October 2023 | An illusion of normalcy

Photo: @trishakticorps/twitter

From extreme precipitation to severe deficits—a look at the district-wise distribution of rainfall through June to September offers a glimpse of how distorted the picture of “normalcy” really is. Read more

To talk about economic loss due to flooding in the country, it is estimated to be around $3 million per year for the past few decades. Photo: @trishakticorps/twitter

Swinging in the rain: India needs to redefine what a “normal” monsoon looks like

From extreme precipitation to severe deficits—a look at the district-wise distribution of rainfall through June to September offers a glimpse of how distorted the picture of “normalcy” really is

The monsoon officially retreated from the Indian subcontinent last week. The outro saw torrential rains sweep Kerala and the Malabar coast as the Southwestern Monsoon withdrew from India after 130 days. Over this time, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the season was all over the place, punctuated heavily by extremes right up to the tail end of the season. 

The monsoon delivered 94% of the rainfall considered to be the Long Period Average (LPA) during the conventional monsoon season that spans June to September. The IMD’s end of season report declares the monsoon “normal”, with the core monsoon zone, featuring most rainfed agriculture regions of the country, registering 101% of the LPA rainfall. At the end of the four months, 73% of the country’s area was deemed to have received normal rains, 18% saw deficient rains and 9% of the country registered excess rainfall.

The overall normalcy projected by the IMD’s assessment of the season, however, rings dissonant with the stream of headlines that swung through the season between apocalyptic rainfall and crippling deficits. 

Devil is in the details

Cracks start appearing on the façade of normalcy as soon as one starts looking at how rainfall was distributed throughout the season. A sluggish start in June was followed by a tempestuous July. An el Nino building up in the Pacific brought the monsoon to a standstill with rainfall in the critical month of August plunging to 36% below average. Drought was ultimately averted as rains returned in September owing to favourable conditions in the Indian Ocean in September. 

An analysis of the daily district rainfall sheets from June up to the last week of September suggests barely any sense of normalcy in the distribution of rainfall. About 6% of the 81,852 district rain days during the four months of monsoon analysed by CarbonCopy and Climate Trends registered normal rainfall. By comparison, over 60% of the district-wise daily rainfall data showed large deficits (deficits of over 60%) or no rain. It is understood that normal rainfall data has been averaged out over several years and cannot be expected to indicate the consistency of rainfall, but the relatively miniscule number of “normal” rainfall days experienced by India’s 718 districts does reflect a reality of being swung between extremes. August was unsurprisingly the worst performing month, with over 76% of the district rain days registering large deficits or no rain. The week-by-week rainfall performance assessment of India’s 36 meteorological sub-stations over the 17 weeks of the monsoon reveals that almost half of all weekly observations show rainfall deficits of at least 20%. 

Swinging between extremes

Analysis of daily district-level rainfall through the four-month season reveals the volatile nature of “normalcy” – over 60% of the district-level daily rainfall observations registered Large Deficits or No Rain while almost 20% of  the observations showed Large Excesses | Data: IMD Daily observations; Original analysis: CarbonCopy/Climate Trends

If almost two-thirds of the district rainfall days either registered large deficits or no rain, it begs the question of how seasonal normalcy has come about. The answer of course lies in the spells of excessive rainfall, particularly in July, and a generous peppering of very heavy and extreme rain events. Despite ending the season with just 94% of the LPA rainfall, the country saw the second-highest number of heavy rain events (over 115.6mm rainfall received) in the past five years. In 2019, when the country saw 3,056 heavy rain events, about 10% higher than this year’s 2,742 events, seasonal rainfall recorded was 110% of the LPA. While almost half of all heavy rain events this year came in the month of July, June saw the highest number by far in the past five years despite registering a substantial shortfall in rainfall over the country.

Interestingly, these excesses came overwhelmingly from Western and Central India, conventionally considered among the drier parts of the country—specifically the West Rajasthan, Saurashtra-Kutch and Western Madhya Pradesh meteorological subdivisions. These regions are also prominently dotted in the mapped distribution of heavy rain events. 

Wet plot

This year saw unusual concentration of extreme rain in conventionally dry pockets of country and the lower Himalayan region | Source: IMD 2023 Southwest Monsoon End of Season Report 

On the other hand, regions like Kerala, Gangetic West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, and northeastern states, which are usually top contributors during the season, remained dry due to deficient rainfall. During the four-month span, Kerala was not able to cover the rainfall deficiency. As a result, the state ended with a high rainfall deficiency of 36%, wherein out of 15 districts, 11 were in a rain deficit, and only four stations managed to see normal rains, albeit on the negative side.

In Bihar, 21 districts out of 38 districts reported deficit rainfall, while 17 had managed to be in the ‘normal’ category, but on the negative side. Meanwhile, heterogeneous regions of East and Northeast India underperformed this Monsoon, accruing an overall deficiency of 18% rainfall. The region has recorded negative rainfall nine out of the past 10 years. This can also be seen as a deviation from the norm, which suggests better performance in the region when El Nino suppresses rainfall over the rest of the country.

The strong build up of temperatures in the Pacific was enough to instigate a prolonged collapse of monsoon distribution. Closer to home, however, anomalous heating observed in the Arabian Sea effectively contributed to the shifting of the monsoon trough away from the Western coast and Northeast India and towards Northwestern and Central India—a clear indication of the imprints of global warming, which are also firmly in line with projections of a wetter future for Central India under a warming planet. The distribution of this year’s monsoon, a clear deviation from the established convention, is a stark reflection of how warming is compounding already complex interconnections that regulate monsoon winds.

The growing impact of extreme rainfall events

The challenge posed to conventional tropical meteorology by climate change is substantial in itself. The true extent of what it entails, however, is apparent in the multitude of systemic inadequacies in coping with this challenge.

With every passing year, the growing impact of extreme rain events in India becomes more and more apparent. This year was no exception. Two weeks ago, the South Lhonak glacial lake in the upper reaches of Sikkim, burst its banks following a cloudburst in the area. Bodies are still being discovered as the death toll hit 40, with more than 70 still missing. Devastating rains in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, overflowing Yamuna and submerged Capital, “flood-like situation” in multiple districts of arid Rajasthan, submerged Ujjain temples and ghats in Madhya Pradesh, and so on. 

To talk about economic loss due to flooding in the country, it is estimated to be around $3 million per year for the past few decades. Also, in the previous 50 years, about $60 billion loss was solely due to regional floods, out of $99 billion lost from extreme weather events such as floods, tropical cyclones, heat waves, cold waves, lightning, etc.

After the heavy rains, floods, and landslides wrecked Himachal Pradesh, the state assembly has passed a resolution demanding ₹12,000 crore from the Centre for reconstruction work. Record-shattering rainfall in northern parts of the country not only shed light on the increasing intensifying weather extremes, but also on lack of preparedness to deal with them and the ineffectuality of redressal mechanisms.

“Traditionally, people were not building houses on riverbeds, but only on the ridges where foundation is more stable. If you construct everywhere and cut trees, then the kinetic energy of the rain is strong enough to destabilise the topsoil. The areas that were absorbing water have decreased because of the construction activities and, therefore, the runoff has increased a lot,” explained Manoj Pande, program director, SIUD & I/C Urban Development Cell,CGG Dr RS Tolia Uttarakhand Academy of Administration, Nainital. 

According to Pandey, apart from evaluating the carrying capacity of these regions, it is vital how water is drained from these hilly areas. Seeped in water and underground water channels might also disturb the underground structure, which probably has happened in Joshimath, Pandey added. According to a post-disaster needs assessment carried out by government authorities, the absence of a building permission system surfaced as one of the main causes of the substantial damage to homes in the subsidence-hit area of Joshimath in Uttarakhand. The report is also urging the government to declare Joshimath as a “no construction zone.”

“For any hilly area, it is important to draw out the water, which falls on the surface through storm water drains. But because of the rampant construction, the previously designed stormwater drains have to be looked into and revisited,” added Pandey. 

Ill-planned development models compromise the existing basics of disaster management. Stormwater drains in Himachal and even in New Delhi are poorly maintained, covered to increase space for traffic and are being used to carry sewage and waste instead. Parts of the Capital were submerged for days as Yamuna crossed its danger mark and flood-like situation prevailed in the city. A couple of months ago, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered the formation of a joint panel to look into the matter of sewage being released into stormwater drains in the city. The Bombay High Court has also ordered using best possible technology to rehabilitate 100 years old storm water arch drains in Mumbai as the city struggles every monsoon.

However, for Rajasthan, a conventionally dry state, sudden extreme rain events can catch those regions off guard where such rain is not a norm. For example, extreme rains in Rajasthan earlier in June this year as cyclone Biparjoy moved across the state after making a landfall in Gujarat led to water-logging, resulting in five deaths and requiring rescue operations by the army. 

The following month in July, in many places of eastern and central Rajasthan, heavy monsoon rains put a stop to daily activity by flooding highways, rail tracks, low-lying residential areas, and even hospitals. About a week ago, it was Rajasthan’s neighbouring state Madhya Pradesh that witnessed extreme rain in several parts. 

Extreme rainfall events in central India ie in states like Madhya Pradesh are increasing. A 2017 study found that extreme rain events over central India have tripled over 65 years, with an ongoing upward trend. “In MP, among the many practices, embankments or retaining walls made to protect the house against the natural terrain, often result in disaster for the city. Also, there is a lack of standardised regulations for plinth level and percentage of open green space inside the plot. The heavy precipitation water needs to flow naturally into permeable surfaces or drain out of the city naturally using natural slopes. The city planning needs to be respectful of the physical features, terrain , soil etc, defining climate sensitive urban morphology that allows natural water flows. It is high time that Madhya Pradesh planning regulations addressed this issue, considering its unique character,” said Dr Surabhi Mehrotra, assistant professor, Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology(NIT), Bhopal. 

Among the mortality from all other extreme weather events, floods alone contribute 46.1% of the mortality in India. 

Schematic representation of the distribution of mortality from various extreme weather events in different states of India during 1970–2019. The size of the circle represents the average mortality of each state. Source

Impact on agricultural practices

In a country where rain-fed agriculture employs approximately 67% of the net sown area, supplying 44% of the food grains, extreme rain events are not only threatening sowing practices across the country, but also food security.

On July 10, IMD and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) issued a National Agromet Advisory Services Bulletin warning multiple states to postpone planting kharif crops. Forecasting above normal rains in Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, among other states farmers were advised to postpone irrigation in summer crops and all types of chemical spraying in the fields. They were also advised to drain out excess water from the groundnut and green gram crop fields in Rajasthan. In Punjab, removing excess water from maize fields was recommended, as standing water can have a detrimental impact on maize crops, leading to the development of stalk rot. While in Uttar Pradesh, farmers were told to drain excess rain water from the rice nursery and sow short duration rice varieties, along with postponing the sowing of kharif maize. 

It should be noted that India banned export of non-basmati white rice on July 20, citing concerns regarding domestic supply. Talking of restrictions, the government on August 19 imposed a 40% duty on the export of onions until the end of the year to infuse stocks into the market to stabilise prices and mitigate the demand-supply mismatch. The reasons for this could be traced back to February, when higher-than-normal temperatures were observed, followed by unseasonal rainfall between late March and early-April. This affected the growth cycle of the onion crop. 

On the other hand, the lack of usual rainfall and a patchy monsoon led to the government extending free import of two pulses, tur and urad, till March 2024. Domestically, the Centre imposed stock limits on these two pulses to control prices earlier in June due to the foreseeable El Nino weather pattern. India also banned wheat export last year after a record-breaking heatwave resulting in reduced production of wheat domestically. Recently, the country has also extended the restriction on the export of all varieties of sugar beyond October 31. This is because the top regions that together account for more than half of India’s total sugar output in Karnataka and Maharashtra received about 50% below average rainfall this year.

Data from 70% of the country indicates drought, but governments won’t declare 

According to the Centre’s Manual for Drought Management, October is the best time to declare drought as the monsoon is over by this month and figures for total rainfall are available in this month. Similarly, a final picture regarding the crop conditions as well as the reservoir storage is available by the end of October. It provides adequate time for the central team to visit the State and assess the crop losses.  

Despite an active monsoon in September, Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI) data released by India Meteorological Department (IMD) for the period from June 1, 2023 to October 4, 2023 shows meteorological drought conditions, ranging from mildly dry to extremely dry, prevailing in 460 of India’s 718 districts covering nearly 60% of the country. Experts say high temperatures as well as poor spatial distribution of rains coupled with prolonged breaks in August may be responsible for the ubiquitous drought conditions.  

The plight of farmers in Odisha exemplifies how the wonky distribution was absorbed on the ground. Because of rain deficits in July and August, paddy crops failed and farmers of Odisha’s Nuapada district were forced to migrate to Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for work six months earlier than their usual migration in December to pay back their debts. In July, Nuapada received 14% deficit rains, while Khariar and Sinapali blocks saw a prolonged dry spell of 25 days as they registered a deficit of 35%.

The Karnataka government weeks ago declared 195 taluks in the state as drought-hit, owing to weak monsoon. Among them, it announced that 161 taluks have been declared as severely drought-hit and 34 taluks as moderately drought-hit. 

District-wise drought forecast and categorisation 

The countrywide forecast map released by IIT Gandhinagar’s India Drought Monitor in September categorised districts under extreme stages of drought. 

Drought country

The Standardised Precipitation Index for the monsoon period and prevailing drought condition in India on October 25, 2023. Source: https://www.imdpune.gov.in/caui/dru-spi/seasonal_SPI_current/indexact.htmlArea Under Drought | India Drought Monitor

The drought map is based on data of Standardised Precipitation Index, Standardised Runoff Index and Standardised Soil Mixture index. Kerala recorded 48% rainfall deficit, with Idukki district at 62% deficit. Deficit in violence-hit Manipur is at 46%, with two districts at 81-84% deficit and some districts in Uttar Pradesh are running at 60-70% deficit, pointed out climate scientist Roxy Koll. The deficits in monsoon are clearly evident in the concerning levels of water storage reported from Southern India and UP, where current water levels in reservoirs are respectively 33% and 29% below their corresponding 10-year averages.

Drought relief fund: New norms make govt funds impossible to access? 

Analysts say prior to 2016, today’s rain deficit would have been considered a country-wide drought. Before 2016, the government followed the 2009 Manual of Drought Management, which allowed declaration of drought based on crop sown area (if the area sown was under 50% ). In 2016, the Centre revised the manual that made the process to declare a drought in a state cumbersome. 

If an unirrigated crop fails due to rain deficiency, consider the Ground Truthing (GT)/verification a farmer must pass to get the Centre/state to declare drought and release compensation. According to the manual, the GT needs to be conducted in each of the 10% of the drought affected villages, selected on a random basis. In each of these villages, about five sites for each of the major crops may be inspected using a smartphone based App. The GPS of the site and the photo of the crop is collected as data for post-facto analysis.

The manual further clarifies that the intensity of the drought will be contingent upon the values of at least three out of four Impact Indicators. First is meteorological data, which includes indices such as rainfall deficit. Secondly, hydrological data, which includes water level in reservoirs / ponds/ river flow, groundwater level, evaporation. The third indicator is agriculture, which includes soil moisture, area under sowing and type of crop, crop yield. Lastly, remote sensing, which includes vegetation monitoring, rainfall, surface wetness and temperature monitoring. 

Under the changed manual, the Centre contributes to the state relief fund only if drought is categorised as ‘severe’ and meets at least three impact indicators. Drought of ‘moderate’ category is allowed financial assistance from state funds. A crop loss of 33% or more will qualify for the declaration of drought. For the drought to qualify as ‘severe’, the crop loss should exceed 50%. 

The many avoidable levels of a deadly drought 

Deficient rain only triggers a meteorological drought, which is measured on the basis of dryness and precipitation shortage. If the shortage of rain is not handled through a robust policy of rainwater harvesting and groundwater banking, the situation turns into a hydrological drought, which is a result of below-average surface and subsurface flow for a longer time duration that accelerates inadequate water supply. When the sources of surface water dry up, the third stage of drought, which is categorised as agricultural drought, occurs due to low soil water availability to support agricultural growth. The fourth stage is  socio-economic drought, which leads to migration, loss of food and jobs, and hunger. 

Scientists recently have proposed another category of “ecological drought”, which is described as an extended and widespread shortage of water availability in ecosystems, leading to ecological stresses. In addition, a novel drought type called “flash drought” has been introduced into scientific research. Which is a subdivision of all droughts that is distinguished solely based on its rapid rate of intensification due to abnormal evapotranspiration. 

Agricultural drought to social-economic drought

The water shortage is a grave concern. Researchers say that with population, the annual demand for food will exceed 250 million tonnes and demand for grain will increase to 375 million tonnes (including grain for cattle) by 2050. The per capita consumption of cereals will decrease by 9%, 47% and 60%, (rice, coarse cereals, maize) and that of sugar, fruits and vegetables will increase by 32%, 65% and 78%, respectively, by 2050, requiring more water. Demand for water for livestock will rise from 2.3 billion cubic meters (BCM) in 2000 to 2.8 BCM in 2025 and 3.2 BCM in 2050, states a government report.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) analysis says drought has become frequent and severe since 1965 and increased “remarkably” in northeast and central India predominantly impacting crop production. The loss of crops results in loss of food and income of a family and that of the country as well. The social and economic loss of drought is more severe than the physical loss by droughts in India, researchers say. 

Descending into madness

Like many monsoons from recent years, the 2023 season serves as a stark reminder that India’s hydro-climatology is not insulated from larger warming trends being observed around the world. Far from it, evidence suggests that it is highly sensitive to changes in local, regional and global climate indices. At this point in the climate change saga, ‘the new normal’ has become a cliche. Yet the clear challenges to convention—not just in tropical meteorology, but also in city and town planning, damage assessment and response to increasingly frequent extreme weather, have gone unanswered in any meaningful way. 

India’s inadequacies in dealing with an erratic monsoon (and erratic weather in general) will not vapourise by ignoring them. And still, the country continues seemingly unconcerned by the monumental questions it must confront in order to effectively tackle the dire implications of climate change. With climate change forcing ‘new normals’ on the conditions we operate under, it would seem that the only salvation from the prevailing lunacy is a systemic overhaul.

Based on the observed data from the monitoring system installed next year, plans are to develop and install a more comprehensive early warning system.

India to roll out monitoring system for high-risk glacial lakes next year; doubles down on Himalayan hydropower

Weeks after the devastating flash floods in Sikkim due to the bursting of a glacial lake, the first concrete measures to address the risks of such lakes may be imminent. According to reporting by Reuters, India will install the first batch of monitoring systems at some high-risk glacial lakes in the Himalayas next year. as the country responds to deadly floods this month that killed at least 60 people. State governments are to provide inputs for prioritisation among the 56 at-risk glacial lakes identified thus far in India. Based on the observed data from the monitoring system installed next year, plans are to develop and install a more comprehensive early warning system.

Despite the clear dangers, as evidenced in Sikkim this month and in Uttarakhand last year, there seems to be little change in the official stance regarding high-altitude hydropower. In a suo-moto case, the NGT issued notices to the Sikkim Government, the Sikkim Urja Limited and the NHPC on a hearing on the breach of the Chungthang dam which led to the recent devastating flash floods in the Himalayan state. India, however, said it will not rethink its hydel expansion – despite the mess created by Teesta 3.

Ice melt in Antarctica locked in, regardless of emission reduction efforts, suggests study

Alarm bells are ringing on the state of polar ice sheets. The ice cover over Antarctica shrunk to its lowest maximum winter extent ever recorded in September, in the midst of the Antarctic winter. The melt in Antarctica, according to scientists, is a decades-long response to global warming. Compounding matters, a new study this week claimed that ice melt from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is unavoidable in spite of emission reduction efforts. According to the authors, the ice sheet, which is Antarctica’s biggest contributor to global sea level rise, will continue to see rapid ice loss over the rest of this century as ocean warming rates in the Southern Ocean remain high.

Billions at risk of heat and humidity exposure beyond human levels: Report

According to a new study, if global temperatures increase by 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the 2.2 billion residents of Pakistan and India’s Indus river valley, the one billion people living in eastern China and the 800 million residents of sub-Saharan Africa will annually experience many hours of heat that surpass human tolerance. The study also said if global temperatures increase by 1°C or more than current levels, each year billions of people will be exposed to heat and humidity so extreme they will be unable to naturally cool themselves, 

The researcher team modelled global temperature increases ranging between 1.5°C and 4°C — considered the worst-case scenario where warming would begin to accelerate — to identify areas of the planet where warming would lead to heat and humidity levels that exceed human limits. Humans can only withstand certain combinations of heat and humidity before their bodies begin to experience heat-related health problems, such as heat stroke or heart attack. As climate change pushes temperatures higher around the world, billions of people could be pushed beyond these limits. 

“Spinning out of balance”: WMO warns of disruptions in the global water cycle

The WMO released its State of Global Water Resources 2022 report this past fortnight. The meteorological agency pulled no punches in calling out an alarming situation. The hydrological cycle, it says, is “spinning out of balance” due to human activities and climate change. An “increasingly erratic” water cycle, it adds, is likely to drive new patters of extreme flooding and droughts around the world, the WMO has warned.

“Glaciers and ice cover are retreating before our eyes. Rising temperatures have accelerated – and also disrupted – the water cycle. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. We are seeing much heavier precipitation episodes and flooding. And at the opposite extreme, more evaporation, dry soils and more intense droughts,”

Lightning deaths in India on a steep rise, 34.24% increase in strikes: Data

There has been a 34.24 % increase in the overall count of lightning strikes across the country between 2021-2022 and 2022-23, according to a new report by Climate Resilient Observing-Systems Promotion Council (CROPC). Cloud to ground lightning has recorded an increase of 23.46%, and Madhya Pradesh recorded the highest cloud to ground lightning strikes followed by Maharashtra, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, accounted for over 60% of India’s lightning-related deaths between 2001-21.

Drought, unusual heat and wildfires turn Amazonian capital into climate dystopia 

Amazon basin is reeling under extreme drought and unusually dry season, reports the Guardian adding that there have been so many fires burning in the surrounding forest that air-quality monitors last week registered 387 micrograms of pollution a cubic metre, compared with 122 in Brazil’s economic capital of São Paulo. The drought and fires have turned the Amazonian capital of Manaus into a “climate dystopia”, with the second worst air quality in the world and rivers at the lowest levels in 121 years, reports the Guardian. The impact is worsened by El Niño and human-caused climate change, threatening the city’s 1 million residents and the survival prospects of the entire Amazon basin, the article continues. 

Over 100 dolphins died a month ago in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest and many more could perish if water temperatures remain high, AP reported. By the end of 2023 around 500,000 people will be affected as essential supplies such as food and water get out of reach because the principal means of transportation in the region is waterways, and river levels are historically low. In late September, 55 of 62 municipalities entered states of emergency due to the severe drought.

Summer of 2023 recorded as the ‘hottest’ summer of all time

The El Niño phenomenon fuelled by human-induced global warming drove extreme weather events around the world in 2023. The northern hemisphere recorded the hottest summer (June to August) where the global average temperature reached 16.77C, which was 0.66C above the 1991 to 2020 average. The new high is 0.29C above the previous record set in 2019. August was about 1.5C warmer than the preindustrial average for 1850 to 1900.

A month before COP28, nations far apart on the implementation of Loss and Damage fund

The UN climate negotiations are only a month from now, and still, countries are struggling to come to a consensus on how to design the crucial Loss and Damage fund. The fund, which was agreed upon at last year’s COP, will help poorer nations ravaged by climate-related events to rebuild and recover their economies. 

But when the committee—comprising 24 countries—which has been assigned the task to design the fund, met recently in Egypt, there was no consensus on the entity that will oversee the fund, who the funders would be, and which countries would receive the funding. The committee was tasked with coming up with a list of recommendations on how the fund can be implemented. The committee has agreed to meet one more time in the first week of November to attempt to iron out the differences ahead of COP28. 

Climate-aligned MDB reform agenda inches forward at WB-IMF board meetings

The keenly awaited board meetings of the World Bank and IMF concluded this past fortnight in Marrakesh, Morocco. Despite the hopes pinned on the meeting to deliver meaningful and concrete progress on the need for reforms to better align international financial architecture with the costs of climate change and climate action, the meetings only delivered incremental progress. Significantly, however, the WB has now expanded its mission to include climate change and has taken the first steps in freeing up additional finance and making loans for clean energy infrastructure less expensive.

India to fix carbon emission reduction targets for 4 fossil fuel-reliant sectors

India will set carbon emissions reduction targets for four sectors—petrochemicals, iron and steel, cement and pulp and paper, for three years, Reuters reported. These sectors are heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Companies in these sectors will also likely be the first to trade under the country’s carbon trading market, which starts in 2025. The market will allow the companies to buy and sell carbon credits in order to reach their green targets. Firms that surpass their targets will be given carbon credits that can be sold to other companies that may have failed to meet their targets.

Bank of China lists first batch of ‘belt and road’ green bonds, initiative loans $687bn over a decade

The Bank of China, a Chinese majority state-owned commercial bank, has listed its first batch of green bonds linked to the belt and road initiative (BRI) on the Nasdaq Dubai exchange, according to the People’s Daily report translated by Carbon Brief. The report adds that the total value of the bonds listed reached $770m and will be used for green projects in BRI host countries.

Chinese financial institutions “extended more than 5tn yuan ($687bn) in loans” as of the end of 2022 to support “belt and road initiative” (BRI) projects over the past decade, Chinese business and economy newspaper Caixin reports China’s national administration of financial regulation as announcing. Meanwhile, at an international summit on the global infrastructure initiative, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced that China’s policy banks will “each set up a 350bn yuan (US$47.8bn) financing window” to fund “small but beautiful” projects, reports Hong-Kong based South China Morning Post (SCMP).

COP28 Prez seeks plans to cut 22 gigatons of greenhouse emissions by 2030 

Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the president-designate of COP28, has sent a detailed plan for the summit to delegates. 

In the letter, sent to the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Al-Jaber asked the 198 member countries to plan to cut 22 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions over the next seven years, in order to keep global warming at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, reports The HT.

The summit president asked parties to join the COP28 pledge to triple renewable capacity globally (to reach 11TW by 2030) and double the annual average global rate of energy-efficiency improvements between now and 2030 (to reach 4%). He also urged them to come to COP28, which will be held from November 20 to December 12, in the United Arab Emirates, with “tangible commitments” to realise this goal, The HT adds.

EU launches first phase of world’s first carbon border tariff

The European Union launched the first phase of the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), the world’s first system to impose CO2 emissions tariffs on imported steel, cement and other goods as the bloc  attempts to prevent foreign products from “undermining its green transition,” reports Reuters. China’s top climate envoy Xie Zhenhua has urged countries not to resort to unilateral measures such as the EU levy. The bloc will not begin collecting any CO2 emission charges at the border until 2026. Sunday, however, marks the start of an initial phase of the CBAM when EU importers will have to report the greenhouse gas emissions embedded during the production of imported volumes of iron and steel, aluminium, cement, electricity, fertilisers and hydrogen. Importers will from 2026 need to purchase certificates to cover these CO2 emissions to put foreign producers on a level footing with EU industries that must buy permits from the EU carbon market when they pollute, Reuters report stated.

With the taxes looming, India is negotiating with the EU for an approach that recognises Indian emission reduction certificates and where taxes on exports can be collected within India rather than upon reaching the EU.

African countries propose global carbon tax regime 

African nations want a global carbon tax regime and signed a joint declaration demanding the same at the end of the three-day Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi. The declaration also demanded more commitment from major polluters to help poorer nations fight climate change. African leaders said they would use the declaration as the basis of their negotiations at the COP28 summit in November. 

India: SC’s green watchdog panel will now report to environment ministry

India’s green ministry appointed a permanent statutory body on environmental issues. This move is in response to the Supreme Court’s order which stated the government make the “Central Empowered Committee” (CEC) a permanent authority on green issues instead of an ad hoc body. The CEC had been set up by the Supreme Court 20 years ago to highlight cases that don’t comply with its orders on conservation. The environment ministry now has the authority to nominate CEC members and give its final say on the committee’s recommendations. 

The company failed to install Vapour Recovery Systems (VRS) at retail outlets in National Capital Region (NCR) within the Supreme Court deadline. Photo: Ankur Gupta/Flickr

IOC, BPCL fined for failing to install pollution control systems at petrol pumps

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) fined state-owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) ₹1 crore and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) ₹2 crore for not installing pollution control devices at their petrol pumps. 

The companies failed to install Vapour Recovery Systems (VRS) at retail outlets in National Capital Region (NCR) within the Supreme Court deadline. VRS checks petrol vapour that dissipates into the atmosphere during refuling. The vapour contains cancer-causing substances like benzene, toluene and xylene. Petrol pumps were ordered to install VRS at fuel stations in 2016 to prevent petrol vapours from escaping.

UP to monitor air, groundwater and soil pollution in defence, industrial corridors

Uttar Pradesh plans to set up labs for monitoring air quality, noise, ground water quality, soil quality and ground water level measurement in the Defense Industrial Corridor in Lucknow, Kanpur and Aligarh. The Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA) invited applications from laboratories affiliated with the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL), the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEF), and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NOx) and noise pollution will be monitored 24 hours daily. 

Water and ground pollution levels, parameters such as acidity, alkalinity, aluminum, arsenic, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), bicarbonates, calcium carbonate, chloride, chromium, copper, iron, lead, magnesium, manganese, nickel, nitrogen compound, sulphates, sodium and zinc will be monitored.

For testing the soil quality, the SAR value of ammonia, bicarbonates, boron, calcium, calcium carbonate, chloride, color, electrical conductivity, magnesium, nitrates, nitrites, pesticide pH, phosphates, sodium, potassium, cadmium, manganese, cobalt and soil sample will be the key factors, whose monitoring will be based as per the standards set by the pollution boards.

Kerala’s IT park to set up inbuilt system to monitor air, water & noise levels

The IT park in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, will have a periodic monitoring system to track and check emissions and regulate ambient air, noise and water quality. 

The labs will test air for particulate matter (PM10), particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), lead (as Pb), arsenic (as As), nickel (as Ni), ammonia (as NH3), ozone (as O3), benzene (as C6H6), benzo (A), and pyrene (as VaP).

The parameters for drinking water include colour, odour, turbidity, ph, total dissolved solids, total hardness calcium, magnesium, chloride, total alkalinity, iron, sulphate, nitrate, residual free chlorine, total coliform bacteria and e-coli. Water will be monitored for PH, total suspended solids, biochemical oxygen demand, chemical oxygen demand, and oil and grease. The parameters for sewage water are PH, total suspended solids, biochemical oxygen demand, chemical oxygen demand, and oil and grease.

Landscape fires: Over 2 billion people exposed to global smoke pollution from fires

Over 2 billion people are exposed to at least one day of potentially health-impacting environmental hazard annually—a figure that has increased by 6.8% in the past 10 years, revealed the world’s first study of the increase in pollution from landscape fires across the globe over the past two decades.

The study, published in Nature and led by Australian scientists, estimated the global daily air pollution from all fires from 2000 to 2019. The researchers found that 2.18 billion people were exposed to at least one day of substantial landscape fire air pollution in each year, with each person in the world having on average 9.9 days of exposure per year, an increase of 2.1% in the last decade. It also found that exposure levels in low-income countries were about four-fold higher than in high-income countries.

Delhi reimposes firecracker ban ahead of Diwali to curb pollution

Ahead of Diwali, the Delhi government reimposed a ban on firecrackers to curb air pollution in the winter, when air quality reaches hazardous levels. Manufacturing, storage, sale, online delivery and bursting of any type of firecrackers is completely prohibited in Delhi. The police have been instructed to stop issuing licenses for firework.

Colder air traps dust, vehicle emissions, and pollution from stubble burning in neighbouring regions, Reuters reported, adding that the Delhi government is set to meet with experts this week to draw up an action plan to combat pollution in the winter. 

NHPC suffered loss of ₹233.56 crore due to flash floods in its Teesta-VI hydro power project.

Teesta-III dam break: NHPC does a U-turn, admits loss and damage from GLOF

The Glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) washed away the 1200-MW Teesta-III on October 4 causing severe damage to two NHPC hydro power projects: 510 MW Teesta-V and the under-construction 500 MW Teesta-VI — downstream. Around 40 people (11 army men) were killed while 76 people were missing two weeks after the disaster.

NHPC admitted the loss saying the flood water damaged all connecting roads to the project sites, as well as parts of residential colony. Teesta V power station is not generating electricity. Ongoing works at hydro project Teesta VI have been disrupted. The flood water had entered into the powerhouse and transformer cavern. Bridges connecting right and left banks at the barrage as well as Power House have been washed out. 

In 2014, when clearances to projects were challenged on the grounds of threat from GLOFs, the NHPC in an affidavit to green court (NGT)  said that projects below Chungthang (Teesta-III) faced no threat as “the phenomenon of GLOFs is relevant to the projects located above Chungthang. Teesta IV is located far below Chungthang.” Affected Citizens of Teesta  ACT, a local organisation of indigenous people opposed to mega power projects said even a child in the mountains will tell you that a flood has to flow downstream and cannot miraculously disappear after Chungthang,” said

NHPC  suffered loss of ₹233.56 crore due to flash floods in its Teesta-VI hydro power project. 

India’s clean energy goals may widen regional disparities?

According to a recent paper India’s renewable energy targets could exacerbate regional disparities, with states rich in solar and wind resources benefiting more than those with lower renewable energy resources, reported Mongabay. 

According to the study as the share of renewable energy increases, inter-state transfers will have to be undertaken as a way to manage sustainable grid operations, reported the environment portal adding that In this scenario, the renewable poor states will have to curtail thermal power generation, even if the prices are competitive and import electricity from renewable rich states. 

“The VRE poor states will be committing vast quantities of budgetary resources to purchase power from VRE rich states,” says the paper, predicting that the VRE-poor states will import electricity worth Rs. 460 billion in 2030.

Off-grid solar pumps backed by PM-KUSUM scheme remain underutilized 

Solar power from the standalone solar pumps distributed under the PM-KUSUM scheme remain heavily underutilised due to various reasons including gap between crops and failure to use the setup to run appliances other than pumps. The scheme does not tap the full potential of the solar product, revealed the Mongabay report quoting research based on state data.  

Anas Rahman the lead author of the CEEW study cited in the report says the government is parallelly pushing the Universal Solar Pump Controller (USPC) provision which allows electrical appliances other than pumps to run on the solar setup as a secondary use, but the potential of this provision is not yet tapped. Researchers point out that after the irrigation requirements are fulfilled for the day, a farmer can use it to run the flour mill, chaff cutter, milk chiller, battery bank charger, shredder, etc. Analysing data generated by the real-time monitoring system in these pumps can help the government in better planning and execution of the scheme, experts claim.

Solar pumps are used for irrigation in some parts of the year and are left idle for the remaining part of the year because of the crop cycles. In Rajasthan with 325 sunny days solar pumps are utilised for an average of 139 days annually. They are use between 0 to 50 days in Odisha and 130 to 180 days in Tamil Nadu, Mongabay report said. 

India to launch star labeling scheme for solar modules from Jan 1, 2024

India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has developed a Standards and Labelling Program for solar modules to indicate quality and energy efficiency. The programme will be applicable from January 1, 2024, to December 31, 2025 on a voluntary basis, which will be made compulsory subsequently, Mercom reported. 

Manufacturers are required to pay a security fee of ₹100,000 (~$1,203) for each model, but small-scale industries can secure registration with a valid certificate and a reduced security fee of ₹25,000 (~$300). An application fee of ₹2,000 (~$24) must be paid to affix the label on a specific model. Renewal applications incur no additional charges.

Solar modules are graded on a scale from 1 to 5 stars, and the labeling fee to affix these stars on each unit of a module is ₹0.02(~$0.00024)/watt. 

China restricts export of graphite used in EV batteries

China has imposed restrictions on the export of graphite used in electrical vehicle (EV) batteries, starting December 1, 2023. China said the ‘temporary’ export control of sensitive graphite products, including highly sensitive spheroidized graphite, will ensure the stability and security of the global supply chain and safeguard national interests, Mercom reported. 

China produces up to 90% of the world’s graphite. The global scramble for critical minerals has prompted the restrictions. In September, the European Union said it would probe cheaper Chinese EV imports, which it said may be benefiting from state subsidies. The United States has also signed operate trade deals with the EU and Japan on critical minerals to reduce reliance on China.

China has lifted control on five low-sensitive graphite items mainly used in industries such as steel, metallurgy, and chemicals. India offers 25% incentive on the approved project cost for exploration agencies to encourage the mining of critical minerals by private parties. India has also identified 30 critical minerals, including graphite, lithium, and cobalt, which can be converted into material used in clean energy technologies.

Reliance begins trials of its swappable batteries for electric vehicles

Reliance industries has begun trials of supplying swappable EV batteries with online grocer BigBasket in Bangalore, reported PV Magazine. Reliance makes batteries in-house with imported LFP cells, but the company is setting up a fully integrated battery gigafab in Gujarat. Users can locate the nearest swappable battery charging station through a mobile App to swap their discharged battery with a charged one. The batteries can be charged with grid or solar power and paired with inverters to run home appliances.

The company is investing in the cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate (LFP) and sodium-ion technologies for its proposed fully integrated energy storage giga-factory in India. 

Nearly 600,000 technicians needed in wind sector by 2027, 1 million coal mine jobs to be lost by 2050

The global wind industry will require nearly 6,00,000 technicians during the next five years, with more than 2,40,000 of these roles introducing new recruits to the industry, according to The Global Wind Workforce Outlook 2023-2027.  The report said that over 5,74,000 technicians will be required for commercial and industrial (C&I) and operations and maintenance (O&M) by 2027, but to keep pace with this growth, almost 43%  of them will be new to the industry, joining from an education and recruitment pipeline or  transferring from other sectors, such as offshore oil and gas. More than 80% of these technicians will be required in 10 countries, including India. Others are Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia,  Egypt, Japan, Kenya, South Korea and the USA.

On the other hand, another report found that close to 100 coal mining jobs will be lost per day until 2035 as existing coal mines reach their end. Followed by China, India could be among the countries which, by 2050, will take the hardest hit in terms of losing coal mine jobs. China’s Shanxi Province would be the most adversely affected by foreseeable mine closures, enduring 2,41,900 potential layoffs in the coal mining sector by mid-century. Then India could be hit the hardest when it comes to losing coal mine jobs, with Coal India facing the largest potential jobs cuts of 73,800 by mid-century. 

Researchers develop multijunction silicon solar cell with 36.1% efficiency

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Research ISE and NWO Institute AMOLF have developed a multijunction solar cell with an efficiency of 36.1%, beating the record of 29.4% efficiency silicon-based solar cells.

The multijunction solar cells with multiple layers of light-absorbing materials stacked on top of each other allow each layer to capture specific segments of the sunlight’s color spectrum efficiently. The solar cell combines a “silicon TOPCon” solar cell, a novel high-efficiency cell with two semiconductor layers composed of gallium indium phosphide (GaInP) and Gallium Indium Arsenide Phosphide (GaInAsP). The layer stack is further coated with metal/polymer nanocoating. The back reflector incorporated into the design enhances light trapping within the solar cell, marking the first time efficiency has been pushed beyond the 36% milestone.

The cell was unveiled at the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference in Lisbon. The ultra-high-efficiency multijunction cells are more expensive to produce than conventional 27%-efficiency silicon solar cells. They are useful in scenarios where space is limited and substantial solar power generation is essential., such as solar-powered electric cars, consumer products, and drones.

New single-atom catalysts could boost RE storage

A team of researchers from City University Hong Kong (CityU) and Imperial College London designed and tested a way to store renewable energy as hydrogen using a new catalyst based on single atoms of platinum. This is done by using renewable energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, with the energy stored in the hydrogen atoms. This method then uses platinum catalysts to spur a reaction that splits the water molecule, which is called electrolysis. While platinum is an excellent catalyst for this reaction, it is also expensive and rare. So, in order to cut down system costs and limit platinum extraction, it is critical to minimise its use.

The good news is that now researchers have designed and tested a catalyst that uses as little platinum as possible to produce an efficient but cost-effective platform for water splitting. The team’s innovation involves dispersing single atoms of platinum in a sheet of molybdenum sulfide (MoS2). This uses much less platinum than existing catalysts and even boosts the performance, as the platinum interacts with the molybdenum to improve the efficiency of the reaction. Moreover, to use the stored RE as electricity, the stored hydrogen again needs to be converted using fuel cells, which produce water vapor as a by-product of an oxygen-splitting reaction. The team said used a single-atom catalyst for this reaction that is based on iron, instead of platinum, which could further reduce the cost of this technology. When scaled, this solution can be a game changer for saving renewable energy as hydrogen, to be stored and transported for later use. 

New design to use 40% of the sun’s heat to produce clean hydrogen

The engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have laid out the conceptual design for a system that can efficiently produce “solar thermochemical hydrogen.”  According to research published in Solar Energy, the technology uses the sun’s heat to split water directly and produce hydrogen, a clean fuel that can run ships, vehicles and planes over long distances without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the majority of the procedures used to manufacture hydrogen include the usage of natural gas and other fossil fuels, which turns the normally environmentally friendly fuel into a “grey” energy source when taking into account all aspects of its life cycle. 

In contrast, solar thermochemical hydrogen, or STCH, offers a totally emissions-free alternative, using only renewable solar energy to produce hydrogen. However, so far, existing STCH designs have limited efficiency with only about 7% of incoming sunlight being used to make hydrogen, giving low-yield and high-cost results. It is estimated that the new design proposed by the MIT team could harness up to 40% of the sun’s heat to generate that much more hydrogen, decreasing the overall cost of the system and making STCH a potentially scalable and cost-effective solution to aid in the decarbonization of the transportation sector. A concentrated solar plant (CSP), which consists of a circular array of hundreds of mirrors that gather and reflect sunlight to a central receiving tower, would be used in the MIT system to provide solar heat. The heat from the receiver is then absorbed by an STCH system, which uses it to split water and create hydrogen. This is not the same as electrolysis, which splits water by using electricity rather than heat. 

One-atom thick nanoribbons to enhance efficiency in batteries and solar cells

Researchers at University College London (UCL)  have designed one-atom-thick phosphorous ribbons alloyed with arsenic. These ribbons have the potential to significantly increase the efficiency of devices like solar cells, supercapacitors, and batteries. The research team discovered phosphorus nanoribbons in 2019. Predicted to revolutionise devices ranging from batteries to biomedical sensors, it has since been used to increase lithium-ion battery lifetimes and solar cell efficiencies. However, phosphorus-only materials do not conduct electricity very well, hindering their usage for certain applications. But recently, the team created nanoribbons made of phosphorus and tiny amounts of arsenic, which they found were able to conduct electricity at temperatures above -140°C, while retaining the benefits of the phosphorus-only ribbons. 

According to the researchers, their work on alloying phosphorus nanoribbons with arsenic offers up new possibilities, including boosting near-infrared detectors used in medical applications and  improving energy storage in batteries and supercapacitors. Arsenic-phosphorus nanoribbons also have the potential to increase the efficiency of solar cells by optimising the charge flow across the devices.

Indian business, Gautam Solar, granted patent for innovation in PV module production

India-based company Gautam Solar has been granted a patent for a “tool for the bussing process of solar panels”. The creation of a tool for the bussing of solar panels was granted the patent by the Office of the Controller General of Patents. At a fraction of the price of an automatic machine, the patented tool provides a number of benefits to module makers, including a decrease in manual labour of over 50% and a doubling of solar panel manufacturing capacity.

The tool also reduces warpage, fracture, and thermal stress in solar cells, which significantly lengthens the lifespan of the panel. The tool also reduces human error and vastly increases precision in the manufacturing of solar panels. It offers precise control for soldering in accordance with specifications for solar panel installation and operates without a hitch within a temperature range of 300°C to 450°C. The device also has a special connection structure that guarantees even thermal energy distribution and relieves pressure on solar cells, where temperature control can be done precisely with a thermocouple probe.

Additional arrangement for gas, for running gas based stations, from GAIL with tenders for advanced procurement for generation has been planned.

India to turn towards more natural gas to end blackouts

As part of emergency steps to stop electricity outages, India is turning towards natural gas. Power plants running on imported coal will be expected to maximise output, as record power demand in August, and a sharp decline in hydro and wind energy output resulted in the country’s widest electricity shortage in 16 months. States are also advised to expedite commissioning of new renewable and thermal power plants. “Additional arrangement for gas, for running gas based stations, from GAIL with tenders for advanced procurement for generation has been planned, during upcoming high power demand months.”

India to increase imported coal blending to meet power demand

India plans to direct power generators to increase mandatory imported coal blending from 4% to at least 6% “in the wake of fast-depleting stocks at power plants”, the ET reports. Quoting officials the paper said the direction will be issued soon, because of higher electricity demand and “lower than anticipated wind and hydropower generation in some states”. 

Meanwhile, India’s coal ministry has said that the country exported 1.16m tonnes of coal to neighbouring countries including Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan in 2022-23, ET reported. Oil imports from Russia in August jumped 114.19% compared to the previous year. 

Jharkhand opposes Centre’s decision to amend Coal Bill

The state of Jharkhand has forwarded its objections to the Centre regarding the Coal Bearing Area (Acquisition and Development) Amendment Bill, 2023, which seeks to replace a 1957 law. The Union cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April this year approved the Bill to facilitate the utilisation of land which are unsuitable for coal mining in order to increase investment and job opportunities in the coal sector. The letter written by the state mines and geology department stated that the amendments are “anti-development in nature” and could lead to problems. The 1957 law and subsequent amendments in 2021 say that any lease or its extension for mines in fifth schedule areas entail additional payment to the respective state. But the proposed amendment of lifetime lease would deprive the states of additional funds. 

Questions arise over climate commitments as US oil production hits all-time high

The US Department of Energy reported this past fortnight that oil production in the United States in the first week of October hit a record 13.2 million barrels per day, surpassing the previous record set in 2020 by 100,000 barrels. According to AP, weekly domestic oil production has doubled from the first week in October 2012 to now. The newly set record, apparently contrary to the White House’s commitment to reduce emissions and transition to cleaner energy, has raised eyebrows. This week demand also grew for the US to cancel the construction of a $10 billion gas export hub in Louisiana, which has been called a “carbon mega bomb” by a former official of the US Environment Protection Agency.

Africa set to become a key supplier as natural gas demand continues to grow

War in Ukraine sent energy companies scrambling to find alternative supplies of oil and gas over the past year and half. Regional escalation of the conflict in Israel and Palestine could spur further disruptions. As energy markets continue to forecast turbulence, energy companies have set their sights on Africa as the next hotbed for supplies, particularly of natural gas, suggest market analysts Wood Mackenzie. Energy companies have invested some $800 billion in gas projects across Africa since 2010, with several projects beginning to come online across the continent. Next year, the Tortue floating LNG project off the coast of Senegal and Mauritania will add 2.4 million tons in annual production capacity to the global total, and will potentially pave the way for Africa to become a crucial source of new supply, especially to Europe.