. 

The carmaker is also looking to open its Supercharger network to other EVs to better utilise its charging stations. However, it is likely to charge non-Tesla customers a premium to use the service, but it will provide them with adapters to access the Superchargers’ unique connector configuration. 

Fossil Fuels

Get the cotton: The 1.5 kg of oil that BARC's new superabsorbent cotton can soak up per 1 gm of its own weight could of great use to marine conservationists | Photo: IB Times

BARC develops biodegradable superabsorbent to soak up oil spills

India’s nuclear research institute, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), reported that it has developed a cotton-based superabsorbent that could soak up a minimum of 1.5 kg of oil (from water) with just 1 gm of the material. The absorbent is super oleophilic (attracts oil) and can be reused 50-100 times before being allowed to biodegrade. Its applications could extend to cleaning up municipal wastewater and cleaning up oil spills on roads and at oil stations. 

The product is reportedly also highly weather-resistant and can be packed and stored commercially. Its patent was granted in December 2020.

Shutting down 50% of India’s coal plants would cost $32-48 billion

The Council on Energy Environment and Water (CEEW) released an important study which finds that the early decommissioning of 50% of India’s coal plants (130 power stations) would cost the government between ₹2.31 lakh crore ($32 billion) and ₹3.50 lakh crore ($48 billion). This works out to between ₹2.3 crore/MW ($ 0.33 million/MW) and ₹3.7 crore/MW ($ 0.51 million/MW), and the cost would include buying out the debt and equity components of the plants’ existing financing. 

However, paying out their workforce over their assumed years of operational life would increase the cost by ₹57,490 crore ($ 7.8 billion). Yet, the exercise would unlock ₹0.11 crore/MW/year ($15,450/MW/year) in annual savings. 

5% of coal plants responsible for 73% of global energy sector emissions 

A new study by the University of Colorado (Boulder) found that 73% of the global power sector emissions came from a mere 5% of all coal plants, and six out of the 10 most polluting plants were in East Asia. The other four were evenly split between India and Europe and each of them was located in the “global north”. Poland’s 27-year-old Bełchatów plant was the world’s most carbon intensive plant in operation as it emits around 28-76% more carbon per unit of energy than its less polluting counterparts. 

The study suggested that offsetting the emissions of the most polluting units would collectively reduce up to 49% of global energy sector emissions, and offsetting the emissions of the remainder of the coal fleet would help the US, South Korea, Japan and Australia clean up up to 80% of their power generation. 

Greenland chooses to opt out of oil and gas exploration over climate impacts

The government of Greenland has chosen not to allow any oil and gas exploration activities off of its coastline as it was concerned about the impact climate change would have on its territory. Calling it a “natural step”, the government has instead come out in favour of renewable energy, even though the US Geological Survey estimates that the island is home to around 17.5 billion barrels of oil and up to 148 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. 

Greenland is also a territory of Denmark, from which it receives around $540 million every year in subsidies, and any significant source of independent income could help strengthen its demand for independence. 

Shell to appeal court ruling on mandatory emission cuts 

Oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell confirmed that it would appeal the ruling handed out to it by a Dutch court on May 26, that ordered it to slash emissions by 45% by 2030 (over 2019 levels). The ruling was hailed as a landmark decision as it requires Shell to significantly step up its emissions reduction efforts and realise actual cuts, instead of expanding its operations but gradually reducing their emissions intensity. Shell’s CEO said that he agreed that an accelerated transition to net zero is needed, but “a court judgment, against a single company, is not effective. What is needed are clear, ambitious policies that will drive fundamental change across the whole energy system.”