Newsletter - March 19, 2019
In yet another example of extreme weather wreaking havoc, at least 84 people were killed in the port city of Beira, Mozambique, after a tropical cyclone destroyed 90% of the area. The storm, which made landfall in Beira on Thursday, moved towards Zimbabwe, where at least 98 people have died and 217 people are missing, according to the government. Malawi has also been badly hit. While Beira’s official death toll stands at 84, BBC quoted Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi as saying that the toll could be as high as 1,000. Social media erupted after watching aerial footage of the devastation, with users asking the world to ‘wake up’ to the global climate crisis.
Meanwhile, flash floods killed at least 73 people in Indonesia’s eastern province of Papua. More than 4,000 people have been rendered homeless with several taking shelter in government offices, the BBC reported. According to locals, torrential rain that began last Saturday evening triggered mudslides and flash floods. Authorities blamed the flash floods on extensive deforestation.
Dramatic Arctic heating now inevitable? Experts differ with UN research
The latest UN climate report has predicted an inevitable warming of the Arctic with a dramatic increase in temperatures in the region by as early as 2050. The sharp rise in temperatures may take place even if the world meets its Paris goals, the research points out. According to the report, the Arctic, mostly covered by permafrost, will face a rise in winter temperatures by 3-5°C by 2050 and by a whopping 5-9°C by 2100. Last year, researchers had warned that Arctic warming could trigger a climate “tipping point” with thawing permafrost, unleashing methane into the atmosphere, “which in turn could create a runaway warming effect”, the Guardian reported.
But according to a Carbon Brief investigation, the UN report wrongly combines the Paris deal’s targets of “well below 2°C” with scenarios that allow far more relaxed emission cuts that end up with 3°C global warming. CB writes: “In climate-model runs using a scenario limiting global warming to below 2°C, the Arctic still warms faster than the rest of the world. But future Arctic winter warming will be around 0.5-5°C by the 2080s compared to 1986-2005 levels, much lower than the 5-9°C values stated in the report. This means that much of the future warming in the Arctic will depend on our emissions over the 21st century, rather than being ‘locked in’, as the report claims.”
Greenland’s massive ice sheet melting in rain, even during winter
The massive ice sheet covering Greenland is melting much faster than it should, as the region is receiving more rain than snowfall, a new study has found. Scientists were “surprised” to see rain falling even during the Arctic winter, when it should ideally be snowing. Researchers warn that if all of Greenland’s massive storage of frozen water melts, it will cause the oceans to rise seven times, threatening the existence of coastal cities.
The scientists found, during the course of the study, the rain spells in winter rose from two to 12 spells by 2012, and on over 300 occasions between 1979-2012, rain melted the ice “when the permanent dark of the polar winter would be expected to keep temperatures well below freezing,” according to the BBC.
Mapped: Climate risk index of 12 Himalayan states
How vulnerable are Himalayan states to climate change? Indian scientists formally launched a vulnerability index, that rates the climate risk the 12 Himalayan states face, down to each district. The index is based on socio-economic and climate factors such as changing cropping patterns, landslides, floods, drying springs and vector-borne diseases in one of the world’s most sensitive climate zones. Assam (0.72) had the the highest vulnerability index, followed by Mizoram (0.71), Jammu & Kashmir (0.62), Manipur (0.59), Meghalaya and West Bengal (both 0.58), Nagaland (0.57), Himachal Pradesh and Tripura (0.51 both), Arunachal Pradesh (0.47) and Uttarakhand (0.45). Scientists said states that have low per capita income, high deforestation, poverty, poor irrigation facilities, very few sources of income other than agriculture compared to other states, are most vulnerable to climate risks, reported DTE.
Extreme heat: After spectacled flying foxes and moths, 127 possums die in Australia
Extreme temperatures have already begun to devastate large swathes of the Australian territory. Recently, over a 100 dead and critically ill ringtailed possums were found on the beaches of Victoria. Badly dehydrated from the heatwave in the region, the possums were forced to descend from the trees and drink salt water. Scientists say climate change and the recent drought in Australia has already wiped out a large number of bogong moth species, leaving the possums to starve. Meanwhile, last November, extreme heatwaves in the far north, mainly Queensland, is estimated to have killed over one-third (23,000) of the species of spectacled flying foxes.
Over 1.4 million young students in over 300 cities across the world took to the streets in the first ever global climate strike on March 15. Galvanised by teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg, the schoolgirl now nominated for a Nobel peace prize, the “Fridays For Future” climate strikes reached a global crescendo on March 15.
In France alone, 1,95,000 schoolchildren gathered in over 110 cities, while 1,50,000 students marched through Montreal’s streets, and thousands others joined in Milan, Mexico, Cape Town. In New York City, children performed a die-in at the UN HQ, and in Australia, they marched against the “Fossil Fools”. Students also gathered in Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Brazil, Iran and Nepal, while New Zealand’s PM supported the teen strike. India’s youth weren’t far behind as students in over 15 cities skipped classes from Allahabad to Hyderabad, in protest. They took to the streets in Shillong, Jamui (Bihar), Kolkata and Mumbai. Over 500 students walked in Delhi, some of them demanding a ban on coal.
Rights group to UN: India’s draft forest policy may harm indigenous people
An international rights group has written to the UN to request the Indian government to drop the draft national forest policy, saying it violates the rights of indigenous people. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), wrote to the United Nations’ Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) saying that once the policy is adopted, the government will abuse the power and will try to bring the forest and the tribes, currently under the control of the gram sabhas, within the ambit of the National Community Forest Management (CFM) Mission. The rights body says it fears the forest will be thrown open to commercialisation and the $15 billion Compensatory Afforestation Fund, assigned for afforestation programmes, will be misused. The campaigners want the government to involve indigenous people in the compensatory afforestation programme.
World Bank chief: US hasn’t interfered in our climate action policies
World Bank’s interim chief Kristalina Georgieva has said that while the US owns the highest number of shares in the World Bank, the country has not tried to interfere in the World Bank’s policies on climate action, reported Financial Times. The interim president said that although the US has decided to quit the Paris Agreement, and her organisation may get a senior Trump government official to lead the institution, the WB will continue to support climate action. “‘The US, as a shareholder, has signed on to our capital increase package, including climate action”, she said.
Should geoengineering be regulated by the UN? No consensus yet
Switzerland had no choice but to withdraw its resolution seeking regulation of geoengineering (using technology to cool down Earth’s temperature) after countries failed to arrive at a consensus at the recent UN meeting in Kenya. The Economist explained the “bitter irony” behind the countries failure to reach a compromise and wrote: “The only reason the world may need geoengineering is that talks about cutting emissions have gone on so long but achieved so little…” Climate Home News quoted sources saying: “…the US and Saudi Arabia opposed any move that could crimp their ability to tackle climate change through geoengineering – and continue producing fossil fuels.”
ICAO agrees to prevent double counting of aviation’s emissions offsets
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has agreed to stop the counting of civil aviation’s carbon emission offsets as part of national targets. This means that emission reduction achieved by countries’ civil aviation sectors will only be considered as contributions over and above the countries’ national targets – which will still have to be met by other measures.
However, while the ICAO is committed to carbon-neutral growth from 2020, modelled projections of sharp expansion in global civil aviation suggest airlines will emit close to 2,000 million tonnes (MT) of CO2 by 2050. The figure amounts to roughly 800 MT for 2020. Airlines will therefore be required to pay for carbon offsets by other industries.
ISA gets French boost, Macron pledges additional 500 million euros
The India-France initiative, International Solar Alliance (ISA), got a financial boost for the weekend. France committed 500 million euros more last Friday. French President Emmanuel Macron also pledged funds to save Africa’s biodiversity by creating a 10-million euros facility. “The best response to climate change is not words, but actions,” Macron said.
The ISA funds tech-based energy transition of the global electricity market from fossil fuel to renewables. The India-France initiative is supported by 121 nations.
World Bank, AfDB commit $47 billion to African climate finance, Solar
The World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB) have together pledged over $47 billion (WB $22.5 billion, AfDB $25 billion) by 2025 to help African countries fight climate change impacts. Africa’s coastal region is most at risk of rising sea levels and dying coral reef, while other countries on the continent are battling frequent droughts, desertification and floods. AfDB said its funds would be mostly dedicated to boost solar power plants.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the market model of bringing energy to all villages in Africa should change its focus to climate. “We must put the fight against global warming and biodiversity at the heart of each investment, business choices, the choices of our countries and our cities.” Macron said.
Dutch introduce corporate CO2 tax over fears of missing climate targets
Companies will have to pay a carbon tax to the Netherlands, as the country fears it may not meet its current targets to cut emissions. The country’s recently adopted plan to cut emissions will cost the Dutch government around 5.2 billion euros ($6 billion) over the next 10 years, but it won’t meet the 49% cut in CO2 emission target by 2030, the top advisory body CPB said. The Netherlands is one of the Europe’s most polluting countries with higher CO2 emissions per capita and a lower use of sustainable energy than almost everywhere in the European Union, Reuters reported.
Rethink methodology to assess forest cover: Panel to India’s environment ministry
An expert committee report released last week has highlighted the ongoing criticism of India’s definition of forest cover. The report, which assessed ways India can develop a ‘strategy to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 and 3 billion tonnes of CO2 from forest and tree cover’, asked the government to rethink its methodology to assess such cover, Hindustan Times reported. It recommended separately mapping out areas under monocultures plantations such as teak, sal, chir, bamboo, tea and coffee, among others, which are currently included under forest cover reported by the Forest Survey of India (FSI).
The latest report echoes last year’s assessment of India’s submission on forest covers by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which recommended plantation areas be segregated from forest cover and be assessed separately for their carbon stocks. An Indian Institute of Science study, in 2014, similarly argued India’s definition of forest cover ‘masked deforestation’ as, it said, about 12.7% of the total forest cover could be plantations or orchards.“Since all such areas also contribute for the carbon sink…and are going to play a very important role in meeting carbon sequestration targets envisaged under India’s nationally determined contributions (under Paris Agreement), a separate and detailed assessment of these landscapes is important for transparent reporting of the forest and tree resources of the country,” the report released last week said.
Chile to host next UN climate summit
UN officials have announced the dates and venue for its next climate summit – COP25. It will be held in the Chilean capital of Santiago from 2-13 December, 2019. The summit was previously scheduled to be held in Brazil, but the incoming Jair Bolsonaro government refused to host. While plenty of climate action is expected, much like predecessor COP24, this year’s summit also marks the first time a woman will oversee negotiations in eight years – Chile’s environment minister Carolina Schmidt, who led the country’s bid to host the summit.
Schmidt, who has previously headed the National Office for Women, has a record of focusing on introducing gender issues into the climate debate.
Submit a plan to bring air quality within the prescribed norms by April 30 or pay a $1,45,000 fine – that’s the order by India’s green court National Green Tribunal to six states of Assam, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Nagaland, which have failed to produce action plans. States whose action plans to improve air quality have been found deficient will have to pay over $36,000 each if they fail to upgrade their plans by April 30. The court said all states have six months to bring the air quality within the prescribed norms from the dates the plans are finalised.
The court also ordered the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to update its list of 102 cities that have poor air quality and include more cities that meet the parameters. CPCB said that of 102 cities, 19 failed to produce an action plan. Non-compliance of the NGT order is a criminal offence under Section 26 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, and in case of non-compliance by governments, head of the concerned department is deemed to be guilty for such an offence, which attracts up to three years jail or fine up to Rs. 10 crores or both.
New study: Air pollution deaths are double previous estimates
A recent study revealed that the number of people dying early because of air pollution is double than what was estimated earlier. Experts say this would mean that more people dying of air pollution than smoking tobacco. The new research says that the air pollution is cutting everyone’s life by more than two years on average. In Europe alone, 8,00,000 people are killed prematurely every year because of polluted air, and damage to health by air pollution in Europe is higher than the global average. The research says killer air damages lungs first and then enters the bloodstream, causing heart ailments and strokes that account for twice as many deaths as respiratory diseases. Researchers also urged to phase out the burning of fossil fuels, the Guardian reported.
Top court to Centre: Vehicles pollute more than firecrackers
While hearing a plea seeking a complete ban on firecrackers, India’s Supreme Court told the government that vehicles seem to be ‘bigger’ polluters than firecrackers. The court said: “You are running after firecrackers, but bigger pollution contribution is perhaps vehicles.” The court asked if there was any comparative study on pollution caused by both. The court added that there are areas where firecrackers can be used and it did not want to leave people jobless. “If the trade is legal and you have the licence for this, then how can you stop this? How can you leave people unemployed?" the bench observed. The firecracker lobby’s lawyer said around 2.5% annual pollution in Delhi NCR is because of the use of crackers for a few days during the festive season. The Centre’s lawyers told the bench that the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) and other agencies were developing "green crackers" that can reduce the emission of pollutants PM 2.5 by 25-30% at least.
Delhi high court seeks report on CNG pollution
The Delhi high court has asked the local government if vehicles running on CNG cause air pollution. The court ordered the AAP government to submit a report within a month, "particularly with reference to pollution, if any, caused by the CNG vehicles and the result of the same". Meanwhile, Union minister Vijay Goel took out a cycle rally to protest against the Delhi government’s failure to control sources of air pollution such as vehicles and industrial pollution, but imposing odd-even scheme on commuters instead. Goel also said: ”Instead of full statehood, pollution should have been the main issue for them because it kills 10,000 people every year in Delhi".
‘Pollution can cause Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s’
Air pollution can cause debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and not just lung and heart failure, reported TOI. The report quoted doctors saying that the inhaled pollutants can enter the bloodstream and attack the brain, which consumes almost 50% of the oxygen we breathe. “This can lead to depression, anxiety, dementia and other neurological diseases,” Dr Manas Ranjan Ray of Chhitranjan National Cancer Institute said. Diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are on the rise due to pollution, said pulmonologist Dr Sameer Arbat.
China’s 2019 World Environment Day theme is air pollution
China plans to host the global World Environment Day celebrations on June 5, 2019 with a theme of air pollution. World Environment Day 2019 will urge governments and industry to adopt renewable energy and green technologies, and clean the air in cities and regions across the world. China will organise celebrations in Hangzhou, in the province of Zhejiang, to host the main event. The announcement came at last week’s UN conference at Nairobi. According to the UN environment site: “According to a new UN report on air pollution in Asia and the Pacific, implementing 25 technology policies could see up to a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide and a 45% reduction in methane emissions globally, leading to a third of a degree Celsius saving of global warming.”
Long-term exposure to toxic air can cause diabetes: Chinese study
According to a recent Chinese study, continued exposure to toxic air increases the risk of diabetes. The study said China has the highest number of diabetic cases in the world, but the link between diabetes and air pollution is hardly reported in developing countries, including China.
Scientists from the US and China assessed the link between long-term exposure to PM 2.5 and diabetes cases based on a sample of over 88,000 Chinese adults between 2004-2015. Results showed that the risk of diabetes increased by 15.7% for an increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of long-term PM 2.5 concentration, Business Standard reported.
India will provide a whopping Rs11,814 ($1.67 billion) crore to support grid-connected rooftop solar in the second phase of the scheme over the next four years. The government aims to achieve a total 40,000 MW of rooftop solar capacity by 2022. ET reported that the Centre aims to add 38,000 MW of capacity with an estimated backing of Rs6,600 crore to achieve 4,000 MW capacity for the residential sector. The report also said the government plans to provide discoms an incentive of Rs4,950 crore ($708 million), apart from Rs66 crore ($9 million) for capacity building and Rs198 crore ($28 million) for service charges.
US Bank: Big solar projects to grow up to 12% for next 2 years
US bank Goldman Sachs has said large-scale solar capacity is expected to grow in the double digits globally in 2019 and 2020. The report said solar power was wiping out the share of fossil fuel from the electricity market as governments and companies are introducing renewable targets. Goldman Sachs said investments by the US, China, Europe and West Asia are going to drive the growth of renewable power. The study expects utility-scale solar to rise by 12% from 2018 to reach to 108 GW in 2019 globally, and increase 10% more in 2020 to 119 GW. Reuters reported that for 2021 and 2022, the bank expected capacity to reach 129 GW and 135 GW respectively.
Cash sops for states to secure land for green power projects
To boost solar power projects, India has announced financial sops for states and eased norms to address issues of shortage of land. States will earn Rs0.02 for every unit of power produced at the solar parks, irrespective of where it is supplied, ET reported.
The move is expected to ease the problem of acquiring private land for wind and solar projects auctioned by the Centre’s Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI). The Centre has been facing issues over land allocation as states, such as Gujarat, were delaying giving up land but continued leasing it for projects auctioned by its own agency, ET reported. The fiscal incentive of Rs0.02 per unit will have to be borne by the developer, who will be allowed to add it to the tariff while bidding at auctions.
Now, large hydropower projects to also get renewable tag, environmentalists see red
India has announced that even large hydro power projects, with a capacity of over 25 MW, will be classified as renewable energy projects, even as experts consider large-scale hydro power harmful to the environment and livelihoods. Earlier, only smaller under 25MW projects enjoyed the renewable tag. The Centre has launched a separate hydro power purchase obligation (HPO) under non-solar renewable power obligation (RPO). The Economic Times reported that the government launched HPO and tariff rationalisation norms to counter the slowdown in addition to new capacities in the hydro power sector since 2017. Research agency ICRA praised the government’s provision of budgetary support for hydro power saying: “We estimate that these measures are likely to reduce the levelized cost of generation for a 100 MW hydro power project by around 35 paise per unit over its useful life.”
Last week, Germany sourced 65% of electricity production from renewables
Germany is already meeting its target of sourcing 65% of its power usage from renewables by 2040. That’s correct, only last week Germany sourced 64.8% of renewable energy, mostly from wind (48.4%), followed by biomass (7.8%), solar (5.1%) and hydro (3.5%). The biggest economy of Europe, leads the global transition to renewables. If Germany’s nuclear power source of nearly 13% is also added, then its zero emission power sources would touch 77.7%, reported Renew Economy. Germany plans to phase out nuclear energy by 2022, and coal by 2038.
India: Commercial buildings may get mandatory minimum AC temperature limit
India released the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP), the first of its kind in the world, with a target to control cooling and energy requirements. If implemented, commercial buildings will have to maintain internal temperature between 24-25° Celsius or whatever is finalised in due course as energy-saving target. ET’s analysis of the plan says, “India’s overall cooling requirement (building sector, transportation and refrigeration) will increase by eight times by 2037-38 with room air conditioners alone consuming more than half of the energy required for space (building sector) cooling in India by that time.”
From April 1 stiff new localisation targets will go into effect for EVs manufactured in India. The targets will mandate that to avail subsidies under FAME-II, 40% of an e-bus’s components must be sourced locally. The figure rises to 50% for all other EVs.
Also, only lithium-ion battery powered buses will be eligible for subsidies – at Rs20,000/kWh for each bus. All other vehicles, including plug-in and strong hybrids (vehicles with large on-board batteries and motors) will receive Rs10,000 per kWh of battery capacity.
The new rules have been mandated to boost domestic EV-ecosystem manufacturing, and include a 15% import duty on EV powertrains from April 2020. Import duties on batteries will also be raised from 5% today to 15% from April 2021. However, this may raise the prices of electric two wheelers, since vehicles meant for private customers are not eligible for subsidies for FAME-II.
Pune suburb launches shared e-scooters pilot to fight air pollution
The upcoming smart city of Pimpri-Chinchwad (a suburb of Pune, Maharashtra) has launched a pilot project on shared e-scooters, with 20 e-scooters provided by Bangalore-based company Leap. The project’s objective is to reduce the city’s air pollution, and 60 additional e-scooters may be introduced if the pilot is successful.
Each scooter runs for 60km on a single charge, and charging points have been set up at the local BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System) station.
VW upgrades target from 15 to 22 million EVs, aims 100% carbon offsets by 2050
Volkswagen has upgraded its 10-year target for EVs and will now aim to build 22 million new EVs, instead of 15 million. Additionally, it has opened up its Modular Electric Toolkit (MEB) platform to other automakers to push for more EV production – particularly for individual mobility.
While still plagued by its diesel scandal, VW has turned its focus around and aims to become the global leader in EV sales. It also aims to go 100% carbon-neutral in all its operations by 2050 – including administration – by drawing more renewable power and offsetting CO2 emissions where possible.
Ireland’s electric car sales shoot up 541%
Ireland has reported a sharp 541% jump in year-on-year EV sales for January – February 2019. This comes despite sales of traditional cars having fallen by 12% for the same period, with one industry editor saying the Irish are increasingly moving away from diesel cars.
India’s government is likely to soon undertake several steps to revive the country’s stressed thermal power plants – such as increasing coal allocation for the power sector and conducting regular coal linkage auctions.
The decision comes very close to the country going into its next general elections, and the Rs31,560 crore ($4.5 billion) bailout package also includes measures such as the bulk purchase of power by nodal agencies and non-cancellation of power-purchase agreements (PPAs) post National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) proceedings.
The Centre has also approved investments for two new 1320MW coal plants – one in Khurja, Uttar Pradesh, and the other in Buxar, Bihar. Both plants are designed to operate on super-critical technology, will involve a total outlay of Rs21,528 crore (approx. $3 billion) and are being supported to address their respective regions’ power deficits. They are expected to go online in 2023-24.
However, IEEFA has already criticised the Khurja plant for its (estimated) Rs5.67/unit power tariff, which it alleges will be uncompetitive when compared to cheaper solar, wind and pumped hydro energy alternatives.
India to expand oil & gas exploration, forego profit-sharing to lure private players
The Indian government has updated its oil and gas exploration policy to expand and fastrack the areas currently under exploration. Private players will now no longer have to share a part of their profits from new basins with the central government, and instead will only have to pay concessional royalties.
However, this will only be applicable if they commence extraction within four years of allocation for shallow and onland blocks, and five years for deep sea sites. Last month, the government had offered 23 new oil, gas and coal-bed methane blocks – spanning 31,000 sqkm – for exploration as it looks to ramp up extraction of these fossil fuels.
Study says coal exit to benefit Germany, country ready to join Powering Past Coal alliance
A new study has assessed that Germany’s 2038 coal phase-out plan will bring economic gains for the country by stimulating investments in energy storage, demand management and energy efficiency enhancements. The report is a joint work by three leading research bodies, including the German Institute for Economic Research.
It also suggests fixed decommissioning dates for Germany’s active coal plants (leading up to 2038) as a better alternative to reducing emissions, than through the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS).
And as a boost to the objective, the country’s environment minister has stated that Germany is now ready to join the Powering Past Coal alliance. The alliance already has 30 member nations – including UK and Canada – and the declaration is a huge step forward, as Germany’s coal plants reportedly have the highest emissions in Europe.