Geology for Global Development


Heather Britton: India’s Energy-Climate Dilemma

Heather Britton is one of our new writers, today reporting on a summary of this paper by Andrew J Apostoli and William A Gough, covering the difficulties of pursuing reduced greenhouse gas emissions whilst fuelling one of the largest populations on the planet – India. The actions of this country are contributing to the eventual achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals 7 and 13 – Affordable and Clean Energy, and Climate Action respectively.

India makes up 18% of the world’s population (1.2 billion people) with this value predicted to rise to 1.5 billion by 2030. Like many countries in the Global South, India is currently reliant upon fossil fuels to meet its energy demands, but it lacks the natural resources to provide energy for its people in this way – already 80% of its oil is imported, and this is likely to increase in the coming years. On top of this, India’s current energy production is falling short of their present requirements, with only 44% of households having access to electricity and 600,000 villages yet to be connected to the national electricity network.

You could be forgiven for thinking, therefore, that reducing carbon emissions would not be a priority, with the more pressing issue of making sure all Indians have access to energy taking precedence. This, however, is far from the reality, and although per-capita emissions are predicted to increase significantly as a result of the demands of a growing population, India’s renewable energy sector is ranked fifth in the world (Figure 1), and plans are in place to ensure that this sector’s growth does not stop here.

Figure 1: Global renewable energy investments. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment, 2016

Although a factor in this statistic is the huge (and expanding) population of the country, it seems that India truly are passionate about pursuing a sustainable future. A survey recently revealed that many Indian citizens were happy to pay a carbon tax due to their awareness of the environment and the problems it is currently facing. To some, the environmental conscience of the country is seen as exacerbating India’s energy problem – if India can’t generate enough energy to ensure that all of its people have access to a sizeable and dependable energy source, why restrict the use of some of the most reliable methods of energy generation on the planet? – Others however have seen it as an admirable step in pursuit of sustainable development.

India has adopted ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through climate change policies and financial incentives to promote the development of new renewable energy initiatives, but it is currently unclear whether this will be enough for India to overcome its present day energy difficulties and meet the environmental promises that they have made both to their public and the global community (e.g. pledging to reduce emissions by 20-25% by 2020, although this is not legally binding).

Figure 2: Smog in New Delhi, India. Source: Prakhar Misra (distributed via

The landscape and climate of India are well suited to many forms of renewable energy generation, making these options financially viable. It is clear that if India is to achieve its goal of supplying affordable energy to allow economic growth in an environmentally-conscious manner, renewable energy must be heavily invested in, enabling technological developments to be made in this industry.

The Indian government has produced a number of funding initiatives to encourage such investment: for example the ‘National Action Plan on Climate Change’ (NAPCC) was formed ‘to make India a prosperous and efficient economy that is self-sustaining for both present and future generations while confronting climate change’ (Apostoli and Gough, 2016). Its aims include reducing poverty, reducing the anthropogenic effects of climate change and developing technologies at a fast pace to ensure the regulation and mitigation of greenhouse gases.

Other funding initiatives include the coal tax, which has risen form 50 rupees per tonne of coal in 2010 to 400 rupees per tonne in 2016, the money from which is used to finance the national clean environment fund. Up to 2015 this fund had developed 46 clean energy initiatives, and has allowed further projects to take off since. In addition, tax-free bonds were offered from 2015-2016 for the financing of renewable energy initiatives, valued at around $800 million.

India therefore has succeeded in creating motivation for the development of renewable energy and has a plethora of methods of renewable energy generation available – the details for some of which I have outlined below:

Hydropower: With altitudes ranging from the highs of the Himalayas to lows of the Ganges delta, India’s landscape is perfectly suited to both large and small scale hydropower plants. As of 2013 17%  of the total electricity generated in India was from hydropower stations, second only to coal, demonstrating the potential for the development of this field in the future.

Solar: Sitting between the tropic of cancer and the equator, India is ideally situated for the generation of energy through the use of solar cells. Solar energy has the potential to surpass India’s annual energy consumption and allow it to become a global leader in solar energy, although the initial costs of the solar cells required is considerable. With schemes such as the ‘National Solar Mission’, aiming to have 22 GW of solar capacity by 2022, the solar sector in India is expected to expand rapidly.

Wind: There is huge potential for the wind industry. Wind generation is not only the largest growing renewable energy sector in India, but is also experiencing a recent rise in social acceptability, leading to the prediction that in 2020 wind energy will save 48 million tonnes of CO2.

Biomass: This is an incredibly important energy source for India, as 70% of the country’s population rely on it for energy. Currently, however, biomass is being used inefficiently, exposing children and women to high levels of indoor pollution. Policies have been developed to encourage more efficient and cleaner utilisation of this abundant fuel, but there is still a long way to go in improving the use of biomass.

Figure 3: Landscape of the Indian Himalaya, well suited to many methods of renewable energy generation. Source: Yuval Sadeh (distributed via

The progress in the renewable energy industry sounds promising, but as ever problems are arising. Last year the Indian state Tamil Nadu generated more energy using solar cells than it required – but this energy could not be passed on to other states as the grid was not sophisticated enough to  connect this excess of renewable energy to neighbouring states. It is clear that developing methods of renewable energy generation is of great importance, but without careful planning much of the future renewable energy generated may go to waste.

In conclusion, sustainable development is of pressing concern to India, a country which houses a significant proportion of the world’s poor. There is currently heavy demand for fossil fuels, as the country undergoes unprecedented economic growth, rapid population increase and industrialisation. This places pressure not only on the national grid, but on unsustainable resources which will be exhausted under current consumption rates.

In response to these challenges India has invested heavily in the deployment of renewable energy strategies. With a combination of financial incentives, taxes and subsidies, India has caused a surge in renewable energy schemes, working to exploit the country’s landscape. Although it is still in the early stages of development, India’s dedication towards renewable energy will result in greater energy security for the world’s second largest population, providing them with the independence to facilitate economic growth whilst reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. There is certainly more work to be done, but the impetus that India has demonstrated in finding solutions to their energy crisis will hopefully result in a happy ending for this sustainable development story.

Read more: Andrew J Apostoli and William A Gough, (2016) India’s Energy-Climate Dilemma: The Pursuit for Renewable Energy Guided by Existing Climate Change Policies, Journal of Earth Science & Climatic Change, 7:362.

**This article expresses the personal opinions of the author (Heather Britton). These opinions may not reflect an official policy position of Geology for Global Development. **

EGU15 – Natural Hazards Education and Communications

EGU15 – Natural Hazards Education and Communications

Figure 1: A man herds his livestock in remote, high altitude, snowy conditions in Ladakh.

This post first appeared on GeoEd Trek (AGU Blogs) on December 22nd 2014. It has been slightly modified below, given the deadline for EGU Abstracts has now passed, to include the latest information available about this session.  

Ladakh is a remote and beautiful Himalayan region in the north of India (Figure 1). With stunning landscapes and a rich culture and history it is popular with both domestic and international visitors. Ladakh is also a region subjected to multiple natural hazards, including extreme temperatures, avalanches, landslides (Figure 2), earthquakes and unusual heavy rain, each occurring with varying frequency and intensity. One of the worst examples of recent times was in August 2010, when a devastating mudslide impacted Ladakh. The result of sudden and intense rainfall, the mudslide killed over 255 people.

Figure 2: Ladakhi village sitting at the foot of steep hillslopes, a typical scene in Ladakh and an example of the communities’ high exposure to mass movement hazards.

Figure 2: Ladakhi village sitting at the foot of steep hillslopes, a typical scene in Ladakh and an example of the communities’ high exposure to mass movement hazards.

Challenges associated with these natural hazards, together with issues relating to energy, tourism, water supply and environmental change were the focus of a major international conference in the town of Leh in June 2014.Sustainable Resource Development in the Himalayas’, a three day event drawing participants from across the Himalayan region and beyond, was organised by the Geological Society of London alongside the University of Jammu. Running before and after this conference was a geoeducation programme, working with students from multiple ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, exploring topics ranging from the Himalayan glaciers to landslide and earthquake dynamics. The geoeducation aspect of the programme was co-organised by the University of Jammu (Ladakh, India) and Geology for Global Development (GfGD), a UK-based not-for-profit that I established in 2011 (Figure 3). It was delivered in three settings: (i) a large secondary school close to the important town of Leh, with students coming from many surrounding schools; (ii) a medium sized boarding school 200km away from Leh, with many children from nomadic families in the region; and (iii) a small boarding school with many very young children, all coming from nomadic families.

Figure 3: The GfGD and Jammu University team with some of the students at Nyoma Residential School.

Figure 3: The GfGD and Jammu University team with some of the students at Nyoma Residential School.

Implementing a geoeducation project in an unfamiliar region, both geographically and culturally, brought with it a number of exciting challenges, including the availability (or lack of) of materials and resources, language and cultural differences, managing communications between stakeholders before and after the event, and long-term monitoring and evaluation. These challenges were fantastic learning opportunities for the GfGD team, comprised entirely of undergraduates and postgraduates, and our wider network. Geoscientists often find themselves working overseas, in regions with cultures and systems far removed from what we are used to. Engagement with geoeducation during these opportunities may take many forms – from traditional classroom teaching to informal mentoring and knowledge exchange. Attempting to deliver material designed for a UK-audience (my ‘home’ audience), and in a way suited to a UK-audience, in such settings would not necessarily be successful. Instead, consideration is needed of locally-relevant examples, demonstrations and delivery methods. If we hope to have maximum impact in our education, especially when utilising the fantastic opportunities we have to visit far-flung places, these are factors we should take seriously and be diligent in considering.

Our component of the teaching focused on natural hazards, vulnerability and disasters, with a special emphasis on landslides. Additional exercises relating to earthquake dynamics and mitigation were designed and delivered by theBritish Geological Survey’s School Seismology Project. Our work was underpinned by mini-research projects, undertaken by UK students, about landslides, local geology and culture/demographics. Building on this foundation, we put together course content that was relevant to the students and designed a series of simple, interactive demonstrations. Students used photographs of landslides to look for similarities and differences. They used locally available soil, sand and gravel to create their own landslides and investigate angles of failure, the impact of water, the impact of sediment size and what happens if there is (seismic) shaking (Figure 4). Alongside the technical geoscience, we introduced topics relating to exposure and vulnerability. In the UK, these are sometimes taught in isolation from the engineering geology that relates to slope stability. In the same way that this doesn’t serve UK students well, it wouldn’t serve the students in this landslide-prone region to only give them half the story. Understanding the relationship between vulnerability, exposure and a geophysical hazard, in generating a disaster, was an essential message to communicate. It reinforces that some actions can be taken to minimise the impacts of future disasters.

Figure 4: Rosalie Tostevin (GfGD) leads a landslide simulation practical exercise in Nyoma Residential School.

The delivery of the material went very well. We were delighted to be able to leave short textbooks in each school, together with posters and examples of some of the demonstrations. We also left copies of the teaching material with the Ministry of Education at the Ladakhi Autonomous Hill Development Council. As acknowledged previously, assessing and evaluating the real impact of such a project comes with a number of difficulties. We will, however, continue to work with colleagues at the University of Jammu and associated institutions to follow up this work with the overall aim that educators in the region can replicate and adapt these lessons themselves to use with future students.

Teaching about natural hazards is about more than building an appreciation of geoscience. It has the important purpose of reducing individual, family and even societal vulnerability to future hazard events. Understanding the relationship between earthquakes and tsunamis facilitates rapid evacuation. Helping communities living close to volcanoes better understand the different types of eruption and secondary hazards such as pyroclastic flows and lahars can improve partnerships between local observatories and communities. Strong partnerships mean early warning messages are better understood and acted upon. Finally, understanding slope dynamics can help inform building and agricultural practice decisions. For the young people of Ladakh, helping them to better understand their landscapes can be a powerful tool in their hands (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Joel Gill (GfGD) answers extra questions on slope stability from keen students after his class ends.

Given the importance of the subject, I’m really pleased to be co-convening a session with a number of colleagues from across Europe at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna next year. The session, titled Natural Hazards Education, Communications and Science-Policy-Practice Interface, is particularly interested in: (i) The communication (by scientists, engineers, the press, civil protection, government agencies, and a multitude other agencies) of natural hazards risk and uncertainty to the general public and other government officials; (ii) Approaches that address barriers and bridges in the science-policy-practice interface that hinder and support application of hazard-related knowledge; (iii) The teaching of natural hazards to university and lower-level students, using innovative techniques to promote understanding.

We will be linking this session to an opportunity for discussion and a short course on natural hazard teaching demonstrations. If you are planning on attending EGU, come and get involved in these great opportunities to explore the teaching of a topic that is of interest to so many around the world!

Event: The Lost World of Ladakh: Reclaiming the Past, Sustaining the Future

Credit Rupert Wilmot

Ladakh in the 1930s (Credit Rupert Wilmot)


Venue: The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG.

24 October 2014, 5.30pm – 8.30pm

The Geological Society recently co-organised an international conference in Leh, the capital of the historic Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. Sustainable Resource Development in the Himalayas brought together scientists from the Himalayan nations and around the world, to discuss with policy-makers and community representatives how to develop sustainably the rich and varied resources of the Himalaya, to benefit the local communities and nations to which they belong.

This conference was preceded and followed by an education programme, with interactive classes focusing on topics such as energy efficiency, climate change and natural hazards. Students were encouraged to take personal responsibility for what they can do to help address these challenges, and to act as ambassadors in their communities.

History offers us a valuable tool to understand and plan for development.  The Lost World of Ladakh: Early Photographic Journeys in Indian Himalaya (1931-1934) is a recently published book, profiling the photographs of Rupert Wilmot, a British solider serving in India. These photographs give us a unique opportunity to visualise this region in the 1930s. The ability to contrast such images with images taken 80 years later provides an insight into both environmental and cultural change.


Nic Bilham, Director of Policy and Communications at The Geological Society, will give a Welcome Address.

Nicky Harman and Roger Bates will talk about their book, THE LOST WORLD OF LADAKH: Photographic Journeys through Indian Himalaya, 1931-1934, and the enthusiasm in Ladakh for reclaiming the culture of the past from archive photographs.

Modeling Landslides in Ladakh, June 2014 (Credit: Geology for Global Development)

Professor Peter Sammonds, Director of the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster reduction, and Joel Gill, Director of Geology for GlobalDevelopment, will talk about the recent Sustainable Resource Development in the Himalaya conference and students’ education programme (further information available here –

A panel discussion will include additional regional experts. Dr Mohammad Shamsudduha, a hydrogeologist based at UCL, and Dr Virginie Le Masson, Research Officer at the Overseas Development Institute will share their insights and experiences.

The evening will wind up with drinks and a chance to talk to the contributors. On display there will be an exhibition of photographs from recent work in Ladakh and THE LOST WORLD OF LADAKH: Photographic Journeys through Indian Himalaya, 1931-1934, (Rupert Wilmot, Roger Bates and Nicky Harman, Asian Highlands Perspectives, 2014). A selection of A4-size prints, and copies of the book, will be on sale.

Tickets: £20.

For registration and further information, please visit

The Geological Society is a not-for-profit organisation. All profits raised from this event will go to support the Sustainable Resource Development in the Himalayas conference and associated work.

Guest Blog: Reflections on the Students’ Education Program, Ladakh, June 2014

CeliaBlog4Celia Willoughby is an undergraduate geography student at University College London. In June 2014 she joined the GfGD team in Ladakh (India) to support the ‘Sustainable Resource Development in the Himalayas’ work – focusing on the hazards education course. Here she shares her reflections on the experience…

Ladakh is a beautiful and remote region in Jammu and Kashmir State, North India. Situated on a 3000m high plateau, the region spans the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges and the Upper Indus Valley. Jammu and Kashmir borders Pakistan, Tibet and China. It is a melting pot of different cultures, languages and religions, which formerly made the region disputed territory. Ladakh is a popular tourist destination due to its scenery and cultural contrasts to the rest of India.


Leh, Ladakh

Rainfall in Ladakh is generally fairly sparse. The scarcity of precipitation means, however, that when heavy rainfall does occur, high amounts of surface runoff is generated. This is due to the mountain slopes being largely devoid of vegetation, and consisting of loose, dry material. In August 2010, intense rainfall triggered widespread flooding, debris flows and mudslides in Ladakh. As a result, over 250 people were reported dead, with infrastructure and homes damaged. Additionally, Ladakh’s location in the Himalaya means that the region is tectonically active, which could potentially create large-scale earthquakes, triggering landslides.

In late June this year I participated in a students’ education program in Ladakh, as part of the Geology for Global Development (GfGD) team, which aimed to spread information on natural hazards in the area. The education program was held in St Peter’s school, Leh, and focused on hazard mitigation and prevention, as well as global warming and climate change. In total, the education program lasted two days, with around 100 students taking part (aged 14-16), who were selected from a number of schools in Ladakh.

The students’ education program focused on a variety of group activities and lectures, using a range of multi-media. It was interesting to see so many students with differing backgrounds attend the event: Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians all interacted in the group activities. It was an insight into the complete diversity of the region.

Over the two days of the program, I was responsible for leading a group of students in various tasks. These ranged from simulating landslides by slowly tipping plastic trays of pebbles, and seeing whether added vegetation helped stabilize the material, to recreating slips made by earthquake faults. The latter was demonstrated by putting a rock onto a plank of wood, which was tied to an elastic band. By slowly pulling the elastic, the rock would remain immobile before suddenly sliding several centimeters on the plank. This simulated the build up and release of tension between earthquake faults. Students were then asked to change variables, such as rock size, to see how it changed the result.


Celia in action on the students’ education program, working with a peer


A student creating a poster for the poster competition

On the afternoon of the first day, students took part in a poster designing competition, with the themes based on the students’ education program. The majority of the posters were based on climate change, and were surprisingly somber – highlighting global warming by the melting of a polluted Earth. This activity showcased the incredible artistic talent of many students, and the creativity of their slogans to encourage afforestation and green energy. My personal favourite was a poster with the caption ‘A tree that stays keeps floods away, your ambition should be no emissions’.

At the end of the two days there was a prize giving ceremony, where awards were given to the best poster makers, and speeches made by some students. Following this, pupils at St Peters school then presented a culture show, where different age groups came up onto an outside stage and presented traditional Ladakhi dances. The dance by the youngest students at St Peter’s school, aged 4-6 years old, was a general crowd favourite. Garbed in either pink dresses or small suits they danced in mixed pairs to very catchy Indian pop music. It was a lovely finish to the two day program, and highlighted the appreciation the students felt towards those involved in the program.

Overall, my time in Ladakh was both an interesting and rewarding experience. The students were eager to learn, and were generally quite shy, despite their English being good (although a lesson on mudslides I taught with a peer saw the students becoming more rowdy). What I remember most about the experience was many students coming up to ask questions on landslides, following a lecture on unstable settlements on slopes. It struck me that many of their homes may well be on these slopes, which obviously started to worry the students.

It showed the importance to continuing to educate people on natural hazards in areas such as this, and how to protect themselves. Since taking part in the education program, Kashmir has been hit with one of its worst flooding events in 50 years, mainly affecting the city of Srinagar. This highlights how relevant GfGD’s work is to the area, and how the work must go on.

Read more about this work on the Geological Society website.