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South Asia is home to 24% of the world’s population despite having 11% of the world’s landmass. With problems such as greenhouse gas emissions as a result of intense industrialisation- which puts 800 million lives at risk in the region– water shortages and a growing population (predicted to jump to over 2.3 billion by 2050), South Asia is facing a future crisis. How valuable will renewable energy become in the region? 

Case studies in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will be explored to identify future issues this region will face and what is being done presently to prevent an energy deficit. 

India is growing fast and is on track to overtake Germany as the 4th largest economy by 2026. With this economic boom, 500 million people will move into the middle- and high-income bracket by 2030 and therefore the demand for goods and services will rise. However, the industrial expansion that India is undergoing is putting strain on the country’s power generation facilities, with demand outstripping supply by 7.5%. Coal represents the majority of India’s energy mix (44%), followed by oil (25%). 

Earth.Org Inside South Asia's Energy Crisis
Graph showing India’s total primary energy supply sources (Source: Enerdata 2019, Brown to Green: The G20 Transition Towards A Net-Zero Emissions Economy 2019 report).

While coal occupies the lion’s share of India’s power generation, renewable energy accounts for only 10%. Due to India’s unique geography- encompassing mountains, deserts and rainforests- India is able to implement renewable power with its windy coastlines, arid sun-soaked deserts and turbulent shorelines. Because some states receive more sunlight or wind than others, there are variations between states. 

In Gujarat, India’s largest coal producing state, the state government announced that it will not give permission to build new coal power plants, in part owing to the falling costs of renewable sources of energy, such as solar. The existing coal plants are under-utilised and public sector banks have been left with debts after providing cheap financing to build tens of coal power plants, expecting demand for electricity to grow. These projections did not materialise, and cheaper solar and wind power met much of the growing electricity consumption in the country. 

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s incumbent president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, recently announced the country’s plan to produce as much as 80% of Sri Lanka’s power requirements from renewable sources by 2030. Sri Lanka’s installed electricity capacity is 4043 MW and total demand in 2017 was 2523 MW. The country currently produces 23% of its power requirements from hydropower and other renewable sources. However, because of concerns for the ecological impacts of hydropower, including destruction of habitats and the depletion of sediments that lead to coastal erosion, the country is seeking to diversify its renewable power mix with plans to build a 104MW wind plant on Mannar island in Northern Sri Lanka. The country wants to reach self-sufficiency in electricity by 2027, limiting the amount of fossil fuels that it imports. 

Together with Iran, Sri Lanka is building a US$16 billion hydroelectric power plant near the Uma Oya river. The location of the project, called the ‘Uma Oya Multipurpose Project’, has prompted criticism; there have been landslides and minor slips in the area as a result of the project. 

However, the new government has also announced plans for new coal plants and upgrades to existing plants to cope with demand which is growing by 6% yearly, marring Sri Lanka’s efforts to phase out coal. The capability of the coal-powered plants are dubious, as the Norochcholai coal plant has broken down several times. The Uma Oya project, as well as the plans for the future coal plant, presents a problem for Sri Lanka amid its targets of becoming a country powered by mostly renewable energy. 

South Asian countries have ratified the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol. However, problems with regional cooperation persist, with the 19th SAARC summit being cancelled due to terror attacks in India. Regardless, competing interests often stall the summits anyway, rendering these regional meetings useless.

The future of South Asia’s energy can be summarised with Al Gore’s documentary, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ in which Gore speaks to Indian ministers about reducing their dependence on coal as the world looks to reduce its carbon emissions. While this is easily said, the reality is different. A problem persists as the Western world has had at least 150 years of limitless economic growth. Now that the importance of environmental sustainability is being stressed, these concerns have been placed on developing nations such as India. This presents many problems for the South Asian region as there is a lack of incentives for the private sector to invest in renewable energy, high initial costs of starting such projects such as construction costs, lack of government support and sustained economic development, meaning that the South Asia region will have to plan carefully if the region wants to avoid a future energy crisis.

While the region’s population is growing, as is the middle class, the region is struggling to lift 40 million people out of poverty. As a result, countries in South Asia face a difficult path of balancing both development and environmental concerns. If the region is to increase its share of renewables in the respective country’s energy mix, it must work to create long-term policies and robust legislation to prioritise renewable energy. 

Featured image: Kym Farnik


Humans are exacerbating the environmental crisis and upending the delicate balance of ecosystems in more than one way. A new report explores our unhealthy relationship with nature and unpacks the consequences.

Rising temperatures and global warming have been in the news for a while and are well-supported by scientific evidence. Global atmospheric CO2 concentration exceeded 400ppm, the highest in human history and for the past 5 million years. Despite plateauing in the early 21st century, methane emissions have been on the rise since 2014 at rates not observed since the 1980s. The past four years have consequently been the warmest years on record.

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Figure 1 Annual global temperatures from 1850-2017 visualised in coloured strips (Source: Prof. Ed Hawkins, University of Reading)

What is far less known and publicised is the interaction between climate change and other man-derived environmental changes. A new, report – Facing Up to the Age of Environmental Breakdown’– by the London-based Institute for Public Policy Research, is among the first meta-studies to consider the risks of interplay between multiple environmental threats in destabilising human society and socioeconomic systems.

What is the age of environmental breakdown?

The age of ‘environmental breakdown’ is characterised by the immense scale and severity of human impacts on the environment that extend beyond the dimension of climate change and exacerbate the environmental crisis.

More soil, rock and sediment each year are moved by humans than all natural processes combined. Enough concrete and plastic are produced to cover the entire Earth’s surface. Land use change and urbanisation are causing the sixth mass extinction with species extinction rates matching previous mass extinction events. Insect biodiversity and abundance are declining rapidly by 2.5% per year while vertebrate populations have declined by 60% over the past 30 years. Intensified agricultural production and deforestation have exposed 30% of the world’s arable land to significant degradation.

These environmental changes do not exist in isolation but instead interact with each other in complex, non-linear ways. Climate change serves to further destabilise the system by global changes in temperature, rainfall patterns and extreme events. Exceeding certain tipping points and biophysical thresholds would have catastrophic consequences. These interactions cascade into human society and amplify existing social and economic problems and risks global political and financial shocks.

Societal impacts range from heightened income inequality to forced migration with the rise of environmental refugees, increased conflict over scarce resources and declining human health and malnutrition.

Figure 2 Wealthier households have higher emissions compared to less wealthy households (IPPR)

In spite of the alarming statistics, the IPPR report concludes that the politicians and policies of the past decade have failed to provide adequate solutions to match the scale of the environmental destruction.  

To effectively tackle what is surely the challenge of our generation, the paper envisages a fundamental rethink of existing social, economic and justice systems. Societies should strive for a ‘sustainable and just’ future by strengthening their resilience in order to cope with the age of environmental breakdown. A ‘shift in understanding’ is required.

Policies in recent years like the Climate Change Act in the United Kingdom, restoration of natural systems and deployment of renewable technology have the potential to be transformative, but progress has been slow. Climate action has been further hampered by rising populism, vested interests coupled with rigid and inflexible mechanisms for global decision-making.

The findings of this report echo recent debates over the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is a proposed geological epoch in which human activity rivals that of natural geological processes in reshaping the Earth’s landscape. Prof. Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science and researcher of the Anthropocene at University College London, suggested that ‘to usher in a new way of living, today’s core dynamic of ever-greater production and consumption of goods and resources must also be broken, coupled with a societal focus on environmental repair.’

Figure 3 No country in the world have managed to develop within environmental limits while achieving high social development (IPPR)

The recent proposal of a Green New Deal (GND) in the United States attracted significant debate. It is a prime example of transformative policies that links environmental degradation with human society and considers the impacts of human activity beyond climate change. The GND does not only aim to cut carbon emissions by increasing uptake of renewable energy. It also pledges an all-encompassing social rethink: creating green jobs, raising the minimum wage, establishing universal healthcare; all backed by strong government intervenction in the economy. Similar proposals have recently been released by the Labour Party, the official opposition in the UK Parliament, in what was termed ‘The Green Transformation’.

Profound changes are needed in order for humans to live within sustainable limits and mitigate the environmental crisis. Widespread public concern and the naissance of youth climate strikes may be the catalyst for long overdue bold and transformative policies.


The world is “losing the race” on tackling climate change, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres candidly told business and political leaders at the first major international gathering of the year. The 2019 annual World Economic Forum wrapped up on January 25th, closing out a week of talks dominated by climate change and fears over slow economic growth.

Demanding bolder action from governments, Guterres renewed the call for more resources to be deployed for tackling climate change mitigation and adaptation, along with increased financial aid for poorer countries.

“Climate change is the defining issue of our time,” he stressed. “It is absolutely central to reverse this trend”.

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A World Economic Forum survey conducted ahead of the meeting found that climate change was the leading concern of international participants to the conference.

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry, who signed the Paris Accord to combat climate change for the US in 2016, said 38 out of the 50 states are implementing their own climate policies despite Trump’s withdrawal and scepticism on climate change.

But Kerry noted that the Paris agreement was based on the expectation that the private sector will ramp up investments in green technologies like energy efficient batteries and solar power.

“It’s not happening enough, and even in Katowice recently, you saw the fight that was taking place, just to be able to try to be reasonable here,” he said, referring to the contentious COP24 UN climate change discussions in December 2018.

Ahead of the Katowice conference, a group of 50 global CEOs, responsible for generating more than $1.3 trillion in revenue across more than 150 countries and territories, published an open letter on climate action.

Cutting their collective emissions by 9% so far since 2016, the companies developed “climate governance” principles to help corporate boards manage climate change by translating climate risks into business processes.

Their practical actions highlight that while global commitments and campaigns often make headlines, the commitments need to be translated into business-led climate initiatives and measures to transform industries and operating models.

But while corporate executives, including Patrick Pouyanne CEO of French oil and energy giant Total, publicised their own measures to transition to a greener economy, activists say that companies are still not doing enough in tackling climate change.

How to tackle climate change with a carbon tax?

A carbon tax movement is making headway, under an initiative by the Climate Leadership Council that is backed by 27 Nobel economic laureates and all four former chairs of the US Federal Reserve – Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker.

Ted Halstead, president of the Council, was in Davos this week to promote the scheme.

Recognising that “global climate change is a serious problem calling for immediate national action”, signatories said in a statement that a carbon tax “offers the most cost-effective solution to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary”.

The tax would factor in the polluting price of fossil fuels so as to discourage their use over time – starting with US $40 per ton of carbon emissions on US businesses, which would produce about US $200 billion in revenue per year.

Revenues would be returned to US citizens through equal lump-sum rebates – echoing Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s carbon “dividend”, which was passed in October 2018. A similar proposal for a carbon tax was recently introduced by US bipartisan lawmakers.

Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, wrapped up the conference in Davos calling for “unique partnerships between governments, business and civil society to solve the most pressing global challenges”.

The next major global assembly on climate change, the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit will be held in September this year.


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