Who is responsible for the heat waves in South Asia? | Political economics


he heat wave in March this year that engulfed most of India and Pakistan has taken temperatures to a new high. In India, the highest temperatures in 122 years have been recorded.

Heat waves are not a new phenomenon, but human-induced climate change is making heat waves longer, more extreme and more frequent. It also causes more smog each winter.

The burning of fossil fuels is the root cause of the increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which ultimately leads to heat waves and smog in South Asia.

One of the serious consequences of the record heatwaves is the massive wildfires that are breaking out more frequently across Pakistan.

India ranks third on the global list of greenhouse gas emitters. The country emits about three gigatonnes of GHGs every year. This causes the retreat of the Himalayan glaciers; threatening reliable flows in the Indus and Ganges, as well as their tributaries. Ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions have caused the global average temperature to rise by 0.8°C between 1901 and 2021.

The Clean Coal Center (IEA-CCC) of the International Energy Agency, in a study published on February 13, 2021, claims that coal burning is responsible for India’s high GHG emissions. The country uses nearly one gigatonne each year. This accounts for 95% of coal consumption in all South Asian countries.

Scientific studies have established that 70% of GHG emissions come from the energy sector in India, mainly from coal-fired power plants. Agriculture, industry and others contribute the rest.

The total installed capacity of India’s power generation system is 400,000 megawatts. 58% of this comes from coal.

India is ranked fourth in wind power use, fifth in solar power and fourth in overall installed renewable energy capacity. As of March 31, the installed capacity of its wind power plants was 46,723 MW and its solar power plants 109,885 MW.

In the month of February, a total of 133 billion units were generated. The share of coal-fired electricity was 103 billion units. That makes them almost 78% of the total generation. The share of renewable energies was 13%.

If India continues at the current pace, meeting all of its electricity demand using renewable energy will take another 100 years. This is why India championed its use of coal-fired power generation at the Glasgow Climate Summit.

While the world average varies between 10 and 20%, Indian coal contains 30 to 45% ash. High ash content causes higher SO2, NOx and particulate emissions.

The Center for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based climate change think tank, has concluded that India’s coal-fired power plants lag far behind world standards in terms of efficiency and of GHG emissions. The study claimed that the average plant efficiency was 32.8%, one of the lowest among major coal-fired power-producing countries.

CO2 emissions are a function of the efficiency of a thermal power plant, which in turn depends on its size, age and the technology it uses. Almost one percent of Indian power plants are ultra-supercritical; the others are subcritical. India has the second highest specific CO2 emissions, standing at 983 g/kWh; 22% higher than the world’s lowest specific CO2 emissions.

Indian coal also has a high ash content. While the world average varies between 10 and 20%, Indian coal contains 30 to 45% ash. High ash content results in higher SO emissions2NOPEX and particles.

Coal-fired power plants are the biggest sources of fly ash which contains toxic chemicals. Coal ash pools from power plants cause flooding, smog and heat waves.

Considering the dangers of coal-fired power generation, in August 2020, UN Secretary-General António Guterres advised India to stop building coal-fired power plants before the end of the year. 2020. India ignored the advice and has since added 5,500 megawatts. of coal-fired power plants. It also aims to increase its coal production to 1.2 billion tonnes by 2023-2024. It also overtakes China as the world’s largest emitter of anthropogenic sulfur dioxide.

With its growing use of coal, India is set to become the world’s biggest polluter in the second half of this century. The international community has urged the Narendra Modi government to set a deadline of 2050 for India’s emissions to reach net zero. India was reluctant to accept the delay.

India is currently the sixth largest economy in the world. It has foreign exchange reserves of around $600 billion. Electricity produced by coal-fired power plants in India is 35% cheaper than that produced by renewables and 16% cheaper than domestic natural gas. On January 18, while addressing the World Economic Forum, the UN Secretary General stressed that phasing out coal was a climate priority. This had no impact on India’s commitment to using coal as an engine of economic growth.

The worst impact of the Indian strategy is borne by Pakistan which is engulfed by severe heat waves in summer and smog in winter. In 2020, Pakistan was ranked fifth in terms of vulnerability to climate change.

Pakistan is now facing extreme heat waves, reaching shade temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius and causing severe water shortages.

US President Joe Biden has said his country is committed to reducing emissions levels by 2030, to achieve a 100% carbon-free electricity sector by 2035. The US Supreme Court United has established standards to protect states from harmful air pollution from power plants. somewhere else.

The writer is based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]

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