Melting glaciers, water scarcity, exodus

Melting glaciers, water scarcity, exodus

Last Updated: September 12, 2022

Water Scarcity

Melting glaciers, water scarcity, exodus: How climate change reality is biting Ladakh villages

Global warming has been leading to melting glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Range, where Ladakh’s located. This has caused a water crisis in the region.

Kulum, Leh: “There’s no water,” said Sonam Chondol, an erstwhile resident of a ghost hamlet in Leh district, flatly.

“There’s no grass to feed our livestock, not enough to irrigate our fields. Why would we go back?”

Chondol, along with 6 other families from her village of Upper Kulum, decided to leave their homes over 10 years ago and migrate to the nearby town of Upshi — about 5 km away — for a better chance of securing their livelihoods.

Chondol set up a confectionary shop on the road that takes tourists towards the Puga hot springs, and ekes out a living from the footfall her shop receives.

Small as the number of residents that left is, the experience of water scarcity in Kulum has been enough to alarm Ladakh’s district authorities and NGOs, serving as a warning for what the future of the region could hold if measures to mitigate climate change are not immediately put in place.

Like most of Ladakh, Kulum is glacier-fed, depending on the water that dribbles down the mountains from snowmelt.

But over the last few decades, the source of this water has been waning because of global heating.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan Region — in which Ladakh is located — is also called the third pole because of the volume of glacial ice it stores.

These glaciers, which are the source of 10 major river systems, are warming much faster than the global average.

Shakeel ul Rahman is a sub-divisional officer of agriculture in Leh district working on increasing climate-resilient agriculture in the region to cope with changes in the water supply.

“There is a lot of stress on Ladakh’s water sources, and the melting or erosion of glaciers is going to become a huge challenge.

If we don’t act now, there will be more out-migration, more abandoned villages,” he told ThePrint, gazing at Leh’s snow-capped peaks from his office window.

An exodus

The most obvious sign of global warming in Ladakh is the changing face of the mountains themselves.

Seventy-three-year-old Tsering Angchuk, who also abandoned his home in Upper Kullum, pointed to his shins, just below his knee, and said: “More than 15-20 years ago, when it snowed, it would come up to here.

But now, it’s barely a few inches. The mountains barely have any snow on them”.

Tsering Angchuk in his village, Kullum, in Ladakh | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Tsering Angchuk in his village, Kulum, in Ladakh | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Angchuk is not mistaken. Scientists have recorded a retreat in both snowfall and glacial mass in Ladakh over the last few decades.

Snowmelt and rainfall in the months of March and April would irrigate their fields enough to sow barley, wheat, peas, and potatoes.

But with lower levels of snowfall, the sowing season has gone awry.

“We have observed that snowmelt is happening much earlier, and so the peak of discharge is happening in spring, leading to a shortage in the summer season.

There’s also a reduction in soil moisture, which can cause springs to dry,” Dr. Anil Kulkarni, a glaciologist and distinguished scientist at the Indian Institute of Science, told ThePrint.

Angchuk says he’s the first to have led the exodus from Upper Kulum in 2012, two years after the devastating cloudburst of 2010 damaged part of a glacier-fed spring supplying their village with water, eventually leading it to dry up.

The lack of spring water and the shift in the monsoon season towards the winter made agriculture completely unviable, he said.

But even within the range of a few kilometers, topography in the village varies greatly. In Lower Kulum, a settlement of four households about a kilometre-and-a-half downstream of Upper Kulum, residents are slightly better off.

The spring supplying Lower Kulum with water hasn’t fully dried up yet, allowing for some subsistence farming.

“We didn’t leave because we could manage with whatever little water we got from the spring. But it has been increasingly difficult.

We don’t have as much of a yield as we did before 2010,” said Urgan Chosdol, a resident of Lower Kulum.

Climate resilience and adaptation

In the neighboring village of Igoo, concerns about water scarcity are mounting.

“The water flow is erratic. The glacier that supplies our village has reduced a lot in size.

Water that used to flow till September has now waned around mid-August,” Tsering Gurmet, a village leader, told ThePrint, adding: “It rains at odd times, which makes farming difficult”.

A 2016 study by scientists from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) found that climatic changes in Leh showed a “warming trend” with varied precipitation that suggests “overall the region is receiving more rainfall than the arid region is used to”.

According to Tashi Nurbu, another resident of the village, a 20-year-old scheme created small bunds or dams below the glacier supplying the village with water, which caused sheets of ice to freeze, creating a reservoir.

This ice reservoir, Nurbu said, supplied water even in the summer months, but the bunds broke some years ago.

“This dam system should be rebuilt because it really helped keep the supply of water regular when we need it the most, After it broke, the ice hasn’t formed like it used to,” he said.

Tashi Nurbu (right), Tsering Gurmat and Sonam Phunchok at Igoo | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Tsering Gurmet (L), Sonam Phunchok (C), Tashi Nurbu (R) in Igoo village | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

The idea of creating a reservoir of ice up in the mountains — called an artificial glacier — is credited to Chewang Norphel, a civil engineer who invented the model in the 1980s after observing how droplets of water from a tap froze once they hit the ground.

A newer prototype, called an ice stupa, was pioneered by engineer Sonam Wangchuk in 2013.

The conical shape of the glacier means less surface area is exposed to the sun, further regulating the water downstream.

The ice stupa consists of a pipe that draws water from a glacier or stream and is taken to a suitable location at an elevation.

There, water is slowly released through a sprinkler, which forms a base of ice. As the water continues to be sprayed, the ice builds and builds, till it resembles a vertical glacier.

This glacier is designed to melt through the early summer months, to make up for the shortfall in recent decades.

In 2019, this model was implemented by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs alongside Wangchuk’s organisation, the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) in Lower Kulum.

“We tried it in 2019, but it failed because we made it too close to the village and it melted away too quickly.

We were only successful this winter, in 2022. It takes a lot of trial and error, and to make the stupa we had to trek 5- 6 kilometers uphill from here where temperatures are lower and the ice can properly form,” said Chosdol.

Though the intervention has been found to mitigate the effects of water scarcity, it is expensive and high maintenance, prone to pipes getting jammed due to freezing temperatures.

It has also given rise to other unforeseen consequences — in the village of Phayang, for example,  20 km away from Leh, the diversion of water to form an ice stupa led to resource conflicts with a neighbouring village.

Earlier this year, Leh’s agriculture department decided to implement a scheme called the Special Development Package in Lower Kullum, which includes installing a solar-powered borewell to draw groundwater for micro irrigation — technology that Rahman says was not necessary till recently.

Micro irrigation involves methods that use less water, through drippers, sprinklers, and foggers.

“Initially, the residents were skeptical about whether micro irrigation will work, but this year they have grown a good amount of potatoes and summer squash.

Villagers in Upper Kullum are also now considering letting us implement it there,” Rahman told ThePrint, who added that the scheme would be implemented in a dozen other villages.

Lowering emissions

Despite its vulnerability to climate change, weather and climate data from the Ladakh region has been limited, says Dr. Subrat Sharma, head of the regional GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment, which opened in Ladakh only 3 years ago.

“Instrumental evidence of climate change has been very little in this area, but there is other, indirect evidence of climate change in the region, like the increasing frequency of cloud bursts,” he told ThePrint.

Sonam Chondol (left)and Dechen Spaldon at their Shop in Upshi village | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Sonam Chondol (L) with her niece Dechen Spaldon at their shop in Upshi | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Average temperatures across the globe have warmed up by 1.1 degrees celsius since pre-industrial times, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent reports.

Efforts across the world are on to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius —  at which point Ladakh, which is especially vulnerable to climate change, is likely to warm up by 2.23 degrees.

At such temperatures, weather patterns are likely to change even more dramatically than they already have, scientific evidence suggests.

“There will be a lifespan to interventions like artificial glaciers. We need more scientific scrutiny to see in which conditions they will succeed and fail,” said Kulkarni, adding: “The elephant in the room here is greenhouse gas emissions. The only permanent solution is to cut emissions”.

For Angchuk, moving back to Upper Kullum — where houses and fields lie abandoned — will take a lot of convincing, even if irrigation schemes and artificial glaciers help the flow of water along.

“Will the water really come? I didn’t even know about borewells until recently. They say they will install it. Maybe I’ll consider moving back if it works,” he said.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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Cabinet gives post facto approval to pact with International Renewable Energy Agency

Cabinet gives post facto approval to pact with International Renewable Energy Agency

Last Updated: Jun 29, 2022

Renewable Energy Agency

The aim of the Agreement is to drive ambition, leadership and knowledge on green energy transitions based on renewable energy in India.

NEW DELHI: The Union Cabinet on Wednesday gave post facto approval to the strategic partnership agreement with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) which will help India in green energy transition.

“The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was apprised of a Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India, and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA),” an official statement said.

According to the statement, the Agreement was signed in January 2022.

The aim of the Agreement is to drive ambition, leadership and knowledge on green energy transitions based on renewable energy in India.

It also stated that the Union Cabinet has approved the strategic partnership agreement.

The Agreement will help India’s energy transition efforts and will also help the world in combating climate change.

The areas of cooperation as envisaged in the Strategic Partnership Agreement will support India in achieving its ambitious target of 500 GW of installed non-fossil fuel electricity capacity by 2030.

This in-turn will promote Atmanirbhar Bharat.

The salient features of the agreement include enhanced cooperation in the areas such as facilitating knowledge sharing from India on scaling-up renewable energy and clean energy technologies.

It will also support India’s efforts on long-term energy planning and collaborate to strengthen the innovation climate in India.

The pact will also focus on moving towards cost-effective decarbonisation through catalysing development and deployment of green hydrogen.

Thus, it stated that the Strategic Partnership Agreement will help India’s energy transition efforts and will also help the world in combating climate change.

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New study traces how climate change affects extreme weather around the world

New study traces how climate change affects extreme weather around the world

Last Updated: Jun 29, 2022

Extreme Weather

Nagpur: Large gaps still exist when it comes to attributing extreme weather events to climate change, reveal researchers. A study by researchers from the University of Oxford, Imperial College London, and the Victoria University of Wellington reviewed the impact of five different types of extreme weather events, and to what degree these damaging events could be attributed to human-induced climate change. According to their findings, which were released on Tuesday in the first issue of academic journal ‘Environmental Research: Climate’, attribution science has led to major advances in linking the impact of extreme weather and human-induced climate change, but large gaps in the published research still conceal the full extent of climate change damage. Researchers combined information from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, and results from a fast increasing body of attribution studies — where weather observations and climate models are used to determine the role that climate change played in specific weather events. They observed that for some extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, the link with climate change is clear and unequivocal across the world, and that the extent of the impact is likely being underestimated by insurers, economists and governments. However, for others, such as tropical cyclones, the study shows that important differences exist between regions and the role that climate change plays in each event is more variable than for heatwaves. “The rise of more extreme and intense weather events such as heatwaves, droughts and heavy rainfall have dramatically increased in recent years, affecting people all over the globe. Understanding the role that climate change plays in these events can help us better prepare for them. It also allows us to determine the real cost that carbon emissions have in our lives,” says lead author of the study, Ben Clarke from the University of Oxford. The researchers also highlighted an urgent need for more data from lower and middle-income countries, where the impact of climate change is more strongly felt. “Research on these impacts is hampered when national weather data is not publicly available — examples include South Africa, where corruption denies funds to weather reporting facilities, leading to huge data gaps in an otherwise good network; drought-prone Somalia, where disorderly regime changes have disrupted measurements; and many countries, such as Poland, where weather data is only available for a high fee, and thus generally not for publicly funded research,” the study stated. Stating that a comprehensive overview or detailed inventory of what impact climate change is having today is still missing, co-author Friederike Otto from the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, said, “We do now have the tools and advanced understanding to create such an inventory, but these need to be applied more evenly across the world to improve our understanding in areas where evidence is lacking. Otherwise we are denying countries the knowledge to make the best use of sparse funds and improve chances for people to live safely and adapt to the changing climate.” BOX IN A NUTSHELL Attribution science links impact of extreme weather and human-induced climate change Clear link between heatwaves and climate change Extent of impact being underestimated by insurers, economists and governments For tropical cyclones, role of climate change more variable Studies could help understand role of climate change, prepare better, and determine real cost of carbon emissions Data lacking from lower and middle-income countries, where impact of climate change is more strongly felt.

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Private sector driving renewable energy wave in India

Private sector driving renewable energy wave in India

Last Updated: April 09, 2022

Private sector- Supply growth is being led by private players, despite initially being led by public sector. Large power producers with coal constituting a large part of their portfolios including Adani Group, Jindal and Tata Power, have announced big renewable energy targets and investment to match.

Climate change – witnessed increasingly in extreme weather events – is now the biggest risk threatening energy and financial markets, and vulnerable people and communities.The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2021 warns that to maintain the trajectory of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040, immediate urgent action must be taken.

To mitigate this climate risk, India has set ambitious targets for renewable energy. The government has recognised that free solar and wind energy, backed up by batteries, and other clean technologies such as electric vehicles and green hydrogen, are necessary alternatives to increasingly obsolete high-emitting fossil fuel generation plants – coal, LNG and gas.

At COP26 in Glasgow, Prime Minister Modi announced 500 gigawatts (GW) of non-fossil fuel capacity and 50% of energy from renewable sources by 2030 coupled with a net zero target by 2070. The response has been promising, and has brought forward increased competition in the traditionally coal-dominated energy market. As a result, India’s energy supply growth is now being led by renewable energy capacity additions.

Figure 1: Capacity Additions of Coal vs Renewables in India 2017 – 2022


Source: CEA, MNRE, IEEFA calculations * Till January 2022

Further, that supply growth is being led by private sector players, despite initially being led by the public sector. Large power producers with coal constituting a large part of their portfolios including Adani Group, Jindal and Tata Power, have announced big renewable energy targets and investment to match.

What caused the private sector to shift their focus to renewables?India faced coal shortages from August to October 2021 which led to high prices at the power exchange. Then in January 2022 Indonesia announced a coal export ban. The crisis exposed price volatility and energy security risks for India, showing imported coal as an unreliable source of electricity generation being heavily dependent on a long supply chain.

The largest business houses in the country responded by changing track, turning their attention to cheaper, cleaner, reliable renewable energy. It shows economics are driving such decisions, coupled with the return on investment being much higher for renewable energy projects.

Globally, there has been significant global capital momentum away from thermal coal and coal-fired power generation in the last few years. In total, IEEFA has tracked over 187 globally significant banks, insurers, and asset managers / owners that have implemented substantial formal coal exit policies since 2013. The year 2021 saw 51 new or updated policy statements.

This capital flow is a reflection of the rapidly diminishing economic merits of thermal coal and the growing understanding that alignment with the Paris Agreement and 1.5 degrees Celsius invariably leaves many coal projects as stranded assets, unable to deliver a viable return over their useful life. A flood of international capital is vying for renewable energy assets and the pool of economic, social and governance (ESG) led investors is growing rapidly.

While India has the potential to attract a large part of this capital, the flows have not been sizeable to date due to concerns about “greenwashing” and the overhang of legacy thermal assets on the books of major players such as NTPC and Tata Power. That trajectory however is changing following recent big announcements for renewable energy deployment in the next few years.

Figure 2: Current and Target Renewable Capacity Of Major Sector Players


Source: Company reports, IEEFA analysis

In July 2021, Tata Power announced it would not build new coal-fired generation projects and is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050. One week later JSW, another leading thermal power producer, announced 20GW of solar, wind and hydropower plants by March 2030 and an investment of Rs750 billion (US$10billion) with the aim of also becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

In fact, 2021 saw a sharp increase in renewable energy investment domestically and globally. India attracted about ~US$18.8 billion of that investment in renewable energy, three times the investment seen in 2020. Further, 2021 saw some big-ticket renewable energy investments by large private Indian companies.

CompanyAmountTo do what
RelianceUS$80 billionBy 2030-35, 100GW solar + giga factories for modules, fuel
AdaniUS$50 billionBy 2030, investment in renewables
ReNew PowerUS$9 billionBy 2025, new solar and wind projects

The share price performance of these companies indicates they are making the right moves by turning to renewables. Over a 5-year period, Adani Green Energy Limited has risen massively by 6,000% and Reliance by 350% vis-à-vis a 110% rise in Sensex.

A focus on solar and green hydrogen Private players are now building the ecosystem by increasing domestic manufacturing of solar modules, cells, wafers, and polysilicon, while reducing reliance on imports.

In October 2021, Reliance acquired REC Group of Norway for US$771 million. REC is a long-established solar module manufacturer with two facilities in Norway for making solar grade polysilicon and one in Singapore making PV cells and modules. Reliance has further invested US$29 million in German solar wafer manufacturer NexWafe GmbH and is entering a strategic partnership to commercialise NexWafe’s product in India.

Private players are now also betting big on green hydrogen (the only ‘renewable’ hydrogen) which will assist in decarbonising other sectors like refining, fertiliser, and steel. Reliance has partnered with renewables pioneer Henrik Stiesdal to develop and manufacture hydrogen electrolysers. And Adani Group and Ballard Power Systems have joined hands to evaluate a joint investment in hydrogen fuel cells manufacturing in India. Green hydrogen is considered to be the fuel of the future and IEEFA notes fuel cell manufacturing will likely be a game-changer in India’s energy transition.

Private capital, and power producers reeling under the burden of non-performing thermal assets, are driving a course correction. Apart from the 30GW already under construction, no new thermal projects are likely to come online in India.

Renewable energy momentum is continuing, and with the increasing competitiveness of ever-cheaper battery storage and unfolding new energy technologies, that momentum will likely escalate to a two-threefold increase in the growth of renewable energy by 2024.

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India’s solar irradiance 7 per cent below long-term average: Study

India’s solar irradiance 7 per cent below long-term average: Study

Last Updated: April 11, 2022

Solar Irradiance

New Delhi: In what could have significant ramifications for productivity and returns from solar power projects in India, the latest study has found solar irradiance over the country over the past ten years was 7 per cent below long-term average.

The study by Solargis, a data and software firm for solar investments, highlights the struggles that solar asset owners face with the impacts of extreme weather and long-term irradiance variability – levels that deviated from the long-term averages are often used to underpin production estimates and financial models.

“Solargis’ irradiance maps indicate up to seven percent below average solar irradiation for the (Indian) sub-continent over the last four years – reflecting the concerns of local asset managers about a decline in irradiance levels,” the Slovakia based firm said in a statement.

India's solar irradiance 7 per cent below long-term average: Study

It added that for India the irradiance variability is particularly notable around highly developed areas where aerosols and cloud cover can impact resource availability.

“If this data is not considered by developers, it could result in solar farms underperforming, with wider implications for investor confidence in one of the world’s fastest growing solar markets,” the firm said.

The study is a ten-year analysis of solar irradiance — over the 2012 to 2021 period — released today by Solargis and has illustrated the impacts of significant resource variability on several key global solar markets including India, Australia and North America.

“We are seeing margins tighten on global solar projects, due to multiple factors like the phase out of tax credits and subsidies, price volatility and rising supply chain costs. High-quality solar data will help to better understand and address deviations from expected production, forecast short-term performance and ultimately support effective integration into modern digitalised grids,” says Solargis CEO Marcel Suri.

Significant variation both above and below the long-term averages has been witnessed across North America, India and Australia, highlighting the variability challenge presented by solar, a promising yet intermittent renewable energy source.

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Meghalaya govt to power its remote health centres using solar technology

Meghalaya govt to power its remote health centres using solar technology

Last Updated: April 09, 2022

​Solar Technology – ​The state government said it plans to cover all rural health centres under the solar power scheme to improve the functioning of these centres and ensure that last mile delivery in the health sector is achieved using solar technologies.

Shillong: The Meghalaya government has successfully installed solar-powered devices in 100 health centres in remote villages, an official said on Saturday.

The state government said it plans to cover all rural health centres under the solar power scheme to improve the functioning of these centres and ensure that last-mile delivery in the health sector is achieved using solar technologies.

In a pilot programme, the National Health Mission has successfully powered 100 sub-centres in the 11 districts with solar devices, a senior health official said.

He said as part of the programme, energy-efficient equipment like radiant warmer, suction apparatus, spotlight, solar direct drive vaccine refrigerator and luminaries, were installed and made functional.

To meet the health demands of the vulnerable people in remote areas of the state, the government had partnered with SELCO Foundation to scale the remaining 342 sub-centres and 122 primary health centres (PHCs) across the state, according to the official.

The site assessment is in progress at all these centres to ensure last mile health care facilities in Meghalaya.

Irrespective of the difficult terrain, remoteness, vulnerability to climate risks and natural disasters of rural habitations, the intervention will greatly benefit from solar energy that can power critical healthcare services including immunization, maternal care, deliveries, diagnostics and contribute to increasing monitoring including vaccination of COVID 19 among others.

Joint Secretary, Health Department, Ram Kumar, who also heads the National Health Mission said, “Having consistent energy flow into the health systems, builds the confidence among people on the services provided by the health systems.”

He said the aim is to ensure that these health centres, irrespective of their remoteness, provide consistent power and ensure that services are available 24/7.

“Health centres are sustained on their own in terms of power so that there is no dependency on external power as well as have an efficient system of monitoring them,” he said.

In the programme, adopted on a pilot basis in Meghalaya and a few other states, the NHM is being supported by SELCO Foundation and Cryptorelief to cover the entire spectrum of public health facilities in the state, the official stated.

An ANM of Jalyiah, C Syrti, said, “We are getting important solar powered equipment which are used in conducting safer and healthier deliveries.”

SELCO Foundation and Crypto Relief said they are partnering with each other in one of the largest programmes for upgrading and empowering public health facilities with solar energy across five states.

CryptoRelief chief Sandeep Nailwal said, “The team at Crypto Relief realises the potential that solar powering health centres will enable a foundation to impact health indicators on the ground in these districts.”

SELCO Foundation CEO Dr Harish Hande said the company is honoured to partner with Meghalaya government.

“In this existing programme of 100 sub centres in the state, which can then be a model for countries to replicate and by using solar energy we can democratise the delivery of health to the last mile people,” he said.

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