Newsletter - February 6, 2019
Under relentless pressure from both pro and anti-coal groups and after several rounds of (internal) negotiations, Germany’s Coal Commission has finally decided that the country will shutter all of its 84 coal power plants by 2038 – and even by 2035, if possible. The commission has also announced €40 billion in compensation for its utilities and the nation’s four coal mining regions post-phaseout.
The move is significant as – being one of Europe’s largest economies – Germany still derives about 40% of its electricity from coal, and has an installed capacity of 45GW of coal-fired power. However, even its 2035 deadline has been criticized as being “too late”. The country is also quite likely to fall well short of its 2020 climate commitments as it struggles to reduce emissions.
The US and Canada were engulfed by a brutal ‘polar vortex’ (a large pocket of the coldest air in the Northern Hemisphere), as it descended south from the Arctic. Six American states plunged to all-time low temperatures, colder than the South Pole (under -50° Fahrenheit). While US President Donald Trump, mocked the issue of global warming in a tweet, experts pointed out that Trump can’t distinguish between local weather and long-term impacts of climate change, and the fact that extreme cold can strike amidst global warming.
Campaigners also said Trump, while denying the science, has recognized the climate threats his personal properties face, as he intends to build two sea walls around his golf resorts in Ireland, citing global warming as a risk in one of the its applications for the construction.
Australia records hottest Jan on record as wildfires scorch Tasmania
There’s no respite from the heat for those living Down Under. The country’s hottest December on record was quickly followed up by the hottest January on record, with average temperatures exceeding 30°C. The searing heat has led to disastrous wildfires in Tasmania, an island off the country’s south coast, with reports of snakes being forced to take refuge in people’s toilets.
Experts blamed the heat on a persistent high-pressure system in the Tasman Sea, which, according to them, was “blocking cold fronts and cooler air from impacting the south of the country”. This, coupled with Australia’s warming trend — the country has seen a temperature increase of more than one degree in the past 100 years — was also blamed by experts for the unusually warm weather. Campaigners, meanwhile, called it a failure of governance saying that despite the wildfires, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
Landmark study: A third of Himalayan ice cap will vanish by 2100
A recent study says temperatures in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region will rise by 1.8°C by the end of the century, even if the world manages to limit warming to 1.5°C.
Such a spike in temperatures in the Himalayas would melt one-third of the region’s glaciers, potentially “destabilizing” Asia’s rivers, the research said. An estimated 36% of the Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2100 (70% if emissions are not cut). This would cause a water crisis for nearly 2 billion people, the study warned. “This is the climate crisis you haven’t heard of,” said Philippus Wester of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), who led the report. “In the best of possible worlds, if we get really ambitious [in tackling climate change], even then we will lose one-third of the glaciers and be in trouble. That for us was the shocking finding.”
Studies have also shown that the colour of the Himalayas has turned from pristine white to grey, and the low-altitude glaciers are losing water faster due to global warming, creating a water crisis in these regions.
Climate alarm to climate action: David Wallace-Wells is back
Climate writer David Wallace-Wells is back with a follow-up of his controversial apocalyptic article he first published in New York magazine in 2017. Now, Wallace has updated it to a full-fledged book. Based on the worst-case climate scenario predicted by science, his article had warned of a future struck with drought, plague and famine, with collapsing economies, surging conflicts and decay in human cognitive abilities.
While talking about his book, Wallace said he learned an ‘astonishing fact’ that more than half of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels was emitted in the past 25 years. “We have burned more fossil fuels since the UN established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change than in all of the centuries before,” Wallace warned, while statigthat the world is ‘engineering its own devastation practically in real time’.
Wallace called on citizens to take a more active role in effecting change and said they should not sit back as leaders will not act without political pressure. “I would like people to be scared of what is possible because I’m scared. And because I am motivated by fear, I also hope they will be motivated,” Wallace said.
‘Sea change’ in world’s understanding of Atlantic conveyor belt
New research has uncovered data that could completely change scientists’ understanding of the Atlantic Ocean current, which is responsible in determining weather across the world.
The research says that the strength of the “Atlantic conveyor belt” ( it is a large-scale ocean current that moves warm, salty water from the tropics to regions further north, such as western Europe), is actually driven by processes in the waters between Greenland and Scotland, more than 1,000 miles away in the north-east Atlantic, and not in the previously believed Labrador Sea, which is in the north-west Atlantic.
According to a scientist who worked on the study, this discovery could provide a deeper insight into how climate change is affecting this circulation pattern, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), because it points out the regions and processes that are important in maintaining the overturning circulation.
The solo protest of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg outside Sweden’s parliament last year has snowballed into a global movement with schoolchildren taking to the streets urging governments to take climate action in Australia, Finland, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland. Nearly 50,000 children marched in Brussels alone in the last one week.
Thunberg, meanwhile, continues her protest and just two weeks ago, told the Davos elite, to their faces, that they were responsible for the climate crisis. On September 9 last year, Thunberg refused to go to school and sat on strike outside Parliament to draw attention to the climate crisis, arguing: “what’s the point of studying if politicians refuse to listen to science.”
WTO chief shocker: ‘Trade does not impact the environment’
On the same day that 30,000 students in Brussels skipped school to demand action against climate change and Greta Thuberg made her impassioned plea at Davos, Roberto Azevêdo, director-general of the WTO, told the Davos elite that trade didn’t impact the environment. Azevedo made the claim in context of the environmental impact of shipping goods around the world.
He said: “…products that find their way into trade flows are usually much less harmful to the environment than the ones which are produced locally, because they have to observe the standards of the consuming country.” He added: “This whole argument that there is an impact on the environment, I stand to be corrected, but I haven’t seen one, single credible study that shows that.”
Experts point out that the WTO’s own 2010 report established links between increased trade and deforestation, saying that trade liberalisation increased deforestation in Mexico, Tanzania, Thailand, Brazil, Costa Rica, Australia, Brazil and other places.
A Harvard study has revealed that trade and growth worsen environmental degradation, mainly through CO2 emissions.
Oil major BP to listen to shareholders, align strategy with Paris climate goals
British oil and gas major BP said it will listen to its shareholders who want it to begin reporting on how its strategy fits with the Paris Agreement’s goals. The Climate Action 100+ group of more than 300 investors, who hold around $32 trillion in assets, will present the shareholder resolution at BP’s annual general meeting in May, rewiring BP to set out a business strategy that it considers, “in good faith”, to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C, and aim for 1.5°C.
An agreement with shareholders also means that the company would have to evaluate whether each new material capital investment is consistent with the climate agreement.
Chile names first woman in eight years to lead UN climate summit
Carolina Schmidt of Chile is the president-designate of this year’s UN climate summit, COP25. She will be the first woman to play the role since South Africa’s Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in 2011.
Schmidt may have successfully convinced Chile’s environment minister to host the talks after Brazil backed out. But the real battle lies ahead: to negotiate on tough issues, including carbon markets, which the Paris Agreement rulebook could not resolve at COP24. Schmidt has a strong grounding in the debate, as she was one of the ministers appointed to lead talks on the issue in Katowice.
The latest report by Greenpeace India says there are 139 cities where air pollution levels exceed national standards, which were not included in India’s recently released National Clean Air Programme (NCAP). The report titled Airpocalypse III states that even if we assume that air pollution across India can be reduced by 30% by 2024, 153 cities will be left with pollution levels exceeding the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
The study analyses air pollution data of 313 cities and towns for the year 2017. Of these, 241 (77%) had PM10 levels beyond the NAAQS. “Thus, all these 241 cities belong on the list of ‘non-attainment’ cities that are required to take action under the NCAP. This is a sharp increase of 139 cities, more than twice as many as the 102 cities included on the list. The omission is due to the fact that the list of non-attainment cities in the NCAP was drawn together using data from the years 2011-2015.”
Bangkok residents coughing blood due to smog
Bangkok joined ranks with Delhi and became one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world. Covered in toxic smog, Thailand was forced to shut nearly 450 schools in Bangkok after air pollution in the city crossed the “unhealthy” level of 171. Pollution has been so bad that people have shared images on social media of citizens “sneezing blood”.
Much like New Delhi, the Bangkok smog is attributed to traffic emissions, construction work, burning of crop stubble, and pollution from factories getting trapped in the city.
Kakuko Nagatani-Yoshida, UN Environment Regional Coordinator for Chemicals, Waste, and Air Quality, said: “It is literally vital that the government takes decisive action to enforce pollution regulations. They are on the right track with efforts announced yesterday [on Wednesday], such as strict emissions enforcement, and they are looking at more urgent measures,” she said. “But while solutions like cloud seeding may provide temporary relief for larger particulates, it does not help reduce PM2.5.”
Burning tyres dumped as waste by Britain are choking India, says journalist
Influential writer and journalist George Monibot has highlighted Britain’s dirty secret of waste dumping and burning tyres, which is choking India. He pointed out that every month, “thousands of tonnes of used tyres leave our ports on a passage to India. There they are baked in pyrolysis plants, to make a dirty industrial fuel.
While some of these plants meet Indian regulations, hundreds – perhaps thousands – are pouring toxins into the air, as officials look the other way. When tyre pyrolysis is done badly, it can produce a hideous mix: heavy metals, benzene, dioxins, furans and other persistent organic chemicals, some of which are highly carcinogenic.”
The writer says there is no data on the tyre pyrolysis plant. Nor do we know whether British tyres are being burned in plants that are illegal. “It seems prepared to break its own rules on behalf of the companies exporting our waste. And this is before Brexit.”
Class divide: Study says Europe’s poorest worst hit by air pollution
According to latest research, the underprivileged and the unemployed in Europe’s poorest regions are hardest hit by the air pollution crisis. Nearly half of London’s poorest neighbourhoods exceeded EU nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits in 2017 compared with 2% of its wealthiest areas.
Data-mining analysis from the European Environment Agency (EEA) released similar findings in France, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Wales and Wallonia. Data revealed that across Europe, over half a million people die prematurely per year from exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone (03) and NO2, “but the extent to which the numbers are skewed by class has been under-researched.”
Indian solar manufacturers have said the government’s 2019 interim budget offers ‘nothing for renewables.’ While manufacturers were expecting confidence-building measures and clear direction to meet the target of 175 GW renewable energy by 2022, the interim budget did not offer any incentives or subsidies. Domestic manufacturers have also said that renewable projects are facing difficulty getting finance, but the budget provided “no ray of hope”.
India’s solar capacity grew 10 times in past 5 years, says finance minister
India’s finance minister Piyush Goyal, in his maiden Budget speech, said electric vehicles and renewables will make India a pollution-free nation. While citing the International Solar Alliance, Goyal said, “India’s installed solar generation capacity has grown over 10 times in past five years. This sector is now creating lakhs of new age jobs.”
Meanwhile, India’s total installed renewables capacity continues to grow. Renewables make 22% (77.5 GW) of India’s total power capacity (353 GW). The share of solar capacity rose to 7.9% (27.9 GW) of the total power capacity at the end of 2018, while amongst renewables, solar now accounts for approximately 36% of the total installed capacity.
Tamil Nadu’s new solar policy sets ambitious target of 9,000 MW by 2023
Tamil Nadu released its new solar policy, setting an ambitious solar target of 9,000 MW by 2023. The state’s installed solar capacity till 2018 was at 2,200 MW. It aims to acquire 6,800 MW solar power in the next four years.
Experts said Tamil Nadu will have to really intensify solar installations to meet the target, compared to the slower 400 MW of new solar capacity it could manage annually over the last five years. In a shift away from installation of scale, Tamil Nadu plans to keep 40% of the new installations in the smaller, consumer rooftop category, which is exempted from electricity tax for two years – starting Feb 4, 2019.
Distributed solar power market in India to grow to Rs. 10,000 crores by 2023
Recent research has revealed that Indian market for off-grid solar power products such as solar lanterns, solar pumps, etc., will grow more than two-and-a-half times to Rs. 10,117 crores by 2023. The research was conducted by GOGLA, a global association of the off-grid solar power industry.
Currently, the market for distributed solar in India stands at Rs. 3,875 crores. Researchers said India represented over 30% of the world sales of distributed standalone solar products in the first half of 2018. The private-player driven market has enabled the sector to advance lanterns into the mainstream.
Leh and Kargil to set up 14 MW Solar Projects, with storage system
The Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) will help set up a 14 MW solar power project, with battery energy storage system (BESS), in Leh and Kargil. Both Leh and Kargil will have a 7 MW solar project each, with battery storage of 21 MWh.
The projects will have a fixed tariff of ₹2 (~$0.028)/kWh with Viability Gap Funding [maximum VGF support of ₹1,820 million (~$25.60 million) will be provided to set up the entire capacity].
Govt. to issue concessional Customs duty certificates to solar developers online
Centre has launched a new website for solar developers that will issue concessional Customs duty certificates (CCDC) for setting up power projects and for importing items to set up solar power projects in India.
The website came into existence after the government observed there was duplication of work at state nodal agencies and the ministry before approval of the bill of material, and there was no information available on the sanctioned projects.
India’s government has slashed the national budget for subsidies on EVs in its 2019 interim budget from Rs. 260 crores to Rs. 195 crores. The decision comes despite the Union finance minister re-affirming that the Centre wanted India to lead the world in EV adoption.
The minister did, however, confirm greater input from renewable sources to power India’s EV transition. Nevertheless, lithium-ion cells have now been slapped with a 5% import duty – while exempting their components from any Customs duties – in the hopes that it will boost domestic li-ion cell and battery manufacturing.
EV100: 31 corporate giants commit to all-electric fleets by 2030
Thirty-one corporate giants have pledged to electrify their existing fleet of about two million vehicles by 2030 as part of the Climate Group’s EV100 initiative. The names include Unilever, IKEA and Heathrow Airport (UK), and the move could cut up to 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Curbing air pollution was one of the top three incentives behind their pledge. The other two were reducing GHG emissions and the savings to be incurred by switching to electric propulsion.
Mahindra to sell 20,000 new EVs, tie-up with Uber for EV pilot
India’s Mahindra Group is reportedly targeting sales of 20,000 electric three and four-wheelers this year – primarily to fleet operators in urban centers. It has also tied up with the Thane Municipal Corporation – the civic body of a city just outside Mumbai – and is talking to 3-4 other cities that are interested in electric intra-city fleets.
Mahindra has also announced that it will tie up with cab-hailing service Uber for its soon-to-be-launched pilot project with electric cars.
China’s 2018 EV sales rose by a whopping 67%
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has reported that China posted a record 67% rise in its EV sales for 2018 (compared to 2017) – with 1.3 million “new energy” vehicles (including both fully electric vehicles and hybrids) sold in the country last year. In contrast, India sold merely 261,000 EVs last year.
China’s figures are even more impressive considering only about four million EVs are currently in use across the world. However, the number is expected to swell to 1.9 million EVs in 2019. Much of the staggering growth is due to the Chinese government’s increasingly ambitious EV targets, and its efforts to clamp down on air pollution.
India’s interim budget for 2019 has indicated that the Centre will up its spending on domestic coal and lignite exploration (to $84 million) to throttle its dependence on record high coal imports. Several privately owned coal plants have lately had to scale back operations (or even temporarily shut down) over the imports-driven rise in raw material prices.
The Centre will, however, slash its funding for mine safety procedures by up to a third, with the justification that coal mining firms were free to use their own safety budgets. This is despite India having some of the worst coal mining safety records in the world – an example of which was the lives lost in the rat-hole mining incident in Meghalaya in 2018.
Three South African banks drop finance for new coal power
Mirroring international developments, three prominent South African banks – FirstRand, NedBank and Standard Bank – have recently withdrawn support from new coal power plants in the country. They are particularly opposed to funding the 557MW Thabametsi and the 306MW Khanyisa plants – both of which will use highly inefficient sub-critical technology to burn coal.
Their backing out is indicative of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) protocols taking hold in member nations, which are now only allowed to build high efficiency (42%) ultra-supercritical coal plants.
Japan cancels massive new coal plant over prospects of poor returns
Japan has cancelled construction of one of its largest new coal plants – the 2X1MW project at Sodegura City – after admitting that it would not return the profits initially expected. The project’s undertakers – Kyushu Electric Power Co., and Idemitsu Kosan Co. – were also influenced by growing opposition to coal power by local citizens, NGOs and community groups, because of its role in degrading air quality and driving climate change.
The two firms may, however, replace the project with a natural gas-fired plant, even though that too may be incompatible with Japan’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.