Storm Florence death toll climbs to 33 amidst toxic waste leak

Newsletter - September 19, 2018

Hurricanes, mega-storms, typhoons, could be the new normal, experts warn
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Storm Florence death toll climbs to 33 amidst toxic waste leak

Storm Florence has battered North and South Carolina since last Thursday and claimed 33 lives so far. The city of Wilmington was entirely cut off following heavy flooding and more than 340,000 people are without power in N. Carolina. The storm has also released toxic pig urine and feces into the floodwaters, as well as more than 2000 cubic yards of coal ash – that contains mercury, lead and arsenic.

Study finds climate change markers all over storm Florence

Scientists tracking hurricanes have published the first-ever pre-event attribution study, using a climate model to produce near real-time experimental forecasts of storm Florence, initially categorized as a hurricane, concluding it will have “50% heavier rainfall and will be approximately 80km in diameter larger at landfall because of the human interference in the climate system.”

Mega-storms like Mangkhut, Florence will be a norm, warn scientists

On the other side of the world, South East Asia’s typhoon Mangkhut, which has so far killed over 100 people, including 33 miners in Philippines, and left Hong Kong in tatters, is now entering south China. As ocean temperatures rise because of global warming, scientists warn such mega-storms will become the norm. With extreme storms becoming more common, campaigners are collecting more evidence with an aim to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the destructive climate.

Police clear out environmentalists protesting coal mining at Hambach forest in Germany
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Police in Germany have arrested 30 demonstrators to try and break up protests against the clearing of the ancient Hambach forest to make way for new lignite mines. The mines would feed fuel to coal-fired power plants owned by German utilities company RWE, which insists the mines are necessary to ensure fuel supplies for Germany’s coal power plants. Meanwhile the country’s coal commission has shot down a proposal by its own co-chair for Germany to make a coal exit by 2035-2038, terming the proposal “reckless” and certainly not borne out of consensus within the commission.

China’s climate commitment: ‘We will not backtrack on, renegotiate Paris Accord targets’

Making a veiled criticism of the Trump administration while participating in California’s high-profile Global Climate Action Summit, China’s top climate negotiator said his country will not backtrack on or renegotiate environmental targets agreed upon in Paris three years ago. The comments are being seen in the context of the ‘Umbrella Group’ of countries led by the US, Canada and Australia rejecting the proposal made by developing countries, including China, which allows them to make voluntary rather than mandatory commitments.

The lack of flexibility shown by some countries resulted in the Bangkok meeting ending without any resolution. The negotiators are now banking on pre-COP meetings, bilaterals and an early COP to ensure that the rulebook is agreed upon and adopted.

Poland to formally adopt Doha amendments on Sept. 27th

Poland is set to finally ratify the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol on carbon emissions. Poland’s deputy environment minister Micha Kurtyka told the Economic Times that the ratification will happen in a “symbolic way”, together with other countries at the United Nations in New York on September 27th. Coal-reliant Poland is the only EU member that has not adopted the Doha amendment yet. The amendments will compel Poland to reduce its carbon emission by 20% from the 1990 levels.

India steps up climate action at GCAS 2018

India stepped up its climate action even further at the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) 2018, with Pune announcing it would scrap diesel city buses by 2021 and replace them with e-buses. Telangana, too, announced it will only register electric auto-rickshaws going forward and induct 2,000 electric buses in the state by 2019.

Corporate giants Dalmia Cement and Mahindra Group, meanwhile, embraced science-based emission reduction targets and have pledged to go carbon-negative and carbon-neutral (resp.) by 2040.

UN chief asks world leaders to ‘break the paralysis’ on climate change, cites Kerala floods

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has called climate change, “the defining threat of our times”, which is “running faster than we are”, while citing the recent example of the Kerala floods. Guterres said he was alarmed “by the paralysis of world leaders” on climate change and appealed to heads of government to come to New York for a special climate conference next September. Despite the 2015 Paris Accord commitments, the UN chief said the world is way off track and to say it was too expensive to tackle climate change was “hogwash”.

China & California sideline Trump, cut clean energy deals

Officials from China met their Californian counterparts and signed deals at a summit hosted by the American state, which stands against the Trump administration on climate issues. Laurence Tubiana of the European Climate Foundation said, “[the Chinese] struggle to recognize that the US has disappeared on [climate change]…so they are looking for somebody to talk to. I think that’s why they invested so much in [California governor] Jerry Brown.

Air pollution inhaled by pregnant women may affect foetuses, according to a new study.
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New study: India home to 32% of global respiratory diseases, air pollution a major factor

A state-level analysis by the Global Disease Burden study found that India is home to 32% of the world’s respiratory diseases, with ambient air pollution linked to 33.6% of its chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) cases. Household air pollution (25.8%) and smoking (21%) were also closely responsible.

Pune’s Chest Research Foundation has called for an overarching National Chronic Respiratory Disease Control programme to address the issue.

IIT Kanpur: Air pollution impacting monsoons

Air pollution could be affecting the monsoon season, causing erratic behaviour of rainfall over the Indian sub-continent, including concentrated heavy rainfall. A new study by IIT Kanpur, published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Communications, shows how excess aerosols, dust, smoke and industrial effluents in the atmosphere are affecting temperatures, resulting in changing patterns of rainfall during the monsoon season.

Professor SN Tripathi, one of the authors of the paper, told the Indian Express that “an increase in the aerosol content in the atmosphere, a direct consequence of rising air pollution, is interfering with the stable cloud formation system and influencing rainfall patterns”.

Odisha CM launches industrial air pollution rating programme

After Maharashtra, Odisha became the second state to adopt a star rating programme for its industries to ensure transparency and compliance to pollution standards. The state pollution control board and Energy Policy Institute of the University of Chicago collaborated on this project that was launched by Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. The Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board (MPCB) launched a similar industrial air pollution rating programme last year in association with the University of Chicago.

Curb air pollution caused by crop burning, Delhi minister tells neighbouring states

Delhi’s environment minister Imran Hussain has written to ministers from neighbouring states in a bid to restrict air pollution levels in Delhi during crop-burning season next month. In the letter addressed to ministers from UP, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, Hussain blamed crop burning in these neighbouring states for the rising air pollution levels in Delhi every October.

The National Green Tribunal has also asked for action plans from Punjab, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan for next month.

Study finds soot particles in pregnant mothers’ placentas

Scientists studying pregnant women in London have reported evidence of sooty particulate matter traveling through their lungs and lodging into their placentas – which they say may have a massive impact on the health of the developing foetus.

100% electrification of Indian railways will reduce fuel consumption by billions per year | Image credit: Times of India

Cabinet finally passes Goyal’s 100% railway electrification plan

The Indian government has finally approved the plan to completely electrify the Railways by 2022. The plan, which had been proposed by the minister of railways and coal, Piyush Goyal, last year, was not officially approved by the PM until now due to expenditures already made for diesel-powered locomotives. The expected rise in electricity demand would be 3,800MW.

At present, Indian Railways uses energy from a mix of sources and has been setting up renewable energy power plants through its subsidiary, Railway Energy Management Company Limited (REMCL). REMCL has already announced plans for 1,000MW of solar power and 200MW of wind power capacity addition.

NITI’s MOVE Summit ends without EV Policy, survey suggests strong public demand for EVs

The NITI Aayog’s MOVE Summit ended without the Centre announcing an EV policy – which has been much-anticipated by automakers following India’s electric mobility transition. Meanwhile a recent pan-India survey suggests that 87% of the urban respondents are willing to purchase EVs – especially because it would help reduce India’s toxic urban air pollution.

EESL: Second tender for 10,000 electric cars in India to come soon

India’s Energy Efficiency Services Ltd. (EESL) is likely to notify its second tender for 10,000 electric cars soon after new charging standards are finalised. Last year’s Bharat DC 001 standards were reportedly deemed to be insufficient in meeting the charging demands of higher end EVs.

Interestingly, there were allegations that the previous batch of EVs by Tata and Mahindra barely managed to drive 80km on a single charge – as opposed to the design requirement of 130km.

Goa seeks Centre’s help to buy electric buses

Goa has sought funds from the Centre to run electric buses priced at Rs2.6 crore each. The state zeroed in on electric buses after conducting trials earlier this year. It previously conducted trials on biogas and ethanol buses, but dropped the idea as it didn’t have enough bio fuel.

IKEA to switch to zero-emissions delivery fleet across 5 major cities

Furniture giant IKEA is targeting 25% of its global delivery fleet to be emissions-free by 2020 by using EVs or other zero-emission vehicles for home deliveries in Amsterdam, Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Shanghai. Its flagship store in Hyderabad (India) already uses electric autorickshaws to deliver orders.

India's solar pumps could do for the world what LEDs did for India & increase energy efficiency
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India’s apex court lifts stay on 25% safeguard duty on solar imports

The Supreme Court has allowed the Centre to impose 25% safeguard duty on solar imports – overruling the stay on the matter by the Orissa high court. Following the ruling, the government has ordered customs authorities to collect duty retroactively from July 30th, 2018.

Solar giant SB Energy denies cartel allegations

Japanese solar giant SoftBank Energy denied allegations it formed a cartel to increase solar tariffs in the recently cancelled 3,000 MW tenders by Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI). The tenders of SB Energy, ReNew Power, Mahindra Solar and Mahoba Solar (Adani) for 2,400 MW were cancelled over an unusually high tariff difference of 27 paise between the lowest and the highest bid.

India to help Solar Alliance countries install 5 lakh water pumps

India’s Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) will help International Solar Alliance (ISA) countries install 5,00,000 solar water pumps – to help farmers get cheap access to irrigation and to decentralize solar solutions. ISA has aggregated demand for solar pumps from 13 of its 121 members, and will hold its first ever general assembly in Delhi from 2nd to 5th October.

Europe breaks solar output records

Summer heatwaves – fueled by global warming – combined with growing solar capacity have resulted in record high solar output across Europe. Solar replaced gas to become the top energy source in the UK between June 21 and June 28. Germany witnessed a record 6.17 terawatt-hours of production in July. Denmark recorded 33% more solar power in May and Netherlands 75% more in July compared to last year. Europe’s solar market grew by 28.4% in 2017, with 107 GW total installed capacity.

Marubeni pulling out of new coal projects is part of growing global action against coal
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Supreme Court orders Centre to reduce emissions from 57 coal plants by Dec ’21

Fifty-seven Centre-owned thermal power plants in some of India’s most polluted areas now have 28 months to reduce their emissions. India’s Supreme Court has ordered the Centre to prioritize public health over cheap power, and reduce SOx and particulate matter (PM) emissions from these coal-fired plants by Dec 31, 2021. A majority of the NTPC- and Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC)-owned units are located in Uttar Pradesh and Bengal.

State government and privately owned units have also been ordered to reduce their emissions. The Supreme Court had previously slammed the Centre for allowing India’s thermal power plants time till Dec 2022 to reduce their emissions.

50% potential drop in India’s coal demand by 2050, predicts IIM-A report

The Coal Transitions report by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), has hinted that India’s demand for coal could fall by as much as 50% by 2050 if it were to pursue sustainable growth strategies aligned with keeping global warming to well under 2°C.

The report also suggests maximizing the efficiency of the country’s existing coal plants and more investment in renewables – to avoid the piling up of more coal-fired stressed assets and bad debts as India undertakes a possibly difficult transition away from its primary source of energy.

Japan’s Marubeni says climate change an existential issue, pulls out of building coal-fired power plants

Japanese energy giant Marubeni Corp. will – in-principle – pull out of building any new coal-fired power plants after publicly acknowledging climate change as an existential threat to humanity. It will also halve its ownership in existing coal plants by 2030 and double its clean energy portfolio to 20% by 2023.

The news could upset global coal supply forecasts as Marubeni has 12GW worth of coal power plants in development across Japan and emerging energy markets – such as Botswana, Mongolia, Vietnam and Myanmar.

ACT first in Australia to join UN’s anti-coal power alliance amidst soaring emissions, coal exports

Amidst reports of Australia’s carbon emissions reaching its highest levels ever, and a gloomy outlook on the country meeting its Paris Agreement targets, comes a ray of hope. The Australian Capital Territory has become the country’s first jurisdiction to join the UN’s PoweringPastCoal Alliance and will be 100% renewables-powered by 2045.

This move is significant as Australia’s thermal coal exports have grown 14% since July 2017, even as Pacific island nations urge it to reduce its emissions – which they allege are driving sea level rise and droughts on their islands.

Trump govt seeks to relax Obama-era methane laws, proposes oil, gas firms leak 3.80 lakh tonnes

US oil and gas firms could be allowed to leak as much as 3,80,000 tonnes of methane into the atmosphere over 2019-2025, as per a proposal by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The proposal also relaxes rules for how energy firms should monitor and repair methane leaks. The government agency has, however, admitted the plan “may degrade air quality and adversely affect health and welfare”, but would save the industry $75 million in annual regulatory costs.

California’s pro-climate governor Jerry Brown has called the proposal “insane” and “bordering on criminality” as methane traps 84 times more atmospheric heat than CO2.