Severe heat wave grips India AGAIN, is there a plan of action?

Newsletter - June 12, 2019

Big Story: Severe heat wave grips India again, is there a plan of action?

Over the past week, most of India, barring the northeast, has been in the grips of a severe heatwave. While maximum temperatures of 45°C were noted across several states, Churu, an obscure little town on the eastern edge of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, recorded 50.8°C on June 1, which is the highest-ever recorded temperature in the state. On June 10, temperatures in the national capital Delhi breached 48°C, a record for the city.

According to the world weather monitoring website El Dorado, eleven of the fifteen hottest cities in the beginning of June were in India. The IMD, in its seasonal temperature outlook for the summer of 2019, had noted that most regions in the country are likely to face temperatures between 0.5°C and 1°C warmer than normal.

Even the Indian government has taken note. Answering a question in the Lok Sabha on February 6 this year, Harsh Vardhan, the minister of earth sciences, revealed “significant increasing trends” over most of mainland India with regards to the heatwave.

While there can be some scepticism around the numbers regarding heat-related casualties, there has also been a clear movement towards preparedness for heat waves – especially at local levels of government. Following Ahmedabad, the first city to adopt a City Heat Action Plan in 2013, Nagpur and Bhubaneswar also released their own action plans to tackle heat waves a few years ago. While overall preparedness remains at a nascent stage, governments seem to have at least woken up to these routine realities of climate change.

Climate Science

Getting worse: India received its second-lowest pre-monsoon showers this year, and Delhi and Chennai may not have any groundwater left by 2020 | Image credit: HT

Water crisis looms as India witnesses second lowest pre-monsoon rainfall since 1954

As current water levels in India’s 91 major reservoirs stand at just 20%, an estimated 21 cities, including Delhi and Chennai, are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020. There seems to be no end in sight for India’s water crisis. One reason for the plunging reservoir levels is poor pre-monsoon rain. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the country received 99mm of rainfall between March and May 2019 – 23% below the normal range, making it the second-lowest pre-monsoon rainfall in the past 65 years.

While IMD has predicted normal monsoon rainfall from June to September, a 10-day delay in its onset has stoked fears of poor rainfall among drought-prone states such as Maharashtra, which has already approved plans worth Rs30 crores for cloud seeding in August to trigger artificial rainfall over drought-affected regions.

Warming Arctic producing weather extremes around Northern Hemisphere

After years of speculation, scientists have now conclusively shown how Arctic warming is influencing and cause erratic weather around the Northern Hemisphere by changing character winds known as ‘jet streams.’ A combination of global climate models and a new machine learning algorithm on ozone chemistry shows that the jet stream’s wavelike course in winter and subsequent extreme weather conditions such as cold air outbreaks in North America and Europe are the direct result of climate change.

In India, the wavering pattern of jet streams has culminated into increasing occurrences of “western disturbances” to which extreme and unpredictable weather in the months of March to May can be attributed. A spate of thunderstorms in April and May last year and this year have been linked to the jet streams.

Future yield of top 10 food crops likely to be highly unequal globally: Study

Forecasts have long predicted that major crops around the world are likely to experience an overall decline under future climate scenarios. A new study by the University of Minnesota has now shed further light on how future yield changes in the top 10 food crops are likely to be highly unequal around the world. The impact of climate change on global food production has been found to be mostly negative in Europe, Southern Africa, and Australia, generally positive in Latin America, and mixed in Asia and Northern and Central America.

Marine ecosystems have entered the Anthropocene

A study comparing compositions of fossil plankton (foraminifera) assemblages in sediments of the pre-industrial era with those of more recent times has concluded that human activity has systematically changed zooplankton communities. Over 3,700 samples from pre-industrial sediments, with samples from sediment traps that reflect the plankton status from 1978 to 2013, were analysed for the study. Planktons live near the surface waters of the oceans. When they die, their calcareous shells are deposited in the seafloor sediments. Scientists say the shifts in distribution reflect the effects of global warming.

Climate change a serious threat to human health in the next few years, scientists warn

In the coming decades, climate change will be one of the most serious threats to human health, scientists from 27 national academies from Europe said. The already harmful global heating will claim more lives as the frequency of extreme weather events (heat waves and floods) increase, but in the long term, climate change will lead to mental disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, substance abuse and depression, researchers warned.

Climate Policy

Stiff penalty: India’s disposal of its plastic waste has fallen to such lows that its states will be slapped with a Rs 1 crore fine a month to get them moving | Image credit: Yale

CPCB fines states for failing to report on waste management plans

Twenty-five Indian states will have to pay a fine of Rs1 crore each per month to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for failing to submit their action-plans on systematic disposal of plastic waste.

The decision came after the CPCB moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT) over the states’ failure to report on plans to implement the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules 2016 — amended in 2018 — for segregation, collection and disposal of plastic waste. Globally, emissions from waste disposal, 43% of which is from solid waste, currently constitute about 3% of total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. India consumes over 16 million tonnes of plastic every year, of which 80% is discarded as waste. As per India’s report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015-16, GHG emissions from solid waste in the country had grown at 3.1% per annum between 2000 and 2010.

Green court stays Andhra’s river linking project

India’s green court (NGT), has stayed the Andhra Pradesh government’s scheme to link the Godavari, Krishna and Penna rivers over missing environmental clearances. The NGT ordered the environment ministry to submit a report within a month. Experts warn that controversial river-linking schemes end up diverting water from agriculture to industry in a more-dollars-per-drop scenario, which can threaten food security. Experts say governments should not use the water crises to justify river linking, as over 50% of land is still monsoon dependent.

80 countries to increase climate pledges, UN says

Ahead of the September UN climate summit in New York, around 80 countries are expected to announce new climate targets, higher than what they pledged in the Paris accord, the UN said. While the host of next climate summit, Chile, has vowed to end coal power by 2040 and become carbon neutral by 2050, South Korea has set the target of raising its share of renewable energy capacity to 35% by 2040.

Experts, however, say that unless countries ramp up targets “exponentially”, the world won’t succeed in averting the worst impacts, even if every country met their 2015 Paris targets, which are far from being achieved. While the Indian government has committed to a series of policy steps to lead the country towards low carbon growth, the country’s policy think-tank NITI Aayog has estimated that “mitigation activities for moderate-low carbon development” would cost an astonishing $834 billion by 2030!

Campaigners allege European commission deliberately harmed climate action

For a year, the European Commission sat on a research paper that criticised Europe’s farming policy – that’s the allegation of environmentalists, including those from WWF and Greenpeace. Campaigners have alerted that some members of the European commission may be “deliberately harming climate action”. The study questions the current subsidy rules that allow farmers to farm on wetlands and plough up “permanent grasslands”, releasing large volumes of CO2. Agriculture makes up 10% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Amazon rainforest deforestation surges to record high under new Brazil Prez Bolsonaro

Satellite data has confirmed the worst concerns about Brazil’s climate-change denier President Bolsonaro. Under his watch, the Amazon rainforest has suffered the worst deforestation in a decade in the month of May – 739 sq km of forest has been cleared. Illegal loggers are to blame after the President eased green laws. Bolsonaro has moved the forestry commission to the agriculture ministry, which is run by farm-industry allies, Reuters reported.

Big firms admit, climate change could cost them $1 trillion in near future

According to the latest report by charity CDP, over 200 of the world’s top firms, including Apple, Microsoft, Infosys and Sony, forecast that climate change could cost them a combined total of almost $1 trillion, and it could be as early as the next five years. The authors of the CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) study said that most firms have a long way to go in terms of properly assessing climate risk.

The firms anticipated a total of $970 billion in extra costs to tackle factors, including extreme weather and pricing of greenhouse gas emissions. The report, which also gauged companies’ readiness to adopt low-carbon initiatives, had praise for indian companies. “Indian companies are at the forefront of this initiative where science-based targets (SBTs) are rapidly becoming the new norm for sustainable business practice,” states the report.

Air Pollution

18 left: India’s NCAP targets 102 non-attainment cities to tackle air pollution, but 18 of them are yet to submit their proposals | Image credit: IndiaTimes

84 Indian cities submit air quality improvement plans

India’s central government has said 84 out of the 102 cities that have been tasked with reducing toxic particulate matter levels by 20%-30% by 2024 as part of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) have submitted proposals. The NCAP requires cities to implement specific measures such as fixing potholes within two months to improve traffic flow and thereby reduce dust or take strict action against unauthorised brick kilns, within 30 days. While no specific date has been set for the obligations to kick in, experts believe the country has a lot to take away from China’s experiences in implementing its own National Clean Air Action Plan from 2013-2017.

Green court invokes ‘polluter pays” norm against Singrauli, Sonbhadra coal plants; sets sights on Delhi’s polluting units

The National Green Tribunal (NGT), India’s green court, is assessing compensation from the highly polluting thermal power plants of Singrauli and Sonbhadra in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The court said it was invoking the principle of ‘Polluter Pays’, which may require assessment of cost of damage and restoration. The coal plants have been causing air pollution and water pollution in violation of environmental norms in the past two decades in several districts and rivers in the two states.

In a separate development, the NGT asked the Delhi Pollution Control Board (DPCB) to file an action-taken report on polluting plastic units in Narela and Bawana industrial areas, accused of dumping and burning industrial waste.

Air pollution cutting life down from both ends

A new report published by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has found that India’s air pollution problem is killing one lakh children under five years of age annually and is the cause of over 12% deaths in the country. These findings come at a time when concerns are being raised on the high pollution levels in several Indian cities which routinely feature on “Most Polluted” lists.

Elsewhere, scientists have found that airborne metal pollution might also be causing early deaths in adults. Analysing data from 11,382 rural residents of France, in a specially constructed mathematical model, scientists showed that participants exposed to higher atmospheric concentrations of metals had an increased risk of death.


Slowing fast: Import duties, rock bottom tariffs and flagging investor confidence have throttled India’s impressive solar capacity addition | Image credit: Scroll

Sharp decline in India’s solar installations, govt. keeps chin up despite slump in renewables growth

In the first quarter of 2019, solar installation in India rose by 4% compared to the last quarter of 2018, but dropped by a massive 49% compared to the first quarter in 2018. 800MW of solar auctions were scrapped in the first quarter in 2019, because developers refused to offer lower tariffs. As rooftop installations fell by 33%, India has so far managed only 9GW of its rooftop solar target of 40GW by 2022.

Despite the lack of progress with rooftop solar installations, the government has remained bullish with Union power minister RK Singh asserting that India is on its way to achieving its aim of installing 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022. Elsewhere, India’s solar manufacturing industry is also expected to be hit by the 25% tariff on Indian solar exports to the US, which came into effect on June 5, 2019.

Renewables costs continue to tumble

The ‘Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2018’ report prepared by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows that renewable energy costs have fallen consistently and are increasingly becoming commercially competitive to fossil fuels. Costs from all commercially available renewable power generation technologies declined in 2018. The global weighted-average cost of electricity declined 26% year-on-year for concentrated solar power (CSP), followed by bioenergy (-14%), solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind (both -13%) and hydropower (-12%).

The report also found that utility scale solar installations cost the least in India compared to other countries surveyed. Between 2010 and 2018, installation costs of solar projects dropped by an astounding 80% in the country. As costs decline, industry transition to renewables, particularly solar, is showing indications of picking up. Last week, Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest carmaker, announced that it will use solar power to manufacture cars from the current fiscal year.

India mulling to merge renewables and power ministries

India may merge the two separate ministries of renewables and thermal power. Power minister RK Singh says the proposal has been sent to the government. Will a single ministry control all sources of energy and streamline operations? Officials say consumers sometimes don’t know whether a distribution company is supplying renewable or thermal power to them. A merger will also help strike a balance between renewables and conventional power generators, who share common transmission lines. Experts also say the renewables ministry on its own has less control over issues such as payment delays by distribution companies.

More solar pumps for drought-hit farmers a bad idea, says CSE survey

Drought-hit Maharashtra is set to provide solar pumps to farmers. Of nearly 40,000 applicants, 3,900 farmers will get a 3HP pump for Rs16,560, 10% of the actual cost. A CSE survey says the solar pump scheme is not working in Maharashtra. In fact, it is ruining the area’s stressed water table. The pumps are grossly underutilised because of falling water levels and irrigation hours have actually decreased after the use of solar pumps, the survey said.

Electric Vehicles

In Delhi too: Delhi has seen the merit in using EVs for deliveries, such as this electric van being trialled in the UK | Image credit:

Delhi to support EVs for delivery services, DHI calls for 5,000 e-buses

The Delhi government is reportedly mulling incentives for all app-based delivery services to only use electric vehicles – with the larger goal of lowering the city’s air pollution. The incentives may be formalized in the upcoming Delhi EV Policy and will affect services such as Zomato, Swiggy, Amazon and Flipkart.

The Dept. of Heavy Industry (DHI), on the other hand, has asked state governments to submit EoIs for 5,000 electric buses, and will support their induction with a corpus of $5million.

China removes license plate quotas for EVs

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has removed license plate quotas for EVs to further boost their staggering sales figures. The quota will still apply to traditional cars – which limits how many of them can be registered. China did slash EV subsidies by up to 60% last month as the industry goes mainstream, but removing the quota could help register several more EVs than the 60,000 units in 2018. India, in comparison, sold 3,600 EVs last year.

India: Uber and Ola to go 40% electric by 2026, govt to secure raw material supplies

The Indian government plans to ask cab aggregators Uber and Ola to ‘electrify’ 40% of their fleets by 2026 to push EVs for public transport. The aggregators may have to start with a target of 2.5% by 2021 and scale up rapidly every year thereafter. The country has so far achieved less than 2% (0.28 million) of its target of 15-16 million EVs by 2020.

India will also forge ties with Latin American countries — including Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Peru – to secure steady supplies of lithium and cobalt, which are key raw materials used in EV batteries.

Toyota signs deal with CATL for EV batteries, BMW-JLR to jointly develop future EVs

After repeatedly pushing for hybrids, Toyota will sign up with CATL (China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Co.) – the world’s largest maker of automotive batteries – to procure batteries for its future, fully-electric cars. Toyota is targeting 50% EV sales by 2030 and is even launching a 100% electric SUV in the US with Subaru.

Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover, and Germany’s automotive powerhouse BMW are also joining hands to jointly manufacture future electric vehicles, the motors for which will not need rare earth metals. BMW expects to unveil the Gen5 e-Drive technology in its products by 2020, and the manufacturers hope to make it more affordable by sharing product development and production costs.

Fossil Fuels

Cold comfort: India’s RBI has loosened guidelines on resolving loan defaults by stressed assets, but their financial woes are far from over | Image credit: Financial Tribune

RBI revises stressed asset resolution guidelines

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has revised its stressed assets resolution guidelines, and the new framework allows lenders up to 30 days — instead of one — to initiate the process of loan repayments. Up to 40GW of India’s coal and gas-fired power plants are classified as “stressed assets” due to their sustained operational losses.

Amongst other changes, the new framework now also requires approval from only 60% of the lenders to a project, or lenders who together account for 75% of the outstanding credit, to clear plans for debt-recovery. Previously, every lender’s approval was mandatory.

India to widen Ujjwala benefits with 5 kg cylinders

Bullish on replacing fuelwood with LPG, India’s new government will introduce smaller, 5 kg LPG cylinders for below poverty line (BPL) families to lower the cylinders’ refilling costs. The new cylinders may cost only about Rs180 per refill, compared to nearly Rs500 for the 14.2 kg capacity cylinders disbursed under the Ujjwala scheme.

80 million new “connections” have been targeted within the government’s first 100 days in office, and as on June 3, the highest number of connections has so far reached Uttar Pradesh (12.9 million), Bihar (7.8 million) and Rajasthan (5.6 million).

UN chief: Fossil fuel subsidies helping destroy the world

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres threw out all diplomatic restraint last week and chastised fossil fuel subsidies as “helping to destroy the world”. Speaking in Austria, Guteres called for ending all fossil fuel subsidies and taxing pollution – desperately hoping this would stop governments from using taxpayers’ money to destabilise the planet’s climate even further.

Yet, fossil fuel subsidies rose to $300 billion in 2017, the US is exploring High Efficiency, Low Emissions (HELE) technologies to bail out its shrinking coal capacity, and Australia’s emissions have gone up for the fourth consecutive year.

IEEFA: GE lost $193 billion betting against renewables

IEEFA’s damning new report says General Electric (GE) lost $193 billion between 2015 and 2018 by underestimating the growth of renewables. GE is a Fortune 500 heavyweight and continued to invest in coal plants and gas turbines despite their falling markets shares. The bad investments nearly wiped out three quarters of its market capitalisation.