Lights On Briefing: India's coal red lines, Pakistan's discounted Russian oil and more

What you need to know to start the week

Lights On Briefing: India's coal red lines, Pakistan's discounted Russian oil and more

Happy Monday and welcome to today’s edition of Lights On, with this week’s key stories on energy and climate change in South Asia.

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JETP stuck on coal

For all its efforts towards renewable energy, India struggles to let go of coal, which remains its primary energy source and a red line at the negotiating table. Now the Indian national Business Standard reveals that coal is once again the sticking point in the talks over a possible Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) - a new financing model that engages both donors and recipient countries in decarbonising their energy systems. So far, South Africa and more recently Indonesia have struck such deals, and Vietnam is expected to follow.

But Indian diplomats have stated that if the discussed JETP were to involve the phase-out of coal, however gradual, the deal would be off the table. “India is not desperate” for funds, sources told the Business Standard, and any energy transition deal would have to happen on India’s terms.

Making space for clean energy

Transmission issues have been considered a main roadblock to India’s clean energy expansion, and now a new plan takes measurable steps to address them.

The government wants to improve clean energy transmission nationwide and integrate the 500GW of non fossil capacity it promised to build into the grid. The plan includes setting up 8,120 circuit kilometres (ckm) of high voltage direct current corridors, 25,960 ckm of high voltage alternate current lines and 15,758 ckm of 400 kilovolt (kV) lines. It also envisages the installation of 51.5GW of storage capacity.

Tamil Nadu races ahead on net zero

The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, home to more than 72 million people, is set to overshoot the 2070 national deadline for carbon neutrality, according to its chief minister MK Stalin. The idea is to achieve net zero emissions earlier through the first climate change mission at a state level, which will be launched soon and will cover a range of sectors from transport to forests and waste management. The state is also setting up a special body, the Tamil Nadu Green Climate Company (TNGCC) to implement the plan.

Kerala releases its climate action plan

Home to around 33.5 million people, Kerala is another southern Indian state which takes climate change seriously. Its government has just released its updated state action plan which will use the latest climate models and monitoring technologies to improve existing policies. The plan covers both mitigation and adaptation for a wide range of sectors, from agriculture and marine fisheries to public health and biodiversity.

Taking stock of this year’s disasters

Government figures released last week show a three year high in the number of extreme weather events in 2022, with 27 heatwaves, eight times higher than the average, and lightning strikes rising by more than 111 times above average, killing 907 people. The scientists whose findings were presented last week in parliament blame climate change for the spike.


Attractive oil discounts

Starting next year, Pakistan will buy oil, gasoline and diesel at a discounted rate from Russia, the country’s petroleum minister announced this week. Months after the invasion of Ukraine, Russia keeps offering hefty discounts on its fossil fuels to mitigate the financial impacts of the international sanctions imposed on its exports. Lawmakers in Pakistan hope that the oil deal will help stem the country’s energy and economic crisis, which has only been exacerbated by this year’s devastating climate change-fuelled floods.

Smog emergency

The Punjab government has declared a state of emergency after Lahore, the second most populous city in Pakistan, was enveloped in a cloud of smog that kept deteriorating by the day. Last week, the city ranked 5th among the world’s most polluted urban centres, leading the administration to impose a ban on burning crop residues in the area, and to close schools for three days.


Aid for gas

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) concluded that a 584MW gas plant to be built on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka is in line with the Paris Agreement goals and should be supported, according to a report from Climate Home News. The plant would be fuelled by LNG, which the country is increasingly relying on as its renewable capacity struggles to take off. However an expert in Bangladesh observed that “there’s no gas to supply this new power plant,” adding that the plan “is not justified and ridiculous.”


Dam development

A $1.2 billion hydropower project has been given the green light by Nepal’s environment ministry, which has approved the plan’s environmental assessment report. The 683MW Sunkoshi 3 dam will be built on the Sunkoshi river with support from Bangladeshi conglomerates, and is a joint venture between the Nepali and Bangladeshi governments. If all goes to plan, the dam’s construction should start in 2027 and be completed in 2031.

On Twitter this week

India's health minister with another evasive statement on the health impacts of air pollution in India, the worst-affected country in the world with more than a million deaths attributed to air pollution every year. 11, 2022

Research and further reading

  • Long read: How political will often favours a coal billionaire and his dirty fossil fuel - In case you missed this essential investigation by the Washington Post, get comfy and dive into the corporate interests that keep coal alive and kicking in India, in some cases at the expense of neighbouring, less powerful countries.
  • Report: Climate Investment Opportunities in India’s Cooling Sector - This report from the World Bank has prompted some very wild headlines - from a trillion dollars in potential investments, to alarm over the Indian climate becoming unsuited to human life. While the headlines cherry picked some unlikely and extreme scenarios, the report is still an interesting piece of research on a sector that is and increasingly will be key to India’s climate and development goals.
  • Report: Coal VS Renewables Investment Report - This yearly analysis by the Centre for Financial Accountability and Climate Trends finds that despite a financial crunch, renewable energy projects in India have outpaced coal projects with a growth rate of 128 percent. However, clean energy sources are still a long way from dominating the economy and more importantly the country’s energy mix, due to their lower electricity output per unit of capacity.

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