Lights On Briefing: Clean air commission fiasco, China ditches coal in Bangladesh and more
What you need to know to start the week
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Clean air commission fiasco
The much trumpeted Commission for Air Quality Management, which was launched just four months ago as a new model to fight air pollution in the Delhi region, has been suspended because Parliament did not approve it on time. This means that until Parliament passes the bill, the commission will not operate, although the routine pollution monitoring activities will carry on as usual, according to the Environment Secretary RP Gupta. Parliament has six weeks from convening to approve an ordinance, or it will cease to operate. The Bill was expected to be approved in the latest Parliament session.
The new commission had spurred debate on whether it just added red tape, or ushered in a more effective approach to fighting air pollution from a catchment perspective.
India’s biggest floating solar farm could be up and running in the southern state of Telangana before the summer. The plant, which cost the equivalent of $59 million, will have 100MW of capacity. The government is also planning a much bigger one with 600MW capacity in the state of Madhya Pradesh, expected to begin generating power by 2023. However, experts worry that with 1.7GW in various stages of development across India, the so-called floatovoltaic technology could have negative impacts on freshwater ecosystems, including aquatic life and resident and migratory birds.
Solar market shakeup
From April 2022, imported solar modules and cells from China as well as Vietnam and Thailand – two countries where China operates manufacturing units – will be taxed at 40 and 25 percent respectively, up from 14.9 percent for both. While the measure was expected, developers had been asking for exceptions for projects already in the pipeline, as the spike in costs will have an impact on agreed budgets. The request was rejected by the finance ministry.
The rating agency ICRA has warned that the measure will indeed lead to an increase in solar tariffs of nearly 25 percent in the short term, but will boost local manufacturing in the long term.
Selected solar equipment
As part of the same aggressive strategy against cheap imports from China, the government has also released an updated “approved list of models and manufacturers” which includes 23 manufacturers and their vetted modules which will be eligible for any government projects, or projects realised under government schemes on or after April 10 (see the document here). A similar scheme, designed to beat foreign competition but also protect Indian companies from sub-standard components, also exists for the wind industry.
ISRO and NASA to capture the planet in detail
The Indian space research agency ISRO has developed a radar able to capture exceptionally high resolution images as part of a joint earth observation mission with NASA, which will gather information on biomass, natural hazards, sea level rise and groundwater, supporting a vast range of applications. The NASA-ISROSynthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) will scan the planet’s land and ice covered surfaces in 12-day cycles, collecting data every 6 days for 3 years. NISAR is estimated to be the world’s most expensive system of its kind, with a total budget of over $915 million.
Eni leaves Pakistan
The energy giant has sold all its assets in the country, which are mostly fossil fuel based, to Prime International Oil & Gas Company, a newly established company formed by a team of former Eni employees and Hub Power Company, Pakistan’s largest independent power producer. The move is part of a broader effort to improve the company’s cash flow after the Covid crisis, while focussing on cleaner energy sources. Eni is committed to fully decarbonise its products and processes by 2050.
China exiting Bangladeshi coal
China will stop funding polluting energy operations in Bangladesh, a step towards its promise to rid its flagship Belt and Road investment program of carbon intensive initiatives. In a letter reviewed by the Financial Times, China’s embassy to Bangladesh informed the finance ministry that “the Chinese side shall no longer consider projects with high pollution and high energy consumption, such as coal mining [and] coal-fired power stations”. Currently, China finances 5.4GW of fossil fuel capacity at various stages of development.
A boost to hydropower
India and Bhutan signed a deal for the construction of a 600MW hydropower project in the Trashiyangtse district of the country. Indian state owned Power Finance Corporation will loan nearly $5.6 billion for the project, as part of Delhi’s drive towards greater energy integration in the region.
Bhutan has an estimated hydropower potential of 30GW, but so far less than 1.5GW have been developed. Through concessional loans, which have long grace periods, India plans to help Thimphu build 10GW of hydropower for a total investment of $10 billion. Hydropower accounts for 25 percent of Bhutan’s GDP.
On Twitter this week:
Research and further readings:
Interview: ‘Ocean modelling is the next big thing. We have tons of data, you need new techniques to analyse it’ - As India launches its ambitious Deep Ocean Mission, Srinivas Kumar Tummala, director of the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) explains how new exploration tools will help local research improve ocean modelling to better understand sea level rise and more.
Opinion: Unfair trade barriers will hinder climate consensus - A developing world perspective on carbon border agreements. In this piece, the author argues that these deals “are in many ways modern instruments of imperialism that punish developing nations for making slower progress towards greening their economies,” and that for many countries “transition to coal may not be a matter of choice.”
Report: COVID-19 fallout undermining nature conservation efforts - India was among the 22 countries which relaxed their environmental protection rules during last year’s pandemic, leaving fragile ecosystems more vulnerable than before, according to a synthesis report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
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