Global Elections could intensify divide on climate action

Newsletter - May 29, 2019

Back again: India’s climate ambition may get a further boost under the new Modi government that’s keen to better India’s image | Image credit: ThePrint

Big Story: Global elections could intensify divide on climate action

Four major election results were announced this fortnight, which could deepen the divide between pro- and anti-climate action.

In India, the ruling government was re-elected with a thumping majority. The result’s climate implications may be largely positive, with expectations of higher chances of increased climate ambition and consolidating India’s own domestic success on renewables. India is also likely to seize key international climate moments, like the UN Secretary General’s summit on climate change, and position itself as a climate leader. While in Europe, the latest elections saw the “green” parties better their seat shares all around – especially in Germany, Finland and France. Their wins are expected to drive the EU towards stronger, more immediate action.

However, Scott Morrison’s surprise re-election as Australia’s prime minister has emboldened the country’s coal lobby to already start demanding new coalmines and coal plants – on the (deliberately) false premise that coal offers the cheapest and cleanest electricity. Joko Widodo, meanwhile, was re-elected in Indonesia and may expand the country’s palm oil fields further into its rainforests. That’s bad news again, as the pristine forests are an enormous carbon sink and influence regional weather patterns.

Climate Science

Parched: Uncontrolled extraction of ground water and degraded wetlands have left Chennai with only 1.3% of its water reserves | Image credit: Yahoo India

Extreme weather: Chennai faces its worst drought in 70 years

Chennai is witnessing its worst drought in 70 years. The water levels in Chennai’s four main reservoirs are currently at only 1.3% of the total capacity. This is the fifth-lowest quantity of water recorded in the past 74 years in the city.

The analysis of meteorological data from 1813 onwards shows no increase in the rate of annual rainfall over the years. Researchers say Chennai has urbanized at the cost of its water resources. They blame water stress on the over-extraction of groundwater, degradation of wetlands, a thriving unregulated water market, and climate change.

Revealed: The ‘extraordinary thinning’ of ice in interiors of Antarctic 

The Antarctic ice-loss problem is deeper than previously thought. New analysis of satellite data, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, revealed the loss was spreading deep into the Antarctic. The cause, the research points out, is the warming of the Southern Ocean, because of which glaciers are sliding into the sea at an increasing speed – five times faster compared to the 1990s. If this continues, the study warns of a catastrophe in the form of a loss of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet, which will drive up global sea levels and wash out coastal cities. While the loss of ice in West Antarctica was already known, this new study, for the first time, pin points where this ‘extraordinary thinning’ is occurring and just how fast.    

Human wildlife destruction shrinking size of big animals, last Sumatran male rhino dies 

Humans are causing nature to shrink. The average body size of animals has shrunk by a quarter, says a study published in the journal Nature Communications. From rhinos to eagles, scientists say, over 1,000 larger species of mammals and birds will go extinct in the next century, leading to the collapse of ecosystems that provide food and clean water to humans. Research in 2018 showed that the average size of wild animals has fallen by 14% in the past 1,25,000 years. The new study predicts a further shrinking of 25% in just 100 years. Meanwhile, Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino died in captivity, setting back efforts to save the critically endangered species.

Weak El Nino enough to delay Indian monsoon, southern states worst hit

The UN World Meteorological Organization has predicted a weak El Nino this year. But even a weak El Nino (the warming of ocean surface temperatures) may delay monsoon in India, forecasters warned. Pre-monsoon rainfall (March to May), vital to crops in several parts of the country, fell short by 22%, according to India Meteorological Department (IMD). The southern states were worst hit with rain deficiency touching 46%.

Warming impact: Surge in algae kills 8 million salmon in Norway

Rising temperatures are causing a surge of algae around the northern coast of Norway, suffocating around 8 million salmon at Norwegian fish farms – over half of this year’s expected sales growth – the state-owned Norwegian Seafood Council has said. The algae chokes the gills of the fish. Wild fish can swim away from the algae belt while farmed fish are trapped. Algal blooms after aquatic plants grow out of control due to warm, still weather, among other factors.

Climate Policy

While no one was looking: India’s government reportedly drafted much laxer EIA rules behind the noise of elections to push through development projects | Image credit: DNAIndia

Centre proposes diluting green clearance norms

India’s environment ministry has reportedly “re-engineered” Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) norms, in the name of the government’s motto of “ease of doing business.” The draft proposal, leaked to the media, allows the district magistrate or district collector, with no climate expertise, to grant or reject environmental clearance for projects, and also gives municipalities the authority to grant permission for construction projects, the media reported.

Students from 110 countries skip school to demand climate action

In the latest school climate strike, thousands of schoolchildren across 110 countries from UK to India and Australia skipped school to protest and demand urgent climate action from politicians to avoid ecological collapse. The school strike movement began last August when 15-year-old Greta Thunberg held a solo protest in Stockholm. Meanwhile, a Deloitte survey of millennials and gen Z’ers across 42 countries has revealed that climate ranks as a top concern among the group.

Shipping emissions: IMO talks showed ‘total lack of ambition’

Attempts to curb emissions from shipping showed “total lack of ambition”, at the latest round of talks of International Maritime Organisation (IMO), UN’s global shipping body based in London. Countries agreed on energy efficiency targets, but big decisions on how to cut emissions were deferred again, reported Climate Home News. Shipping emits 3% of global CO2 emissions,. It is estimated to expand to 10% by 2050, in a business-as-usual scenario.

Single-use plastic accelerating climate change

While images of plastic polluting the world’s oceans have gone viral several times over, a report by the Center for International Environmental Law highlights its effect on accelerating climate change. The report, for the first time, traces the carbon footprint of plastic from the time it is manufactured to the time it is handled as a waste product – usually after single use.

The study warns that plastic will hamper attempts to meet the Paris agreement if its production isn’t immediately halted and will be responsible for 13% of the ‘carbon budget’ by 2050 – that is equivalent to 615 coal power plants.

Residents of British village could be country’s first climate refugees 

The hilly coastal village of Fairbourne, in north Wales, is rapidly slipping into the rising sea. The villagers of Fairborn could be Britain’s first climate refugees. Experts say if forecasts worsen or a storm breaches the sea defences, the 850 residents of the village would be moved out of their homes, which would be flattened, turning the site back into a tidal salt marsh.

Guardian’s “precise” style sheet to report climate change

The Guardian recently adopted a “scientifically precise” style sheet, based on the recent usage by scientists, campaigners and leaders. So instead of the “passive and gentle” term “climate change”, the preferred phrase to describe a catastrophe threatening species will be “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” replaces “global warming”.

UN chief António Guterres was one of the leaders who talked about a “climate crisis” last year. Professor Richard Betts, of the Met Office said “global heating” was more precise than “global warming” to describe the world’s climate situation.

Air Pollution

This is real: Delhi NCR's severe air pollution levels are affecting its residents' organs and causing multiple fatalities | Image credit: FactsWala

Head to toe, air pollution damages every organ in the body

Polluted air damages every cell and organ in the human body, says a new review by the American College of Chest Physicians. The research confirms that ultrafine particles in the air pass through the lungs and expose virtually all cells in the body to adverse impacts. The study has also linked serious ailments like diabetes, dementia, liver problems, bladder cancer, brittle bones and damaged skin to the impacts of inhaling toxic air.

Air pollution from coal-fired power plants weakening monsoon in Asian countries

A study published in Geophysical Research Letters reveals that the monsoon season, which sustains billions living in India, China, Pakistan, Thailand and other South and South-East Asian countries, is being weakened by high air pollution levels in the region, an unprecedented trend not seen in the past 448 years.

The study analysed tree ring records, also known as ‘proxy’ records for climate history, and precipitation data for the past 80 years, to simulate various factors, and established that the most plausible explanation for the changing monsoon trend is the uptick in aerosol pollution from coal-fired power plants in this region.

Frying, cooking turning homes into ‘toxic boxes’ of polluted air

Case studies in four UK cities, including London, have confirmed that air pollution levels are higher inside the home than outside – turning them into “toxic boxes”. The studies show that everyday activities like cooking and frying increased the average concentration of very fine particulate matter inside the homes by nearly 10 times the average concentrations outside.

Centre asked to file report on remedies taken to stop stubble burning, or face action

India’s green court (NGT) has given a two-week ultimatum to the Ministry of Agriculture to report on remedial action taken against the highly polluting practice of crop burning in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, or the ministry’s top officer should be ready to face action. The move comes after the ministry failed to meet the April 30 deadline to file reports. The NGT also sought updates on exploring options of using paddy as a source of energy in brick kilns and providing farmers mobile apps to hire equipment at cheaper rate.

Toxic petcoke power choking Ahmedabad, green court seeks report

The city of Ahmedabad, in Gujarat, is battling air pollution because of the industrial use of petcoke and furnace oil to generate power. India’s green court (National Green Tribunal) has ordered a joint panel, comprising members from state and central pollution control boards, to report on measures taken against the use of nearly 8 lakh tonnes of pollutants annually.

Meanwhile, the green court has slapped an interim penalty of Rs17.31 crore on an Indian Oil Corporation Panipat refinery in Haryana, for violation of environmental norms. The verdict was based on a report filed by a joint panel, comprising members of pollution control boards of the Centre and Haryana.

Despite warnings about Varanasi’s poor air

Varanasi has made news not only for being PM Narendra Modi’s constituency, but also for its limited efforts to tackle pollution. While a 2016 report, ‘Varanasi Chokes’ by Indiaspend, CEED and Care4Air had established that the city had no good air days in the year, another report released by Let Me Breathe says that the city’s air pollution mitigation efforts remain on paper.

Air pollution around Beijing increases as coal consumption rises by 13%

The air quality around Beijing deteriorated because of a rise in coal consumption in the months of October and March, when China’s winter air pollution action plan was in force, a Greenpeace analysis of air quality based on government’s data revealed. Air pollution rose in the region – which spans Beijing and 26 surrounding cities – by 6.5% versus the previous year, as coal consumption increased by 13% in the six provinces included in the air pollution control region.


Strategic shift: India's investments in solar have outpaced its coal investments, which reasserts the undeniable economic advantage for the former | Image credit: MercomIndia

In a first, India investing more in solar power than coal

A report by the International Energy Agency says India’s investments in renewable energy is outpacing those in fossil fuels – the main reasons being favourable government policies and the rapidly falling costs of bringing solar power online. While experts welcomed the trend, they expressed concerns over the sustainability of such a shift, with BP estimating that the country’s overall energy demand could double by 2040 because of the rising population and economic development.

This trend is not just limited to India, but has been observed in the Asia Pacific region as well. According to consultancy firm Rystad Energy, the region’s total capital expenditure on renewable energy is expected to rise above $30 billion by 2020, just surpassing the investment into exploration and production for oil and natural gas.

IEEFA: Shifting to solar-plus-storage big saver for firms grappling with loss-making coal units

A new study by IEEFA says the fast shrinking prices of solar + storage could save US utilities still reliant on coal power hundreds of millions of dollars. The analysis shows that solar + storage not only is cheaper than coal, but also offers lower LCOEs (Levelized Cost of Electricity) than new natural gas plants – which have caused coal plant shutdowns across the US.

EY: China tops most attractive renewables market list despite subsidy cuts

According to UK accountancy firm Ernst & Young (EY), China remains the most sought-after market for investment in renewable energy for the fourth year in a row. Renewable growth is set to continue despite the country’s efforts to trim subsidies, EY reported. Last year, cuts to China’s expensive feed-in tariff regime slowed growth in solar installations. Solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity additions fell to 44.3 gigawatts (GW) from a record 53 GW in 2017.

China to end wind subsidies by 2021

China will end subsidies for new onshore wind projects from 2021. China wants renewables to compete on an equal footing with coal- and gas-fired electricity, the country’s state planning agency said. China pays a relatively high tariff per kilowatt hour of electricity produced by wind or solar projects. The country has been promoting ‘grid price parity’ with traditional energy sources such as coal.

TANGEDCO to buy clean power from SECI

Tamil Nadu, one of country’s leading renewable energy states, will stop conducting auctions for wind and solar energy projects because of a poor response to its tenders, which set limits on tariffs. The state has decided instead to buy clean power from the Centre’s Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) to fulfil TANGEDCO’s Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO).

Electric Vehicles

Few years left: The deadline for only electric 2- & 3-wheelers by 2025 would have an enormous impact on greening India’s transport sector | Image credit: DeMagazine

India: Only electric 3-wheelers by 2023, e-scooters by 2025, Delhi Metro to launch e-scooters on rent

India’s top planning body, NITI Aayog, has recommended that automakers here only be allowed to sell electric three-wheelers by 2023 and electric two-wheelers by 2025. The two categories together account for over 80% of India’s annual auto sales. The subsidy on electric three-wheelers may also be doubled to Rs20,000 per kWh – which would make them cost-competitive with the IC-engine variants.

The timeline could allow automakers to recover their investments and book some profits in moving from BS-IV to BS-VI compliant engines. The Delhi Metro is also reportedly keen to offer e-scooters on rent at five metro stations across the NCR, although the launch date for the service hasn’t been announced.

Panasonic targets 100,000 charging points by 2024, launches AI-powered EV chargers

Japan’s Panasonic Corp. is planning a pan-India EV charging grid by 2024 with 1 lakh (100,000) EV chargers spread across 25 cities. The vehicles charged will be fitted with sensors that Panasonic claims will assist EV and lithium-ion battery manufacturers in tailoring their products to real-world usage patterns.

It has also launched its Nymbus EV charging service in Delhi NCR for electric 2- and 3- wheelers, which will offer the unique features of artificial intelligence (AI)-driven charging and cloud-based data storage.

China: World’s largest EV charging station now in Shenzen

China’s Shenzen now reportedly houses the world’s largest EV charging station, with a facility that can charge up to 5,000 EVs a day. The station has 637 fast chargers and charges the city’s 22,000 e-taxis, which, combined with its all-electric bus fleet, have helped improve Shenzen’s air quality.

Fossil Fuels

Not as stranded anymore: Up to 15GW of India’s stranded coal plants may be shored up over higher tariff prices okayed by the CERC | Image credit: SeaNews

CERC allows pass-through of imported coal cost, could shore up 15GW of stressed assets

India’s Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) has allowed coal plants struggling with poor domestic coal supplies to import the raw material and pass on the higher costs to their customers (DISCOMS) by raising their tariffs. The decision constitutes a “change in law” under provisions of the National Coal Distribution Policy (NCDP) and could offer a lifeline to as many as 15GW worth of stranded coal plants. These plants have struggled to return operational profits because of poor demand for their expensive tariffs, which is further worsened by costlier imports.

BHP loses interest in thermal coal

Global mining giant BHP has signalled its loss of interest in thermal coal, warning investors that the fuel could be phased out as early as within 10 to 20 years. The statement comes amidst developing economies steadily expanding their renewable energy capacities. BHP will instead focus investments in copper, nickel, metallurgical coal and oil. The first two are heavily in demand for use in EVs.

Australia: Carmichael approvals by mid-June despite warnings of huge losses

The newly re-elected liberal government in Australia could sanction pending approvals for Adani Group’s controversial Carmichael coalmine by mid-June this year. The government is known to be close to the country’s coal lobby and is keen to develop the Carmichael coalmine to boost the country’s coal export revenues.

However, Bloomberg has calculated that the mine would lose about $220 million a year over low market prices for thermal coal (at around $66/tonne) – where the cost of production would be around $88/tonne. Several investors and insurers have deserted the Group over the mine’s poor financials and it’s now likely to be financed by Adani itself.

Japan’s MUFG “ends” coal finance, India’s ONGC to boost oil & gas output

Japan’s largest coal power financier, the Mitsubishi UFG Group (MUFG), has announced its exit from new coal power – unless host country conditions demand otherwise. MUFG bankrolled $3.5 billion in coal power projects from 2016-2018 and had 5.2GW of potential projects lined up for finance at the beginning of 2019.

Meanwhile, despite global calls to urgently slash oil and gas production, India’s largest oil & gas developer, ONGC, will boost output from 16 of its projects by 2022-2023. ONGC will increase its natural gas output to 114 billion cubic meter (bcm) and its crude oil output to 54.6 million tonnes. The expansion is likely to call for investments worth over Rs65,000 crore ($9.2 billion).