Will the new laws lead to more GHG emissions from India’s farms?

Newsletter - April 8, 2021

Side effects: India’s agricultural policy has the daunting task of meeting the demands of a growing population while keeping agricultural emissions in check | Photo: VFL Agro

Will the new laws lead to more GHG emissions from India’s farms?

Experts fear the recently passed farm laws are pushing India’s agriculture sector towards more intensive, industrial farming that comes with a larger carbon footprint

The Farmer (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, will set in motion the push for contract farming, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, lifts regulations for storing essential grains, and thereby increasing hoarding. While the laws have been introduced in response to long standing demands for market reform, and promise to alleviate farm distress, will the single-minded focus on liberalisation eventually backfire due to neglected environmental costs?

India’s food production will have to increase substantially in the coming decades to cater to a growing population with demand predicted to increase by 70% by 2050. The fact that this will need to be done while keeping greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture in check makes the prospect significantly trickier. The agricultural sector is not only a major contributor to climate change, but also the one most affected by it. With the passing of the latest farm laws, there are fears that the direction in which Indian agricultural sector is being pushed may result in intensive agriculture with a larger carbon footprint.

Is contract farming a short-term fix?

The more contentious provisions of the laws are to do with the promotion of contract farming— a system in which farmers enter periodic contractual agreements with larger companies for specific produce and yields— as the panacea for India’s agricultural stress.

“Evidence from contract farming is that it is intensive and companies rarely have long-term interest in the land and farmers,” explains Braja Bandhu Swain, scientist and programme coordinator, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), New Delhi. Research has shown that contract farming leads to problems like degradation of traditional knowledge, soil quality and a bias towards large farmers.

India is the third-largest emitter of GHGs, and currently, agriculture accounts for about 19% of its emissions. Globally, agriculture, forestry, and other land use changes account for 24% of anthropogenic GHG emissions, mainly from deforestation and agricultural emissions.

“Intensification of agriculture is one way of reducing GHG emission per unit product. However, over-application of production resources can be damaging,” says Tek B Sapkota, Agricultural Systems and Climate Change Scientist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). 

Some of the most obvious outcomes of intensive farming are excess fertiliser and pesticide use, shifts towards livestock and cash crops, and land-use change, which can accelerate emissions of GHGs, including carbon dioxide (burning and fossil fuel and stubble), methane (livestock, inundating paddy fields) and nitrous oxide (fertilisers, fossil fuels). Other practices such as stubble burning and flooding of paddy fields have been identified as significant contributors to increase in carbon and nitrogen emissions as well. 

“By definition, contract farming is neutral to ecology, and focuses more on market linkage, risk reduction for farmers and price assurance,” says farmers rights activist Kapil Shah of Jatan Trust, Gujarat. However, since most companies focus on productivity and the quality, as defined by corporates for food processing, contract farming invariably leads to intensive and industrial agriculture for either export or the food processing industry. The laws, he says, do not take into consideration environmental aspects and this can have disastrous long-term consequences. 

Changing the way farms are managed

“GHG emissions from agricultural activities depend on how farms are managed, which isn’t directly related to contract farming. However, contract farming may affect the way the field is managed, consequentially influencing GHG emissions,” says Sapkota. 

A majority of India’s agricultural GHG emissions occur at the primary production state, Sapkota says. This includes the production and use of agricultural inputs, farm machinery, soil disturbance, residue management and irrigation. These steps help increase yields and improve harvests. 

“With contract farming, what matters is the technical package that is pushed. This can include finer details like what is grown, the methodology, inputs and the agricultural extension services that are pushed,” explains Shah. Unfortunately, the number of organic contract farmers are few and far between, and most global FMCG and other corporate giants practice input-intensive agriculture, he notes. 

Shah explains that contract farmers will not need any approvals from state agricultural universities, which generally vet all agricultural packages in keeping with larger policies. This means contract farmers will bypass even basic checks. 

“If the expectation was to move away from intensive, industrial farming, that is probably not the direction we are headed in,” says Shreya Sinha, a research associate at University of Cambridge. In her work across Punjab and Haryana, she has found that the industrialisation of agriculture and its impacts are already underway. 

India’s agricultural GHG footprint

A quick look at the current GHG emissions from India’s agriculture sector shows which crops and practices contribute the most to climate change. Crop and livestock production contribute 42% and 58% to total agricultural emissions respectively. Rice, wheat, cotton and sugarcane – all export-oriented cash crops – together constitute 80% of total crop emissions. Cattle, buffalo, sheep and goat constituted 99% of total livestock-related emissions. Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and West Bengal are the highest GHG emitters as they have larger area under crops and livestock.

State-Wise distribution of GHG emissions from crops, livestock and crops+livestock | Source: T.B Sapkota et al./ Science of the Total Environment (2019)
Total national emissions from crops and livestock | Source: T.B Sapkota et al./ Science of the Total Environment (2019)

The contract farming experience so far

Contract farming isn’t new to India. The practice was common for 25 crops and livestock through 100 different schemes across states as of 2016. Some companies engaged in contract farming are Mahindra, Satyam, ITC Limited, Rallis and PepsiCo. 

Despite its resource-intensive reputation, when combined with policies pushing for climate change adaptation methods, contract farming has been found to be beneficial to farmers, as seen in Ghana. Research from the US though has also found that contracts posed structural constraints when adopting mitigation practices in agriculture. 

The environmental cost needs to be accounted for

India is the second-largest user of fertilisers in the world, with urea accounting for 82% of the nitrogen consumption and di-ammonium phosphate for 63% of phosphate consumption. An FAO report notes that the country’s fertiliser consumption, covering mainly nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium inputs, increased from less than 1 million tonnes of total nutrients in the mid-1960s to almost 17 million tonnes in 2005. According to this independent estimate, India’s fertilizer demand stood at 61.4 million tonnes in 2020. India is now the largest producer of milk, fruits and pulses, with the largest population of buffaloes. It is the second-largest producer of wheat and rice.

Experts say that on the back of the government’s promise to increase farmers income, the current laws are in fact aimed to shift India’s export policy by increasing agricultural exports from $40 billion to $100 billion. But all this has, and will continue to, come at an environmental cost. 

In 2006-07 (the last year for which this estimate is available in the public domain), GHG emissions from fertiliser manufacture and use in India reached nearly 50 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent, which represents about 3% of total Indian greenhouse gas emissions. 

Over the past two decades, India’s fertiliser use per hectare has grown by nearly 70%. The efficiency of fertiliser use in India is so poor that nearly 65%-75% of nitrogen applied to the soil is lost and only 30%-45% is useful resulting in severe negative externalities, Sapkota explains. 

Every quintal of nitrogen applied in farming emits 1.25 kg of nitrous oxide, the third-most influential GHG. Not only does it have 300 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide, it remains in the air for over 100 years. In India, about 78% of methane and nitrous oxide emissions are estimated to be from the agricultural sector. Nitrous oxide emitted from fertiliser use alone causes 26% of agri-related emissions

Sapkota says there are ways to increase the efficiency and crop output without increasing nitrogen use. However, Swain has found that firms motivate farmers to use more agro-chemicals to achieve higher yields compared to non-contracted farms, showing little concern for long-term soil health or water quality.

“Companies can always find newer lands to cultivate, leaving the farmers with neither profits nor arable land,” says Swain. While the recent farm laws mention that it will look to protect land and soil quality overtime, there is little in terms of provisions to back these pronouncements. 

A missed opportunity 

India has repeatedly reiterated that it is committed to reducing GHG emissions in the agricultural sector, and has floated several initiatives, soil testing labs, and policies to tackle this over the last decade. However, there has been nary a discussion on the impact the farm laws will have on GHG emissions. 

“The farm laws are a missed opportunity to talk about the environment and climate change,” Sinha says.  

Shah observed that not just the government, but civil society, too, isn’t demanding an amendment to address environmental consequences these laws might have. 

Eventually, Sapkota says, it is the governments and markets that can play a huge role in shifting to sustainable practices.

He gave the example of the high-yielding variety of paddy, which was pushed during the Green Revolution post-1960s. While it was necessary for India to focus on food security back then, there are several practices in paddy cultivation, which are now contributing to GHG emissions and it may be time to change. 

India’s rice production has increased so dramatically that it exported 9 million tonnes of rice in 2019-2020, and is set to double the export volume in 2021. 

Methane from rice production is a significant source of GHG emissions globally. India’s rice cultivation alone accounts for 52% of its total crop emissions. However, GHG emissions from agriculture could be slashed by 18% by 2030 through the adoption of mitigation measures

Sapkota says that methane emissions can be reduced significantly by changing water management through avoiding frequent flooding of fields for irrigation, efficient fertiliser use, and protecting soil moisture. 

This would require significant awareness creation, policy push and other enabling factors.  “Emission reductions are dependent not just on the farmer’s will but also on government policies, subsidies, technologies available to farmers, and market forces,” he concludes.

Climate Science

Scant comfort: Dipping water levels across the Ganga basin, and particularly in Bihar, have sparked concerns of water scarcity in the region | Photo: The New Indian Express

Falling groundwater levels in Bihar sign of impending water crisis this summer: Survey

The Indian state of Bihar is staring at a dilapidating water crisis in the summer months. A survey by the state’s Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) revealed severely depleted groundwater levels in at least eight of the region’s 38 districts. At least 11 of the districts are in the ‘water-stressed’ category, according to the survey.

Another survey found over one-fourth of the water bodies in the Ganga basin owned by the government had dried up. The survey by the Quality Council of India (QCI) in partnership with ASSOCHAM, CII and FICCI revealed that while 16% of the water bodies in the region were eutrophic, only 56% were functional. It studied 578 water bodies in the Ganga Basin and found 411 of them were surrounded by human settlements.

Rising temperatures directly impact India’s industrial output: Study

A new study attempted to quantify the loss to India’s industrial output as a result of heat stress. It found that for every 1°C rise in annual temperature over average temperatures of the 1980-2000 period, industrial plants produced around 2% less revenue. The study by Delhi’s Indian Statistical Institute and the University of Chicago observed data of 58,000 factories in India to arrive at this conclusion. The study is important because the government is pushing to make India a manufacturing hub. It concluded that in order for India to continue its manufacturing using cheap labour, it would have to make serious attempts to adapt to the rising temperatures.    

Frequent, intense rainfall events likely in warming Antarctica by end of century: Study

A warming Antarctica is likely to bring with it more frequent rainfall events by the end of the century, a new study claimed. The study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters studied data from 10 meteorological stations in the region. It concluded that along with increased frequency and intensity, rainfall is also likely to impact regions of the continent that as of now do not receive any rain. This could lead to ‘intense events’ of surface slow melting as a result of the rainfall, the study claimed. 

Rapid heating of Earth affecting global agricultural productivity: Study

The world’s agricultural systems have been severely impacted as a result of rising temperature, according to recent research. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found productivity of crops and livestock had fallen by 21% since 1961 when compared to a world that wasn’t affected by rapid global warming. The study arrived at its conclusion by measuring productivity by inputs such as labour, fertiliser and equipment and the output of food that they produce. It then observed how climate change had affected this relationship through the use of a model. 

Climate Policy

On a mission: US special envoy for climate John Kerry is visiting India to push for higher climate ambitions ahead of the US-led Leaders’ Summit on Climate to be held later this month | Photo: The Indian Express

Kerry in India: US climate envoy talks climate finance with Javadekar

US special envoy for climate John Kerry met environment minister Prakash Javadekar during the former’s four-day visit to India this week. Javadekar tweeted the two discussed ‘a range of issues including climate finance’ during the meeting. This is Kerry’s first visit to India as his country’s special envoy for climate change. 

His visit aims to push India to increase its climate ambitions ahead of US President Biden’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate to be held on April 22-23. Biden invited 40 world leaders to attend the virtual summit on the climate crisis. The Narendra Modi government is facing increasing pressure from the US and the UK to commit to a net zero by 2050 target, despite the country’s per capita emissions being considerably lower than its western counterparts and China. India is concerned that committing to such a target would restrict the energy needs of its citizens, especially those who belong to the poorer strata of society. 

Centre restricts state govts from issuing additional directions in forest matters

In yet another move to centralise power over issues related to forest and wildlife conservation, the Modi government limited the role of state governments in matters regarding clearance of infrastructure projects in these regions. In a letter dated March 22, the Union environment ministry restricted all state governments from imposing additional environmental or conservation directions other than those specified by the Centre while granting environmental clearances for such projects. 

The central government, however, allowed state governments to impose additional directions for ‘exceptional situations’, but with prior approval from the former. The clarification was issued after the Odisha government asked for a site-specific wildlife management plan with regards to a mining project.   

Biden’s $2 trillion infra plan aims to tackle growing climate crisis

The US’ new $2 trillion infrastructure plan aims to address the climate crisis, president Joe Biden said. The plan, also known as the American Jobs plan, is designed to boost investments in clean energy, electric vehicles and building climate resilient homes. The president said the plan provides tax incentives that will make electric vehicles affordable for citizens. It will also help workers find jobs in the clean energy sector, he added. 

World Bank to revise climate policy, but no mention of halting funding for fossil fuels

The World Bank (WB) revised its climate policy to align with efforts to limit global warming. The revision does not include halting the funding of fossil fuel projects, a draft bank presentation as seen by Reuters revealed. The draft mentions the WB’s sister organisations – the International Finance Corporation and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency – will align 85% of their direct financing with the Paris Agreement by July 2023, and 100% by July 2025. 

The draft did not, however, include any commitments to stop investments in oil and coal projects or the gradual phasing out of natural gas projects. The draft has not been finalised yet and is still to be approved by the WB’s board.

UK commits to pushing rich nations to scale up adaptation finance 

The UK pledged to push for additional finance support for nations vulnerable to climate change at the upcoming G7 meeting. The announcement – made at a virtual summit that included ministers from developing and donor countries – comes after the country was criticised for making cuts to foreign aid. The UK, which will host the meeting in June, said fulfilling the promise to secure $100 billion a year to help developing nations tackle climate change was “vital”.

Stalemate over 2030 target delays passing of EU’s climate law 

The EU once again failed to reach an agreement over the terms of its European Climate Law. In a fifth round of negotiations, the EU Council and members of parliament made little progress, the main point of contention being the 2030 climate target. Experts said half the EU countries do not support the net target approach as it is not precise enough. 

The member states expressed their frustration at the lack of progress considering the growing pressure to pass the law by mid-April. If members don’t reach an agreement, the EU is likely to attend the US leaders’ climate summit without a confirmed 2030 target.

Air Pollution

Pay & pollute? Most of India’s thermal power plants have been given another extension until 2025 to implement SO2 emission norms | Photo: The Weather Channel

India extends deadline for coal plants to adopt new emission norms by 3 years

India extended deadlines for coal power plants to install emission reduction technology by three years. The deadline to install Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) units, which reduce sulphur dioxides (SO2) had already been extended by 5 years from 2017 to 2022. Now the government has allowed utilities that miss the new target to continue operating after paying a penalty, Reuters reported, citing a government notice.

The environment ministry order said plants near populous regions and New Delhi will have to comply by 2022, while those in less polluted areas have up to 2025 to comply or retire units. State-owned coal plants such as NTPC Ltd and private companies such as Reliance Power and Adani Power have been lobbying for dilution of the pollution standards, citing high compliance costs.

Meanwhile, a major source of air pollution, the 54-year-old NTPC coal power plant in Odisha‘s Talcher was shut down on March 31. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had sent a closure deadline for the plant in January because it failed to adhere to environmental norms.

Centre pushes stakeholders to speed up National Clean Air Programme, MoUs signed

To speed up the work under the National Clean Air Plan (NCAP) in 132 cities, the Centre signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with different stakeholders, including the State Pollution Control Boards, urban local bodies and institutes of repute. Under the programme, experts prepare city-specific action plans, which are expected to be executed with the help of MoUs. The Centre wants to reduce air pollution by at least 20% in the next four years, environment minister Prakash Javdekar said.

While acknowledging that the implementation of the NCAP has been tardy, Javadakar said he regretted that only 600 e-buses have been procured, while money was allocated for 6,000 of these vehicles in different cities. He said the money will be given to other cities if any town fails to make use of the procurement budget. 

Data released on Europe’s top 10 most polluting airlines

Lufthansa (Germany), British Airways and Air France are Europe’s top emitters, revealed new data on the international emissions of Europe’s flagship carriers, which was made public for the first time. German airline Lufthansa’s CO2 emissions in 2019 amounted to 19.11 million tonnes (mt), followed by British Airways and Air France at 18.4 mt and 14.39 mt respectively, according to the study. The UK is the only nation in Europe to have more than one airline listed in the top 10 ranking. Clean transport campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) and NGO Carbon Market Watch obtained the 2019 data from EU governments under the Freedom of Information laws.

Air pollution from coal plants causing 34,000 premature deaths across Europe: Study

Air pollution from European coal plants could be causing nearly 34,000 premature deaths in the continent, according to a new study. The research found that PM2.5 pollution from Europe’s coal plants causes at least 16,800 excess deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases annually. However, the study revealed that the real level of pollution from coal plants could be as high as 33,900. The study published in Environmental Research Letters uses data from the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register.

Lead author Dr Jonilda Kushta, who is a research scientist at the Climate and Atmosphere Research Centre at The Cyprus Institute, told The Independent that there is likely an underestimation of coal power plant source strengths in the official emissions inventory.

Google Maps to allow commuters to cut emissions using eco-friendly routes

Commuters using Google Maps will be directed to the routes that generate the lowest carbon footprint using traffic data and road inclines instead of just shortest alternatives. The feature will be set in default on the Google Maps app as the “eco-friendly” option, unless users choose to opt out of it. Users will be allowed to compare estimated emissions, when alternative routes are faster. Google’s product director Russel Dicker told the BBC that for around half of the routes, there is an option more eco-friendly with minimal or no time-cost trade-off.

The search engine uses emissions data based on testing across different types of cars and road types by the US government’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). The company uses its own road data factors in slopes and inclines from its Street View cars feature, along with aerial and satellite imagery. Google will introduce the feature first in the US this year and expand it later in the rest of the world. 

Nepal shuts schools for four days after pollution hits hazardous levels

Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is battling an air pollution emergency over the past 10 days. Schools were closed for four days after air pollution climbed to hazardous levels on the morning of March 27, 2021. The AQI was 421, according to the Real-Time Air Quality Index monitoring device installed in the city’s United States Embassy. The country of 30 million people lies in the Himalayas, between China and India, two of the world’s biggest polluters.

Dust from construction, emissions from old vehicles and smoke from coal-burning brick kilns pollute the city of four million people, raising the risk of cancer, stroke, asthma and high blood pressure, experts said. Climate scientists said forest fires raging across the country also polluted the air. As many as 2,713 forest fires were reported on March 30.


Sweetening the deal: A massive production-linked incentive scheme is the latest step taken by India’s government to kick start solar manufacturing in the country | Photo: PV Magazine USA

Cabinet approves ₹4,500 cr solar manufacturing incentive

Cabinet has approved 4,500 crore production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme to help domestic manufacturing of high efficiency solar PV modules. The manufacturers will be selected through a transparent competitive bidding process. The subsidy will be offered for 5 years post commissioning of solar PV manufacturing plants, on sales of high efficiency solar PV modules, government statement said. 

The government said the scheme is aimed at an additional 10,000 MW capacity of integrated solar PV manufacturing plants. This subsidy will see a direct investment of around 17,200 crore in solar PV manufacturing projects and demand of 17,500 crore over five years for “Balance of Materials”, the statement said. Centre also said it is expected to generate 30,000 jobs and indirect employment for about 1,20,000 persons.

Global RE energy capacity was up 50% in 2020 from 2019: Study

A new study by the International Renewable Energy Agency revealed that globally, a record 260 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable energy capacity was added worldwide in 2020, up 50% from 2019. The agency said solar and wind accounted for 91% of new renewables and over 80% of all new electricity capacity added in 2020 was renewable. 

As RE costs fall like never before, the rise in new capacity is partly because of the decommissioning of fossil fuel power generation in Europe, North America and in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Turkey, according to the study. Total fossil fuel additions fell to 60 GW in 2020 from 64 GW the previous year. The share of RE in generation globally is 30%, the agency said. 

Delhi gets India’s first grid-connected community storage facility

India’s first grid-connected community energy storage system was installed at Rani Bagh in New Delhi. The 150 kW/528 kWh battery energy storage system installed by DISCOM Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited will support the utility in managing the peak load, voltage regulation, power factor improvement, frequency regulation, and deviation settlement mechanism at the substation level. The storage facility will also provide a power backup of 150 kW for four hours in case of a grid outage.

If there’s an outage of distribution transformers or supply failure, the battery will connect to the privileged bus and provide 150 kW for four hours to critical services such as hospitals, commercial complexes and the Delhi Jal Board. The system will charge during the off-peak hours and discharge the power during peak conditions.

India initiates anti-dumping probe on Chinese solar component

India initiated an anti-dumping investigation on ‘fluoro backsheet’ imported from China. Fluoro backsheet is a polymer component used in the manufacture of solar photovoltaic modules and protects against dirt, dust, and moisture. According to Indian module manufacturer RenewSys, the Chinese fluoro backsheet is identical to what is manufactured in India.

 The Directorate General of Trade Remedies (DGTR) started the probe after RenewSys approached it to impose anti-dumping duty on importing fluoro backsheet from China. Domestic manufacturers claim Chinese equipment manufacturers keep lowering their rates, which is bleeding Indian company’s dry. Experts also pointed out that ultimately it’s the consumers who have to pay high prices. 

Parliamentary panel says solar power targets of public sector units too low

A parliamentary panel has asked the government to increase the target for the scheme to set up grid-connected solar projects by central public sector undertakings (CPSUs). The CPSU projects use domestically manufactured solar cells and modules. But, so far, very few CPSUs have participated in the scheme, the panel said, adding that the government should take proactive steps and encourage them to participate in the scheme. 

Under Phase-I of the scheme of 1,000 MW, only nine CPSUs participated, including NTPC and BHEL, while under the Phase-II of scheme of 12,000 MW, seven CPSUs have participated so far.

The panel also said that the country’s rooftop solar target of 40GW by 2022 is highly unlikely to be met. It pointed out that the government could never cross over 500 MW installed solar rooftop capacity in any year since 2015, even as an exaggerated target of 17,000 MW has been set to be achieved in 2022-23. The panel pointed out that the MNRE could only install 1,948 MW of solar power rooftop in more than five years.

Biden marks East Coast – from New York to New Jersey – as wind energy zone 

US President Joe Biden is set to “jump-start” the off-shore wind power along the East Coast, NYT reported. The nationwide plan will generate wind energy enough to power 10 million homes. The Biden administration marked an area between Long Island and New Jersey as a priority offshore wind zone. It targets installing 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbines in coastal waters nationwide by 2030. 

The Biden government also plans to offer $3 billion in federal loan guarantees for offshore wind projects and upgrade the nation’s ports to support wind construction and meet the targets. The White House claimed the wind turbines would avoid 78 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. The move is part of an approximately $3 trillion economic recovery plan.

Saudi Arabia announces ambitious RE capacity target: 50% by 2030

With less than 1% of the country’s energy coming from renewables now, Saudi Arabia plans to generate 50% of its energy from renewables by 2030. The oil producing nation will also plant 10 billion trees in the coming decades, its crown prince Mohammed bin Salman announced.

Experts said such a bold target will need massive investments in solar technologies, considering renewables made up only 0.02% of Saudi Arabia’s final energy consumption in 2017, according to the IEA. Experts pointed out that the government had “a lot of work to do” to achieve its 50% goal, particularly by investing in energy storage.

Electric Vehicles

Got to be done: President Joe Biden aims to replace all of the US's fleets with electric cars and the new proposed incentives could attract millions of customers | Photo: Thenextavenue.com

Biden government planning host of EV incentives

The new US government under President Joe Biden is reportedly considering a slew of incentives to boost the country’s EV sales, chief among which will be to extend the federal tax credit to automakers for selling electric cars. The previous administration capped it at $7,500 and at 200,000 units per manufacturer, but under Biden it may be extended to 600,000 units. The government is also planning to award a tax credit of $1,250 on the purchase of every used electric car, with the larger plan being to boost EV sales from the modest 358,000 per year in 2021 to more than 1 million by 2023 — and up to 4 million by 2030.

Japanese e-bike makers agree on standards for battery swapping

The four major manufacturers of electric bikes in Japan reached an agreement to develop a standardised battery swapping system that would enable smoother cross-manufacturer sharing of batteries. The landmark agreement was reached between Suzuki Motors, Yamaha Motors, Honda Motors and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., who together account for 50% of the world’s electric bike market share. 

They will come together under the Swappable Battery Consortium for Electric Motorcycles, and the standardisation will be developed with the international market in mind. The development could benefit India’s electric two-wheeler market as well, where long-charging times and multiple charging architectures have been a deterrent for customers. 

Australians showcase comfy electric car trips, ridicule prime minister 

Several Australians posted pictures of their weekend trips made with electric cars on social media and ridiculed the country’s prime minister over his comments that the vehicles would “end the weekend”. The owners reported comfortable drives in which they lugged heavy paving tiles in the boot and even completed a 1,900 km round trip for just AUD 6.37. In contrast, a specific owner noted that the same trip would have cost around AUD 150-200 on an average petrol car. 

The comments come as a response to Australia’s reported attempts to stall the sale of EVs in the country to keep its ICE auto sales alive. The governments of Victoria and South Australia have even introduced a much-criticised per km road tax on EVs and hybrids, which would raise their ownership costs and possibly deter customers. 

Finnish university: Recycled raw materials from EV materials are easier on the planet

A study conducted by Aalto University in Finland showed that raw materials recycled from used EV batteries have a 38% lower carbon footprint than virgin materials. However, the process it employed found that the sodium hydroxide used as the neutralising chemical agent raised the environmental load of the process to a significant degree. The researchers are thus suggesting that, with the EU targeting 30 million electric cars by 2030 and to recycle 70% of the lithium from EV batteries, the industry must opt for simulated recovery processes first to reduce their inadvertently large environmental footprints. 

Fossil Fuels

A dying breed: The Yermarus Thermal Power Station in Raichur, inaugurated in 2018, will be the last state-run TPP after Karnataka announced that it would not invest in any new thermal power | Photo: Twitter/@NammaKarnataka

No new thermal power plants in Karnataka

State government-run Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL) on Monday announced that it would cap thermal power production in the state and no longer invest in thermal power plants. According to the state energy department, the decision is part of a new energy blueprint which includes plans to phase out thermal power completely in three to five years. The decision has flagged concerns about impacts on Raichur district where two of the three major thermal power plants in the state are located. 

Minerals Council of Australia: EU should label nuclear and fossils with CCS as sustainable

The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) is urging the European Commission (EC) to label nuclear and fossil fuel power mated to carbon capture and storage (CCS) as sustainable, as it says the EC’s favourable view of solar, wind and biofuels would “increase the cost of reducing CO2 emissions”. The MCA is also concerned about the flow of investments away from fossil fuels and nuclear power that the EC’s classification of sustainable technologies would cause, and the impact that would have on the industries it supports. 

However, the MCA has been routinely criticised over its opposition to carbon pricing and its support for coal power. Yet, its chief executive, Tania Constable, has gone on record to say that “the technology-led transformation required” (for major industries to align with the Paris Agreement) “could not happen without Australia’s minerals and raw materials”.

Research report: US fossil fuels companies receive $62 billion/year in implicit subsidies 

A new research report revealed that fossil fuels companies in the US receive around $62 billion in implicit subsidies every year, since they do not have to pay for the use of their products and the cost of the resulting health and environmental impacts. The research was conducted by an economist at Yale University and it finds that all the costs of burning fossil fuels — in terms of air pollution and adverse health impacts — were borne entirely by the country’s taxpayers. The research also pointed out that US coal plants were the largest beneficiaries, even though that may change under the Biden administration. 

Carbon Brief: Fossil fuel investments have shed 20% of their value since 2012

New research by climate action tracker Carbon Brief showed that fossil fuel shareholdings shed 20% of their market value since 2012, unlike clean energy holdings, which gained 140% in the same period. The research showed that investors had bought nearly $640 billion in coal, oil and gas and related infrastructure projects, but lost around $123 billion despite the markets predicting healthy returns on investment. A key factor for the decline has been the heightened risk of climate change, which the report said has prompted investors to pivot to renewables instead. 

Interestingly, the fossil fuel equities underperformed the global general equities market (the  MSCI All Country World Index) by 52%, while the renewables’ portfolios outperformed the index by around 54%. 

China’s share in coal power output grows to 53%

New data from a London-based research group showed that China produced 53% of the world’s coal power in 2020, which has grown from the 44% share in 2015. This despite the country adding a record-breaking 48.2GW of solar and 71.7GW of wind power in 2020, and committing to go nearly net-zero by 2060. The jump in coal power output was attributed to the addition of 38.4GW worth of new coal plants, which was three times the capacity added by the rest of the world put together. The country has also approved 46.1GW of new coal plants, even as the share of coal power in its energy mix dropped from 70% in 2010 to 56.8% in 2020.