Glacier retreat in the Hindukush Himalayas reveals transboundary uncertainties

Newsletter - October 14, 2020

Thinning out: Although research expeditions to the Hindukush Himalayas have seen an uptick, several critical knowledge gaps still hinder water management in the region | Photo: Shreeshan Venkatesh

Glacier retreat in the Hindukush Himalayas reveals transboundary uncertainties

Rapid warming in the region has increasingly been flagged by scientific assessments. However, outcomes for the region’s water regime, especially the groundwater, is yet to become clear.

“Significant areas of glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region are retreating at an alarming rate,” according to a study recently published by the Observer Research foundation. The report Retreating Glaciers and Water Flows in the Himalayas: Implications for Governance,  authored by Anjal Prakash, research director at the Bharti Institute for Public Policy, Indian School of Business and an IPCC lead author, builds on an extensive review of scientific literature on the water and ice balance in the region.  The report further examines the relationship between glacier decline and the changing surface water and groundwater regimes in the HKH region.

The HKH region, which is an intricate 3,500-km network of mountains, is home to some 54,252 glaciers, with a total area of 60,054 sqkm and projected ice reserves of 6,127 km3. Although only 1.4% of the HKH region is glaciated, the total ice stocks are roughly equal to three times India’s annual volume of rainfall . The region provides freshwater supply to 1.5 billion people living within its folds and in downstream regions in eight countries through thousands of springs and river systems, including some of the world’s largest, fed by glacial melt.

“The HKH region is characterised by a unique hydrogeology, in which springs play a pivotal role. In many parts of HKH, springs are drying up due to prolonged periods of pre-monsoon drought as a result of climate change, threatening the whole way of life for local communities and downstream areas,” says Vishal Singh, executive director of Center for Ecology Development and Research, an action-research NGO based in Dehradun.

Feeding a webwork of rivers

A 2012 study that modelled changes in the hydrological regime in the range estimated that for the upper Indus basin, glacier melt may contribute up to 41% of the total run-off; 13% in the upper Ganga basin; and up to 16% in the upper Brahmaputra. It further added that these rates are higher in the critical dry spring months, when other sources of runoff are scarce. While there is significant disparity between estimates of glacier melt contributions in different river systems, decreasing trends of snow and ice cover in most of the region have been unambiguous.

Major river basins originating in the Hindukush Himalayas

 One such study, published in 2011, which confirmed the declining trend in snow cover, also observed that the critical elevation zones between 5,000m to 7,000m would be the most sensitive to climate change. Slight changes in temperatures at these elevation zones — particularly around the threshold of freezing/melting point — could cause a significant change in the snowmelt.“ It is not only the snow-covered regions, but also the snow depth and the amount of water stored in the snow packs which will impact melting, and this consequently influences the river flow systems and water resources availability that cause substantial changes in the river flows and water resources in spring systems,” the study notes.

With extreme weather added to the mix, the picture gets infinitely more complicated. The recently released review also makes note of changes in seasonal extremes, increased evapotranspiration, and changes in glacier volume.  These changes vary across the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra river basins. In the Indus, the marked effect is on meltwater; for Ganges, the effect is on runoff that is expected to increase; and for the Brahmaputra, climate change may result in enhanced flood risk. In all three basins, though, there is likely to be a decrease in snow and a rise in glacier melt by mid-century according to the review. Initially, there will be an increased amount of meltwater available, but this quantity will decline abruptly as the glacier storage falls.

 The impact of climate change on Himalayan surface and groundwater Interaction

The first signs of impending changes are already visible in HKH’s groundwater resources, notes the recently released review. Groundwater squeezing and seeping through rocks as springs form the main source of water supply to rural and urban hamlets in the entire Himalayan range. Over the years, spring resources in the Himalayas have declined owing to increasing pressures of population, demand and technology. Changes in rainfall patterns and a poor legal policy framework pose further challenges for managing groundwater resources.

These studies, as pointed out by Prakash, show that increased glacier melt might lead to extensive flooding downstream. But gradually, as glaciers continue to retreat and diminish, the amount of meltwater flowing into rivers could decline considerably and abruptly.

Since surface and groundwater systems are interconnected, such a situation may lead to a substantial drop in the rates of groundwater recharge in some regions. Combined with changes in summer monsoon rainfall and surface water flows, it could cause huge water stress in many parts of the HKH region and affect the river basins that relate to the Himalayan glaciers.

A growing concern

The decline of springs has recently become a key source of concern given that a significant population in the mid-hills across the HKH region depends on springs for daily needs. The Koshi river basin shared by Nepal and India exemplifies the risks of groundwater decline in the region. The drying up of 36% of the groundwater springs in a catchment in the basin over the past 20 years has translated into severe water scarcity in more than 60% of the villages dependent on the catchment. Food production, by extension, has declined by 25%, as have the livelihood prospects in traditional forestry and agriculture.

 Increasing evidence  

There has been a recent increase in research seeking to make a connection between the decline of glaciers and climate change, focusing on surface water regimes.

A longitudinal study undertaken for 11 years in two watersheds in the mid-western Indian Himalayan hills in Uttarakhand collected data using automated rain gauges in select sites of the river basins. It measured daily spring flow in all the springs used by residents. The analysis showed that there is a high correlation between precipitation events and spring flows. In a comparable location of the western Himalayan region, another study  observed that the spring flow during rainy and non-rainy seasons is affected by rainfall and recharge area types.

 Uneven impacts

In lower altitudes, the decline in glacial mass balance is not going to affect the systems severely until the middle of the century. After 2050, however, the changes in climatic conditions will likely begin to affect the springs systems, reducing their recharge and flow. In the higher altitudes, these changes will emerge earlier, altering the water flow in rivers and springs.

But even as groundwater levels continue to fall in several locations across the HKH, connections between glacier declines and larger water regimes and human demands are still lacking. According to Prakash, “The interactions between glacial declines and the water regimes — especially the groundwater recharge — remains an understudied subject.  A synchronised planning for the refurbishment of water in the region is absent. The HKH region is trans-boundary in nature, with watersheds spread across various countries therefore a regional approach is necessary for the protection of the HKH’s interconnected systems.”

What is India doing to tackle the issue?

Some Indian states in the region, such as Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, seem to be cognisant of the problem and have taken the first steps towards addressing it. SK Lepcha, former Indian Forest Service officer and a member of consortium working on springshed management in Uttarakhand, told Carbon Copy, “There are 22 representatives hailing from state government, central government and various organisations, who are running a pilot project in reviving some 120 dried springs in Uttarakhand in order to increase ground water recharge. Some 57 springs were revived last year and some 33 this year, but work has come to a standstill due to COVID-19.”

Dr. Savita, head of the Forest Force in Himachal Pradesh, said, “The government is working on some projects to resolve the water shortage due to various factors caused by climate change. This includes enhancing ecosystem services under the JAICA project in collaboration with Japan and taking up micro-irrigation for agriculture and horticulture. Intensive plantation, digging of trenches and the cultivation of mixed forests are some of the other works being undertaken for the same objective.”

But some experts are of the opinion that while minor or fragmented projects are better than no action at all, a more planned effort is required to tackle the issue. Dr. Vishal Singh says, “The Uttarakhand government has no comprehensive development plan dedicated for augmentation of water recharge in order to adapt to the water crisis posed by glacier receding and climate change. There are few organisations who have joined hands with the forest department for pilot projects in the past decade but they have not given desired results. For instance, 90% of the 300 springs in Almora district have already dried up. Still, development projects like Char Dham road widening are not protecting the springs.”

“The HP government has incorporated the subject of augmentation of water recharge in its state action plan for climate change, but the government has failed in its effective implementation and outreach programme,” says Rajan Kotru, former regional programme manager, (Transboundary Landscape) with The International Centre For Integrated Mountain Development, who is now running his own environment organisation in Himachal Pradesh.

“There is no one mega project that the state government has undertaken to tackle the imminent water crisis across the state, involving the line departments and other related organisations, which is quite unfortunate.”

A united effort required

While local communities grapple with the crisis, the issue is still largely falling on deaf years on the national stage. Dr Arun Kansal, head, Regional Water Studies, TERI School of Advanced Study said, “Spring sheds did not receive much attention in the National Water Policy of 2012 and water-related policies in subsequent years as well. Climate change triggered glacier retreats pose a big threat to sustainability of springs, which is beyond the control of local communities to manage.”

Dr. Anamika Barua, professor of economics at  IIT Guwahati, who works on the transboundary water issues in the HHK region, says the region must unite and bring the issue to the fore. “The region must come together and jointly approach the issue with technical and scientific knowledge for better management of the vital water resource both ground and surface water of HKH region, as Prakash’s paper has highlighted.”

Climate Science

Creeping headache: An exhaustive study on N2O pollution has attributed steep increases in emissions over the last five decades to fertiliser use in agriculture | Photo: Reuters

Rising levels of N2O from nitrogen-based fertilisers hampering climate progress: Study

A new study revealed how the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers is pushing up the global emission levels of a lesser-known greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, hampering efforts to tackle climate change. The study found that the gas, also known as ‘laughing gas’, rose annually by 1.4% between 1980 and 2016, with agriculture (which uses nitrogen-based fertilisers) accounting for more than half of the human-caused N20 emissions. Cumulatively, while emissions rose some 30% in 36 years, atmospheric concentrations of the gas have jumped some 20% since the beginning of the industrial era. The reason why N20 is dangerous is because it can not only remain in the atmosphere for over 125 years, but is also about 300 times more potent than CO2 in terms of trapping heat. The study, which analysed 21 natural and human sources of N2O, found that 43 per cent of the total emissions came from human sources, with a bulk reported from large developing countries Brazil, India and China.

15 killed as unprecedented rains pound Hyderabad

A deep depression that formed over the Bay of Bengal moved inland covering the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana over the past few days. The deep depression weakened into a depression as it traversed Telangana and moved further westwards towards Maharashtra and Karnataka. The depression though brought intense rainfall in all districts that fell on its path, with Hyderabad bearing the brunt of the inclement weather. The Telangana government declared a two-day holiday as Hyderabad recorded around 30cm of rain between 13 and 14 October- the highest ever received by the city in 24 hours. Fifteen people have been reported to have died in rain related incidents in the city, and warnings for rainfall in Maharashtra and Karnataka have been issued by the India Meteorological Department.

Meanwhile, the delayed monsoon withdrawal has stalled further in Central India due to the incursive depression from the Bay of Bengal.

This year’s September warmest on record: Copernicus

In more evidence that global warming is real, weather service Copernicus declared this year’s September to be the warmest on record – around 0.05°C hotter than September last year, which had set the previous record. The agency also confirmed above-average warmth in the Siberian Arctic and that Arctic sea ice is at its second-lowest extent since records began. 

Amazon close to transitioning from rainforest into savannah: Study

The climate crisis is likely to turn Brazil’s Amazon rainforest into a savannah, a new study published in Nature Communications stated. According to the research, as much as 40% of the rainforest, which has been battered by wildfires and changing rainfall patterns, could exist as a savannah. While a complete transition will take decades, once the process begins, it is irreversible, the study stated. 

Study highlights how ‘legacy effects’ impact future carbon uptake

A new study estimated that the carbon uptake of land may increase faster than previously thought in the next few years. This is because, according to the study, most models have not taken into account past anthropogenic disturbances such as deforestation and climate change. This means plants, for example, are still adapting to previous increases in CO2, also known as ‘legacy effects’. This means that this lingering additional CO2 is making plants to photosynthesise faster, thereby increasing the rate at which they absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

Climate Policy

Out of thin air: An RTI reply has debunked the jobs justification given by Indian PM Narendra Modi to launch commercial coal auctions in the country, stating that there was no data to support such a claim | Photo:

No data to support PM’s claim that coal auction would create lakhs of jobs: Coal ministry’s RTI reply

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the commercial coal mining auctions in June this year, he claimed the move would create ‘lakhs of jobs’. But a written RTI reply, the coal ministry burst that bubble by saying it did not have any supporting data, on either employment or revenue generation, to back that claim. 

The ministry was replying to researcher and author Sandeep Pai, who had cited a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which claimed the auction would generate jobs for 2.8 lakh people and contribute Rs20,000 crore annually in revenue for the state governments, and had asked for a copy of the report/study/survey/white paper/consultancy report/calculation or any other methodology based on which these numbers were estimated.  

Retired coal plants will be replaced by renewables: India’s power minister

In an encouraging sign for India’s green future, its power minister RK Singh announced that the world’s second-largest coal consumer is planning to replace its retiring coal-fired power plants with renewable generating capacity. If this happens, it will propel India towards its goal to meet 40% of its energy requirement from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030 and discourage the use of cheap Chinese imports to meet demands for solar cells and modules. 

Doha Amendment comes into force after last-minute ratifications from Nigeria, Jamaica

The Doha Amendment is set to come into force before it expires this year thanks to a last-minute ratification by Nigeria. The country formally endorsed the climate treaty just before the deadline that required 144 out of 192 signatories to ratify the deal lapsed. Jamaica was also a late mover and rushed to endorse the treaty just before Nigeria.

This marks the end of the era of the Kyoto Protocol, which set binding climate targets on 37 developed countries in 1997. The Doha Amendment, signed in 2012, extended those obligations to cut emissions from 2013 to 2020. The significance of this milestone is mostly on paper as the world prepares to enter the Paris Agreement commitment period starting next year.

EU Parliament votes to upgrade 2030 target to cut emissions from 40% to 60%

Proving once again that they are leading the way when it comes to climate action, the EU Parliament voted in favour of a proposed amendment that pushes to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. If passed, the proposed amendment will be a significant upgrade to the EU’s current target of 40% currently. The text of the amendment will not be put before the EU Council of Ministers for final approval. The vote is part of a larger discussion and vote on the proposed European Climate Law, which aims to enshrine Europe’s target of climate neutrality by 2050 into legislation.  

China may need $5 trillion in investments to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060

China shocked the world last month by announcing its target to become carbon neutral by 2060. A consultancy firm has now estimated that the transition would require an investment influx of more than $5 trillion. This would include investment in renewable power generation capacity, Wood Mackenzie claimed. 

The firm estimated that in order for China to reach its target, its solar, wind and storage capacities will have to increase 11 times by 2050 compared to 2020 levels (5,040 GW) and coal-fired capacity will have to be cut by half. The biggest hurdle, however, will be the social transition, primarily because of the loss of coal mining jobs, the firm stated. 

Prince William, Sir David Attenborough announce £50-million green prize 

Britain’s Prince William and Sir David Attenborough announced the biggest environmental prize ever – £50-million ‘Earthshot Prize’ to be awarded over 10 years to 50 solutions to the world’s gravest environmental problems. The campaign will announce 5 awards of £1 million each year till 2030. Some of the problems that the campaign is looking to solve are cleaning up the air, protecting and restoring nature, fixing the climate and restoring the oceans.

Air Pollution

False Assurances: CMs of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and UP have been summoned by the Supreme Court for yet another year of failure to control farm stubble burning in north India | Photo: Financial Express

Top court summons chief secys of 4 states over stubble burning incidents

As crop stubble burning begins ahead of the season, the Supreme Court of India has asked the top officers (chief secretaries) of the states of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to be present in court through video conferencing on October 16. The court passed the summons after it was informed the four states have repeatedly given false assurances year after year saying that all measures have been taken and the required machinery is there to lift the stubble from the fields but nothing is done and stubble continues to be burned. Nasa had taken images of mounds of stubble and the fires. 

According to official data, the first six days of October saw five times the number of stubble-burning incidents (1,091 incidents) in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh compared to the corresponding period of last year. The largest number of stubble-burning events during October 1-6 took place in Punjab – 841, followed by Haryana (188) and UP (62).

Experts say the reason for early stubble burning is that the farmers have shifted crops from long-duration paddy varieties to short-duration paddy varieties. Those who wish to sow potatoes in the first week of October, clear the fields by burning the crop residue. 

Delhi gets ‘Green War Room’ to fight air pollution

The Delhi government has set up a ‘Green War Room’ to fight air pollution. The war room will be closely monitoring air quality index, real-time air pollution levels, and stubble burning instances in neighbouring states. The war room will have a 10-member expert team under two senior scientists of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC),  The team will monitor the levels of primary pollutants, measures taken to curb pollution and status of complaints received through Green Delhi mobile application. Satellite data related to farm fires in the neighbouring states will also be analysed in the green war room.  

Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai said there are different agencies working to deal with the problem of air pollution in Delhi. The green war room has been set up to coordinate their efforts, Rai said. The war room will monitor satellite images from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) pertaining to stubble burning in real-time. Rai said guidelines to check dust pollution at construction and demolition sites, ready-mix concrete plants, and garbage burning will be strictly implemented. 

Meanwhile, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) bulletin, air quality in the national capital turned ‘poor’ for the first time this season on October 7, 2020, and is expected to deteriorate further.

India remains world’s largest emitter of sulphur dioxide, emissions see drop in 2019: Report

According to Greenpeace India and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), India’s sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions fell significantly by 6% in 2019, compared to 2018. Sulphur dioxide is a poisonous air pollutant that increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and premature death.

The report said India remains the world’s top emitter of SO2. In 2019, India emitted 21% of global anthropogenic (human-made) SO2 emissions, nearly double that of second-ranked global emitter, Russia. China occupies the third position. As per the report, the biggest emission hotspots in India are thermal power stations (or clusters of power stations) at Singrauli, Neyveli, Sipat, Mundra, Korba, Tamnar, Talcher, Jharsuguda, Kutch, Surat, Chennai, Ramagundam, Chandrapur, Visakhapatnam and Koradi.

NCRTC fined Rs50 lakh, FICCI Rs20 lakh for dust pollution

In a massive anti-dust campaign, the National Capital Region Transport Corporation (NCRTC) has been fined ₹50 lakh for not taking dust-control measures at its rapid Metro construction site. Environment minister Gopal Rai himself noticed uncovered mounds of dust at the NCRTC site near Vikas Sadan. 

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) was fined ₹20 lakh for violating dust control norms at a demolition site on Tansen Marg in New Delhi. FICCI was also directed to install an anti-smog gun and take other measures to prevent dust pollution at the project site.  It is mandatory to install anti-smog guns at construction and demolition sites larger than 20,000 square meters, according to government guidelines. 

The government has also imposed fines ranging between ₹20,000 and ₹5 lakh on 31 RMC plants for not taking measures to prevent dust pollution. Eleven of these plants have been told to stop work. The environment department has set up 14 inspection teams to check violations of pollution norms.

Air pollution particles in young brains can cause Alzheimer’s 

According to new research, air pollution particles seen in the brain stems of young people are intimately associated with molecular damage linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Scientists have warned that if the groundbreaking discovery is confirmed by future research, it would have worldwide implications because 90% of the global population live with unsafe air. 

Experts pointed out that good statistical evidence already shows that higher exposure to air pollution increases rates of neurodegenerative diseases, but the new study says that it shows a possible physical mechanism by which the damage is done. The researchers found abundant pollution nanoparticles in the brainstems of 186 young people from Mexico City, who had died suddenly between the ages of 11 months and 27 years. They are likely to have reached the brain after being inhaled, or via the nose or gut.


Hybrid hopes: A new report has estimated exponential growth in solar-wind hybrid energy generation capacity in India | Photo: PV Magazine India

IEEFA: India’s wind-solar hybrid capacity to reach 11.7 GW by 2023, to grow 80 times

Based on various tenders allowed by the Centre and states, a new IEEFA report estimates India’s total wind-solar hybrid capacity will reach 11.7 GW by 2023. The report said the wind-solar hybrid capacity will rise at a compound annual growth rate of 223% from 2020-2023. 

IEEFA said the hybrid cavity, which is at 148 megawatts (MW) at present, would increase almost 80 times in the next three years thanks to incentives by the Centre and state in the next three years. The report pointed out that SECI tenders for wind-solar hybrid projects without storage have attracted low tariffs of ₹2.67 per kWh, which were comparable to plain solar tariffs. The government also plans to hold renewable energy auctions for round-the-clock and hybrid projects instead of plain solar or wind tenders.

Minister: India may set up 20 GW more domestic manufacturing capacity

India;’s Power minister said his ministry has received expressions of intent to set up 20 GW more domestic solar module and cell manufacturing capacity adding that the interest in establishing new units was independent of plans to subsidize borrowing rates on loans through an ‘interest subvention’ scheme planned by the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE).

India’s current annual installed and functional manufacturing capacity of solar modules is around 10 GW per year while that of solar cells is only around 2.5-3 GW per year, the minister said. It currently relies on cheaper imports, mainly from China, to meet the bulk of its demand for solar cells and modules.

IEA: Solar to be new energy king next decade, RE to overtake coal by 2025

According to the latest annual World Energy Outlook by IEA, India will lead the demand for energy globally over the next 10 years. Energy demand was projected to grow by 12% between 2019 and 2030 before the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic struck, the WEO-2020, stated.

In the next 10 years, solar power is expected to lead the surge in renewable power supply, the International Energy Agency report stated. Renewables are expected to overtake coal as the primary means of producing electricity by 2025, IEA World Energy Outlook stated. 

IEA director Fait Birol said solar will become the new king of the world power market. Consider this, the combined share of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind in global generation will rise to almost 30% in 2030 from 8% in 2019, the report said, with solar PV capacity growing by an average 12% annually.

State data says share of renewables in India’s power mix increases to 26% from 23%

According to the Central Electricity Authority, the share of RE in India’s power mix has increased from 23% to 26% in April-August period this fiscal, ET reported. Green energy’s share increased at a time when the power sector witnessed sluggish demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

(CEA) chairman Prakash Mhaske said India will reach the target of carbon emission intensity reduction by 30-33% before the pledged year of 2030.

IEA says COVID-19 to delay world energy demand recovery to 2025, Fitch revises India forecast    

The COVID-19 economic slowdown may delay full recovery of global power demand to 2025, said International Energy Agency (IEA). In its annual World Energy Outlook, the agency said in the main scenario, a vaccine and medicine could mean the global economy rebounds in 2021 and energy demand recovers by 2023, but under a “delayed recovery scenario”, the timeline is likely to stretch to 2025. 

According to the latest annual World Energy Outlook by IEA, India will lead the demand for energy globally over the next 10 years. Energy demand was projected to grow by 12% between 2019 and 2030 before the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic struck, the WEO-2020, stated.

Meanwhile, according to credit rating agency Fitch, India’s power consumption may decline by 6.6% and power generation by 6.8%, while power capacity will grow by only 2.7% this year. The rating agency said its previous forecast of slight recovery in the second half of 2020 post COVID-19 won’t take place now because of medium-term pressures on the sector from multiple fronts.

Electric Vehicles

It's happening now: Owning EVs in Delhi will no longer attract road taxes or registration fees and the govt. will also deposit vehicle subsidies directly to owners's bank accounts | Photo: DNA India

Delhi exempts road tax and registration fees on EVs amidst dip in two-wheeler sales

Starting October 10, EVs will no longer be required to pay road tax or registration fees to ply in Delhi. The exemption will be affected under the Delhi EV policy, which aims to add 500,000 EVs to the city’s fleet by 2024, and could save customers up to ₹3,000 in registration fees and 4-10% of the vehicle’s cost in road taxes. The government is also keen to deposit the subsidies on EVs directly to customers’ bank accounts to avoid any delays in processing. Customers could receive up to ₹30,000 for two-wheelers and ₹1.5 lakh for electric cars. 

However, the notification comes amidst reports that less than 10,000 electric two-wheelers were sold across the country due to disruptions brought on by the lockdown. Where six million (60 lakh) petrol two-wheelers were sold in the same period, the electric units only managed a total of 7,552 — a nearly 25% drop in sales year-on-year. 

India successfully trial runs first hydrogen fuel cell car

India has successfully completed a trial run of its first hydrogen fuel cell-powered car that runs on PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) technology and operates at 65-75° Celsius — making it suitable for on-road applications. The test bed was a five-seater battery-operated car retrofitted with a 10 kWe LT-PEMFC (low-temperature PEM) fuel cell stack developed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Pune’s KPIT Technologies. The technology is expected to be used more for the commercial freight segment because of fuel cells’ higher power to weight ratio. 

Tesla may start selling cars in India in 2021

Tesla Motors has announced that it will start to sell its cars in India in 2021, with the process of placing custom orders commencing in January. The automaker is also in talks with the Karnataka state government to set up another gigafactory (the first is in Shanghai). However, its CEO Elon Musk has previously expressed dissatisfaction over India’s prohibitively high import duties — up to 100% — on completely-built units (CBUs), which could as much as double a car’s price and make it unaffordable for most customers. 

France to unveil €1,000 subsidy on buying second-hand EVs 

The French government will make available a €1,000 subsidy for anyone who wishes to purchase a second-hand EV, with absolutely no conditions attached. The amount may also be combined with the existing scrapping bonus of €2,500 that customers can avail when trading in their IC engined-vehicles. Previously, upfront subsidies were only applicable on new EV purchases, but the latest addition is part of the country’s economic recovery plan, under which it will also install 100,000 charging points (including 500, 150 kW fast chargers) at a cost of €100 million.

Fossil Fuels

Smoke behind the sheen: With $15 billion in financing for fossil fuel projects since 2015 now in the open, the World Bank's commitment to climate action is again under the spotlight | Photo: The Khaama

World Bank poured $2 billion into fossil fuel projects in past two years, $12 billion since 2015

Germany’s environmental lobby group Urgewald found that the World Bank has financed fossil fuel projects worth $2 billion in the past two years and poured $12 billion into the sector since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. The findings show that about $10.5 billion of the funds were used to finance new projects, which the World Bank has defended as being necessary for “resource-dependent developing countries”. It has also justified some of its latest funding on the grounds of “preventing and fighting COVID-19”, for which hospitals and other care facilities would need “clean, reliable and affordable energy”.

US and UK lead G20’s continued investment in fossil fuels 

A new global energy investments tracker has uncovered that the US and the UK are leading the G20 in new fossil fuel investments, with the two nations having invested $72.35 billion and $39.35 billion respectively since the beginning of 2020. The tracker also reports that out of the G20’s overall funding of $171.56 billion to new fossil projects, $156.76 billion (91%) is “unconditional”, which means it disregards any climate targets or pollution standards. 

Interestingly, the UK is set to host next year’s UN Conference of Parties (COP) and is working to switch its economy from fossil fuels to renewable energy. 

India: 15 of 38 auctioned coal blocks received no bids, no methodology behind employment claim

Data released by India’s coal ministry shows that 15 of the 38 mines auctioned (two-fifths) attracted no bids at all, while only 20 of them got more than one bidder to respond. The auction was part of the Centre’s plan to rejuvenate the country’s coal sector, which has been battling falling demand for coal-fired power and mounting legal challenges to thermal power plants’ impact on air quality. 

The auction and the subsequent mining of coal has also been billed as an avenue to create 2.8 lakh jobs across the country, even though the coal ministry has clarified that there was no methodology or study used to arrive at the figure. Interestingly, Adani Enterprises was one of the bidders, even though a month earlier it had said it was not interested in the auction. 

India tweaks natural gas marketing policy to curb dependence on imports

The Indian government has updated its policies on marketing of natural gas to curb the country’s dependence on imports. Under the new rules volumes will be offered on a new e-bidding platform to be suggested by the Director General of Hydrocarbon (DGH) to producing companies to decide on an agreeable model. While guidelines for bidding are also yet to be released, initial reports suggest that while producing companies will not be allowed to partake in bidding, the process will be open to affiliates and other players.

BP’s share price tumbles to lowest since 1995 as new chief reiterates net-zero ambition 

British Petroleum (BP)’s share price has fallen to its lowest since October 1995 as the oil giant’s new CEO, Bernard Looney, has reiterated to its investors and shareholders that the firm is committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. Looney has promised that the move would return 8-10% on its “green” investments, which although not as high as returns from oil and gas, are still touted to be attractive enough in the long term. 

The pitch to its investors seems to be backed by Looney’s belief that the world has reached its peak oil demand of 100 million barrels a day, and that the figure will only plummet, perhaps to as low as 25 million barrels a day by 2050. At this rate, BP believes that the 1.7 trillion barrels of unexplored oil reserves may never be needed, and the firm is instead keen to invest $5 billion a year in expanding its portfolio of renewables. It is also said to have communicated to the UK government to bring forward the date to ban the sale of new IC-engined cars from 2035 to 2030, as it expects the electric car’s share to have grown substantially by that time.