How the Jal Jeevan Mission can navigate India’s impending water scarcity

Newsletter - March 25, 2021

Pipe dream? India’s plans to provide each household with at least 55 litres of drinking water daily will have to navigate the country’s declining water availability | Photo: India Infra Hub

How the Jal Jeevan Mission can navigate India’s impending water scarcity

World Water Day was observed across the globe this week. CarbonCopy takes a look at the sustainability of one of the India’s flagship water supply programmes, which is in a race against time to provide 100% water supply to rural India

“Safe and adequate drinking water through individual household tap connections by 2024 to all households in rural India” – this is the ambitious mission statement of the current Indian government’s flagship water management programme, Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM). The scheme is a continuation of the previous government’s National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).

With hotly contested elections looming large over several states and a central government fire-fighting on multiple fronts, the water crisis seems to be that one unifying factor that affects a majority of the population irrespective of ‘background’. A 2024 deadline, therefore, maybe ambitious, but is necessary for this government. 

The Modi government seems confident of winning the race to provide ‘Har Ghar Jal’ – it claims to have provided tap water to over 3.77 crore rural households since the mission’s launch in August 2019. But just how sustainable is this mission in the long term?

It’s now or never

Central government-funded schemes promising rural water supply are not new in India. A National Water Supply Programme was initiated in 1954 to provide safe drinking water to all villages. Since then, governments over the years have made several attempts to fulfill this promise, including the first National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) launched in 1972. But what sets JJM apart from previous attempts is the sense of urgency.

According to the Central Water Statistics 2015, roughly 820 million people in India, living in twelve river basins across the country, have per capita water availability around 1000m3— the official threshold for water scarcity. And the situation seems to be on the precipice of a crisis. As per the 2017 National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Development (NCIWRD) report, India’s average per capita water availability, which currently stands at 1545m3 (2011 assessment), is likely to fall to 1341m3 by 2025 and further to 1141m3 by 2050, putting the country officially on the brink of water scarcity. Availability is one thing, access is another. Latest updates from the Jal Shakti ministry show that over 62% of India’s rural households, or a whopping 117.5 million households, still don’t have piped water connections. Forecasts included in the Composite Water Resources Management report published jointly by NITI Aayog and the Jal Shakti Ministry in August 2019 state that by 2030, India’s demand will outgrow water supply two to one.

Source: Jal Shakti Ministry (as reported on 24 March 2021)

When JJM was first launched more than two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced ₹3.5 lakh crore will be spent in the next five years. His seriousness to tackle the issue was more than evident in the latest budget, which earmarked ₹50,000 crore for the scheme. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman also announced the expansion of the scheme to include urban households.

A scheme that holds water?

A quick glance at the mission’s guidelines shows the government is certainly headed in the right direction. JJM promises to strengthen existing water sources, build new pipelines and retrofit older networks in a bid to provide at least 55 litres of potable water to each person daily. It also promises to set up treatment plants wherever necessary – for example, desalination plants in coastal areas. It promises to provide source sustainability measures in groundwater-rich areas. “This is also perhaps the first time that the government has clearly acknowledged and outlined the threat of climate change to the mission as part of the SWOT analysis,” says Romit Sen, associate director, Water and Agriculture, Institute for Sustainable Communities.

The JJM divides implementation of its objectives across three levels. The first is the Village Action Plan (VAP) to be prepared by the Gram Panchayat and approved by the Gram Sabha. Then comes the District Action Plan (DAP), which combines all the VAPs to prepare its own plan. And the third is the State Action Plan (SAP), which takes into account the DAP and aims to achieve water security across the state by finding ways to discourage the use of tankers and handpumps in villages.  

So far so good. But dig a little deeper and the loopholes begin to be unearthed.

Good on paper only?

From a climate adaptation perspective, JJM is definitely much-needed with the increasing number of extreme climate events such as flooding. A recent study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) found 75% of Indian districts are now extreme climate event hotspots. The study found that in the past 15 years, 79 districts recorded extreme drought events year-on-year, exposing 140.06 million people annually. The yearly average of drought-affected districts increased 13 times in this period. “The programme is definitely a positive from a user point of view,” says Sen.

So why are these schemes not working despite repeated attempts to improve upon them over a span of several years? “JJM itself is not very new,” says Surabhi Singh, research analyst at CEEW. “The arrangement and the delivery mechanism of the previous NRDWP is very similar to JJM (rural). A CAG report on the previous scheme had even flagged some core issues, chief amongst which was – even if we put drinking water mechanisms in place, how do we ensure source sustainability. Another issue that was flagged was operation and maintenance [O&M].”

The implementation method, which includes the VAP, DAP and SAP, had also come into question, Singh says. “This process has not been followed by state governments because it is a very tedious and resource-intensive process, for which most states don’t have the capacity.” This can be seen in the CAG report for the NDRWP, which stated 21 states did not frame water security plans and deficiencies were found in the preparation and scrutiny of Annual Action Plans (AAP).

Another loophole is that in order for the VAPs to remain relevant and effective, they need to be revised on a seasonal or yearly basis, which has not been mentioned in the JJM guidelines, says Singh. 

The continued dependence on groundwater-rich regions also is a cause for concern. India is the largest groundwater extractor in the world – around 250 cubic km every year. According to a 2018 report by the Ministry of Water Resources, over extraction is the reason why there was a 61% decline in groundwater between 2007 and 2017. “Instead of depending on groundwater alone, we need to pay equal emphasis on recharging groundwater through rainwater harvesting, reusing and recycling water for non-potable purposes, and restoring traditional water bodies. More importantly, we need to manage water as a common pool resource,” Singh says.

Climate variations not accounted for

“As part of the VAP, villages are supposed to come up with water budgets for their area. They need to take into account the water demand, which includes their agriculture water demand. They also have to give data on the amount of rainfall in the area. But rainfall varies spatially and temporally, so there is no way to give precise data,” says Singh.

When it comes to taking into account climate change-related variability, Singh says the country doesn’t have avenues to collect or observe such granular level data. “The best we can do is account for temporal and spatial variability in rainfall instead of observed rainfall data. But this has not been explained in the VAP.”

Sen, however, points to the fact that JJM looks to find customised solutions for different ecological areas such as coastal zones and cold deserts. “That in itself is a recognition that a one-size-fits-all approach will not be relevant for India where there are temporal and spatial variations as well as variations in quality and quantity.”

Schemes driven by observations, not data

A recent study published in the Official Journal of the World Water Council found the rural water planning schemes in India were not data driven. They lacked the means to map, collect and analyse data for service delivery and O&M, the study found. Using a water sector reform programme that is supported by the World Bank and is currently underway in Maharashtra, called the Jalswarajya II (JS2), as a case study, the researchers came up with a mobile application that democratised data collection. It allowed village leaders (gram sevaks) to collect data with easy-to-use data feeding options, such as drop-downs. The collection was divided into two sections – the physical aspects such as groundwater availability and percentage of household tap connections; and the O&M aspects such as recovery of water user charges and the effectiveness of Village and Water Planning Committees.

The app then gave each survey response a score from 1 (best) to 5 (poorest), thus making it easier to zero in on villages that need to be prioritised the most. This data was then mapped using a GIS map to form spatial patterns that helped identify trends and issues. This method also cut down on time taken to collect data – a village-level sevak will need to do this for just half an hour, once a year. While the case study was limited to four districts, the Maharashtra government is looking to scale up the use of this approach across the state.

A data-driven planning framework, therefore, would give the government a bird’s eye view of the areas of concern and a better shot at finding long-term solutions.

Too many schemes, very little communication

Another drawback, according to Singh, is that apart from JJM, there are a myriad of other water schemes already in play in the country. Some of them include Jal Shakti Abhiyan – which encourages citizen participation in order to conserve water – the Catch the Rain campaign – which focuses on rainwater harvesting – the Atal Bhujal Yojana – which aims to facilitate sustainable groundwater management, and MGNREGA which also looks into water conservation. “There is no coherence in these schemes,” says Singh. “So one village may have the water supply infrastructure, but won’t have rainwater harvesting.” Conservation and management of water, therefore, takes a serious hit. Singh points to JJM’s guidelines, which mention a financial convergence of all these schemes, but there is no mention of planning and operational convergence.

Such schemes, however, are definitely working in smaller states, such as Goa, where implementation is easier, says Singh. But larger states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are lagging far behind and convergence, therefore, is key to getting them back on track.

The way forward

A look at the budgetary allocations for JJM reveal that while a lot of money is going into infrastructure development, not a lot is being spent on Research and Development (R&D) and capacity building.

JJM guidelines also include the use of ‘energy-efficient’ small desalination plants in coastal areas. But while the intent is great, there is no evidence of what these might be or look like, says Sen. “Ultimately, when we talk of certain technologies, there is a cost recovery attached to it along with their efficiency and O&M. So do we know what kind of desalination systems will work? This could perhaps be an area where investing money into R&D will help.”     

A 2020 CEEW report emphasised the need for sectoral water reallocation in order to achieve JJM’s goals. According to the report, while rural water supply was 7 billion cubic metres (BCM) in 2010, India will need an additional 18 BCM to meet the demand in 2030 and 45 BCM for 2050. The report suggested that “by reallocating irrigation water from local reservoirs to villages and facilitating groundwater in blocks that are safe to exploit, India could potentially realise this goal not just for rural households, but also those in urban and peri-urban areas”.  

Sen speaks of the role that a water user also plays in the sustainability of a mission like JJM. “The government is making a large investment in ensuring water supply. But users also need to consciously change their behaviour. A sustained campaign that also talks about behaviour change, which doesn’t just focus on monsoon months, but runs throughout the year, is needed. You can install taps and ensure source strengthening, but if users don’t learn and make efforts to consciously manage water, such missions completely defeat their purpose.”

Climate Science

Getting worse: Experts blame climate change for displacing more than 10 million people in the past 6 months | Photo:

Flooding, drought displaced 10.3 million people in past 6 months

At least 10.3 million people, especially in Asia, have been displaced by events induced by climate change in the past six months. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies found these people were rendered homeless mostly because of flooding and drought, while 2.3 million others were displaced as a result of conflict during the same time period. What this indicates is that climate change is responsible for displacing a majority of people across the world. Asia is most vulnerable to this issue as the study found 60% of the displaced people were from this region. 

Drop in frequency of 20-year and 50-year floods since 1970s: Study

A new study revealed that since the 1970s, the frequency of 20-year and 50-year river floods has decreased in arid, tropical, polar and cold zones and have increased in temperate zones. The study used historical river records to examine the changes in size, frequency, and probability of such extreme floods. According to the study, the frequency of 20-year floods has decreased by 12%-33% on average in the past 50 years. The study also highlighted the importance of updating flood hazard assessments to reflect such significant changes over a period of time.

Another study, meanwhile, found that it is climate change, not water and land management, that is influencing the changes in river flow. A research team led by ETH Zurich analysed data from 7,250 measuring stations worldwide. The team found river flow changed systematically between 1971 and 2010. Regions such as the Mediterranean and north-​eastern Brazil had become drier, while in other areas such as Scandinavia, the volume of water had increased. The researchers found that simulations derived from computer simulations and climate data from the period observed closely matched the analysis from observed river flow. The calculations remained unaffected when researchers fed in additional data from water and land management into the simulations.    

Latest projections warn of faster sea-level rise near coasts as compared to the global average

According to a recent study, those living near the coasts are vulnerable to sea-level rise that is up to four times faster than the global average. The study, published in the journal Nature, calculated the global average sea-level rise to be 2.5mm per year, and the rise near coasts to be an alarming 7.8mm-9.9mm per year. The study recommended governments need to take into account the much-higher impacts and adaptation needs of coastal residents. Policies addressing groundwater utilisation and drainage could reduce the exposure of these residents to the growing threat of coastal flooding, the study stated.

New research looks beyond carbon to understand Amazon Basin’s climate biogeochemistry

While the cycling and storage of carbon in the Amazon basin has been widely observed, a new study attempted to understand the impact the ‘non-CO2 agents’ have on the region. The study found  that these agents, mostly methane and nitrous oxide, offset and often exceed the “climate service provided by atmospheric CO2 uptake”. The study found these “other significant biophysical climate feedbacks” had significant responses to localised fires, land-use change, infrastructure development and storms, which need to be studied further in order to understand the changing biogeochemistry of climate in the Amazon Basin.

Oceans will begin emitting ozone-depleting CFC-11 by 2075: Study

Researchers from MIT found that by the year 2075, oceans will emit more of the ozone-depleting CFC-11 into the atmosphere than they absorb. If climate change is not kept in check, this transition is likely to occur 10 years earlier, the study found. These additional CFC-11 emissions from the oceans will cause the chemical to remain in the atmosphere five years longer than it normally would. 

Climate Policy

Moving on: The government will allow 7 hydropower projects to complete construction despite a flash flood wreak havoc recently | Photo: Business Standard

Govt to allow 7 hydel projects in Uttarakhand to complete construction

Despite protests by environmentalists and weeks after a flash flood in the region, the Centre will allow the completion of seven under-construction hydropower projects in Uttarakhand. The decision taken by the Jal Shakti ministry will be relayed to the Supreme Court, which is hearing a matter on these unfinished projects, Hindustan Times reported an anonymous top official as saying. Union minister Prakash Javadekar had tweeted that sanctioned projects will be allowed to go ahead, but no new projects in the Upper Ganga will be given a nod.  

Environment ministry moves to ease public hearing guidelines for legacy mining cases

The Indian government can now skip public hearings for projects that have already received an environment clearance, as per the green ministry’s new order. The order is primarily aimed at projects that received clearance under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 1994, after a public hearing was conducted. This order seeks to help make functioning easier for legacy mining projects.

16 states cut forest department budgets this year: Green ministry to Parliament

Sixteen states cut their annual forest department budgets in the current financial year. The money allocated in these budgets is spent on increasing forest cover and conservation efforts. Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar shared, as part of his written response to a Parliament question that West Bengal reported the highest percentage decline in budgetary allocation for the forest department followed by Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Bihar. Data for most Union Territories was unavailable. 

The environment ministry also eased the rules for eco-tourism projects, allowing them to build non-permanent structures in areas that were protected without the central government’s permission. The absence of a clear definition of non-permanent structures was a cause for concern, environmentalists said. The decision was taken in a forest advisory committee meeting in February.  

In the same meeting, it was decided that the construction of zoos on forest land will be deemed ‘forestry activity’. Experts warned that this move will increase footfall in forest lands and encourage safari rides. Both these decisions are being seen as a part of the ministry’s broader aim of easing rules under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

Andhra Pradesh HC stays demolition of villages affected by Polavaram irrigation project

In a temporary win for locals, the Andhra Pradesh high court stayed the demolition of houses in villages that fall in the path of the Indira Sagar Polavaram irrigation project. The court was hearing a petition filed against the demolition of these settlements in the Schedule V areas in the east and west Godavari districts of the state. The project was envisioned as a storage scheme that aimed to build a dam between the east and west Godavari districts. 

According to an environmental assessment impact report, 276 villages with a total population of 177,175 would be affected by the project. Around 15 villages in the region have already been demolished, according to the petition. The lawyer for the respondent Andhra Pradesh Water Resource Department, however, told the court no villages had been demolished. The court stayed demolition until the department was able to produce the lawyer’s reply in writing. 

Vague net-zero targets compromise Paris Agreement, warn scientists

Even as countries race to announce their ‘net-zero’ ambitions, the definition of the term differs enormously among nations, according to scientists. According to a United Nations estimate, 65% of global CO2 emissions fall under such pledges. But scientists from Imperial College London, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and the University of New England have warned about this lack of transparency in these declarations. Researchers found the plans put up to reach ‘net-zero’ by nations hard to compare. For example, while the EU’s net-zero announcement targets all greenhouse gases by 2050, China’s net-zero plan focuses on balancing only CO2 emissions by 2060. Some nations, according to the researchers, also aim to reach the target not by reducing their emissions, but by compensating for them with offsets. Without transparency, the evaluation of these targets is difficult, the study noted.  

Green Climate Fund deemed ‘toxic workplace’; whistleblowers urge US to use its money elsewhere until issues are fixed

US climate envoy John Kerry promised to “make good” on a $2 billion pledge to the UN’s Green Climate Fund (GCF). But a recent GCF staff survey revealed a loss of confidence in the fund’s senior management. Three employees who quit the GCF in 2019 and 2020 told Climate Change News of a “lack of integrity” in vetting projects and abuses of power, which led to a toxic work environment in the organisations. Whistleblowers told the publication that unless these matters were fixed, the US should direct this money to elsewhere.  

Pandemic effect: UN biodiversity summit pushed for second time to October 2021

The UN COP15 biodiversity summit was delayed for a second time. It was scheduled to be held in China in May after being pushed from its October 2020 event date because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) cited the pandemic as the reason for further delay and the summit has now been pushed to October 2021. The meet aims to put together an accord for nature, along the lines of the Paris climate accord.

Air Pollution

Dissolved: Members of the Commission for Air Quality Management for Delhi-NCR were reportedly surprised on learning about the the dissolution of the body five months after its formation | Photo: Greenpeace Media

Air pollution body dissolves as Centre fails to introduce Bill

The Commission for Air Quality Management, which was formed as  a ‘permanent’ body to address pollution in the National Capital Region, Delhi became non-functional within five months of its formation in October by an ordinance. This because the Centre failed to introduce a bill in Parliament within six weeks of the commencement of the Ordinance. The commission was supposed to address sources of pollution in Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh . It had powers to coordinate action among states, levy fines — ranging up to ₹1 crore or five years of prison — to address air pollution. According to The Hindu, members of the commission were taken aback by the dissolution, which they learnt of only through newspaper reports. The Opposition asked the government to clarify whether it intends to convert the ordinance into an Act before the current Parliament session ends.

Pay and pollute? Experts see red as Centre mulls one law to replace air, water and environment acts

The Centre will soon propose a single law to govern activities related to air, water and environment, reported HT, quoting one of the senior-most officials in the environment ministry. The new environmental management law will combine the Air Act 1981, Water Act 1974, and the Environment (Protection) Act 1986. The report said the law has been mooted to tackle overlaps in green laws, but experts point out that the proposed plan will normalise environmental damage as it discards a precautionary approach for environmental protection. They added that the law will reduce flouting of environmental laws to a routine matter that can be managed through monetary payments.

The law will introduce new environment management tools such as emissions trading schemes and extended producer responsibility. Campaigners called the proposal a closed-door affair without any public engagement.

Delhi world’s most polluted for the third time; 35 of 50 most polluted cities in India: Report

For the third consecutive year, New Delhi was the world’s most polluted capital in 2020, according to IQAir, a Swiss group that monitors air quality levels based on the concentration of cancerous airborne particles known as PM2.5. Thirty-five of the world’s 50 most polluted cities were found in India, according to IQAir. The data was gathered from 106 countries based on their annual average of particulate matter PM2.5, which are airborne particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter.

According to the report, New Delhi’s average annual concentration of PM2.5 in a cubic meter of air was 84.1 which was more than double the levels in Beijing. Around 54,000 premature deaths were reported in New Delhi in 2020, according to a recent study by Greenpeace Southeast Asia Analysis and IQAir.

Siberian air polluted by microplastics: Study

 A new study of snow samples from 20 different Siberian regions –- from the Altai mountains to the Arctic – have confirmed the presence of airborne plastic fibres in remote parts of the wilderness. Scientists at Tomsk State University (TSU) are studying snow polluted with microplastics that then melts and seeps into the ground. They said it’s not just rivers and seas that are involved in circulating microplastics, but also the soil and living creatures.

Through these snow samples, scientists are now trying to understand to what degree population density, the proximity of roads and other human activity contribute to the pollution.

Global airline emission plans not good for EU climate goals, study warns

A new study stated that the United Nations scheme for the global airline industry to offset emissions with carbon credits may upset Europe’s climate goals. The UN aviation body’s CORSIA scheme to tackle airline CO2 emissions, requires airlines to offset future emissions growth by buying credits from projects such as renewable energy or CO2-absorbing forests.

But a study conducted for the European Union concluded that the scheme wont result in decrease  of emissions from air travel because it prices carbon too low to incentivise emissions cuts, Reuters reported. Experts said the study is warning the EU to take back responsibility for addressing pollution of European flights.

The EU aims to eliminate its net emissions by 2050. The study said that relying on the UN scheme rather than the EU carbon market to curb international flight emissions “would risk undercutting Europe’s climate policies and goals.”


Costly proposition: India's proposed Basic Customs duty on solar enquipment could negatively affect the country's solar installation targets | Photo: Bloomberg Quint

Basic Customs Duty projected to increase solar tariff exponentially

India’s solar target of 280 GW by 2030 may be impacted adversely by Basic Customs Duty (BCD) on solar equipment that will kick in from April 1, 2022, stated a report by India Ratings and Research. It will increase power purchase costs by ₹9 billion annually the report said. Solar tariffs will also increase as well as a result. Another study by CARE Rating said solar power prices could rise between 25-30 paise per unit if only cells are imported, while the cost will rise further to 40-45 paise if modules are imported.

Experts warned this will take the sheen off the solar power considering that about 10 GW of solar capacity is in the offing in the next 12 months. This amount would increase exponentially with the commissioning of new projects and is likely to also affect India’s target of 280 GW solar capacity by 2030. 

Currently, India levies safeguard duty only on equipment from China, Thailand and Vietnam. But the report points out that BCD will be applicable on all the countries making it tough to import from anywhere in the world.     

Parl panel asks for policy paper on DISCOMS’ reluctance to enter long-term renewable energy PPAs      

While addressing the issue of the reluctance of DISCOMS to sign up long-term renewable energy PPAs with power companies, as tariffs continue to fall in the short term, a Parliamentary panel asked Centre to release a policy paper to provide a remedy to “the conundrum”. The panel said the situation is causing disruption as a long-term PPA is a prerequisite for financing any new power project. 

The panel noted that the total installed capacity of renewable energy as on January 1, 2021, is 92.54 GW, which comprises 38.79 GW from solar power, 38.68 GW wind power, 10.31 GW bio power and 4.76 GW small hydro power.

The panel said only a little more than 50% of the target has been achieved and the remaining 82.46 GW capacity has to be installed in just one-and-a-half years, considering India has set a 40 GW solar target by 2022. The panel said only 20% of the approved solar parks are fully developed and another 10% partially developed, leaving 70% unachieved.

To achieve net zero in 2050, India needs to generate 83% of power from renewables: Study

To achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, India needs to generate at least 83% of its electricity from (non-hydropower) renewables sources by 2050, revealed a first-of-its-kind analysis released by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). This would entail increasing non-hydro renewable capacity by 55-fold in the next 30 years from the 160 Terawatt-hour (TWh) (10%) 2019, said the study titled  ‘Peaking and Net Zero for India’s Energy Sector CO2 emissions’. 

The country needs to increase the use of electricity in industrial production from 20% in 2018 to 70% in 2050, according to the study. India is required to reach peak emissions by 2030 if it was to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, “a pace of transition unlike anything the world has seen before,” the study said.

China added 100 GW wind capacity in 2020, more than the whole world: BNEF

Despite the pandemic, China added new wind energy in 2020 that was more than the whole world had set up in 2019. A BNEF study has revealed that China led the world’s biggest ever increase in wind power capacity as developers built almost 100GW worth of wind farms. As the country’s subsidies lapse in the wind energy sector, China’s new offshore wind capacity last year rose nearly 60% compared to 2019. This is more than half of the world’s new wind power capacity, the study stated. China was followed by a boom in the US, where developers built 16.5GW of new wind capacity last year, before the phase-out of a government tax credit scheme. 

States preference for floating solar panels causing irreparable damage to the environment?

With land acquisitions delaying solar projects and India’s target of 100 GW by 2022 looming large, state governments are turning to aquatic bodies to float solar panels, which is causing an irreparable loss of biodiversity, reported Mongabay. According to TERI, the cumulative capacity of floating solar projects in India was 2.7 MW in 2019, while over 1.7 GW capacity projects were reported to be in various stages of development. Scientists warned about the long-term impacts of large-scale floating-solar projects on freshwater ecosystems.

Their major ecological concerns included temperature variation, prolonged stratification, low Dissolved Oxygen (DO), anaerobic decomposition, impact on aquatic life, growth of shade-resistant cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and impact on feeding habitat of migratory as well as resident birds. The Mongabay report pointed out claims of reported benefits of floatovoltaics, including its land neutral characteristics, reduction in water evaporation, and less algal growth, are shallow and not based on long-term scientific studies.

Electric Vehicles

So much cleaner than a Tesla: Brazil's powerful ethanol industry says ethanol blended with gasoline is far cleaner on CO2 emissions than battery EVs and investments should support H2 fuel cells instead | Photo:

Brazil: Ethanol industry says blended fuel cars cleaner than EVs, backs H2 fuel cells

The Brazilian ethanol industry came out in support of using gasoline blended with ethanol, saying that it was a more environment-friendly solution than battery electric vehicles. One industry analyst said that while European EVs produced 92 g/km of CO2 — because they are largely charged by power that is derived from fossil fuels — flex fuel IC engines produce 58 grams of CO2/km. The figure is claimed to drop to as low as 29 grams in hybrid vehicles. 

Brazil is the world’s leading producer of ethanol through its sugarcane output, and the industry wants the country to focus on expanding the sales of hybrids instead of battery EVs. It is also placing its bets on hydrogen fuel cells, as the hydrogen needed for the technology can be produced on-board the vehicles by the ethanol itself, which would obviate the need for hydrogen transportation and storage infrastructure.  

Survey reveals 66% of Indians willing to buy EVs

A new survey conducted by car retailing website CarDekho revealed that 66% of Indians are now willing to buy EVs, with 53% of them indicating a strong willingness to do so. The results also showed that 68% of the respondents were concerned about the environmental impact of vehicular emissions. However, 43% were concerned that they would have to frequently recharge their EVs, 20% thought that EVs would not be reliable on long drives and 16% said that the current network of charging stations was inadequate. 

EVs’ share in Delhi’s auto sales grows to 2.2%, overall numbers jump three-fold

After the launch of the Delhi EV policy in August 2020 and on the back of the sales of 2,621 EVs in the past three months, the share of EVs in Delhi’s new vehicle sales has grown sharply, from 0.2% to 2.21%. India’s overall EV sales have also tripled in the past three years, going from 69,012 units in 2017-18 to 167,041 units in 2019-20. This was revealed to the Lok Sabha as part of a written reply, and the expansion of subsidies under FAME-II and the reduction in GST on battery packs and charging infrastructure (from 12% and 18% to 5%, respectively) were cited as the key enablers. The best performer in the country was Hero Electric, whose sales jumped 15% over last year to reach 50,000 units in FY21, and it added 1,500 charging stations across the country to support its customers. 

New breakthrough in structural batteries promises lighter EVs with better range

A group of researchers from Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden) demonstrated 10 times better structural performance from carbon-fibre based EV batteries, and now the batteries have the potential to be essentially used as structural, load-bearing components of the vehicles. This is in contrast to their traditional use as simply blocks that add to an EV’s dead weight. The research has been ongoing since the 2000s but the new breakthrough promises a stiffness of 25 GPa (gigapascals), which is reportedly at par with other vehicle construction materials. It also offers an energy storage capacity of 24 Wh/kg, which although is very low compared to commercially available li-ion batteries at 100-265 Wh/kg, could be an addition to EVs’ on-board battery capacity and thus augment their driving range.

Fossil Fuels

Made by Coal India: Admitting that coal's future looks less than ideal, the Chairman of Coal India Ltd. is steering the miner towards major investments in solar wafer manufacturing instead | Photo:

Coal India to invest aggressively in solar wafer production to hedge against coal’s future

The Chairman of the world’s largest coal miner, Coal India Ltd. (CIL), said that the miner would look to aggressively invest in India’s solar wafer production market in the coming years, with an earmarked budget of ₹60 billion (~USD 830 million) by 2024. At the same time, CIL expects to lose 13,000-14,000 employees every year as it shuts down smaller mines, and the Chairman has remarkably stated that “We’re going to lose business in the next two, three decades. Solar will take over (from) coal slowly as a major energy provider in the coming years”. 

While more details about the loss of business were not made available, the statement is hugely significant as CIL was given a target of mining one billion tonnes of coal a year by 2023-24 to keep coal as a major player in the power sector up to 2050. Yet, the load factors of India’s coal plants have fallen to as low as 50% and the recent spate of coal mine auctions brought only meagre interest

HSBC, Swiss Re and AIA step closer to coal exit

Europe’s largest bank, HSBC, signed a shareholder resolution that would commit it to ending all funding to coal projects and bring it more in line with the Paris Agreement. The resolution is a step forward in the bank’s decision from last year to go net-zero in its operations by 2030, and if passed at its annual meeting on May 28, the bank will have to phase out financing for coal power and thermal coal power in the EU and the OECD markets by 2030 and other regions by 2040. As Europe’s largest coal financier, the decision is a big step forward since in 2019, the bank’s exposure to coal was 3.5 times higher than when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016.

Similarly, insurers Swiss Re and Hong Kong-based AIA Group pledged to stop investing in coal by the end of the decade. Swiss Re is the world’s second largest reinsurer and its decision will stop it from insuring coal projects in the OECD markets by 2030 and the rest of the world by 2040. AIA, on the other hand, released its new environmental, social and governance report, under which it would end its direct shareholding to coal power and coal mining projects (estimated to be to the tune of USD 6 billion) by the end of 2021. The largest pan-Asian insurer will extend the pullout by ending all coal financing and investments by 2028. 

Global methane emissions could rise with new coal mines

A new report by research outfit Global Energy Monitor (GEM) found that the climate impact of the methane emissions from the world’s proposed coal mines could be as bad as that from the CO2 emissions of all of the US’s coal plants. The report analyses the methane emissions from 432 coal mines across the world and predicts that unless addressed, methane emissions from the mines would amount to 13.5 million tonnes (MT) a year — a 30% increase from today. 

This could be a major issue as methane is more potent that CO2 in terms of the greenhouse effect, and the report finds that in the following order, these countries are likely to be the biggest contributors (in CO2 equivalent) over a 20-year horizon: China (572 Mt), Australia (233 Mt), Russia (125 Mt), India (45 Mt), South Africa (34 Mt), the US (28 Mt), and Canada (17 Mt).

However, Democrat lawmakers in the US have proposed a bill that would penalise the country’s oil and gas producers for methane emissions by 2023, with the idea of curbing the emissions by making the cost prohibitively high. 

World’s largest banks funded $3.8 trillion worth of fossil fuel projects since 2016

A scathing new report by a coalition of climate action trackers found that 60 of the world’s largest bankers financed $3.8 trillion worth of fossil fuel projects between 2016 – 2020, despite a number of them voicing their support for the Paris Agreement. The agreement was signed in December 2015, and the Banking on Climate Chaos 2021 report lists the worst offenders as JP Morgan Chase ($51.3 billion in direct financing, $317 billion in lending and underwriting), Citi Group (whose 2020 funding for coal was more than double of its quantum for 2016), and the Bank of America (a prominent financier of Big Oil in the Arctic). Fracking, offshore oil and gas and LNG were amongst the other beneficiaries. 

Together the banks also put in more money into fossil fuels last year than immediately after December 2015. However, JP Morgan Chase’s funding did fall by 20% in 2020, while Wells Fargo’s funding dropped by a sizeable 42% in the same year. On the other hand, France’s BNP Paribas’s financing for fossil fuels grew by 41% in 2020 over 2019 — and by 141% over 2016 — and its peers, such as Crédit Agricole and Société Générale continue to pour billions into established oil drillers like Total and ExxonMobil. This is despite the French government having banned new oil and gas exploration licences in 2017.