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India Green News: Disastrous floods linked to climate change, as India ready to overtake China in coal consumption

Kristina Johnson

Posted July 2, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil, Nuclear Weapons, Waste and Energy, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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June 27th-July 1st

India Green News is a selection of news highlights about environmental and energy issues in India

Climate Change

Pilgrim Season and Ill-Preparedness Contribute to India's Flood Tragedy

Rescue operations in the devastating Uttarakhand floods, which killed at least 822 people and displaced tens of thousands in the northern Indian state, is due to end on Friday after 11 days.

But with thousands of people — most of them pilgrims paying seasonal visits to the state’s many temples and shrines — still stranded, and some 3,000 still missing, the disaster is far from over.

Dubbed the Himalayan Tsunami, the floods — surpassing in horror the 2008 deluge that killed 500 people died in the eastern Indian state of Bihar — were triggered by heavy pre-monsoon rains and caused major destruction. According to official estimates, the torrents affected 160,000 people and damaged 2,232 houses, 154 bridges and 1,520 roads. Over 100,000 people were evacuated by Thursday evening. Kedarnath, a small, high-altitude town that is home to the famous Kedarnath temple — a major pilgrimage destination for Hindus, was the worst hit. Hundreds of bodies, mostly of pilgrims, were found there.

With hope fading for survivors, the authorities have decided to shift attention to providing relief.

“Our priority now is to ensure regular supply of essential commodities and establish communication links with all inaccessible villages and rehabilitate affected people,” India’s Home Secretary R.K. Singh said. “In case a village is cut off and there are sick and infirm in need of medical attention, we will have them evacuated. We will also look for all missing people.”

In the aftermath of the disaster, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said that 200,000 rupees ($3,400) would be given to each bereaved family and 50,000 rupees (around $847) paid to those injured. Singh also promised 10 billion rupees (around $170 million) in disaster relief. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on a two-day visit to India, announced a USAID donation of $150,000 to the flood-relief effort and warned India not to dismiss the deadly intensity of the floods as a one-off tragedy. “Perhaps Mother Nature in her own way is telling us to heed some warnings,” he said. “Today the science of climate change is screaming at us for action.”

Unfortunate timing also contributed to the high casualty rate. The state was thronged with pilgrims eager to visit shrines before they close in July at the onset of the monsoons.

“Nobody was prepared for rainfalls two weeks ahead — that led to no control on tourists and pilgrims,” Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network (South Asia) told TIME.

“Climate-change-induced intense rain in a short time washed away the poor infrastructure.”

(TIME, 6/28/2013)

Nations call for more engagement on climate

Cape Town - Developing countries have produced far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than developed countries, but they are making “much greater” contributions to mitigating the impacts of the resulting climate change.

This was noted “with consternation” by representatives of the Basic group of big developing countries (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) after a ministerial meeting on climate change in Cape Town last week.

They said developed countries – so-called Annex I countries of the Kyoto Protocol with firm targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – should be taking the lead.

The Basic countries are a bloc formed by a November 2009 agreement to act jointly at the much anticipated COP 15 meeting of parties to the UN climate change convention, that took place in Copenhagen in 2009.

Until last week, the US had been considered the major stumbling block to a new global climate deal, but shortly before leaving on his Africa tour, President Barack Obama announced a National Climate Action Plan that some critics said would “make serious progress on reducing pollution and curbing climate change”.

Obama also called for greater engagement in climate change negotiations internationally, raising hopes that the US would now help to lead the way to a new deal, instead of acting as the major spoiler.

(Independent Online, 7/1/2013)

Health and the Environment

Disaster may impact Ganga

River Ganga may bear the brunt of the disaster that struck Uttarakhand on June 16.

The damage done to the revered river, one of most polluted in the world, is yet to be ascertained. But experts are unanimous about the need to closely monitor the water quality of the river, especially in the plains, although its high discharge is expected to carry much of the disaster-induced waste away.

The Lucknow office of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is planning to intensify surveillance fearing increase in the bacterial load owing to human bodies and animal carcasses in the river. Construction material, vehicles and other forms of debris have also gone into the river.

Officials at the police headquarters in Lucknow said 27 bodies have so far been recovered from the Ganga in Allahabad, Garh Mukteshwar and Muzaffarnagar besides the 48 at Hardwar.

Former CPCB chairman Paritosh Tyagi advised a drive to remove the debris that could be toxic. He also prescribed planting trees along the banks to give stability to the river.

Ravi Chopra of People’s Science Institute, an IITians’ initiative at Doon, said: “Tremendous amount of silt and debris can raise the riverbed at different places and change the course of the river slightly when it hits the plains, as in the upper reaches of the hills it will be trapped between gorges. How much it will affect life forms can be known only after the rains are over.”

(Hindustan Times, 6/29/2013)

Pollution board mum on progress

The National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) has been able to achieve little in way of cleaning up India’s longest river despite being in existence since 2009.

NGRBA member Rajendra Singh told The Sunday Standard that the authority is almost defunct as the prime minister has no time for meetings.

“The Ganga has become more polluted in the last four years of NGRBA’s existence. I raised several issues in the last three meetings and even gave a dissent note on construction activities in the upper Ganga region. I approached the PM asking for a meeting but I guess he is busy and has no time for issues which have cascading effects,” Singh said, claiming that huge sums of money are being siphoned off by the contractors in the name of cleaning the polluted river.

“If you ask me who benefitted out of this project—the Ganga or the contractors—my answer would be the latter. As far as the Ganga is concerned, it is no more a priority. You ask the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and you will be surprised that they have nothing worth reporting,” Singh said.

(The Indian Express, 6/30/2013)

Energy

India to Eclipse China as World's Coal Power, Buoying BHP

India is burning coal in power plants at the fastest pace in 31 years.

At the same time, domestic supplies of natural gas that are the main alternative are falling at the quickest rate in Asia, data from 2012 compiled by BP Plc (BP/) show. Both trends run counter to those in most major economies and give India clout over global coal prices.

India’s growing appetite for imported coal should benefit suppliers in the $69 billion global coal trade such as BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) (BHP) and Indonesia’s PT Adaro Energy (ADRO). India is set to eclipse China as the top importer of power station coal by 2014, as China burned the fuel in 2012 at the slowest pace since 2008, and U.S. demand fell for a second year, according to Energy Aspects Ltd.

“India is increasingly becoming an important swing factor in the coal markets and exporters will look there for price support as Chinese imports slow,” said Michael Parker, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. “Chinese imports will start to fall as they use more of their own coal.”

As Asia’s second-biggest energy consumer, with an economy expanding 5 percent last year, India used 10.2 percent more coal from a year earlier. That was the sharpest rise since 1981 and reversed three years of slower gains, according to this month’s BP Statistical Review 2013.

(Businessweek, 6/28/2013)

Indian Solar-Energy Credits Drop to Floor Price for First Time

Indian solar-energy credits in June fell as much as 19 percent from the previous month, sinking to their floor price for the first time since trading began last year as new sun-powered plants came on line.

The credits, which power-distribution companies and industrial consumers buy to meet clean-energy mandates, sold for 9,300 rupees ($154), according to REConnect Energy Solutions Pvt., an Indore-based trader that records all transactions on the Indian Electricity Exchange and the

Power Exchange of India.

India requires companies including Coal India Ltd. (COAL) and Tata Power Co. (TPWR) to get as much as 10 percent of their energy from renewables. Those unable to source enough locally may meet targets by buying credits from solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants via the two exchanges.

Each credit represents 1 megawatt-hour of electricity fed into the power grid. Bids from solar utilities seeking to sell credits were four times higher than buy bids, according to REConnect.

India’s solar capacity increased 79 percent to 1,686 megawatts in the last financial year as plants awarded through government auctions were completed and began generating power, according to data from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.

(Businessweek, 6/27/2013)

India committed to expanding role of nuclear energy: AEC

In the post-Fukushima world, India remains committed to expanding the role of nuclear energy in economic growth while enhancing the safety of its reactors, R.K. Sinha, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, said addressing the 2013 International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century on Friday.

“The constraint of depleting reserves of fossil fuels, leave alone the sheer enormity of the quantities of coal required, taken along with the need to shift to low carbon energy sources for addressing the global warming related concerns, would drive the options that could meet the Indian energy needs in future,” said Dr. Sinha. “It is here that nuclear energy becomes a very important option.”

Following the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, India has taken “necessary measures to further augment safety of our operating nuclear power plants under extreme external events,” Dr. Sinha said.

“India, as one of the leaders in nuclear technology, remains committed to the highest levels of safety in its NPPs and in the associated fuel cycle facilities,” he assured the conference.

At the same time, the Atomic Energy Commission chief drew attention to the “practically insignificant” impact of the Fukushima accident on the health of the population in the affected regions, as testified by the World Health Organisation.

(The Hindu, 6/28/2013)

Can we please have some energy efficiency?

A bulk of India’s energy requirement is imported. Be it crude oil or coal. As the Planning Commission points out, the energy needs for a faster economic growth will have to be “met in an environment where domestic energy prices are constrained and world energy prices are high and likely to rise further.”

Imports to increase

Since India’s domestic energy supplies are limited, imports will only increase. The Planning Commission projects import dependence on oil to increase from 76 per cent in 2010-11 to 80 per cent by the end of the 12th Plan. Import dependence on natural gas is projected to increase from 19 per cent to 28.4 per cent during the same period, while in the case of coal, it will go up from 19.8 per cent to 22.1 per cent in 2016-17.

A falling rupee and prospects of rising energy prices add to the problems of the policy planners. Ensuring energy security is a must, especially if the country is to get back on to a higher growth trajectory. Also, large sections of the population are still without adequate access to energy.

(The Hindu Business Line, 6/27/2013)

U.S.-India Cooperation

US solar industry urges India to remove trade barriers

Seeking a sizeable pie in India’s fast emerging solar energy market, the American solar industry has asked it to remove the trade barriers which discriminate against US solar exports.

Testifying before a Congressional committee, Solar Energy Industry Association Vice-President John Smirnow alleged that India’s local content requirement “discriminates against US solar exports and, thereby, provides an unfair competitive advantage to India’s domestic solar manufacturers’’.

Explosive growth

With some of the best solar resources in the world and the cost of solar continuing to decline, India’s solar sector is poised for explosive growth, providing an important export opportunity for US solar manufacturers, he told lawmakers.

However, India’s growing use of an industrial policy discriminates against US solar exports, thereby providing an unfair competitive advantage to India’s domestic solar manufacturers, Smirnow had said yesterday during the Congressional hearing on ‘A Tangle of Trade Barriers: How India’s Industrial Policy is Hurting US Companies’ convened by the Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

(Hindu Business Line, 6/29/2013)

For more news on the issues we care about, visit our India News archive or read our other International blogs.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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