Lights On briefing: Race to climate targets, China hydropower dominance and more

What you need to know to start the week

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Lou Del Bello

Nov 30 2020

6 mins read

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Welcome back to the Lights On news briefing, with key headlines on energy and climate change in South Asia.  

In case you took a digital detox for the weekend (which I highly approve of although I never manage myself), I recommend catching up with my Sunday guest Rohit Negi, who talks about the importance of decolonising pollution science and doesn’t mince words when it comes to the new Commission for Air Quality Management, saying it’s just a way to politically undermine the states involved.

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


Coal giant turns to solar…

...to power its own mines. Coal India, the world’s largest coal miner owned by the Indian government, announced it will build 14 rooftop and ground mounted solar projects, with a total capacity of 3GW, to help manage its operations on the cheap. The plan will cost the equivalent of $763 million to be spent in the next four years.

Coal investment plummets

Investors in India are steering clear of new coal, so much so that coal financing has plummeted to 1.8 percent of what it was just three years ago, according to a new analysis.

The study looked at 50 project finance loans disbursed to 43 power projects in 2019, and found that financing in the power sector was heavily skewed towards renewable energy projects, with only two coal power projects receiving new finance. However despite this trend, the construction of new coal-fired capacity more than doubled compared to 2018, reaching 8.8GW.

The right EV ecosystem

India may soon have one electric vehicle charging point next to 69,000 petrol pumps across the country, the Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari promised speaking at an electric mobility conference. The minister also mentioned other steps being taken by the government to increase the uptake of electric vehicles, including allowing the decoupled purchase of batteries and vehicles to reduce costs, and tax reductions.

The bureaucracy of the Paris Agreement

Whenever India deals with a tricky governance issue, a dedicated committee is always a favourite solution. So it’s no surprise to see that a new Apex Committee for Implementation of Paris Agreement (AIPA) has been created to deal with the messiest of problems, climate change. The committee will coordinate the action of various ministries involved one way or another in delivering India’s climate pledges. Whether this will work or turn out to be yet another layer of red tape, remains to be seen.

Race to 2022

By the end of December, India hopes to have secured another 22.5 GW of solar deals to be developed by 2022, in time to meet its target of 175GW of renewable energy. A top executive with a renewable energy company told the Economic Times that bids to enhance renewable capacity in India will ‘continue to grow as India has committed to the world to enhance its dependence on renewable power’, particularly after the PM said that the country will meet and overshoot its target at the G20 summit.

Despite the optimism, whether India will achieve its goals will largely depend on maintaining access to cheap and abundant solar components, mostly imported from China, to meet a growing demand. With a trade war currently underway, this outcome remains uncertain.

Pakistan


Mangrove wars

A $50 billion housing development planned just outside the city of Karachi puts at risk an unspoilt mangrove stretch which protects the megacity from coastal erosion, storm surges and tsunamis, environmentalists and urban planners say. The pristine Bundle Island, populated only by a small number of camels, also offers a quiet retreat to the city dwellers who enjoy an escape from the ‘concrete jungle’. The government plans to use the land to ease the pressure on the expanding Karachi, which is home to 20 million people.


Nepal


Threatened lentils

Farmers in Nepal have seen the production of lentils, a staple of the local diet and an important source of income, dwindle due to competition with neighbouring India and climate change. Until recently, Nepal used to be one of the world’s top producers and a net exporter of the pulse, with almost 250,000 tonnes harvested in 2018. But unseasonably wet winters led to the spread of diseases that in turn led to heavy losses for farmers. Research institutes are now testing flood resistant varieties but as Indian produce can be bought cheaply, the future of Nepalese lentils remains uncertain.


Modernising the grid

The national electricity grid is in for a boost thanks to a $156 million loan from the Asian Development Bank, which will help modernise transmission and distribution infrastructure in the country as it gets back on its feet after the Covid crisis. The plan will include the automation of grid substations and the installations of smart meters in the Kathmandu valley which will increase the efficiency of the distribution systems.


Research and further readings

  • Analysis: Why India Can’t Match China’s Net-Zero Emissions Pledge - A detailed exploration of potential climate actions pathways for India, as it prepares to overtake China becoming the developing world’s biggest emitter in the coming decades. In the face of this new challenge, experts say India should focus on decarbonising the transport, manufacturing and power sectors first.
  • Long read: Why Bhutan's Sakteng wildlife sanctuary is disputed by China - BBC News - A pristine wildlife sanctuary is the latest, unlikely hotspot of China’s border disputes. Buthanese authorities are accusing the powerful neighbour of unlawfully claiming the territory to put pressure on India, and preventing them from applying for funding to maintain the sanctuary. A great deep dive which delves into the maze of the geopolitical power struggles in the Himalayan region, and how they play out on its fragile ecosystems.
  • Analysis: China hydropower company plans first downstream dam on Brahmaputra - Chinese authorities have given the go-ahead for a domestic hydropower company to start building the first downstream dam on the lower reaches of the Brahmaputra river, or Yarlung Zangbo as it is known in Tibet. The push for greater hydropower development is in line with the new aggressive decarbonisation targets announced by China, but raises concerns among downstream countries that could see their water supply altered by the development.


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