January 19, 2020
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    Asia's richest man has scored two major wins in his ambition to dominate the Indian telecoms market.The main competitors to Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio have been told they must pay the bulk of almost $13bn (£10bn) to the government in historical fees.The country's top court rejected calls from older firms, including Vodafone Idea, to review the case.Meanwhile, Reliance Jio has overtaken Vodafone Idea to become India's biggest mobile services operator.The court ruling adds yet more financial pressure on India's telecoms sector, which has already been hit hard by a bitter price war.

    After three years of price cutting, led by Mr Ambani, his company now has only two major competitors - Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.Vodafone Idea has been told it must pay about $3.9bn, while the ruling means Bharti Airtel is liable for $3bn. The charges relate to licence and spectrum fees that have accumulated over many years.Reliance Jio, which is less than four years old, owes just $2m.Vodafone has previously said the situation was "critical", while Bharti Airtel said an earlier court order cast doubt on "its ability to continue as a going concern".Telecoms analyst Minakshi Ghosh believes the Supreme Court ruling threatens the future of Vodafone Idea, a joint venture of Britain's Vodafone and local operator Idea Cellular.

    She told the BBC: "Airtel, I think, would be under pressure, but would be able to manage. The cause of concern will be Vodafone (Idea)."Probably Vodafone will be the most affected and we will end up with a duopoly of Airtel and Jio, which is not very good for the industry."At the same time, new figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India showed Reliance Jio added more than 5.6m mobile subscribers in November.That means it now has a total of almost 370m users, or more than 32% of the market.The subsidiary of Reliance Industries launched in September 2016 offering cut-price phones and data plans.Its entry into India's telecom sector triggered a major shake-up in the sector which saw most of its competitors shut down or merge.

    A conglomerate run by Asia's richest man has started a service that aims to compete with Amazon in India.Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries said it had been inviting people to sign up to its grocery delivery service.

    The company is aiming to use its massive mobile phone customer base as a springboard for the business.The new e-commerce venture could become a major challenger to India's existing online retail giants.Two subsidiaries of Mr Ambani's business empire, Reliance Retail and Reliance Jio, said they had soft-launched the venture, called JioMart.

    JioMart says it offers "free and express delivery" for a list of grocery goods, which currently numbers some 50,000 items.Unlike its rivals, JioMart will connect local stores to customers via an app rather than providing and delivering the goods itself.India's online grocery market is in its infancy - currently estimated to be worth around $870m a year, with just 0.15% of the population using such services.

    However, analysts predict the sector could see annual sales of around $14.5bn by 2023.
    Grocery delivery has long been tipped as the next frontier in the battle for business in India.A staggering number of internet and smartphone users - plus an unorganised grocery delivery sector - make it a promising market for app-based services.

    Some of the world's largest and best-known technology companies, including Walmart and Amazon, are hoping to cash in too.This should be a cakewalk for Reliance - it already has hundreds of millions of subscribers to its telecoms network, and operates its own grocery stores as well as retail stores for international brands.

    Plus it has the advantage of being an Indian company. Amazon and Walmart have been held back from expanding in this space by government laws aimed at protecting domestic business.There are Indian competitors operating in the market already - Big Basket and Grofers are the most well-known.But they've had to put the brakes on expanding or tweak their business models to meet the challenges of operating in India, such as poor infrastructure, unreliable mobile networks and strict labour laws.

    Reliance has a reputation for disrupting markets it starts businesses in, be it power, oil, retail or telecoms. Its foray into e-commerce is unlikely to be any different.India's e-commerce market is currently dominated by Amazon and Flipkart, which is owned by Walmart.Both companies suffered a setback last year when the Indian government introduced new laws that restrict foreign-owned online retailers from selling goods from their own subsidiaries.This helped give Indian companies, which are not affected by the new rules, an edge over their foreign rivals.

    Mr Ambani, who is the chairman of Reliance Industries, has an estimated fortune of more than $60bn (£45bn).The group's core business is oil refining but it also has major investments in other sectors including retail and telecoms.Reliance Retail owns grocery stores in India, runs outlets for global brands, including Hugo Boss and Burberry, and in 2019 bought the British toy shop Hamleys.Reliance Jio is India's second-largest telecom operator, with more than 360 million subscribers.

     

     
     

    Tech giant Microsoft has announced two bold ambitions: firstly, to become carbon negative by the year 2030 - meaning it will be removing more carbon from the air than it emits - and secondly, to have removed more carbon by 2050 than it has emitted, in total, in its entire history.In an interview with the BBC's Chris Fox, Microsoft president Brad Smith admitted that the plan was a "moonshot" - a very big idea with no guaranteed outcome or profitability - for the company.He stressed there was simultaneously a sense of urgency and a need to take the time to do the job properly.He also said that the tools required don't entirely exist yet.

    Mr Smith talked about tree planting, and direct air capture - a way of removing carbon from the air and returning it to the soil - as examples of available options."Ultimately we need better technology," he said.But don't expect Microsoft to roll up its sleeves: "That's not a business we will ever be in but it's a business we want to benefit from," he added, announcing a $1bn Climate Innovation Fund, established with the intention of helping others develop in this space.He expects support from the wider tech sector, he said, "because it's a sector that's doing well, it can afford to make these investments and it should."

    CES in Las Vegas, the huge consumer tech show, has just ended. It was attended by 180,000 people most of whom probably flew there, to look at mountains of plastic devices clamouring to be the Next Big Thing.From gas-guzzling cars and power-hungry data centres to difficult-to-recycle devices and the constant consumer push to upgrade to new shiny plastic gadgets - the tech sector's green credentials are not exactly a blueprint for environmental friendliness despite much-publicised occasional projects.There was no immediate announcement from fellow tech giants about any collaborations with Microsoft, or indeed similar initiatives of their own - but the aim is ahead of the current ambitions of many, including Facebook, Google and Apple, which have not (yet) made a "carbon negative" commitment.That said, software-maker Intuit has pledged to be carbon negative by 2030, and Jeff Bezos announced in September 2019 that Amazon would be carbon neutral by 2040.
    Mr Smith made an open offer to share Microsoft's carbon-monitoring tools."Competition can make each of us better," he said of the notoriously rivalry-fuelled industry."If we make each other better the world is going to be better off and we should applaud each other as we take these new steps."Mr Smith agreed that "the switching on of an Xbox", Microsoft's games console, was as much part of the firm's carbon footprint as the carbon that went into creating the cement used in its buildings.However, he did not suggest scaling back on collaborations with the big energy firms - on the contrary, we are going to need more power rather than less in the coming decades, he said - and that has troubled campaigner Greenpeace."While there is a lot to celebrate in Microsoft's announcement, a gaping hole remains unaddressed - Microsoft's expanding efforts to help fossil fuel companies drill more oil and gas with machine-learning and other AI technologies," commented senior campaigner Elizabeth Jardim.

    Microsoft makes 'carbon negative' pledge
    16 January 2020
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    Related TopicsClimate change
    Image copyrightMICROSOFT
    Image caption
    Satya Nadella said that technology built without principles does more harm than good
    Microsoft has pledged to remove "all of the carbon" from the environment that it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975.

    Chief executive Satya Nadella said he wanted to achieve the goal by 2050 .

    To do so, the company aims to become "carbon negative" by 2030, removing more carbon from the environment than it emits.

    That goes beyond a pledge by its cloud-computing rival Amazon, which intends to go "carbon neutral" by 2040.

    "When it comes to carbon, neutrality is not enough," said Microsoft president Brad Smith.

    "The carbon in our atmosphere has created a blanket of gas that traps heat and is changing the world's climate," he added in a blog.

    "If we don't curb emissions, and temperatures continue to climb, science tells us that the results will be catastrophic."

    The company also announced it was setting up a $1bn (£765m) climate innovation fund to develop carbon-tackling technologies.

    Carbon neutral v carbon negative
    When a business says it is carbon neutral, it aims to effectively add no carbon to the atmosphere.

    It can do this by:

    balancing its emissions, for example by removing a tonne of carbon from the atmosphere for every tonne it has produced
    offsetting its emissions, for example by investing in projects that reduce emissions elsewhere in the world
    not releasing greenhouse gases in the first place, for example by switching to renewable energy sources
    Until now, most companies have focused on offsetting emissions to achieve neutrality.

    This often involves funding projects in developing economies to reduce carbon emissions there, for example building hydroelectric power plants, encouraging families to stop using wood-based stoves, and helping businesses make use of solar power. These reductions are then deducted from the main company's own output.

    The result of this slows carbon emissions rather than reversing them.

    To be carbon negative a company must actually remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits.

    Microsoft says it will do this using a range of carbon capture and storage technologies.

    The announcement was largely welcomed by environmentalists, who said it showed Microsoft was thinking about the bigger climate change picture and not just its own role.

    "It's a hat trick of sustainability leadership," said Elizabeth Sturcken from the Environmental Defence Fund.

    "But to really shift the needle on climate change, we need 1,000 other [companies] to follow-suit and turn rhetoric into action."

    However, Greenpeace warned that Microsoft still needed to address its ongoing relationship with oil and gas companies.

    "While there is a lot to celebrate in Microsoft's announcement, a gaping hole remains unaddressed: Microsoft's expanding efforts to help fossil fuel companies drill more oil and gas with machine-learning and other AI technologies," said senior campaigner Elizabeth Jardim.

    British power plant promises to go carbon negative by 2030
    Old oil rigs could become CO2 storage sites
    Turning carbon dioxide into cash
    Microsoft's plan is still more aggressive than those taken by other tech firms, including Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, which have not made "carbon negative" commitments.

    How will Microsoft achieve its goal?
    Microsoft has suggested a range of ways it could remove carbon from the atmosphere, including:

    seeding new forests and expanding existing ones
    soil carbon sequestration - a process of putting carbon back into the ground. This could be achieved by adding microbes and nutrients to parched earth, which should have the added benefits of making the soil more fertile and less susceptible to erosion
    direct air capture - sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, possibly by using large fans to move air through a filter that can remove the gas
    bio-energy with carbon capture - growing crops and then capturing the CO2 they emit when, for example, they are burned to produce heat or fermented to make fuels such as bioethanol. Negative emissions become possible if the amount of CO2 stored as a result is greater than that emitted during production, transport and use
    Tech companies' manufacturing and data-processing centres create large amounts of carbon dioxide.

    By one estimate, the sector will account for up to 3.6% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions this year, more than double the level in 2007. And it has been forecast that in a worst-case scenario, this could grow to 14% by 2040.

    Microsoft has said it plans to halve emissions created directly by itself and those involved in its supply chain by 2030.

    One way the company intends to do this is by increasing the carbon fees it charges its internal business groups.

    Since 2012, Microsoft has forced its divisions to set budgets that take account of the cost of emissions created through electricity use, business travel and other activities.

    Now that charge will incorporate indirect emissions such as those created by customers using electricity to power the divisions' products.

    And since Microsoft cannot avoid producing CO2 altogether, it will invest in technologies to capture and store the gas to reduce the amount in the atmosphere.

    Mr Smith said this would involve tech "that doesn't fully exist today".

    The firm added that its data centres and other facilities would use 100% renewable energy by 2025.

    How do Microsoft's plans compare to rivals?
    Software-maker Intuit has also pledged to be carbon negative by 2030.

    The Californian company has said it will reduce emissions by 50 times more than its 2018 carbon footprint.

    Amazon's Jeff Bezos announced in September 2019 that his company would be carbon neutral by 2040.

    His pledge included plans to buy 100,000 electric vehicles for the online retailer's delivery fleet.

    Google has launched a set of digital tools to allow cities to track and reduce emissions. The search giant also offsets its own emissions by investing in green projects.

    British power plant promises to go carbon negative by 2030
    10 December 2019
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    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Drax, which generates 5% of the UK's power, has said it plans to capture more carbon than it produces by 2030.

    The firm's power plant in North Yorkshire is already largely powered by renewable fuel such as wood pellets.

    But now it hopes to scale up a system that will allow it to capture millions of tons of carbon emissions from the plant.

    However, the scheme will require its government subsidies - currently due to expire in 2027 - to be extended.

    Drax, which is the UK's largest power station, used to run exclusively on coal, but it has converted four of its six units to burn wood as the country seeks to end its dependence on finite fossil fuels.

    The firm said it plans to cut emissions in two ways. First, the sustainably farmed trees that provide its wood pellets absorb carbon emissions as they grow.

    What would carbon neutrality mean for the UK?
    UK 'has the technology' for zero carbon emissions
    The second takes place at the power plant site as carbon-capture technology traps the emissions created by burning the wood.

    At present, a pilot project at the site captures a tonne of carbon each day.

    But Drax said it hopes to install the system at two of its units by the end of the next decade, removing eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.

    Image copyrightDRAX
    Image caption
    The power station's control room
    It also plans to close the two remaining coal-generating units at its North Yorkshire plant by 2025, although the company did not say how that would affect power output.

    Biomass power generation has proved controversial with some environmental campaigners.

    A Chatham House report from 2017 suggests burning wood is not carbon-neutral, as young trees planted as replacements absorb and store less carbon than the ones that have been burned. Others say it can lead to deforestation.

    But Drax defends the sustainability record of its biomass supply chain.

    However, the firm has yet to secure the subsidies it needs to help grow its carbon capture project to a scale that could make a difference to the UK's climate ambitions.

    The firm currently receives around £2m a day from the state to support its green transition, but this support will run out in less than 10 years.

    Prof Nilay Shah, head of the chemical engineering department at Imperial College London, told the BBC the country would need to produce up to 150 million tonnes of "negative emissions" to meet its net zero target.

    Drax boss Will Gardiner said: "The UK Government is working on a policy and investment framework to encourage negative emissions technologies, which will enable the UK to be home to the world's first carbon negative company.

    "This is not just critical to beating the climate crisis, but also to enabling a just transition, protecting jobs and creating new opportunities for clean growth - delivering for the economy as well as for the environment."

     
     

    Politicians view farmers as an important constituency and claim to want to improve their lot. There is a long history of state support for agriculture which takes either the form of subsidies (for fertiliser etc.) or price support (minimum purchase prices or tariff protection from competing imports).Despite decades of such interventions farmers remain poor. The problem is that the support has merely helped farmers maintain an existence at bare subsistence level instead of leading to sustainable improvements in income.

    A failed initiative by the Mahaweli Authority in the late 1980’s to promote the export of spices, fruit and vegetables offers some ideas as to how to set about developing a competitive export agriculture sector. The project failed to take off due to exogenous factors; the southern insurgency, the war with the LTTE and political turmoil following a split in the UNP but offers useful lessons to policymakers today.

    In 1978, the government of Sri Lanka launched the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme which telescoped an on-going thirty year programme into six years. It was designed to generate of hydroelectricity and supply water for agriculture. With physical infrastructure nearing completion by the late 1980’s it was necessary to ensure economically viable settlements.

    The government requested technical assistance from USAID to develop export crops. A project office employing foreign and local staff was set up to run the project. A former manager who worked on the export agriculture development project provided the details that are summarised below.

    Identifying potential export crops

    The first task of the team was to identify potential crops for export. This was done by studying the import customs data of some of the major markets Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, UK and USA.

    The team was tasked with identifying the top twenty agricultural imports to these countries by volume and by value. This was extracted from customs statistics of the countries. The seasonality of the products were also tracked, for example strawberries in winter would fetch a premium compared to summer prices. From this they derived not only the most attractive exports in terms of value and volume but also the seasons when demand and prices would peak. The objective was to maximise return by targeting the peak prices in the selected items.

    Identifying competitive advantage

    The next step was to understand the cost structure of the products and identify those where a competitive advantage could be found. The team identified a Dutch research institute that conducted agricultural research on many of the selected crops. Links were established and visits were arranged. After discussions they were provided with the average costs of production in European countries for the products. Armed with competitor costs, they were then in a position to assess if these could be competitively produced in Sri Lanka.

    Calculating local costs of production

    Local agronomists and researchers then set about working out local costs of production for the items. Due to local limitations crops that required greenhouses were discarded as were those where the climate was unsuitable. USAID assisted in identifying particular varieties that could be grown locally, for example a strawberry that would grow in a hot climate.

    Identifying buyers

    Once the costings were done the shortlist of targeted items was whittled down to ten. The team had a list of products which could be competitively produced locally with the planting cycles worked out to suit the needs of the target market. The top products were seedless grapes, strawberries, asparagus, pineapples, speciality banana (ambul) followed by mango, melon and gherkins. The next step was to identify real buyers.

    USAID facilitated visits to Europe to meet buyers, assisting in everything from the preparation of catalogues to setting up meetings. The team was thus able to negotiate with a few buyers and understand the level of interest and pricing. Sample products were shipped for quality checks.

    Unfortunately after some successful trials the initial orders could not be fulfilled due to a number of domestic political problems too lengthy to detail here, not least the split within the UNP that lead to Gamini Dissanayake and some others breaking away from the UNP. Dissanayake was the Minister for Mahaweli but with his sudden departure there was no one left in charge of the ministry. A precious cargo of planting material to meet the trial orders was left to bake on the airport tarmac as no one was willing to take responsibility for clearing it leading to the loss of the harvest and with it, the buyer.

    A later attempt at gherkins had some success with a nucleus farm structure-a network of growers supplying to the nucleus farm for processing. Unfortunately the war in the eastern province was escalating and began to effect parts of the Mahaweli zone, disrupting transport and production.

    There are still useful lessons to draw from the experience that may be applied to develop a competitive agribusiness sector.

    Lessons for policymakers

    1. If farmer incomes are to increase then it is necessary to increase the value of the output from a given acreage of land. This could be either by increasing the harvest quantities of existing crops, lowering costs or diversifying into higher value products. Providing subsidies without improvements to either value or output simply keeps farmers dependent on handouts and trapped in poverty; a useful vote bank for politicians but a tragedy in terms of policy.

    2. A similar evaluation exercise to the above could yield a new list of potential products/markets. The recently completed National Export Strategy (NES) identifies spices, concentrates and processed food as targets for development in agriculture. For whatever crops identified, support should broadly be directed to solving problems of coordination, information gaps, technical assistance (crop research) and marketing support.

    3. The NES identifies the following gaps in the areas identified.

    I. Poor connections, information and coordination between local producers and the food processing sector. Farmers are small scale and scattered all over. A buyer may be interested in buying produce but has no information as to what produce is available, in what quantities or where. A buyer must literally go from farm to farm to find out what is available. It is easier for to import goods from abroad than source locally.

    Solutions could include an IT platform similar to Mandi Trades in India. When a farmer registers on Mandi Trades it takes information of his produce, along with location details, and stores it on a scalable cloud-based database. For a buyer, it gives a map-based view of available produce with the produce info, sorted by his geographical proximity to the farmer. Farmers’ phone numbers are on the app so they can be contacted directly.

    Farmers can also plan better, because they have options to view the current prices of commodities in trade, the demand for products, weather and seasonal changes and prices of scarce items.

    II. Partly due to (I) shortages of raw materials for the processed food/beverage industry.

    III. Regulation on food and agriculture imports restricts imports even during off-seasons compounding the problem of (ii).

    IV. Inadequate resources in the food safety control function under Ministry of Health.

    V. The Department of Export Agriculture is inefficient in terms of coordination capacity, resource allocation and influence on the sector.

    VI. Due to resource constraints main sector associations, especially the Sri Lanka Food Processors Association (SLFPA) are only able to offer limited support.

    VII. Limited lab capacity at the Agrarian Research and Training Institute.

    VIII. Lack of training facilities especially in post-harvest technology and food science and technology.

    IX. Limited supplies of seeds/planting material.

    X. Low levels of mechanisation.

    Although Sri Lanka has a long history of agriculture, the sector lags in terms of productivity. A different approach could lead to sustainable improvements to the livelihoods of the 28% of the population that depend on agriculture.

     

     

     
     
     

    Minister of Higher Education Bandula Gunawardena has instructed the University Grants Commission (UGC) to set up a committee to provide relief to students who have faced difficulties owing to ragging incidents at universities.Addressing a media briefing at the Department of Government Information this morning (18), the Minister said he has proposed the appointment of a six-member committee in this regard.

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