Lockdowns expose India’s elusive baseline air quality levels

Newsletter - July 2, 2021

Lockdowns expose India’s elusive baseline air quality levels

While findings underline an urgent need for a national emissions inventory, progress on the National Clean Air Plan remains low priority

India is warily emerging from lockdowns imposed in several states to tackle the second wave of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. While the virus devastated India’s healthcare, far more than the first wave last year, many researchers studying India’s air pollution scourge see the stark drop in economic and human activity during the lockdowns as a rare chance to explore the background dynamics influencing India’s air pollution patterns.

The total lockdown of 2020 brought down the particulate matter PM 2.5 to safe levels. In 2021 though, even with limited business activity during the partial lockdowns instated in several parts of the country during April and May, PM levels were back to pre-COVID concentrations.

This has triggered several questions among scientists who say India has enough laws but lacks a comprehensive inventory of emissions that could push greater compliance. Some even believe the country should revise its national ambient air quality standards. India permits an annual average of  60 µg/m3 of PM 10 and 40 µg/m3 of PM 2.5— a fairly liberal relaxation over standards issued by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Plotting the change

As a first step to gauging the impact of lockdowns on air quality in Indian cities, researchers compared the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) air quality data for Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai and Kolkata over the three months of March, April and May in 2019–when there was no lockdown–with corresponding levels in 2020 and 2021.

During March, April and May 2021, an analysis of state data by Climate Trends shows pollution remained above permissible limits in the big cities of Lucknow and Delhi. However, except Mumbai, all cities showed a dip in the average PM 2.5 levels during the three months in 2020. Mumbai’s average concentration of PM 2.5 between March to May in 2019 was 21.6 ug/m3, which increased to 31.3 ug/m3 in 2020 and then to 40.3 ug/m3 — charting a doubling of PM2.5 concentration during the period.

The safe limit for PM 2.5 (particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 microns) as prescribed by the CPCB is 40 ug/m3. “Mumbai being a coastal city has a mixed effect of local meteorology and prevalent conditions of large-scale motions, including that of cyclones. While cyclones such as Tauktae act as a washout/cleaning effect on the atmosphere, slow wind conditions, and favourable conditions of long transport of particulate matters from neighbouring states act as accumulation, suggesting marginal increase of the pollutants,” said professor SK Dhaka, Rajdhani College, Delhi University.

On the other hand, India’s national capital Delhi saw average PM 2.5 concentrations drop for the three months by nearly a third from 95.6 ug/m3 in 2019 to 69 ug/m3 in 2020. This reprieve though was short-lived as the concentration bounced right back to 95 ug/m3 in 2021. This decline and surge could be attributed to the Centre’s Ujjwala scheme of distribution of LPG cylinders. Research points out that in 2010, only 45% people living in Delhi’s slums used LPG cylinders and the rest depended on biofuels. In 2018, 96% of Delhi slum dwellers got access to LPG through the  Ujjwala scheme, which significantly brought down the biofuel emissions by 64%. But by 2021, the scheme had fallen into disuse as people could not refill their cylinders without aid and they switched back to burning biofuels. That may be one of the reasons for the rise in PM 2.5 levels in 2021.

Similarly, Kolkata’s PM2.5 concentration swayed from 41.8 ug/m3 in 2019 to 27.9 ug/m3 in 2020 and 37.3 ug/m3 in 2021. While there was a complete lockdown in 2020, the 2021 lockdown saw high movement of people seeking healthcare facilities due to increased COVID-19 cases and the state elections in West Bengal, which took place at the end of April and beginning of May.

Among the four cities studied, UP’s capital Lucknow was the only one that saw PM 2.5 concentrations decrease consistently in the three months since 2019, although it still remained above permissible limits. Its average PM 2.5 concentration in 2019 for the months of March, April and May was 103 ug/m3, which dipped to 92 ug/m3 in 2020 during lockdown and further to 79.6 ug/m3 in 2021.

Researchers say lockdowns during 2020 and 2021 lowered traffic and fossil fuel consumption. Closure of factories also added to cleaner air, but the levels are still relatively higher this year. GC Kisku, chief scientist at the Environmental Toxicology unit of the CSIR-Indian Institute of Toxicology Research said, “The good thing is that there has been a decreasing trend in PM10 levels from 2017 onwards. However, this year, the observed levels of PM 2.5, PM 10, SO2, and NO2 at all locations were found to be relatively higher as compared with monitoring data of the previous year.” 

The CSIR also recently released a report on the assessment of ambient air quality of Lucknow, which showed that the mean levels of PM10 (127.1 μg/m3) and PM2.5 (64.5 μg/m3) at all the monitoring locations of residential, commercial and industrial areas from April-May 2021 were higher than permissible limits.

Gufran Beig, a senior scientist with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), points out that in 2021, PM2.5 levels rose across several cities due to many reasons. Firstly, the lockdown was not complete and small-scale industries were allowed to function. Biofuel emissions, or household emissions, remained high as people cooked burning wood and cow dung. 

In 2020, power demand plummeted, causing steep drops in the operational capacities of several thermal power plants. This, however, was not the case in 2021 during the same period.  

The accidental emergence of baseline level

According to Beig, the drop in economic and human activity during the lockdowns gave an unprecedented view of India’s background air quality. Delhi saw a decline in emission sources of pollutants by nearly 85%–90%, which allowed scientists to offer an experimental estimate of baseline level that they defined as the minimum level reached after lockdown under consistent fair weather conditions of major pollutants, according to Beig.

Scientists said in a megacity like Delhi, where it was virtually impossible to halt all major sources of pollutant emissions in the normal course, the prolonged lockdown provided a unique opportunity to estimate the baseline concentration of various pollutants for the city. 

The baseline level is the level to which the population is chronically exposed and hence greatly relevant to epidemiological research. Some cities may be prone to spikes in pollution levels, but health outcomes heavily depend on chronic exposure.

Permanent concentration of PM2.5: Mumbai more toxic than Delhi

According to research co-authored by Beig and published last year, the maximum share in PM2.5 (41%) and NOx (65%) pre-lockdown was from the transport sectors. The baseline natural levels of the atmosphere for PM2.5 and NO2 are supposed to be permanently present near the surface and remain in equilibrium until a significant external forcing disrupts the equilibrium, and increases or decreases these levels. Scientists have found the level of permanent concentration of PM2.5 to be highest for Mumbai (33± 7 μg/m3) and lowest for Chennai (6 ± 2 μg/m3). The baseline values of NO2 are highest for Delhi (8 ± 3 ppb) and lowest for Kolkata and Chennai (1.7 ± 0.5 ppb).

Interestingly, Beig’s analysis of mortality during the COVID-19 outbreaks revealed that Delhi recorded relatively fewer deaths during the first wave of the pandemic as compared to many cities in India where recorded ambient pollution levels are much lower as compared to Delhi. Analysts said this anomaly could be explained in their findings of baseline concentration.

Although normal ambient pollution level is highest in Delhi (Annual Mean PM2.5 = 100 μg/m3), the baseline level of PM2.5 is much lower in Delhi as compared to Mumbai, Pune, and Ahmedabad. The maximum death count was recorded (at the time of the study in May 2020) in Mumbai where the PM2.5 baseline level is highest (~33 μg/m3). In Delhi, the baseline level is comparatively very low (22μg/m3), as where the death counts (231 around the same period). Delhi’s mortality count is even lower than that of relatively less polluted cities such as Pune or Ahmedabad— a trend that has been traced back to their baseline levels which are higher than that of Delhi (Table 1). 

Scientists postulate there was a significant rise in fatalities among COVID-19 patients with underlying conditions in certain cities because of chronic exposure to baseline air pollution levels rather than averaged ambient air pollution levels for PM2.5. They point out that baseline air pollution levels seriously weaken the immune system. Chronic exposure causes prolonged inflammation, which hyper-activates the innate immune system, making people more vulnerable to infection, illness, and premature death.

According to Dhaka, while the atmosphere was fairly clean in 2020, the condition of 40 ug/m3 prescribed by the CPCB was still not met. “According to a 24-hr baseline emission scenario for Delhi during lockdown, the afternoon levels matched the WHO standards, but because of high humidity early in the morning, the PM 2.5 levels were as high as 100 ug/m3,” Dhaka explains. Particulate matter, after coming in contact with moisture available in the atmosphere, assumes a larger size and concentration. However, since this PM is mostly made up of water it does not make the air dangerous, Dhaka adds. Additionally, dust transportation from Rajasthan in the west can cause fluctuations of up to 50% in PM 2.5 levels. 

Need for a national emissions inventory 

“Household emissions and open fires remain major sources of emissions in north India as they contribute nearly 20-30% more emissions than traffic. In a business-as-usual scenario, pollution is projected to increase and worsen as the population increases. Greater monitoring and reporting has arrested the PM 2.5 trend in the region of Delhi, but in eastern India the trend is increasing,” says Sagnik Dey of Centre of Excellence for Research on Clean Air ( CERCA) at IIT Delhi. 

Most significantly, Dey points out that India does not have a national emission inventory for each sector beyond 2015-16. There’s also no institutional or self-monitoring of emissions of heavy industry as well without which scenario of attaining clean air will remain off limits. To tackle toxic emissions in air, “India also needs inventory for GHG emissions without which it will be hard to identify sources and attain compliance from industry,” he adds.

India’s heavy industry which includes steel, cement and chemicals is yet to have any decarbonisation targets. Experts have opined that while one can cut emissions in power and transport sectors by switching from fossil fuels to renewables it’s not that simple in heavy industry where emissions, termed as process emissions, are generated in the very process of producing cement, steel or chemicals like ammonia.

National Clean Air Plan: An exercise in standing still

Although researchers are gradually finding the missing pieces in India’s air quality equation, there is little to suggest that new findings will find space in India’s air pollution policy any time soon. This much seems clear from the lack of appetite shown at governmental levels to formulate a comprehensive plan of action. According to new analysis from the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), practically no progress has been made at the central or state levels in formulating individual action plans. Additionally, LIFE’s analysis also found that interventions that have been planned at the national and city levels, as a part of the current National Clean Air Policy (NCAP), are seriously flawed in their approach because it does not consider rural air pollution or local pollution sources.

“Our analysis shows that India is yet to have an action plan to clean up the air. NCAP is a national action plan only in name—it covers less than 5% of the cities, leaves out rural areas and does not focus on the state as a whole. Each and every component of NCAP till date has been a failure—whether it is monitoring, city action plan or state action plan,” says eminent environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta, who is also the managing trustee at LIFE.

The NCAP agenda had mandated the preparation of “state action plans for control of air pollution” by the 23 states that have non-attainment cities in coordination with the CPCB and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). However, RTIs filed by LIFE to probe progress in 17 NCAP states found that none had formulated these plans, the deadline for which was 2020.

The analysis also points out the heavy urban bias in data collection in NCAP’s monitoring efforts in addition to the use of outdated manual monitoring stations rather than the more advanced and efficient Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring (CAAQMS) technology. “Manual monitoring systems record data less frequently and have a higher scope of error and delay. Despite the more efficient CAAQMS technology, the government plans to spend a larger sum of allocated money on the outdated manual monitoring operation,” the report goes on to lament.

Climate Science

Unprecedented: As a heatwave grips the Pacific north-west, parts of the US and Canada, which seldom see the mercury edge past 30°C, have recorded temperatures above 45°C | Photo: Reuters

Southwest monsoon progress slow in north India; reservoirs only at 1/3rd capacity

India’s monsoon season is seeing a bit of a lull as its progress across the country continues to be slow. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) stated that while the northern limit of the southwest monsoon continued to pass through parts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, the lack of favourable conditions means it isn’t likely to advance to the remaining parts of the states in the next 6-7 days. The IMD predicted subdued rainfall over northwest, west and central India in the coming days. 

In the first three weeks of June, a majority of the country reported normal and above normal rainfall, according to the IMD. The eight northeastern states, however, reported a rainfall deficit. Arunachal Pradesh was on the top of this list with a 60% rainfall deficit. Other regions to report a rainfall deficit include Lakshadweep, Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch.   

India’s reservoirs are only at a third of their capacity because of the slow progress of the southwest monsoon. While the current overall storage is less than what it was this time last year, it is still better than the 10-year average for the same period, Down To Earth reported. 

Deadly heatwave affects 50 million Americans; UN calls drought “next pandemic”

A “deadly” heatwave is currently underway in the Pacific north-west and affecting nearly 50 million people. The states of California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah have issued heat warnings and advisories. Western Canada also issued similar warnings. Salt Lake City hit a record-breaking 107°F (42°C) only for the second time in the past 147 years. Portland, Oregon recorded its highest temperature ever (46.1°C). The regions are bracing for massive wildfires as a result of the heatwave, which is also exacerbating a historic drought. The heatwave is being called a “heat dome”. This occurs when the hot ocean air is trapped by the atmosphere like a lid or cap. It is triggered because of a strong gradient (change) in ocean temperatures. This gradient causes warm air that is heated by the ocean surface to rise above the water. Prevailing winds move this air towards the land, where it sinks and causes a heatwave. This phenomenon usually lasts a week, according to scientists.   

The United Nations (UN), meanwhile, said droughts are becoming a hidden global crisis and risk becoming the “next pandemic” if urgent steps towards water and land management are not taken. According to a report it published last week, at least 1.5 billion people have been affected by drought in the past century and the economic cost has roughly been $124 billion in that time. The “true cost”, however, is likely to be much higher because the estimates don’t take into account the impact of droughts in developing countries, the report said. 

Europe underreported methane emissions, data reveals

Is Europe underreporting its methane emissions? Campaigners used infrared cameras to discover more than 120 examples of methane leaks from oil and gas firms in seven European countries. US-based think-tank Clean Air Task Force (CATF) gathered the data from Hungary, Germany, Italy, Romania, Czech Republic, Poland and Austria. The data is concerning because methane has a global warming impact that is 84 times higher than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.  

Datasets underestimating deforestation-related emissions in Brazil: Study

Data, including that released by the UN, is most likely underestimating the level of deforestation-related emissions in Brazil, a new study published in Environmental Research Letters found. Apart from studying several data sets of land use in the country, and calculating the emissions from land-use change, the study also introduced remote-sensing data in the research. This helped the researchers to reproduce land-use change patterns more accurately, and increased the upper bound of emissions by nearly 70%.
In a separate study published in the journal Nature, remote sensing data helped researchers conclude that Russian forests sequester substantially more carbon than previously reported. The study found that the amount of carbon sequestered since the late 1980s may be 50% more than what is currently public knowledge. Russia’s forests, therefore, could play a vital role in carbon sequestration as the world continues to lose its tropical forests at the same magnitude, the study concluded.

Climate Policy

In the dock: Kerala’s proposed Silver Line semi-high speed rail project has attracted criticism over the potential ecological damage along its planned route | Photo: The News Minute

Proposed Kerala semi-high speed railway line a threat to environment?

A semi-high speed railway line, which aims to connect the north and south of Kerala, is on environmentalists’ radar for the potential damage it could cause to the biodiversity through which the project cuts across. The Rs63,941-crore Silver Line project is proposed to be built on 1,383 hectares of land. This patch of land includes wetlands, residential areas, forest land, rice fields and backwater areas. Environmentalists said the project could lead to large-scale displacement. They have also pointed out there were no scientific, technical, social and environmental impact studies for the project. 

India, South Africa on climate fund’s radar for $2 billion coal transition pilot scheme

An international climate fund is looking to recruit two to three coal-dependent economies for their pilot project that aims to facilitate the shift to cleaner industries using private finance. The Climate Investment Funds (CIFs) is looking at India, South Africa and Indonesia as potential candidates for the pilot project. The fund was allocated $2 billion this year by G7 countries to help the world become coal-free and limit warming to 1.5°C as part of the Paris Agreement. 

European Parliament gives nod to law that makes GHG emission targets legally binding

The European Parliament approved a law that makes the EU’S greenhouse gas emissions’ targets legally binding. The targets include reducing net EU emissions by 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels and ending net emissions by 2050. According to experts, this law will set the tone and guide climate regulations that the EU will undertake in the coming decades. 

COP26 headed for trouble?

Organisers of the all-imported UN summit, COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November this year, are worried about its success. Their major concern is that governments (especially the rich ones like the G7) haven’t done enough to ensure their key goals are met. Chief among them is the $100 billion a year commitment to ensure developing nations meet their Paris goals. 

Their reluctance to commit to this amount was apparent at the recently held G7 summit, where even though Canada and Germany were willing to raise their contribution towards the $100 billion, Italy could only manage $100 million. Another red flag was the US’ decision to backtrack at the last minute on a G7 pledge to end domestic coal use, even though Japan–which is heavily coal dependent–was willing to agree to it.   

Climate spending scaled down as Biden seeks Republican approval for jobs plan  

In a bid to get Republican approval, US President Joe Biden is having to water down his $2 trillion American jobs plan. Chief among the incentives that got the axe are those related to clean energy and electric vehicles. As a result, Biden’s own Democratic party senators, including Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey and Sheldon Whitehouse, are threatening to protest. The bipartisan package is worth $1.2 trillion of which $579 billion is to be spent on new incentives. According to experts, only $400 trillion of the $579 trillion can be categorised as “green”.    

Meanwhile, US interior secretary Deb Haaland said she does not believe the Biden administration is planning a permanent ban on new oil and gas leases on public lands. A complete ban was one of Biden’s campaign pledges. 

Use of poor scientific evidence major obstacle in climate lawsuits: Study

A study by Oxford University found that recently developed instruments of science could be key to winning climate-related lawsuits. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that poor use of scientific evidence was a major obstacle in climate lawsuits. The study assessed 73 lawsuits across 14 jurisdictions and found a majority of them did not “quantify the extent to which climate change was responsible for the climate-related events causing the impacts affecting plaintiffs, an important line of evidence since not all events occur due to climate change”. 

The study also found 73% of cases did not refer to peer-reviewed evidence, and 26 claimed that weather events occurred due to climate change, without providing any evidence. It cited cases such as as Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp, which was dismissed in the US Court of Appeals, to prove that strong evidence to prove causation was critical in winning such matters. 

Gabon first African country to receive payment for protecting its rainforests

Gabon became the first African country to receive a payment for reducing its carbon emissions by protecting its rainforests. The country was given $17 million–as part of a $150 million deal–by the UN-backed Central African Forest Initiative. The payment comes after Gabon managed to reduce deforestation and lower its carbon emissions between 2016 and 2017. A majority of the country (90%) is made up of forests. These rainforests help Gabon capture more carbon than it emits.

Air Pollution

Turning the screws: Just as a new study found vehicles to be responsible for over a third of Mumbai’s PM2.5 pollution, the Centre announced that it was bringing tougher anti-pollution norms for vehicles within three months | Photo: Indianauto.com

Stringent anti-pollution norms to be announced in 3 months for vehicles

India is set to announce a pollution control policy for vehicles, which will allow the government to suspend the registration of vehicles if the owners fail to comply. The new policy will provide a common pollution under control (PUC) format across the country, linking the PUC database with the national register for vehicles. The law for the first time will also introduce rejection slips to vehicles that fail the emission norms. These slips can be shown at the service centre for getting the vehicle serviced. The law will allow an enforcement officer to direct the vehicle owner to submit the vehicle for conducting the test in any one of the authorised PUC testing stations.

Vehicles contribute 30.5% PM 2.5 pollution to Mumbai’s air: Study 

More than 30% of deadly PM 2.5 pollutants in Mumbai’s air were from vehicles in 2019-20, found a study by SAFAR (System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research). This marked an increase of 16% from the 2016-17 data. Maharashtra’s Economy Survey report for 2020-21 said Mumbai had 10.3% of the state’s registered vehicles. The city’s vehicle density is now over 2,000 vehicles per km. The city has around 40 lakh vehicles with 11.6 lakh private cars and 24 lakh two-wheelers. 

The SAFAR study revealed that industries and the power sector contribute about 18% towards PM2.5 emissions, followed by 15%  from residential cooking in households and slums. Experts pointed out that unlike Delhi, Mumbai has very few CNG vehicles. 

Delhi to move top court and green court to relax vehicle scrapping norms 

The Delhi government will approach the country’s top court to relax vehicle scrapping norms for the National Capital Region (NCR), which automatically deregister 15-year-old petrol and 10-year-old diesel vehicles. The Delhi government feels the norms contradict the Centre’s proposed scrapping policy for other states.   

The Centre permits 15-year-old private vehicles on the road, but with a much higher re-registration fee and a fresh fitness certificate. But the Supreme Court on October 29, 2018, prohibited 15-year-old petrol and 10-year-old diesel vehicles in NCR, and directed the transport department and police to impound such vehicles. This rule applies to Delhi’d cars and bikes.

Green court orders UP govt to check pollution caused by sugar mills across the state

India’s green court, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) finally took note of unchecked air pollution caused by numerous sugar mills across Uttar Pradesh. Following a plea from Shahjahanpur, which complained that ash emissions from sugar mills in the area were damaging the health of students in a nearby school, the green court ordered the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board to conduct a special drive to check the status of air pollution caused by sugar mills across the state and give an action taken report to the NGT panel headed by Justice SVS Rathore, former judge of the Allahabad high court. 

The NGT said that requisite air control devices should be installed by the sugar mills as they cause “huge air pollution … at various locations in the state of UP” beyond the prescribed norms in violation of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.

 Toxic lead banned from vehicles decades ago still hangs in the air: London study

Poisonous lead in the petrol that was banned two decades ago still hangs in London’s air, revealed a study. Scientists said this showed that lead from gasoline is here to stay and it continues to impact the health of people today. 

Toxic lead levels were much lower than at their peak in the 1980s, but they remain much above the natural background levels. Scientists said lead is extremely poisonous and there is no safe amount of exposure. Children are its worst victims as it damages their developing brains and ability to learn, the study said. Lead was introduced in fuel in the 1930s and it deposited on urban surfaces and soils over many decades and is thought to be repeatedly thrown back up into the air by winds, traffic and building works. Their levels are no longer declining, scientists said.


Ramping up: The recent solar manufacturing push by the Indian government could lead to a rapid rise in India’s manufacturing capacity by the end of next year | Photo: Adani Enterprises

India to add 13.75 GW of module and 6.9 GW cell capacity by 2022: Study

A recent JMK study said India may add 13.75 GW of solar modules and 6.9 GW cell capacity by the end of 2022. The study stated that the big players in module manufacturing with 1GW+ capacity such as Waree, Adani, Vikram Solar and Premier Energies alone have proposed a cumulative capacity addition of 9 GW modules and 6.4 GW cells.

The study pointed out that in April 2021, Tata Power Solar expanded its cell manufacturing capacity from 300 MW to 530 MW and module manufacturing from 400 MW to 580 MW. Two months later, in June, Premier Energies expanded module manufacturing from 500 MW to 1.25 GW. The research pointed out that this push in manufacturing and expansion should be seen in the light of a government’s push through the imposition of basic Customs’s duty on solar imports and its scheme of Production Linked Incentives (PLIs) to boost domestic manufacturing. 

India’s oil major Reliance to invest $10 bn in plan to shift to green energy

Reliance Industries will invest $10.1 billion in clean energy over three years in a move to become net carbon zero firm by 2035. Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani said fossil fuels, which powered economic growth globally for nearly three centuries, cannot continue much longer. 

Reliance’s announcement follows similar ones from Royal Dutch Shell and BP that have set a goal to become net zero carbon by 2050 amid pressure from investors and climate activists. Reliance will also build solar capacity of at least 100 GW by 2030, covering over a fifth of India’s target of installing 450 GW by 2030. Ambani said a major part of this will come from rooftop solar and decentralised solar installations in villages.

UP DISCOM told to pay up ₹14.59 billion for unmet renewable purchase obligation

Uttar Pradesh’s regulators ordered the state’s power firm, Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL), to deposit ₹72.45 billion (~$978 million) in the renewable purchase obligation (RPO) Regulatory Fund, including ₹14.59 billion (~$197 million) over failing to meet RPO compliance until the financial year (FY) 2020-21 and ₹57.85 billion (~$780.93 million) against projected RPO requirements for FY 2021-22. The DISCOM is supposed to deposit the amount in 10 equal instalments, which will be used to procure renewable energy, including hydropower.

UPPCL said its failure to meet the backlog of non-solar RPO and hydropower purchase obligation (HPO) was because of a delay in the commissioning of some projects on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden may ban solar imports from China’s Xinjiang region over forced labour issue

The Biden administration may ban solar imports from China’s Xinjiang region over reports that the country is forcing Uyghur Muslims to produce them under detention. Around half the world’s supply of polysilicon comes from Xinjiang. China has been accused of locking up hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uyghur Muslims in what the US State Department has labeled a “genocide”.

The ban, termed as a withhold release order, would allow Customs and Border Protection to seize at US ports any imports it suspects of being made with forced labor. At the recent G7 summit, the US and seven other nations highlighted the issue in a joint communiqué that called on China “to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang”.

Electric Vehicles

The big shift: EVs only account for 3-4% of automotive sales in Canada but they must constitute 100% of all new auto sales in the country by 2035 under a latest ruling | Photo: Globalnews.ca

Canada effectively bans ICE vehicle sales from 2035

The Canadian government advanced the date for the country to only sell fully-electric light-duty vehicles to 2035 (from the previous target of 2040) and the mandatory target may require automakers to switch to producing only EVs. The new ruling — effectively a ban on ICE vehicles — comes as an addition to the federal government’s $600 million budget to subsidise every new EV sold, and the government sees the step as critical to meeting its climate targets. Canadian automakers, however, have questioned the lack of details on how the industry is expected to meet the target, especially in light of the fact that EVs only accounted for 3-4% of all auto sales in the country at present. 

Gujarat releases EV policy to boost sales

The Indian state of Gujarat released its EV policy to boost sales figures throughout the state, and aims to have at least 200,000 EVs plying on the roads by 2025. These will include 70,000 electric three-wheelers and 20,000 electric cars, and the policy mandates that every housing association must furnish a no-objection certificate to allow the installation of charging stations. The state government will also provide a per kW subsidy of Rs10,000, that over the four years of the policy period is expected to cost the government up to Rs8.7 billion ($117 million). 

According to the policy, 528 charging stations will also be set up across the state under the Energy and Petrochemicals Department, and the addition of 200,000 new EVs is expected to eventually curtail 600,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2025. 

India will launch institution to specifically fund EV manufacturers and businesses

The Indian Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways announced that the central government would specifically set up an institution to finance EV businesses across India. The announcement was meant to reflect the government’s high priority in promoting e-mobility solutions in the country and would include incentives for EV manufacturers — the details of which are still awaited — and that solar energy would also soon be employed to charge the vehicles’ battery packs. 

Mercedes-Benz unveils trucks as quiet as air conditioners 

Mercedes-Benz Trucks unveiled its eActros line of ultra-quiet electric trucks that reportedly have an operational sound footprint of a mere 60dB — the same as a running air conditioner. This would make the trucks suitable for night deliveries, presumably within European city limits, that have strict noise restrictions after certain hours. The trucks will also be capable of hauling 40 tonnes of payload and travel for up to 400km on a single charge on their mammoth 420kWh battery packs. Mercedes says the eActros line will go into production in the second half of 2021. 

Fossil Fuels

It's alive: The Carmichael mine will start exporting coal to India later this year after operators struck the coal seam for the first time, even as protests against its existence continues | Photo: Wikipedia/Cameron Laird

Adani’s Carmichael mine strikes coal, will export to India starting this year

The controversial Carmichael coal mine in Australia struck coal last week, and it will start exporting the fuel to India (amongst other markets) later this year. The mine is owned by the Adani Group and was strongly opposed by climate activists for its perceived impact on the local ecosystem. However, it has secured contracts for 10 million tonnes in annual exports, and will employ 2,600 workers in the outbacks of Queensland. Yet, the original investment of AUD 16.5 billion planned for the project was scaled to AUD 2 billion as several international financiers eventually refused to fund its operations. 

The Adani Group has repeatedly justified the mine’s operations by saying that it would provide cheap, high quality coal to India’s thermal power plants while generating jobs in Australia. Another report suggests that the coal may also be used to power a coal-to-PVC (plastics) plant in Gujarat, which may have its own environmental implications. 

Volvo to use steel manufactured using hydrogen for its cars by 2026 

Swedish carmaker Volvo announced it would use steel that was manufactured using green hydrogen (instead of fossil fuels) in its cars by 2026 to slash its products’ carbon footprint. The carmaker is already committed to only manufacturing 100% electric cars by 2030, and the new move would address the fact that steel, which is one of the most commonly used structural materials in modern cars, accounts for around 35% of the automobile manufacturing process’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

A test car will be produced using hydrogen (that itself would be produced using renewable energy) by 2025, and Volvo’s plants in Sweden would be prime candidates for the transition away from traditional steel as they would have access to plentiful hydro power. 

Maersk says “transition fossil fuels simply not relevant”, to explore methanol as shipping fuel

Shipping giant Maersk said the world’s so-called transition fossil fuels were “simply not relevant” to decarbonising the sector, and that it would instead explore the cleaner alternatives of methanol and ammonia to power large shipping containers. Maersk’s CEO insisted that the world adopt a “crisis mindset” when it comes to lowering the carbon footprint of commercial shipping—it accounts for roughly 2.2% of global emissions every year—and that massive quantities of methanol produced from biomass gasification eventually mixed with ammonia would need to be produced as a replacement fuel. 

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO)—the governing body of global shipping—meanwhile, adopted fresh new energy efficiency measures to lower container ships’ fuel consumption. However, critics of the IMO labelled the new targets as simply “cosmetic measures”. 

BP to drill for natural gas close to world’s largest cold-water coral reefs

British Petroleum (BP)’s first phase of drilling for natural gas off of western Africa was approved, which would allow it to attempt to drill 2.7km below the sea level and extract nearly 40 trillion cubic feet of natural gas through 2050. However, any leaks from the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim project could severely endanger the local cold-water coral reefs and the millions of birds that use the east Atlantic flyway to migrate to and from the Arctic. 

Burning all of the gas extracted could also release an estimated 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2 annually — more than the entire annual emissions of Africa — and eat up up to 1% of the remaining global carbon budget. On the other hand, a Nairobi-based climate think-tank stated that the project would be essential to the continent’s “water security, food security and public health”.