Vol 1, Jan 2023 | A year of great reform ?

This year could be crucial for long-term, cooperative climate action for India, given the significant global dynamics under the country’s G20 presidency. Photo: G20.org

Standing at the junction of major global shifts, the current year could prove decisive for long-term collaborative climate action .Read more

The climate story of 2023 will be all about financial reform and the G20

Standing at the junction of major global shifts, the current year could prove decisive for long-term collaborative climate action

Last year will carry a legacy of shaking up the world. While still in recovery from the jolt of a debilitating global pandemic, Russia’s military action in Ukraine early in the year once again threw the world off balance. The recalibration of global politics and the economic sanctions aimed at Russia triggered widespread economic disruptions. Energy and commodity markets spiralled in reaction to huge supply chain uncertainties. It didn’t take long for the contagion from the energy and food crises to spread. The inflationary pressures from the energy and food crises and the monetary tightening by central banks around the world in response, and particularly in the US, has put it on the brink of a global economic recession.

Last year was also a year of contradiction. While energy insecurity propelled the adoption of renewables, it also forced a choice between future objectives and immediate imperatives. Faced with the prospect of out-of-control living expenses and crippling energy shortages, several nations (most notably in Europe) reactively hit pause on their climate ambitions. The dissonance was most visible in Europe. While the European Parliament deliberated emission cut targets for the decade, nations within the bloc were putting in motion plans to roll back curbs on coal. The search for alternatives to Russian oil and gas has led to an increase in demand from oil producers and expansion of exploration and drilling in new locations, potentially locking in fossil fuel emissions for several decades to come.

If there is one thing that has become painfully clear over the years, it is that climate change does not pause, no matter what else the world is dealing with. Last year was yet more proof of that, as a multitude of extreme weather events provided constant reminder of the worsening impacts of climate change. The concurrence of crises on several fronts, meant that the added burden of climate impacts could no longer be swept under the rug. Saddled with huge debts and challenging economic conditions, the demand for separate redressal measures to deal with the disastrous impacts of climate change. The catastrophic floods in Pakistan, which has a sizeable role to play in country’s current economic woes, was ostensibly the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to perhaps the biggest moment in the climate story of 2022. With demands for a separate and independent funding mechanism to address loss and damage growing too loud to ignore, the decision to set up such a mechanism was finally adopted at the COP27 in Egypt in November last year. What shape this fund will ultimately take will depend on a series of deliberations over coming months and years. The fund though represents a small part of a much wider demand of financial reform in a way that takes challenges from climate change into account. As momentum builds for such reforms amidst a backdrop of deep economic uncertainty, it is becoming more than likely that the global financial system will be forced the reckon with the climate question that looms overhead.

The shape of global ambition

At the junction of these crises and the fragilities they have exposed, India has found the contours of its global ambitions. Late last year, in the midst of this global shuffle, India assumed the presidency of the G20. The grouping of the world’s 20 major economies accounts for around three-fourth of all international trade and around four-fifths of global emissions, and so holds considerable sway in the shaping of global policy. For India, stewardship presents an opportunity to become a key facilitator in global problem solving. The G20 presidency has also seemingly catalysed an amp up of India’s claims as the ‘voice of the Global South’, with this week witnessing a virtual summit of 120 developing countries with an objective to strengthen strategic cooperation, particularly at international forums like the G20. Importantly, the Indian government is mulling a move to push the elevation of the 55-nation African Union as a permanent member of the G20, a move that has received endorsements from the US and Japan.

The Indian government will also look to find space for domestic developmental imperatives in any new economic paradigm that takes shape, and in the process attract foreign investments into the country. Importantly, a successful presidency could go some way in demonstrating the country’s influence in a fluid geopolitical and economic arena. To a political end, a claim to raising India’s global stature could pay impressive dividend for the ruling NDA coalition in the run up to next year’s general election.

The Centre has pulled out all stops to showcase the significance of its G20 presidency. Host cities of G20 meetings have been generously peppered with hoardings and government adverts publicising the presidency. Beautification projects have surged as cities attempt urgent facelifts in anticipation of visiting delegates. As far as the meetings go, India’s priorities are heavily derived from the fragilities exposed by last year’s poly-crises. Incidentally, overlaps with the sphere of climate action are unmissable.

While the “Sherpa Track” of G20 deliberations has 13 separate workstreams, India’s stated priorities broadly reflect climate change and collaborative climate action as a unifying theme. Separately, the “Finance Track” of the G20 schedule includes a workstream on Sustainable Finance. Acknowledging the centrality of developmental challenges posed by climate change and climate action, S Jaishankar, India’s Minister for External Affairs, stated that G20 presidency will look to establish a “Green Development Pact” at last week’s virtual Global South Summit with a view to map out actions over the next decade.

Food, Fuel, Finance

Such a pact will likely go through questions surrounding food security and energy transition. Dating back to 2014, the G20 has a Food Security and Nutrition Framework to mobilise investments in sustainable food systems and facilitate reform in trade regimes. Food security has been high on the G20 agenda since the global COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.  The Indian presidency will look to build on significant decisions taken in the last two years which have called for reforms in international agricultural trade. Last year’s Bali Declaration asserts its “support for open, transparent, inclusive, predictable, and non-discriminatory, rules-based agricultural trade based on WTO rules.” This strand is likely to be picked up for further deliberation in India, where along with other developing countries in attendance, will look to sustain pressure for changes in WTO rules pertaining to farming subsidies in developed economies to improve equity in agricultural markets.

On the energy transition front, Indonesia’s G20 presidency last year delivered the significant ‘Bali Energy Transitions Roadmap’ for the decade, which is a set of twelve action points aimed at increasing energy access, scaling up clean and efficient energy technologies, and increasing energy transition finance. The first component of the roadmap is the two-page ‘Bali Compact’ containing nine voluntary principles for smooth and effective energy transitions. India’s task in the current year will be to build on the progress made in Indonesia. While the ‘Bali Compact’ commits to the phasing down of unabated coal power, the Roadmap is explicit in its clarity that the transition will be subject to national circumstances, needs and priorities. Emphasis is rather on “diversifying energy systems and mixes as well as lowering emissions from all energy sources…” This offers India some space on the contentious issue of coal, and also room to pivot on more amenable issues of energy efficiency, alternate fuels and renewable energy supply chains— all areas in which the country has expressed some global ambition.

Finance for the global energy transition is a prominent feature of the Bali Compact and the larger Energy Transition Roadmap. Although there is ample recognition of the need to scale up finance, the mechanisms to ensure the requisite flows are still being figured out. Just Energy Transition-Partnership or JET-P deals have been the most visible in terms of financial support, but these have come with their own issues. Although India has been a prominent candidate for a JET-P deal since its announcement at COP26 in Glasgow, India’s Coal and Power ministries are wary of conditions of reform that may come attached with any such deal. This will be a key challenge that the Indian presidency will look to address. International donors and multilateral financial institutions have begun to look at future energy related investments from the lense of phasedown or phaseout of coal. Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) announced by G7 countries under the leadership of Germany is based on this premise… As G20 President, India will have the challenge to ensure that the expansion of JETP does not hinge on a plan whose sole aim is to facilitate withdrawal of coal related investments. A plan of transition based on this strategy would be harmful for India’s energy security and stability of the power sector in the short term,” writes former Indian climate negotiator RR Rashmi.

Much of the reform needed to drive significant changes in financing structures, however, lies with the Sustainable Finance Working Group which meets under the Finance Track of the G20. Going by the timeline agreed under the Sustainable Finance Roadmap adopted in Italy, India’s presidency is likely to be a significant one. With the Indian government rolling out its Sovereign Green Bonds and preparing a sustainable taxonomy to drive investments, the question of global interoperability of sustainable finance regulations will be an important one for the G20 to tackle. Perhaps more important is clarity on the reform that is needed at the level of multilateral development banks (MDBs). MDB reforms with a view to reflect climate and sustainability risks have long been under discussion, and actions are due to be finalised this year as per the timeline agreed under the Sustainable Finance Roadmap. As the G20 president, India has a big opportunity to play a key role in resolving the MDB stalemate.

The dam is about to break

It is not just from the G20 that the MDBs are under pressure. Increased indebtedness in vulnerable countries due to and the growing burden of climate impacts have brought conventional lending practices and financial structures under scrutiny. Poor and developing countries are disproportionately recipients of short-term debt with unfavourable repayment conditions. The demand for large financial facilities and institutions to reflect key climate risks and liabilities was articulated in the ‘Bridgetown Agenda for the Reform of the Global Financial Architecture’ spearheaded by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley. The declaration for the initiative consists of a three-step action plan for MDBs to incorporate climate risks and expand lending to vulnerable countries.

The catastrophic floods in Pakistan, apart from galvanising the demand for a separate fund to address loss and damage associated with climate impacts, is also turning out to be a key pressure point for reform in financial systems. Last week, on the sidelines of a conference in Geneva, Pakistan PM Shahbaz Sharif met with IMF Chief Kristalina Georgieva to appeal for relaxations in repayment conditions as the country waits for the next tranche of IMF funds for the cash-strapped country. Whether Pakistan will ultimately succeed in its plea or not, the devastating economic fallout which could eventually push the country to default on its debt has rung alarm bells in other developing and vulnerable countries.

The current year is likely to be a big one when it comes to developments in climate finance. Key annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank in April and October will be punctuated by a summit on the Bridgetown Agenda in June being jointly hosted by France and Barbados. Outside of the front pages of most newspapers, tight monetary conditions globally, rising costs of climate impacts and the rapidly growing need for mitigation finance is culminating into unprecedented pressure for climate-responsive financial reform. This year could very well be the year the dam finally breaks.

Winter woes: Low temperatures are hitting parts of the country, owing to a cold wave. Photo: Ahron de Leeuw/flickr

Cold waves notwithstanding, India recorded warmest December in 122 years

By the end of December, North India came under the spell of cold wave: In Rajasthan, Fatehpur recorded a low -1.5°C, seven notches below normal. Churu and Karauli recorded the next lowest night temperature at 0°C and 0.2°C, respectively. Delhi recorded its second coldest January morning in 16 years: 1.9°C at Safdarjung was five degrees below normal which dropped further to 1.4°C on January 16. A cold wave is declared when the minimum temperature is 4.5°C or more below the normal mark, or when it drops to 4°C or lower. Starting January 5, Safdarjung area in Delhi recorded cold wave conditions. Cold wave conditions have continued well into January.

In Uttar Pradesh, daytime temperatures were significantly lower than usual: Bareilly (11.9°C) and Aligarh (11.0°C), with both recording a negative deviation of over 10°C. According to IMD data, Jammu and Kashmir recorded sub-zero minimum temperatures on Monday : Srinagar at -3.5°C; Pahalgam at -5.7°C; Gulmarg at -5°C; Leh at -13.4°C; Kargil at -10.3°C. According to officials, intense cold conditions led to freezing of water supply lines in many areas of Kashmir, as well as the freezing of the interiors of the Dal Lake.

Despite the drop in temperatures over past weeks, India experienced its warmest December in 122 years with average minimum temperature 1.21 degrees above normal and the average maximum temperature 0.79°C above normal, as per the India Meteorological Department. The  country average of maximum, minimum and mean temperature was 27.32°C, 15.65°C and 21.49°C respectively in December 2022, compared to the normal of 26.53 °C, 14.44 °Cand 20.49°C. There was a country-wide decline in rainfall in December at 13.6 mm, which was 14% less than the Long Period Average (LPA) of 15.9 mm. Rainfall was also deficient over most of the country, barring the southern peninsula which saw a large excess of 79%. Overall, India witnessed 83% rain deficiency, 77% rain deficiency over central India; 53% rain deficiency over east and northeast India and 79% excess over peninsular India. Scientists find such warm temperatures in the year of La Nina (the event makes the central and eastern Pacific Ocean colder than normal) unusual. 

India: Wheat, mustard and oilseed yields to increase under cold spell

The drop in temperatures in India over recent weeks could be a boon for the the country’s winter crops. India is all set to reap a bumper harvest of wheat, the main winter staple, and also mustard. According to the report, the cold spell in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh will help improve yields of not just wheat, but also coarse cereals like barley and jowar, pulses and oilseeds. The stocks of these rabi crops are expected to replenish after a year of tight supply of food items like rice and wheat, effectively stabilising food inflation, the report added. 

Heatwaves followed by patchy rains depleted India’s crop yields in 2022. India’s wheat output dropped from 109.59 million tonnes to 106.84 million tonnes in March 2022; and then, the patchy rains during monsoon shrunk rice output by 5-6%, the report said. “We expect wheat output to be around 111-112 million tonnes. The cold weather has provided the necessary chill factor for good crop development. Farmers have expanded the area under wheat due to prevailing high prices,” Rahul Chauhan, a commodities tracker, told the weather channel.

Himalayas was almost snow-free in December 2022

According to India Meteorological Department, the Himalayas were almost snow-free in December 2022, because of the absence of a strong western disturbance (cyclonic formations originating in the Mediterranean that bring winter rain and snow to northwest India starting November), HT reported. As a result, the peaks remained brown instead of receiving moderate spells of snowfall, reported HT. Normally, northwest India sees 2-3 moderate to strong western disturbances in November and 2-3 in December, but since November 10, there have been none, the report said. Himachal Pradesh recorded 97% rainfall/snowfall deficiency, Jammu & Kashmir 80% deficiency in December according to IMD. Uttarakhand recorded no rainfall or snowfall.

Meanwhile, the government told Parliament that heavy rains damaged agricultural crops mostly in Karnataka in December 2022. The state saw 1,031,102 hectares of damaged crop area, followed by Assam with 245,837.7 ha, the Centre informed the upper house. 

Half of the world’s glaciers will disappear this century: Study

Half of the world’s glaciers will disappear with 1.5°C of global warming scenario for slowing down climate change, according to a new study published in Science and reported by many publications. At least half of that loss will happen in the next 30 years, reported the Guardian. According to the study 3°C of warming would translate into a loss of over 70% of global glaciers and result in about five inches of global sea level rise, reported the Washington Post. 

Almost all glaciers will disappear in central Europe, western Canada and the US by the end of the next century if global temperatures rose under the current 2.7°C warming. This will cause the seas to rise, threaten the supply of water of up to 2 billion people, and increase the risk of natural hazards such as flooding. The study looked at all glacial land ice except for Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

January temperatures at all-time high in Europe

Winter heat “smashed records” all over Europe. Warsaw, Poland, saw 18.9C (66F) on Sunday while Bilbao, Spain, was 25.1°C  — more than 10°C above average, reported the BBC and several other publications. At least seven more European countries have seen record highs. “The door is closing” wrote the Guardian adding that the “heatwave should alarm us all”. The editorial cited a climatologist referring to the winter heat as “the most extreme event in European history”. Poland, where the average January temperature is around 1°C, saw the thermometer climb to 19°C on New Year’s Day.  Ski resorts have shut slopes, corps have been damaged. Sudden thaw can lead to avalanches or floods, the Guardian editorial warned. Carbon Brief cited a Times report that said the thaw in Europe has resulted in a big drop in wholesale gas prices, with lower demand helping the continent keep its storage plants well stocked.

Ocean heat content hits record high, fourth time in  a row: Study 

A new study shows ocean “heat content” has hit a record high in 2022, for the fourth year in a row, in a “clear indication of continued global warming”, reported Axios. The news portal quoted the study co-author Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research who wrote that warm waters in the Indian Ocean helped lead to both record heat in Pakistan and parts of India last year, as well as the deadly flooding that affected much of Pakistan in the late summer. Similarly, the ongoing atmospheric river events in California are being made worse by warm ocean temperatures in parts of the Pacific Ocean, Trenberth told Axios via email.” 

Canada’s peatland permafrost along the coastline have been underestimated: Study

Peatland permafrost in Canada’s northeastern region are grossly underestimated on the assumption that the permafrost is “largely absent” from the coastline, found a new study. By combining satellite imagery with field observations, researchers identified wetland areas that potentially contain permafrost peatland. They found more than 1,000 sites classified as “likely” candidates, “mostly” concentrated within about 22 kilometres of the coast. The researchers wrote that this survey is the “first dedicated peatland permafrost inventory for Labrador” and showed the necessity of revisiting previous estimates of permafrost extent in the region.

The UAE has appointed Sultan al-Jaber, head of state oil giant, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) as president of the COP28 climate conference. Photo: ADNOC

UAE names oil giant CEO as head of COP 28 climate conference

In what is seen as a major conflict of interest, the United Arab Emirates has appointed Sultan al-Jaber, head of state oil giant the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) as president of the COP28 climate conference it is hosting this December. Jaber, who is also UAE’s minister of industry and technology as well as its climate envoy, will help to “develop the COP28 agenda and play a central role in intergovernmental negotiations to build consensus”, reported Reuters. The newswire adds that the UAE and other Gulf energy producers have called for a “realistic energy transition in which hydrocarbons would continue playing a role to ensure energy security while making commitments to decarbonisation”. 

The first “global stocktake” as defined and designed by the Paris agreement is slated to take place at COP 28. To avoid concerns that fossil fuel interests are influencing global climate talks, campaigners are demanding that Jaber must stand down from his oil business role as president as it is a clear conflict of interest. Scientists point out that COPs build up consensus for coordinated action, but the influence of oil and gas interests continue to limit their ambition.

Homes develop cracks in Himalayan town of Joshimath, hundreds of people evacuated

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from the Himalayan town of Joshimath after their homes  developed cracks due to shifting soil. Experts call it “well-engineered calamity”. They had warned that large scale construction work and blasting  in the region would lead to subsidence (sinking) of the land popular with tourists and pilgrims. Fresh cracks have appeared in Karnaprayag in Chamoli district.

Last year in April, the central government declared some highway projects near the borders as sensitive and hence exempted them from requiring an environment clearance (EC). The move environmentalists warned would lead to environmental degradation of the ecologically fragile area, HT had reported. 

Joshimath  will be gone if an under-construction National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) project near it is not shelved, reported DTE. Two tunnels are being dug as part of the Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydroelectric Project. One is being dug from Tapovan and the other from Selang. The Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydropower Project as well as the Helang Bypass should be shelved, wrote the DTE adding that independent scientists have been kept away from studying NTPC’s tunnelling activity. 

PMGKAY food allocations terminated abruptly, PDS to be made completely free instead

The government terminated the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) which allowed all National Food Security Act cardholders (Priority as well as Antyodaya households) bonus cereal rations of 5 kg per person per month in addition to PDS rations. While the initiative, which was started as a COVID-19 relief measure, has been ended, the government has made changes to the overall PDS scheme as well with rations under the scheme being made completely free rather than being made available at highly subsidised rates. The move is envisaged to save the government thousands of crores of rupees per month in additional expenses to support the PMGKAY. According to critics, however, the move need not have been as abrupt and should be followed up by appropriate increases in social security spending. “For poor households, this was a significant economic supplement. For the government, it was a major financial burden…If it is to be discontinued, then the corresponding savings (up to ₹1.8 lakh crore per year or so) should be redeployed in other social security measures,” writes Economist Jean Dreze in the India Forum.

Govt panel suggests notifying afforested land as ‘protected forest’ in some cases under new scheme

Centre’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has proposed that afforested land (land forested for commercial purposes) should be notified as ‘protected forests’ in case there are difficulties in transferring the land to the state forest department under the new accredited compensatory afforestation scheme (ACA), reported the Print, adding that the details of implementation for which are still being worked out.

Accredited compensatory afforestation scheme allows developers to buy afforested land from private or public entities, instead of finding non-forest land & bearing afforestation cost. The scheme introduced through Forest (conservation)” rules of 2022, attempts to compensate for loss of forest land to non-forest activity 

The new NCR plan excludes Aravallis, silent on 0.5% construction limit

Centre has excluded the Aravallis from its definition of natural zones in its proposed draft Regional Plan 2041 and it is also silent on the existing 0.5% cap on construction in one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, reported HT. 

The draft plan removed both the provisions from the existing Regional Plan 2021 plan which defined natural conservation zones (the 2041 plan terms these natural zones) as  “the major natural features, identified as environmentally sensitive areas, are the extension of Aravalli ridge in Rajasthan, Haryana and NCT-Delhi, forest areas, the rivers and tributaries of Yamuna, Ganga, Kali, Hindon and Sahibi, sanctuaries, major lakes and water bodies such as Badkal lake, Suraj Kund and Damdama in Haryana Subregion and Siliserh lake in Rajasthan etc. …ground water recharging areas such as water bodies, oxbow lakes and paleochannels …”.  The 2021 plan also mandated a 0.5% cap on construction in natural conservation zones.

HT reported that NCRPB has said in July 2022 Centre specified a fresh formulation for rewriting the relevant paragraph related to natural zones in the plan which will be placed before the board.

State Auditor: No action plan by govt to handle plastic waste 

The government has no action plan to for the effective implementation of its strategy to tackle plastic waste, found a compliance audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India December 21, 2022. Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016, could not be implemented effectively and efficiently due to a lack of an action plan by the MoEF&CC, the CAG said. The ministry is also lacking in effective coordination with pollution control boards. The ministry was also silent about the existence of a policy for plastic waste reduction, reuse and recycling, CAG observed in its audit.

HSBC breaks green vow, loans money to fossil fuel firm RWE to expand coal mine

Banking giant HSBC reneged from its vow to stop funding fossil fuels by sanctioning a $340m loan to RWE, Europe’s largest energy company. Banks senior members also said the loan should not be publicised by the borrower. The energy company is “bulldozing” a village in Germany to expand a huge coalmine, The Times reported. The mine will cover an area about the size of Swindon and is expected to yield roughly 190m tonnes of lignite, the most polluting of all coal types.“

HSBC told The Times that they have processes to ensure their financing aligns with their policies, which include an expectation on clients to produce and implement credible transition plans.

Blurred vision: Cold wave and smog conditions across the capital hit road, rail and air traffic movement. Photo: Ninara, flickr.

Marginal improvement in air quality 4 years after NCAP launch

Under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), marginal improvements in air quality were seen last year in certain cities but most of them continue to breach the safe limits under the national ambient air quality standards. Delhi remained at the top of the most polluted cities in the country in 2022 with an annual average of PM 2.5 concentration 99.7 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) of air, much above the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) standard of 40 ug/m3 of air, according to analysis by NCAP Tracker which showed that PM 2.5 levels in Delhi showed a 7% improvement from 108 ug/m3 in 2019.

The programme, meant for 131 non-attainment cities, has so far spent over ₹6,897 crore since its launch in Jan 2019. most cities in the top 10 most polluted list of 2022 are from the Indo-Gangetic Plain, demonstrating the need for an airshed approach for better air pollution management in the region beyond Delhi, the report states. Among the least polluted non-attainment cities last year, nine of the 10 cities have,however, breached the annual permissible limit of 60 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) for PM 10, indicating the air isn’t safe even in the cleanest cities.

Data also reiterates the need to check pollution at source to obtain maximum benefit from pollution mitigation efforts. All three of Bihar’s non-attainment cities – Patna, Muzaffarpur and Gaya, now feature in the top 10 most polluted cities on the basis of PM 2.5 levels. In comparison to the 2019 rankings, five cities still rank among the top 10 most polluted cities in the PM2.5 list – Delhi, Noida, Ghaziabad, Jodhpur and Mandi Gobindgarh.

‘Severe’ to ‘very poor’ air quality: low visibility, accidents, train and flight delays

All of last week Delhi saw cold wave conditions (min temperatures around 3 degrees), with very dense fog with visibility to just 25 metres, hitting road, rail and air traffic movement, the weather channel reported. Around 29 trains were delayed by two to five hours, and around 15 flights were affected by the fog. Visibility recorded (in m) at 0530 hours IST of 09.01.2023. Punjab: Bhatinda-0, Amritsar-25; Haryana, Chandigarh & Delhi: Chandigarh-0, Ambala-25, Hissar-50, Delhi (Safdarjung)-25, Delhi (Palam)-50; Uttar Pradesh: Agra-0, Lucknow (Amausi)-0, Varanasi (Babatpur)-25, Bareilly-50,” said India Meteorological Department in a tweet. Satellite imagery revealed the fog layer extended from Punjab and adjoining northwest Rajasthan to Bihar across Haryana, Chandigarh & Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, IMD reported. 

Delhi recorded an overall ‘very poor category’ air quality index at 395 on Monday morning, according to System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR). The AQI at Pusa and Delhi University reached 404 and 415 in the severe category, while Lodhi Road recorded 377, Dhirpur 391 and Ayanagar 379, all in the ‘very poor category’ on Monday morning. An AQI between zero and 50 is considered ‘good’; 51 and 100 ‘satisfactory’; 101 and 200 ‘moderate’; 201 and 300 ‘poor’; 301 and 400 ‘very poor’; and 401 and 500 ‘severe’. WHO recommended level for PM2.5 is 5-10, and PM 10 is 15-20.

Delhi-NCR coal ban: Industries battle soaring gas prices, tough emissions standards

Industries in the National Capital Region (NCR) around Delhi are finding it tough to operate after the government’s Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) banned use of coal and other ‘dirty fuels’ on June 23, 2022. The panel released a list of approved fuels for various applications across NCR which allowed low-sulphur coal in thermal power plants. Rising PNG prices and difficulty in using biomass including the problem of storing it is forcing industrial units to shut down or make plans to relocate out of the NCR. Many units are burning wood as an alternative, which is not in the approved list of fuels, and authorities have not been able to provide a solution for such problems. 

Meanwhile, The commission has ordered pollution control boards to shut the industrial units that are defaulting on fuel norms without warning from January 1, 2023. The commission has allowed firewood and biomass briquettes for religious purposes, cremation, for grill and tandoors, dhabas and restaurants. 

‘Polluted Paradise’: Kashmir’s air quality worsens during winter, and summer

There’s a steep rise in cases of respiratory tract infections because of rising air pollution in Kashmir in winters and in summers as well. reported Mongabay. Srinagar city has the highest incidence of lung cancer in the country, and J&K has a high prevalence of lung diseases, and air pollution is a major risk factor for the ailments, according to a lung specialist quoted by Mongabay. Earlier study of lung cancer had found that Age Standardized Rate  for males and females in Kashmir valley is 11.21/100,000 population, being 17.21/100 000 in males. Srinagar district has the highest ASR of 19.34/100 000 in males in India. According to a study, 4,750 people per 100,000 population suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, with air pollution being the leading risk factor.  A 2018 study indicates  that the emissions due to domestic coal usage account for 84% (1246.5 tons/year) of the total annual emission, followed by the emissions from vehicular combustion that is 220.5 tons/year. The least are the emissions from fuel wood burning that is around 8.06 tons/year.

Srinagar has been declared as a Non-attainment city (NAC) in the J&K action plan under the National Clean Air Program (NCAP). Non-attainment cities are those that have fallen short of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for over five years.

PM 2.5 Study: Chloride dominates inorganic aerosol formation from ammonia in the Indo-Gangetic Plain during winter

A new study from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology has found that Chloride (HCl / Cl−) dominates inorganic aerosol formation from ammonia in the Indo-Gangetic Plain during winter:  The study shows Chloride was missing from the assessments in the standard model. The study, for the first time in South Asia, evaluates the performance of a chemical transport model (WRF-Chem) in modeling NH3, NH, and total NHx, by comparing them against the The Winter Fog Experiment (WiFEX) measurements (MARGA). 

The study said, under the winter conditions of high relative humidity (RH) in Delhi, hydrogen chloride (HCl) was found to promote the increase in the particle fraction of NH (which accounted for 49.5 % of the resolved aerosol in equivalent units), with chloride (Cl−) (29.7 %) as the primary anion. By contrast, the absence of chloride (HCl  Cl−) chemistry in the standard WRF-Chem model results in the prediction of sulfate (SO) as the dominant inorganic aerosol anion. Scientists concluded that modelling the fate of NH3 in Delhi requires a correct chemistry mechanism accounting for chloride dynamics with accurate inventories of both NH3 and HCl emissions.

The study suggests that anthropogenic HCl may be promoting this increase in particle fraction of NH and Cl− via partitioning into the aerosol, deprotonating in the aerosol water, followed by NH3 partitioning and being protonated by the ionization of the strong electrolyte HCl. 

Typical Delhi winter conditions of excess NH3, high RH, and low T favor gas-to-particle partitioning of NH3. It is likely that high Cl− in Delhi resulted from gas–to-particle partitioning of HCl into aerosol water in the presence of excess NH3 . The site was impacted by a cluster in northwest Delhi of industrial processes, such as steel pickling industries, and others include metal finishing and electroplating, which are known to be vital HCl emitters, the study said. 

Indoor air pollution: US govt agency plans to ban gas stoves

A US government agency is planning to ban gas stoves amid rising concern about harmful indoor air pollutants emitted by the appliances. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission is considering a ban  to address the pollution which can cause respiratory problems. “This is a hidden hazard,” Richard Trumka Jr., an agency commissioner, said in an interview. “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”, reported Bloomberg citing new peer-reviewed research published last month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that more than 12% of current childhood asthma cases in the US can be attributed to gas stove use.

Natural gas (campaigners say the term “natural” was coined by fossil fuel industry itself) stoves which are used in about 40% of homes in the US, emit NO2, CO (carbon monoxide) and fine particulate matter at levels the EPA and WHO have declared unsafe and linked to respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems and  cancer, according to reports

Few lawmakers in a letter asked the commission to consider warning labels, range hoods and performance standards and called gas-stove emissions a “cumulative burden” on Black, Latino and low-income households that disproportionately experience air pollution. 

The Mission plans to export green hydrogen and simultaneously reduce fossil fuel imports of over ₹1 lakh crore.

India approves Green Hydrogen Mission: To invite bids for subsidies by May?

Government sources told Reuters by May 2023 India will invite bids for subsidies for setting up green-hydrogen manufacturing and utilisation hubs, fertiliser and steel plants based on the fuel, and factories for making electrolysers.  Last week, the Centre approved the National Green Hydrogen Mission with a green hydrogen production capacity target of at least five million metric tonnes (mmt) and an associated renewable energy capacity addition of about 125 gigawatts (GW) by 2030. 

The Mission plans to export green hydrogen and simultaneously reduce fossil fuel imports of over ₹1 lakh crore. Over ₹8 lakh crore in investments is expected for infrastructure development. The first disbursement for the Mission will be ₹19,744 crore, including an outlay of ₹17,490 crore under the Strategic Interventions for Green Hydrogen Transition (SIGHT) programme.

The programme’s incentive is to target the domestic manufacturing of electrolysers along with the production of green hydrogen. Electrolysis powered by renewable electricity is used to produce green hydrogen. Towards this, 60-100 GW of electrolyser capacity is planned. Reuters reported that India plans to reduce cost to reduce the production cost of green hydrogen by a fifth over the next five years, in part by increasing the scale of the industry.

India launches first-ever sovereign green bonds auction, big coal to benefit indirectly?

The Reserve Bank of India said it will auction 160 billion rupees ($1.93 billion) worth of green bonds in two tranches, to raise funds for clean projects. On Jan 25 and Feb 9, the central bank will auction 5-year and 10-year green bonds worth 40 billion rupees each. The proceeds will be used to fund solar power projects, followed by wind and  small hydro projects and other “public sector projects which help inreducing the carbon intensity of the economy,” the RBI said.

Power minister said the government has worked out the PLI (production linked incentive) scheme for the  domestic manufacturing of electrolysers that will cover manufacture of 15 gigawatts (GW) capacity, which is expected to reach “almost in the region of 60 GW by 2030”, to become the world’s largest electrolyser manufacturing capacity.

The government-appointed evaluation agency CICERO, which provides opinion on green financing frameworks, highlighted the pitfalls, stating that India’s green bonds could indirectly back big coal firms. It said that subsidies to support the expansion of renewable energy such as wind and solar power may be given to large companies that are heavily involved in coal-based power generation.

122 GW vs 175 GW by 2022: India misses renewable energy target by 30%

India missed its renewable energy goal by more than 30% in 2022. Bridge To India estimated that the country installed a cumulative renewable capacity (excluding large hydro) of 122 GW by December: 53 GW short of its 175 GW target. Reuters cited government officials blaming COVID constraints for the shortfall of renewable energy to its power grid by 2022, short of its target of 175 GW.

The annual average solar and wind capacity addition over the last five years remained at 9 GW compared to the 19 GW target. Annual wind capacity addition was at the abysmal low of 2 GW per year.

India’s next “extremely ambitious”  target is to add 36 GW of combined solar and won capacity annually up to 2030. According to experts the constraints include: lack of domestically manufactured supply, 40% basic customs duty (BCD) on solar imports, and ALMM (Approved List of Models and Manufacturers) policy.

The current year is expected to signal a turnaround with early estimates suggesting record capacity addition of 18.8GW, 50% up, with a split of 90:10 between solar and wind.

83% of Indian states miss renewable purchase obligation target in 2022

According to the Bridge to India analysis, 25 of the 30 states had adopted Renewable Purchase Obligation targets lower than the central government target of 21.2% for FY 2022. Targets were not enforced by state regulators because of the poor financial condition of DISCOMs, intermittency concerns, lack of renewable resources, and/ or land at a reasonable cost, according to the report. Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and West Bengal are the main laggards. Only five states including Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana have adopted the enhanced RPO target of 43.3% for FY 2030.

The Bridge to India analysts said timely implementation of the recent announcement of a 500 GW transmission plan by CEA is key.. Centre needs to activate demand by undertaking efforts to boost grid flexibility, investment in storage infrastructure, and demand management.   

Payback time: Producers who failed to adhere to the required level of localization for receiving financial benefits under the programme may be required to pay back the subsidy.

Govt planning to recover wrongly claimed subsidies by EV makers

According to a report in the Economic Times, the Centre plans to initiate recovery of wrongly claimed subsidies by electric vehicle makers under FAME II. The scheme, which cost  ₹10,000 crores, was specifically designed to encourage local manufacturing and the use of transportation options without tailpipe emissions. The Ministry of Heavy Industries (MHI) has started the process to determine the amount of subsidies utilised by producers who failed to adhere to the required level of localization for receiving financial benefits under the programme.

In 2022, the MHI received complaints about misappropriation of subsidies by some EV manufacturers. Consequently, the ministry stopped disbursing subsidies to EV makers, pending investigation. This has led to a build-up of subsidy amounts that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are seeking from the Centre, claiming that EVs have already been sold to end consumers at a discount. According to the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV), the MHI has withheld  ₹1,100 crore of subsidy that is due to OEMs while EV makers claimed that the decision to withhold subsidies is affecting their operations.

EV manufacturers seek subsidy extension under FAME-II in Budget

In its pre-Budget recommendations, the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV) sought extension of subsidies for EVs under the FAME II scheme. In order to boost electric mobility, the industry organisation also suggested including light to heavy commercial vehicles in it and called for a consistent 5 percent GST on spare components for electric vehicles. SMEV said that the extension is needed as the subsidy is yet to meet the penetration it was supposed to catalyse. For now, the validity of FAME II expires on March 31, 2024. Rather than being time-based, the new  FAME II scheme should be linked to e-mobility conversion, the SMEV added. 

Pointing out that trucks account for over 40% of the country’s fuel consumption and GHG emissions across the road transport sector, the body urged inclusion of light commercial vehicles (LCV) and medium and heavy commercial vehicles (M&HCV) on a project-mode basis. Also, SMEV  asked the government to consider reducing the basic customs duty on cells to zero until these are manufactured in India, citing that Lithium-ion cell manufacturing in the country is still at a nascent stage. 

E-bus tender costing 29 % lower than diesel buses

Prices discovered for electric buses under the National Electric Bus Programme (NEBP) were found to be 29% less than those for diesel buses. Convergence Energy Services Ltd., a state-owned company and a fully-owned subsidiary of Energy Efficiency Services Ltd. (EESL), made the claim after studying price discoveries for 6,465 electric buses which were part of the first NEBP tender. Six Indian states and union territories including Delhi, Telangana, Haryana, Surat (Gujarat), Kerala, and Arunachal Pradesh represented this single tender demanding E-buses.

The lowest price for a 12-meter bus was found to be ₹54.3/km for intra-city travel and ₹39.8/km for intercity travel. The price found was ₹54.46/km for a 9-meter bus and ₹61.92/km for a 7-meter bus. Over a twelve-year period, it is anticipated that the buses will travel about 5,718 million kilometres and conserve 1,842 million litres of fossil fuel. As a result, 4.62 million tonnes of CO2e will be released from tailpipes, which is a significant step in the direction of climate change mitigation. This tender is a part of the .The central government’s goal is to put 50,000 electric buses on the roads over the next three years.

Central government releases tender for 4,675 E-buses

A tender for the purchase, supply, and maintenance of 4,675 electric buses has been released by Convergence Energy Services (CESL), a fully owned subsidiary of Energy Efficiency Services (EESL). Reportedly, the National E-Bus Program (NEBP) Phase II construction of allied electric and civil infrastructure is also included in the tender’s terms. 

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), operating subsidiaries of OEMs, financial aggregators, or operators who are unrelated to OEMs must be among the bidders taking part in the process. The tender stated that at least 25 e-buses or 1,000 CNG buses must have been produced and delivered in India or elsewhere by the OEMs or their subsidiaries participating in the tender as a single bidder or as a member of a consortium. The deadline for submitting bids is February 20, 2023.

Indian electricity regulator orders power cos to be compensated for forced generation in 2022

The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) last week clarified that power producers will have to be compensated for losses incurred as a result of a government order from last year that forced thermal power stations to remain operational. In May 2022, surging coal prices and low supply volumes forced several power producers to halt operations. Responding to the power crunch at a time of high demand, the Indian government invoked an emergency clause in the Electricity Act to direct power plants to use imported coal to tide over supply shortages and meet high demands. The power regulator’s order from January 3, 2023, which came after an appeal from Tata Power against the tariff fixed by the Power Ministry, states that tariffs for plants that were forced to use imported coal must cover all procurement costs as well as a “reasonable profit margin.”

Despite growth in production, investor interest in Indian coal remains low

Coal production in India rose by over 16% during the April-December 2022 period, compared to the corresponding period in the previous fiscal. The country’s coal output in the April to December timeframe went from 522.34MT in 2021 to 607.97MT in 2022. Coal India Limited (CIL), which dominates India’s coal production, registered a 15.82% growth, bringing its output to almost 480MT. After successfully ramping up overall coal output, the Centre is now sharpening its focus on coking coal. Four new blocks have reportedly been identified for commercial licensing and geological reports for another six are awaited. CIL, for their part, are also in the midst of plans to ramp up production from their existing mines as part of the campaign to reduce import dependence.

Although liberalisation of the coal regime and improvements in connectivity have been credited with the increased output, this hasn’t translated in any major way to investor enthusiasm. According to the statement made by Coal and Mines Minister Prahlad Joshi during the winter session of the parliament, only eight out of the 99 mines for which bids were invited in December 2021 were successfully auctioned. Meanwhile, CIL received the green light from the parliamentary panel to undertake acquisition of mines abroad after detailed analysis of the blocks and feasibility studies, particularly for low ash coking coal.

China’s coal imports from Australia resume after two years

Large importers of Australian coal in China have reportedly been allowed to resume their purchases after a two-year hiatus. The unofficial ban in Australian coal imports was imposed in late 2020, following Australia’s support for an international inquiry into China’s handling of the initial COVID outbreak. Now as China lifts its domestic ‘Zero-COVID’ policy, a surge in cases has scuppered coal supply, the country is looking to avoid possibilities of an energy crunch.

US oil and gas industry wins big as Biden administration defers smog plan

Plans to formally label parts of the Permian Basin as violating federal air quality standards has been deferred indefinitely. The Permian Basin, which accounts for around 40% of all the oil produced in the US, has been reported as having hazardous air quality including elevated levels of surface ozone. Emissions from the oil and gas industry operating in the region have been implicated as the reason behind the ozone pollution and resultant smog. The Environment Protection Agency had been considering labelling the region to indicate hazardous air quality and spur new pollution curbs on the industry. The environment regulator has now had to drop plans to do so as the White House exhorts oil and gas producers to pump more in order to keep prices in check.