Lights On briefing: A new US-India climate agenda, hydrogen expansion and more

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Lou Del Bello

Feb 15 2021

6 mins read

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Happy Monday and welcome to today’s Lights On, a newsletter that brings you the key stories and exclusive intel on energy and climate change in South Asia.

Hope you enjoyed my weekend interview with IPCC author Anjal Prakash, where we spoke about the devastating flood that hit Uttarakhand last week, and how the disaster may be linked to climate change as well as to an unsustainable development model.

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A new US-India climate agenda

The top US official for climate change said that India represents a key ally in the quest for a global energy transition, and holds great investment opportunities in the green sector. Speaking at the World Sustainable Development Summit 2021, John Kerry, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, said that "India can be one of the most critical transitional countries in this entire endeavour. I am confident that [...] our two nations – the world's two biggest democracies – have a great deal to gain from joining hands in our global leadership and confronting the climate crisis to meet this moment." 

While political statements released on the international stage can lack substance, a new strategy for India-US diplomacy for the Biden administration has been hotly anticipated, and a strong signal of cooperation will likely set the tone for joint climate action in the next four years.

Gujarat’s second thoughts on solar

The government-owned Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam (GUVNL) is pressuring the state government to scrap a planned 700MW solar project previously awarded to energy giants ReNew Power and Tata Power among others, in the hope of running a new auction and achieving lower tariffs. The project, part of the 5GW Dholera Solar Park, had been awarded at prices up to INR 2.81/kWh on October 9 last year. However, given the recent drop in solar prices to less than INR 2.81/kWh, the company decided that the previous tariffs were not good enough. States reneging on contracts they have signed to try and bag discounts is not unheard of in India, and developers warn this trend is likely to erode investors’ confidence as well as making it difficult for the solar industry to deliver their planned projects.

Hydrogen expansion

As part of the newly launched Hydrogen Mission, the government will allow industries such as fertiliser, steel and petrochemicals to adopt green hydrogen to reduce their carbon footprint. The draft policy, which has already gone through various stages of consultation, is expected to be approved at the end of February, and aims at making India a leading manufacturer of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies across the value chain.

 

Circular economy against plastic waste

American commodity chemical company Dow has signed an agreement with the Indian recycling company Lucro to develop a “closed-loop” packaging product, recycled and recyclable, to help boost the circular economy in India. The plastic material, which should be available on the market later this year, will be initially used as a wrapping film for bottles, cans and liquid cartons among other products. India produces an estimated 10 million tonnes of plastic waste a year, of which nearly 40 percent remains uncollected. A largely informal waste collection economy makes it particularly difficult to manage recycling effectively - a challenge that no new product can tackle in isolation.

Pakistan


Choked by debt

The government is in talks with China to try and ease its repayment plan after Beijing provided finance for a dozen of key energy projects in the country. As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, China has supported the installation of 20,341MW of clean and fossil power capacity. Speaking with Bloomberg on condition of anonymity, a person with knowledge of the matter said that Pakistan is seeking to stagger debt payment rather than lowering equity return.

Bangladesh


A push to cut textile waste

A Bangladesh led initiative for sustainable textile has gained the support of more than 30 international brands including H&M, OVS, Marks & Spencer among others. The Circular Fashion Partnership encourages brands to reuse textile waste to create new products.

Globally, 81 percent of all textiles are incinerated or dumped in landfills, sometimes without being used at all, and only 1 percent is recycled. Clothes production is a wasteful process with up to 50 percent textile waste, the campaign states. The initiative will work with factories in Bangladesh to intercept as much waste as possible and put it back into the value chain. If successful, it could be replicated in other countries, such as Indonesia and Vietnam.

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Research and further readings

  • Long read: What Asia needs to turn away from coal  - As solar prices keep falling, particularly in India, you may ask why phasing down coal is proving so hard. This article looks into what stands in the way of a fast energy transition in Asia, including countries not having adequate regulatory infrastructure to help smaller businesses contribute to the industry’s growth.
  • Study: Role of health sector crucial in climate change advocacy in India - This first of its kind study, conducted among over 3,000 healthcare professionals in India, looks into knowledge, attitude, perception and practice of the healthcare sector towards climate change. It finds that the vast majority of the practitioners surveyed believed that the healthcare sector has a responsibility to address climate change and reduce its own carbon footprint.
  • Long read: Why we still have to rely on hydel power - After last week’s tragedy in Uttarakhand, many have questioned the viability of the hydropower projects installed on fragile terrains such as the Himalayas. This article explores why India still needs hydropower energy and why the trade off between energy security and environmental protection can’t be an either-or scenario. 
  • Study: India may face unbudgeted energy transition risk of nearly $9 billion - India is putting its weight behind the energy transition, but the process comes with significant financial risks for corporations. This study by the Center for Climate Finance and Investment at the Imperial College in London assesses the exposure to coal risk for giants such as NTPC, Coal India and Indian Railways.
  • Long read: How one tiny country is beating the pandemic and climate change - The author draws a parallel between Bhutan’s success against the coronavirus and its environmental policies which make it the only carbon-negative country on the planet. A recipe that given Bhutan’s tiny size won’t work for all countries, but holds lessons we can all learn from.


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