Lights On briefing: Counting air pollution casualties, oil diplomacy and more
What you need to know to start the week
Hello and welcome back to the Lights On news briefing, with key headlines on energy and climate change in South Asia.
Last week I published two important pieces you may want to check out: a story on how Delhi’s unregulated waste problem is compounding the pollution crisis, and an exclusive interview with Andrew Light, former Obama climate negotiator, who speaks about the importance of the US elections for India’s energy transition path.
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Air pollution kills
A global analysis on the state of air pollution across the world paints a grim picture of India’s situation. The new State of Global Air Report calculates that in India, in 2019 alone, breathing polluted air contributed to over 1.67 million deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. In the same year, an estimated 116,000 Indian infants lost their lives, due to conditions exacerbated by air pollution exposure. South Asian countries including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal feature among the top ten countries with the highest PM2.5 exposures in 2019; all of these countries experienced increases in outdoor PM2.5 levels between 2010 and 2019.
Solar operators who want to import modules in India need a specific certificate issued by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Since July 2020, BIS has not issued any new registration certificates, which are mandatory to obtain clearance at the docks when the module shipments arrive.
According to industry sources, these delays are not casual: the process was halted after the flare up of the conflict between India and China, which still provides the majority of solar modules. However, according to Mercom, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy will address the issue ‘before it leads to further delays’.
Bills are overdue
The state of Uttar Pradesh is seeking to provide round the clock energy supply for its citizens, but an unexpected discovery has thrown a spanner in the works: over 10 million users just never paid their bills. The discovery, senior sources say, is embarrassing but thoroughly unsurprising - poor revenue collection is one of the reasons why Indian distribution companies are under constant financial strain. In this case, “it came into limelight only because they had to audit before privatizing [the distribution company]”.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet a group of Indian and global oil leaders today, including Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Qatar Petroleum, BP, France’s Total S.A, Russia’s Rosneft and Reliance Industries.
The Mint says that this is the fifth such meeting, held as India strives to strengthen its energy security. In 2018, oil accounted for 25 percent of India’s energy mix, and according to BP Energy Outlook about 85 percent of the country’s crude is imported.
A boost for regional weather forecast
The World Meteorological Organisation has launched a new comprehensive system to improve early warnings for a major natural hazard in South Asia, one of the world’s most populous regions. The South Asia Flash Flood Guidance System (South Asia FFGS) will be operated by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), which acts as the regional hub covering Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
The warning for flash floods will be dispatched in the form of Threats (6 hours in advance) and Risks (24 hours in advance). The member countries will be able to issue impact-based forecasting, at watershed and also city level, reducing the loss of life and property. An increase in flooding events, including flash floods, has been linked to climate change.
Strengthening China ties
The multi-billion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will get a major boost as Prime Minister Imran Khan adds three major road projects through Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The Pakistani government has also approved a $7.2 billion upgrade to a railway which will connect Gwadar Port to the Chinese city of Kashgar.
A cold winter ahead
As the coldest season approaches, petroleum minister Omar Ayub Khan has acknowledged that Pakistan is going to face a serious natural gas shortage, when gas consumption increases due to room and water heating. Speaking to the National Assembly, the minister explained that indigenous gas sources are depleting and are increasingly struggling to meet winter demand.
Research and further readings
- Long read: To Weather Climate Change, Mumbai Must Embrace Its Wetness - A poetic portrait of Mumbai’s past and future, as its ancestral relationship with the ocean evolves in tune with an increasingly erratic climate.
- Analysis: Finances force Bangladesh to reconsider coal plants - Last week, we learned about Bangladesh’s unexpected shift from coal. This detailed piece discovers that the motivation behind the move is not as virtuous as it may seem - the government is cancelling coal projects because of lack of funding. Neither China or Japan, which originally pitched the projects under Bangladesh’s Power System Master Plan, seem willing to go through with the plan. Sign of a systemic change in the global energy sector?
- Analysis: Reforms in mining are a first step in ushering a green, tech-driven future - After the Covid crisis, India faces a twofold challenge - ensuring that its economy bounces back, while avoiding the faults of its previous ‘business as usual’, particularly when it comes to its energy system. But to create a low-carbon, tech-driven economy, the authors warn, countries such as India would require access to key minerals.
- Report: Poor data on groundwater jeopardizes climate resilience, report says - A new report by WaterAid and the HSBC Water Programme found that a lack of data on groundwater is impeding water management and could jeopardize climate resilience efforts in some regions. Over 2.5 million people are thought to depend on groundwater, which has a higher tolerance to droughts than other water sources, but with little information on its availability decision-makers may struggle to manage it effectively.
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