Analysis: India’s CO2 Emissions Fall for First Time in Four Decades Amid Coronavirus
By Lauri Myllyvirta and Sunil Dahiya
An economic slowdown, renewable energy growth and the impact of Covid-19 have led to the first year-on-year reduction in India's CO2 emissions in four decades. Emissions fell by around 1% in the fiscal year ending March 2020, as coal consumption fell and oil consumption flatlined.
The decline in emissions reflects the headwinds already affecting the Indian economy since early 2019, and increasing renewable energy generation. But our analysis of official Indian data across the nation's entire 2019-20 fiscal year shows the fall has steepened in March, due to measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The country's CO2 emissions fell by an estimated 15% during the month of March and are likely to have fallen 30% in April.
As with the global CO2 impact of the pandemic, the longer-term outlook for India's emissions will be shaped, to a significant degree, by the government response to the crisis. This response is now starting to emerge – as set out below – and will have major long-term implications for India's CO2 emissions and air quality trajectory.
Coal Bearing Brunt of Demand Crunch
As lower power demand growth and competition from renewables weakened the demand for thermal power generation throughout the past 12 months, the drop-off in March was enough to push generation growth below zero in the fiscal year ended March, the first time this has happened in three decades.
Over the preceding decade, thermal power generation grew by an average of 7.5% per year. As seen in the figure below, the dramatic drop-off in total power demand was entirely borne by coal-based generators, amplifying the impact on emissions.
Coal-fired power generation fell 15% in March and 31% in the first three weeks of April, based on daily data from the national grid. In contrast, renewable energy (RE) generation increased by 6.4% in March and saw a slight decrease of 1.4% in the first three weeks of April.
The fall in total coal demand extends beyond the power sector and is evident in data on coal supply. In the fiscal year ending March, coal sales by the main coal producer Coal India Ltd fell by 4.3%, while coal imports increased 3.2%, implying that total coal deliveries fell by 2% and signaling the first year-on-year fall in consumption in two decades.
The trend steepened in March, with coal sales falling 10% while coal imports fell 27.5% in March, meaning that total deliveries of coal to end users fell by 15%, in line with the reduction in power generation.
In March, coal output increased 6.5% even as sales fell by a record amount. Also, during the full year, more coal was mined than sold, indicating that the reason for the drop was on the demand side.
Oil Demand: From Weak to Negative
Similar to electricity demand, oil consumption has been slowing down since early 2019. This is now compounded by the dramatic impact of the Covid-19 lockdown measures on transport oil consumption. During the national lockdown, oil consumption fell 18% on year in March 2020.
As a result of low demand due to the coronavirus outbreak and already slower demand growth earlier in the year, consumption during the fiscal grew at 0.2%, the slowest in at least 22 years. Natural gas consumption increased 5.5% in the first 11 months of the fiscal year, but is expected to fall by 15-20% during the lockdown.
Crude oil production in India decreased by 5.9% compared to last financial year and a 5.2% drop has been observed in natural gas production during the same time. Refinery production – in terms of crude oil processed – also fell by 1.1% over the last financial year, compared to 2018-19.
Crude steel production dropped by 22.7% in March 2020 compared to the previous month and, cumulatively, the financial year 2019-20 saw a decline of 2.2% compared to last year, according to Ministry of Steel data.
CO2 Emissions Down 30% in April
Using the indicators above for coal, oil and gas consumption, we estimate that CO2 emissions fell by 30m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2, 1.4%) in the fiscal year ending March, in what is likely to have been the first annual decline in four decades.
Annual emissions from fossil fuel use in India, millions of tonnes of CO2, 1965-2020. Figures for 2009 onwards correspond with financial years ending that March, with the 2020 number showing fiscal year 2019-20. Source: Analysis of Indian government data for this article and BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
Furthermore, emissions fell by 15% year-on-year in March and by 30% in April. The April estimate is based on power-sector emissions estimated from daily generation data. This assumes oil consumption falls as much in April as in March, which is very likely to be conservative as the national lockdown is continuing until the end of the month, and gas consumption falls 15-20% as projected.
While the current crisis is having a significant impact on India's CO2 emissions in the short term, it could also influence the longer-term trajectory of India's energy use and emissions.
Although the situation is only beginning to unfold, three possible consequences are already emerging:
- Post-crisis economic stimulus could be directed towards reinvigorating the country's renewable energy program.
- Plummeting electricity demand has brought the power industry's long-brewing financial problems to a head, necessitating bailouts with the potential for structural changes.
- Experience of exceptional air quality could add momentum to efforts against air pollution, resulting in strengthened targets and standards.
In each case, the crisis could act to catalyse, reinforce or accelerate the factors that have already been driving Indian policymaking in this area.
For example, the Indian government has already started talking about support for renewable energy as a part of the recovery, alongside similar statements by European leaders. One reason for this continued support is the fact that solar already offers far cheaper electricity than coal.
A recent auction secured 2,000 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity at an average of 2.55-2.56 rupees per kilowatt hour (Rs/kWh, around $34 per megawatt hour). This result came despite the auction being held during the lockdown amid a period of severe uncertainty over the future market and financial situation.
In contrast, the average cost of a unit of electricity from India's biggest coal generator, the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), stood at 3.38 Rs/kWh in the financial year 2018-19 ($45/MWh). This figure will likely keep moving upwards with every passing year due to inflation, increasing operational costs and with implementation of stricter emission standards.
Another example of Indian government support for the renewable industry came in early April when it stressed the "must-run" status of wind and solar projects and called on distribution companies to make timely payments to power generators.
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy also extended the timelines for renewable energy projects to be completed for the period of the lockdown and the following 30 days. This will safeguard renewable energy developers from penalties arising due to delays from their committed schedules.
The ministry has also written to various states in recent weeks to give a "major push" to domestic renewable manufacturing capacity. Increased domestic supply will strengthen the renewable energy program by strengthening supply chains and political weight for the industry, as long as it does not give rise to excessive protectionism.
Over the past year, CO2 emissions as well as air pollution levels have declined. More recently, the sight of blue skies during the national lockdown across the country has created a sense of optimism among the public as well as policymakers that the air in India can be cleaned, if appropriate steps are taken.
Since many of the major sources of pollution – transport, power stations and industry – are also responsible for significant shares of the country's CO2 output, any strengthening of air quality standards – or their implementation – would have knock-on effects on emissions.
Earlier last year, in response to building public pressure, the environmental ministry announced India's first-ever National Clean Air Programme. This aims to reduce particulate matter pollution levels across 102 cities by 20-30% by 2024.
The program also pointed out that India's national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), dating back to 2009, need revision. The standards are much weaker than the World Health Organization guidelines and there is more evidence of health impacts of air pollution being reported even at low concentrations of pollutants.
The recent experience of cleaner air and the drastic drop in pollution levels due to coronavirus lockdowns have started these conversations to strengthen the NAAQS among public, research institutes and civil society organizations. As a result, any return of India's poor air quality and smog can be expected to trigger a stronger public response.
As demand for thermal power generation plummets, so too do the earnings of India's electricity industry. In this way, the coronavirus crisis has brought the long-brewing financial woes of the country's power sector to a head.
The sector was already struggling before the coronavirus crisis, making it a major source of bad loans and financial distress.
The reasons behind the chronic financial losses of the power industry and dependence on government bailouts are easy enough to see. Discounted electricity tariffs are offered for agricultural and domestic consumers, with farmers even being provided with electricity for free, and losses covered from industrial and commercial consumers and state budgets. There are major losses in transmission and theft of power. Distribution companies have committed to purchasing excessive amounts of power as a part of a push to expand thermal power generation, leading to the country's coal power overcapacity issue.
If the forthcoming government bailout allows these structural problems to persist then it could mean old coal power stations are able to continue operating, entrenching the country's dependence on fossil-fired generation. On the other hand, the bailout could be conditioned on reforms and restructuring, facilitating the achievement of national clean-energy goals.
There are already calls for a green recovery package in India. These questions — re-invigorating the renewable energy program, mitigating the rebound of air pollution and addressing the structural problems of the thermal power sector — will be at the heart of determining the outcome.
Reposted with permission from Carbon Brief.
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By Tara Lohan
Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.
Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.
"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."
Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.
It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.
Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.
Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.
One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.
The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.
They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.
"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."
That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.
And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.
"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."
Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.
"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.
The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.
"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.
The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.
"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."
The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.
The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.
The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.
To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.
Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.
"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.
"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."
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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.