Monthly Case Studies Compilation: December 2020

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Here is the list of some important case studies from December 2020 that can be quoted/used in UPSC CSE Mains answers/essays.

 

Governance

How India got PDS delivery 'right' during the pandemic

Relevance: Food Security, PDS System, governance during adversity. 

About PDS:

  • The Public Distribution System (PDS), which was started in the 1960s to manage the scarcity of foodgrain supplies, has come a long way from a “welfare-based” means to a “rights-based” food-security platform under the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA).
  • This is the first of its kind attempt in the world to legislate ‘right to food’ for nearly 67% of citizens and to deliver foodgrains to the targeted population at affordable prices of Rs 3, 2, 1 per kg of rice, wheat, and coarse-grains, respectively, every month.
  • It has become an essential part of the government’s policy for the management of the food economy in the country.

PDS 'then' and 'Now':

  • Over the years, especially during the last six years, many pathbreaking initiatives and technological interventions have fostered multiple reforms in the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
  • The ‘end-to-end computerization of TPDS operations’ has brought in a silent revolution in TPDS operations, remarkably transforming the world’s largest foodgrain distribution network from a manually operated system to a transparent, automated system, ensuring Citizen-Centric Service Delivery.
  • The digitized list of 23.5 crore ration cards covering >80 crore beneficiaries under NFSA across the country is available on respective public portals of states/UTs for enhanced transparency and participation.
  • As many 31 States/UTs have also automated their supply chain operations for online management of stocks in godowns and the in-and-out movement.
  • SMSs are also delivered to beneficiaries in some States, informing about quantity and expected time of arrival of foodgrains at their FPSs to plan their visit.
  • Further, toll-free helplines 1967/1800-series and online mechanisms for registering grievances related to PDS have empowered people.
  • The cornerstone of technology-reforms is the identification of genuine beneficiaries, for effective targeting of subsidized foodgrains.
  • Now, over 90% of ration cards in the country are seeded with Aadhaar, which has enabled transparent biometric distribution of up to 70% monthly allocation, through about 4.9 lakh (91% of total 5.4 lakh) electronic Point of Sale devices across the country.
  • These measures have also put a check on ghost lifting of subsidized foodgrains, by detecting and weeding out nearly 4.39 crore ineligible/duplicate ration cards during the past seven years since 2013, and thus, continuously improving the rightful targeting of beneficiaries under NFSA.
  • Leveraging the strong foundations of computerization, national portability of ration cards is introduced in the country through the technology-driven process under the “One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) plan”.
  • This integrated approach is empowering beneficiaries to access PDS from any FPS in any nook-and-corner of the country to lift their foodgrains while using their same ration card with biometric/Aadhaar authentication.

The role played during COVID-19 Pandemic:

  • During the Covid crisis, the country’s technology-driven PDS swiftly came to the fore by successfully scaling up to distribute almost double the quantity of foodgrains to more than 80 crore beneficiaries in the country during the last eight months of April to November 2020.
  • During this period the department had allocated nearly 680 LMT foodgrains (about 350 LMT under normal NFSA, 321 LMT under PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana) and it has been witnessed that an average of 93% foodgrains per month was successfully distributed with all the Covid-19 protocols despite a multitude of challenges.
  • Further, against an estimated number of 2.8 crore migrants/stranded migrants, about 2.74 crore persons (98%) received the free ration under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat scheme.
  • Some independent surveys by agencies like Dalberg and others have also shown a very high level of satisfaction among the beneficiaries with respect to the availability and distribution of foodgrains through PDS during the pandemic.

Conclusion:

  • India demonstrated that in a crisis it is capable of rising to the challenge and deal with all odds effectively-ranging from storage, transportation to distribution.
  • Indian farmer also deserves to be complimented along with people involved in the entire distribution net-work which handled unprecedented quantities of foodgrain during the lockdown and did not let supply chain disruptions affect delivery to end consumer to remotest parts.
  • Thousands of railway rakes, trucks carried food grains, and air sorties & vessels were mobilized for last-mile distribution which is unprecedented.

Read more about PDS here- PDS: OBJECTIVES, FUNCTIONING, LIMITATIONS, REVAMPING 

Social Justice & Welfare

Pandemic impacted the disabled more

Relevance: Welfare of PWD, issues of vulnerable sections of the society. 

What happened?

  • Persons with disabilities(PWDs) and pre-existing medical problems suffered significantly more during COVID-19 lockdown with psycho-social problems of “isolation, abandonment, and violence” 
    • In India, according to the 2011 Census, 2.21% of the population has one or multiple types of disabilities.
    • Exclusion of persons with disabilities from education, employment, and participation cost at around 7% of national GDP.

Condition of PWD during COVID-19 pandemic:

  • According to a study conducted to understand the pandemic impact on the disabled by the Indian Institute of Public Health, Hyderabad (IIPH), a constituent unit of Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), in collaboration with CBM India and Humanity & Inclusion.
    • The pandemic had impacted the health/ mental health and rehabilitation, education, livelihood, and social participation of the disabled with two out of every five people.
    • Access to routine medical care was difficult including those with a pre-existing medical condition.
    • Just 20% were able to get regular counseling or therapy and 11.4% faced problems getting regular psychiatric medicines.
    • Lack of mobility in accessing health and rehabilitation led to distress and the disabled suffered more than the rest. 

What can be done?

  • Special assistance and disabled-friendly COVID-19 protocols
  • Providing access to masks, disinfectants, etc.
  • Enable telerehabilitation and online counselling for mental health issues.
  • Financial assistance for livelihoods, online education for children in accessible formats with the free internet facility, etc.

Conclusion

  • The disabled have unique needs and we must recognize the differences and support them to take appropriate steps.
  • Adequate preparation needed, so as not to compromise on the health needs of the disabled, as the country has committed itself to the goal of 'Universal Health Care' as part of social development goals.


The long road to food security

Relevance: Food security

Hunger in India:

  • India’s malnutrition levels are almost twice the level of many African countries.
  • The Global Hunger Index 2020 report has given India the 94th rank among 107 countries, much behind Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal.
  • As per an UN-FAO report, 194 million people go hungry every day in India, comprising about 23% of the world’s undernourished population.
  • This flies in the face of the landmark Right to Food case, in which the Supreme Court declared Right to Food as part of Article 21 of the Constitution, that is, the Right to Life.
  • It is a grim failure that 73 years after Independence, India continues to be gripped by a paradox of plenty in the realm of food security.

Agricultural production in India:

  • The country reached self-sufficiency in agricultural production some time ago, and yet, mass hunger is rampant across States.
  • India produces more than the estimated amount required to feed the entire population (in 2018-19, India produced 283.37 million tons of food grains).
  • The country ranks first in millets and second in rice and wheat production in the world.
  • India’s horticultural crops, such as fruits and vegetables, are also in surplus (over 313 million tons in 2018-19).

Wastage of foodgrain- A major concern:

  • However, according to data released by the Department of Consumer Affairs, almost 62,000 tons of food grains were damaged in Food Corporation of India warehouses between 2011 and 2017.
  • In 2016-17 alone, over 8,600 tons of food grains were lost.
  • A study conducted by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations found that while there is a proliferation of millions of ineligible and bogus ration cards, there are also, simultaneously, a multitude of genuinely poor families that do not even possess ration cards.
  • This exposes the poor management of the food ecosystem in India.

What needs to be done? 

  • To ensure India’s food security, a two-pronged policy is needed.
    1. Firstly, the government must ensure remunerative prices for farm produce.
      • For this, the Minimum Support Price (MSP) should be made available to the maximum range of farm products. This will enhance the purchasing power of farmers so that they can purchase essential food items.
      • Secondly, it is crucial that India improves the Public Distribution System and Public Procurement.
      • The situation could be further improved by revamping the Annapurna Yojana. Under this scheme, ten kilograms of food grains are distributed per month free of cost to destitute persons above 65 years of age, with no or meagre subsistence.
      • The Centre has fixed the target of 20% of the number of persons who are eligible for National Old Age Pension, but who are not receiving such pension.
      • It may be noted that as far as Kerala is concerned, social security pension covers almost all the sections of people in the community.
      • Thus, almost all eligible people are excluded from the Annapurna Yojana. This problem demands immediate attention and resolution.
    2. Further, according to the Global Pulse Confederation, pulses are part of a healthy, balanced diet and have been shown to have an important role in preventing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
      • The World Food Programme (WFP) includes 60 grams of pulses in its typical food basket, alongside cereals, oils and sugar and salt.
      • The Background Note for the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution titled
      • With a dietary shift in favour of proteins, in an otherwise vegetarian society, the consumption of pulses is growing but the production has not kept pace.
      • However, production of pulses has increased during the last two years which has resulted partly from the continuous increase in MSP, increased procurement, and creation of buffer stock of pulses. Hence, this is an ideal time to include pulses too in our Public Distribution System. 

Read more on food security here- Food Security in India


Losing the plot on women’s safety

Relevance: Developmental Issues, Rights & Welfare of Women, Women Safety – Schemes/Laws & their Performance, Mechanisms, Laws Institutions and Bodies.

What's the issue?

  • Most governments, when faced with the question of improving women’s safety, inevitably turn to enacting new laws rather than ensuring a more effective legal system. 
  • The Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law (Maharashtra Amendment) Bill, 2020, and the accompanying Special Courts and Machinery for Implementation of Maharashtra Shakti Criminal Law follow the same cliché of harsher punishment, more authorities, and wider definitions.

Provisions of the proposed law:

  • The Bill proposes punishment in cases of false complaints and acts of providing false information regarding sexual and other offences against women with the intention to humiliate, extort and defame. 
  • Introduction of the death penalty for rape, acid attacks, and for the rape of a minor-  in cases where “the characteristic of the offence is heinous in nature and where adequate conclusive evidence is there and the circumstances warrant exemplary punishment”, the offence shall be punishable with death.
  • The investigation should be completed within 15 days, the trial in 30 days and the appeal in 45 days, even if well-intentioned.

Issues in the bill:

  1. Does not define what cases would qualify as being “heinous in nature”, thus leaving it open to the interpretation of courts.
  2. Further, the death penalty has been in the statute books for a long time, but there is no evidence affirming its potency as a deterrent in preventing crimes.
    • The death penalty is not the absolute answer to the issue of rape- only the certainty that there will be effective investigation, trial, and therefore punishment, can act as an effective deterrent.
    • The death penalty will only mean that an accused may not stop at just rape and may murder the victim to get rid of the only witness, as the punishment for both will be the same.
  3. Often, the accused in sexual assault crimes are relatives or persons known to the victims.
    • If the punishment for the crime is death, then not only the family of the victim but the victim herself may choose not to report the crime or may turn hostile during the trial. 
  4. Limited time for investigation will only result in improper investigation and trial. 
    • Similar existing mechanisms for speedy and effective investigation and trial under the Juvenile Justice Act and the POCSO Act are rarely adhered to as neither the police nor the courts have the infrastructure to comply with these timeframes.
  5. Further, the Bill does not state what happens if the investigation, trial, or appeal is not completed within the prescribed time.
    • In the current system, police officers are saddled with a large number of cases at the same time. There are not enough prosecutors at trial courts and in high courts; most of them are assigned three-four courts at a time and they prosecute hundreds of cases simultaneously.
  6. Unless these systemic problems are solved, new laws will only be a facade.
  7. Lastly, the proposed amendments seem to have been recommended without considering similar, already-existing provisions in the criminal laws.
    • For instance, the Bill seeks to introduce Section 354E (Harassment of Women by any mode of communication) into the IPC, aiming to punish the intimidation of women through social media and electronic platforms.
    • Similar provisions exist under the IPC and the Information Technology Act, 2000, which comprehensively cover all the offences mentioned under the new section.
    • Similarly, the provision to punish public servants for failing to assist in investigation or perform their assigned duties is also sufficiently covered under the IPC, in terms of contravention of law or disobedience of orders and duties.

Way forward:

  • Bills’ content reflects the absence of a larger consultative process and lack of understanding of existing criminal laws.
  • For any criminal justice system to be effective, fair and just laws, a robust investigative mechanism, a dynamic judiciary and adequate infrastructure are indispensable.
  • The criminal law amendments post the Nirbhaya case and the recommendations of the Verma Committee brought in several progressive amendments to curb violence against women and children.
  • What is currently lacking is the infrastructure required for effective implementation.
  • The Maharashtra government should hence focus on that.

 

Environment & Ecology

Great Indian bustard conservation: Flap-like diverters installed on live wires to prevent collision

Relevance: Conservation practices, innovative wildlife conservation methods. 

What is threatening GIB?

Collision with live high-tension wires is the prime reason for mortality among great Indian bustards, with as many as 15% of their deaths attributed to the cause, according to a report submitted to the National Green Tribunal by the wildlife division of the ministry of environment, forests and climate change.

About Great Indian Bustard

  • Great Indian bustards are large birds with unique black caps over their heads and are found in the Indian subcontinent.
  • They are the heaviest flying birds in the country and are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act.
  • There are around only 150 of them left in India, according to the report by the wildlife division.
  • Since great Indian bustards are heavy birds with limited frontal vision, they find it difficult to change their course of flight swiftly even if they spot a live wire.

Conservation Initiative for GIB:

  • In a novel initiative to protect the critically endangered the great Indian bustard from colliding with live wires, the Wildlife Conservation Society- India (WCSI) is installing 1,848 bird diverters on high-tension wires along a 6.5km stretch in Pokhran, Rajasthan.
  • The location offers a safe habitat to a breeding population of great Indian bustards outside the Desert National Park (DNP) Sanctuary in Jaisalmer.
  • Basically, the diverter is a 6-inch-long and 4-inch-wide flap clamped on the wires and suspended in the air. These clamps rotate with the wind and are radio-painted. They are visible from around 50 metres away.
  • FireFly diverters are the first such diverters to be installed in the country. Previously, spiral and large discs were used in limited areas to divert birds from live wires.
  • Recently the SC, while hearing a plea on the matter, directed that power lines in the great Indian bustard landscape be made underground.
  • FireFly diverters can be installed at almost one-fourth the cost of laying the power lines underground.
  • As the population of Great Indian bustards dwindles, the WCSI has partnered with the Rural India Support Trust (RIST), the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change, and the Rajasthan Forest Department for this initiative.
  • This is a part of its Great Indian bustard conservation project.

The tragedy of conservation

Relevance: Conservation methods, the role of indigenous communities in environmental conservation. 

What is the issue?

Isolating the indigenous people from their natural habitats in the Western Ghats to protect biodiversity is unproductive.

What are the conservation efforts?

  • In 2012, 39 areas covering national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and reserved forests in the Western Ghats were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Out of these, ten sites are in Karnataka.
  • These sites are crucial for their biodiversity value.
  • Some measures of conservation include the Forest Rights Act of 2006 in India and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007 by the United Nations.

The indigenous people of Western Ghats:

  • The indigenous people of the Western Ghats, including the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, constitute 44.2% of the tribal population of 6.95% of Karnataka.
  • The Western Ghats are also home to a sizeable population of communities like Gowlis, Kunbis, Halakki Vakkala, Kare Vakkala, Kunbi, and Kulvadi Marathi. 

Issues of indigenous people:

  • They depend on the forest or forest land for their livelihood needs.
  • Ever since the Ministry of Environment and Forests began identifying the potential heritage sites, there has been unrest among the indigenous people.
  • When the exercise began, they feared for their existence in lands that they had inhabited for decades.
  • The restrictions on movement following the declaration of these territories as ecologically sensitive areas aggrieved them further.
  • In the context of the Forest Rights Act, they are treated as ‘other traditional forest dwellers.’
  • This is because they have been living there for at least three generations prior to December 13, 2005 (as specified in FRA) and they can claim their land. 
  • The combined stretch of land claimed by them is less- comparatively smaller by any account than what has been taken away for building dams, mining, laying railway lines and roads, power plants, etc.
  • Sadly, there is no significant conservation even after this landmark law.

How are forest rights implemented in Karnataka?

  • Karnataka has a dismal record in implementing the Forest Rights Act compared to other States.
  • According to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, as of April 30, 2018, the State had recognised only 5.7% of the total claims made.
  • Notably, 70% of the claims were disposed off.
  • There was clear inconsistency in the government’s approach in settling the claims made by the tribals versus the claims made by other traditional forest dwellers.
  • Tribal applications constituted 17.5% of the claims and nearly all of them were settled.
  • Other claims were rejected as they were not backed by valid evidence.
  • This means that claims made by other traditional forest dwellers were treated as inconsequential.

Why is the approach flawed?

  • Conservationists think that resources have to be controlled and managed.
  • However, this theory is fast proving unproductive.
  • Assuming that denying tribals or other traditional forest dwellers their forest rights would serve the purpose of conservation is wrong.
  • The Global Environment Outlook Report 5 mentions that there is decreased biodiversity across the globe even as ‘protected areas’ have been expanding.

What is the way forward?

  • Significantly, people living in nature’s surroundings are integral to conservation.
  • They relate to the environment in a more integrated and spiritual way.
  • Preserving biodiversity thus requires the legal empowerment of the people living in those areas.
  • Recognition of the rights of the people who depend on the forests is important.
  • The Forest Rights Act is an ideal instrument to push forward this objective.
  • To realise it on the ground, the government must make an effort to build trust between its agencies in the area and the people who depend on these forests.

Read more about various Indian Tribes- SPR 2020: TRIBES IN NEWS

Climate Change

In India, over 75% of districts hotspots of extreme weather events, finds study

Relevance: Climate change and its impacts.

What happened? 

  • The Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW) for the first time mapped the extreme weather event hotspots in the country.

Key Findings:

  • India is already the fifth most vulnerable country globally in terms of extreme climate events, and it is all set to become the world’s flood capital.
  • In the last 50 years, the frequency of flood events increased almost eight times. Events associated with floods such as landslides, heavy rainfall, hailstorms, thunderstorms, and cloudbursts increased by over 20 times.
  • The frequency, intensity, and unpredictability of these extreme events have risen in recent decades – while India witnessed 250 extreme climate events in 35 years between 1970 and 2005, it recorded 310 such weather events in only 15 years since then.
  • In 2019, India witnessed 16 extreme flood events, which affected 151 districts. The study found that over 9.7 crore people are currently exposed to extreme floods in India.
    • Six of India’s eight most flood-prone districts in the last decade—Barpeta, Darrang, Dhemaji, Goalpara, Golaghat, Sivasagar—are in Assam.
  • The yearly average of drought-affected districts increased 13 times after 2005. Nearly 68% of the districts have faced droughts and drought-like situations. 
  • In some cases, districts that were flood-prone have now become drought-prone and vice versa, while many districts are facing floods and droughts simultaneously. For instance, in Gaya, half the district has been experiencing floods and the other half drought.

The Road from Paris: How is India performing on its NDCs under Paris Climate Agreement?

Relevance: Climate change and its impacts, India's Paris Climate Agreement Goals, India's climate policies/actions and their performance. 

India's & Climate Change

  • India is a growing “energy-thirsty country” with large developmental needs.
  • India is the third-largest GHG emitter, but it's per capita emissions are only at a third of the global average.
  • With a view toward meeting India’s future needs, several concrete measures are taken that will deepen India’s action on climate change.

India's Targets (nationally determined contribution-NDC):

  1. To reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 33%–35% by 2030 below 2005 levels;
  2. To increase the share of non-fossil-based energy resources to 40% of installed electric power capacity by 2030, with help of the transfer of technology and low-cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund (GCF);
  3. To create an additional (cumulative) carbon sink of 2.5–3 GtCO2e through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Key areas of India's fight against Climate Change:

  • Renewable Energy – Powering India’s future
    • “India is committed to achieving 175GW by 2022. India further commits to increase its renewable energy capacity to 450GW.”
    • Achieving 450 GW of renewable energy capacity would be more than five times the country’s current renewable capacity at around 81 GW.
    • And, it is more than India’s total installed electricity capacity of 360 GW from all sources (including coal-fired power plants). That is a huge increase in renewable energy capacity!
    • India is almost halfway toward meeting its target of 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022.

      State-level initiative:

      • Rajasthan released its new Solar Policy 2019 with the aim of building 50 GW of solar capacity in the next five-six years.
      • Gujarat took the lead in announcing that it will not give fresh permission for setting up new coal plants in the state, with plans to boost renewable capacity to 30 GW by 2022.
      • Chhattisgarh, a state with the third-largest coal reserves in India, has also decided to not build new coal plants.
  • Sustainable Mobility
    • Electric Vehicles provide a sustainable solution to meet this growing demand.
    • Seven states in India have already adopted electric vehicle policies, and others such as Telangana, Gujarat,  have developed draft policies.
    • Around 14 states in total have a draft or accepted EV policies. India’s national policy on electric mobility, such as FAME-II, and state-level policies are putting India on the right track to rein in future emissions.
    • Increasing the fleet of electric vehicles and its charging infrastructure in India will be key to improve air quality in cities, enhance energy security by reduced dependence on imported crude, and is also a key solution to fight climate change.
  • Water Preservation
    • India is a water-scarce nation.
    • According to estimates, in June 2019 around 44% of India’s areas were under various degrees of drought conditions.
    • Parts of several states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Karnataka India have struggled with serious drought conditions.
    • Thermal power projects in parts of Maharashtra were shut down because of the unavailability of water. Large metro cities such as Bangalore and Chennai are facing massive strain to meet their water needs.
    • Water conservation, rainwater harvesting, and rejuvenation of water bodies are critical to India. 
    • To ensure complementarity in domestic action on the water, the government also established a new Jal Shakti ministry to work on all water-related issues ranging from supplying clean drinking water, inter-state and international shared water resources and disputes, to river cleaning projects.
  • Coalition Toward a Resilient Future
    • India is also keen on fostering international cooperation to fight climate change.
    • India along with France set up the International Solar Alliance (ISA). 80 countries have signed ISA’s framework agreement. ISA promotes and facilitates cooperation on solar among developing countries.
    • Along the lines of ISA, India established the International Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI).
    • The coalition will work towards a common goal of establishing infrastructure which is resilient to pressures of climate change and environmental disasters.
    • India has pledged INR 4.8 billion (Around USD 70 million) to the CDRI.
  • Low-Carbon Pathways
    • India and Sweden along with other partners will be launching the “Industry Transition Group.” The group will develop low-carbon pathways with the aim of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 in hard-to-abate industries such as steel and cement.
    • India’s cooking energy program provided clean cooking gas connections to 150 million households. The objective of the program is to reduce and eliminate exposure of women and children to indoor air pollution due to solid fuel burnt for cooking. 
    • India’s commitment to phase out single-use plastic completely by 2022 and hoped that this will serve as an example for other countries to follow. 

Coal here to stay, but measures can cut down emissions by 22%: CSE

Relevance: Sources of Energy, renewable energy role in climate change mitigation.

About India's energy scenario:

  • India’s coal-based thermal power sector is one of the country’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • It spews out 1.1 gigatonnes of CO2 every year; this is 2.5% of global GHG emissions, one-third of India’s GHG emissions, and around 50% of India’s fuel-related CO2 emissions.

What does the CSE study say?

  • Coal will continue to be the mainstay of India’s power generation till at least 2030, but efforts must be made to ensure it is used efficiently to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Steps towards 'Decarbonizing coal power'. 

  • Improve fleet technology and efficiency, renovate, and modernize:
    • India has one of the youngest coal fleets in the world, with around 64% of the capacity (132 GW) less than a decade old.
    • Maintaining the efficiency of this large fleet will be crucial as it is going to be operational for at least the next 15-20 years.
    • The government’s renovation and modernization policies are the keys to maintaining the efficiency of this fleet.

Plan for the old capacity:

  • In 2015, over 34 GW capacity in India was more than 25 years old, and 60% of it was highly inefficient.
  • Increasing India’s renewable electricity generation can help further the cause to accelerate the retirement of old and inefficient plants.

Propagate biomass co-firing:

  • Biomass co-firing is a globally accepted cost-effective method for decarbonizing a coal fleet.
  • Only one plant currently co-fires biomass in India.

Invest in carbon capture and storage (CCS):

  • Globally, carbon capture and storage has struggled to pick up.
  • India’s prospects appear to be dim at least until 2030.
  • Businesses should invest in indigenous research and development to bring down the costs of CCS. 

Bring back coal beneficiation:

  • A 1997 environment ministry notification had mandated the use of beneficiated coal from 2001 with ash content, not more than 34%.
  • However, in 2020, overturning the good work, the government allowed the use of coal irrespective of the ash content.

Conclusion:

  • Renewable capacity addition alone cannot be enough; ambitious plans to reduce GHG emissions in the coal sector are equally needed to meaningfully tackle climate change.

CO2 emissions from building sector highest in 2019: UNEP

Relevance: Carbon emission, sources, and impact.

Building sector and CO2 emission

  • As per the United Nations Environment Programme, The building sector emitted more than a third of global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) — a record 10 gigatonnes (Gt) — in 2019.
  • According to the 2020 Global Status Report for Building and Construction, building operations accounted for 28% of global emissions while construction-related industries (cement, glass, etc) added another 10%.

Reason for rising emission:

  • The CO2 emissions increased due to a high proportion of fossil fuels used for power generation, combined with higher activity levels in regions where electricity remains carbon-intensive.

Triple strategy to aggressively reduce energy demand in the building sector:

  • Aggressively reduce energy demand in the built environment
  • Decarbonise the power sector and
  • Implement materials strategies that reduce lifecycle carbon emissions

Way Ahead:

  • The report suggested the governments should help achieve these gains by systematically including building decarbonization measures into recovery packages by:
    • Increasing renovation rates
    • Channelling investment into low-carbon buildings
    • Providing jobs and increasing real-estate value

Himalayas act like an ‘aerosol factory’: Study

Relevance: The Himalayas and global climate change

What happened?

  • An observatory on the flanks of Mount Everest has revealed that even the clean air of the Himalayas can generate atmospheric particles that play an important part in shaping Earth’s climate.
    • Aerosols are microscopic airborne particles that form from both natural sources, such as gases released by plants, and pollutants emitted by human activities.
    • Aerosols can affect cloud formation and sunlight’s passage through the air, but not all of their effects on climate are clear.

Findings

  • The study aims to study aerosols in near-pristine air by setting up atmospheric monitoring instruments just a few kilometres below Everest’s summit.
  • The observations were taken during months when pollution from India and nearby countries rarely drifts to the site.
  • Despite this, many aerosol particles formed on days when the wind blew up a valley towards the observatory.
  • The winds probably carried gases that were emitted by vegetation and were then transformed into particles at higher altitudes.

The relevance of findings:

  • The Himalayas thus act as an aerosol factory, pumping naturally sourced particles into the atmosphere.
  • Knowing about this natural source of aerosols could help scientists to untangle the effects of human-made aerosols.

Looking back: How did climate change alter the world this year?

Relevance: Climate Change, Global warming, Critical changes in geographical features. 

It was the year when the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 held the world by a thread, causing massive economic setbacks and upending lives. At the same time, the climate crisis-  while it took a backseat in the face of the health crisis- continued to contribute to volatile weather events.

Global emissions of GHGs:

  • The latest State of the Global Climate provisional report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) found that the reduction in GHG gases “will be practically indistinguishable from the natural interannual variability, driven largely by the terrestrial biosphere.”
  • It added that the real-time data from specific locations indicated increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) in 2020.
  • CO2, CH4 and N2O are the three primary GHGs that cause anthropogenic global warming. N2O seems to be becoming the next big concern in terms of its increasing concentrations in the atmosphere and global warming potential.
  • Human emissions of N2O- which is 300 times more potent than CO2- increased by 30% between 1980 and 2016, according to a research paper published in Nature October 7, 2020.
  • Nitrous oxide is a dangerous gas for the sustainable existence of humans on Earth with third-highest concentration-  after CO2 and methane-  in our atmosphere among greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.
  • As the GHG emissions continue to be on the rise Earth is also getting warmer. The development has spiralled into motion several catastrophic events this year alone.  

Global temperature rise:

  • The planet was warmer by 1.2 degrees Celsius from January to October in 2020 than the pre-industrial average measured between 1850 and 1900, according to the Nature report.
  • This is the second-warmest recorded when compared to similar periods in historical data.
  • The year is on course to become the third-warmest year on record. 
  • A WMO report in July stated that one of the next five years may be witness to global average temperatures of 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. There is a 20% possibility of the event.
  • It also added that the global average temperature rise would likely be above 1°C in each of the next five years.
  • The range of temperatures is likely to be between 0.91 and 1.59°C.
  • The 2015 Paris Agreement of the United Framework Convention for Climate Change requires to limit the planet’s warming to 2°C by the end of the century.
  • The extent of warming makes the goal challenging and brings a lot of consequences in its wake.
  • These include an increase in sea levels, melting ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic and extreme weather events such as marine heatwaves, tropical cyclones, heavy rainfall, floods, droughts and wildfires.

Heat accumulation:

  • Ocean heat content (OHC) is one of the most crucial indicators of global warming as 90% of excess heat in the atmosphere is taken up by the seas and oceans.
  • The heat content of oceans in the depth from 0-2000 metres was at a peak in 2019 and the trend is expected to hold in 2020 and the coming years as well.
  • All datasets agree that OHC increased significantly in the last two decades. Heat accumulation has occurred in the last 60 years in ocean depth of 700-2000 metres.
  • Temperatures over ocean surfaces were so high in 2020 that 80%  of ocean areas experienced at least one marine heatwave (MHW) till date.
  • During such times, the average temperatures of the ocean surface (up to a depth of 300 feet or more) rise by 5-7°C above normal.
  • In Greenland alone, ice weighing 152 gigatonnes melted between September 2019 and August 2020, which was on the high end of the 40-year satellite records.

Melting of ice sheets:

  • The melting of the ice sheets has been driven by record temperatures in polar regions.
  • When the mercury rose to 38°C in Verkhoyansk in Siberia on June 20, 2020, it was reported as the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic Circle region.
  • Even though the town is in the Guinness book of world records for the largest temperature range it experiences- from some -67°C to some 37°C- this new record has an imprint of global warming.

A vicious cycle:

  • Arctic region is the climate capital of the world. It controls and influences climate in most other regions and has been warming at twice the rate as compared to the rest of the planet as a result of Arctic amplification, wherein the melting ice hastens warming by exposing areas that are not good at reflecting back heat into the atmosphere.
  • This creates a feedback loop between melting ice and rising temperatures, amplifying the impact of warming.
  • The climate in the Arctic region impacts weather systems further south through the changing nature of the Arctic jet stream, which is a band of winds over the region that keeps the region insulated from winds in the lower latitudes.
  • This jet stream as a result of warming is becoming wavy and allowing cold winds to get out, and warm winds from outside to get in, thereby disrupting long-term weather conditions everywhere.

 

Agriculture

How China reformed its agriculture and reduced poverty?

Relevance: Agricultural and rural reforms.

 

Despite similar trends in the growth rates, India and China have taken different reform paths; China started off with reforms in the agriculture sector and in rural areas, while India started by liberalising and reforming the manufacturing sector. These differences have led to different growth rates and, more importantly, different rates of poverty reduction.

What did China do differently? 

  • China followed a radically different approach by creating incentives and institutions needed for a market economy.
  • By making agriculture the starting point of market-oriented reforms, a sector which gave the majority of the people their livelihood, China could ensure widespread distribution of gains and build consensus and political support for the continuation of reforms.
  • Reform of incentives resulted in greater returns to the farmers and in more efficient resource allocation, which in turn strengthened the domestic production base and made it more competitive.
  • Prosperity in agriculture favoured the development of a dynamic rural non-farm (RNF) sector, regarded as one of the main causes for rapid poverty reduction in China as it provided additional sources of income outside farming.
  • This encouraged the government to expand the scope of policy changes and put pressure on the urban economy to reform as well since non-farm enterprises in rural areas had become more competitive than the state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
  • Reforms of the SOEs, in turn, triggered macroeconomic reforms, opening up the economy further.
  • Between 1978 and 2002, the rate of growth in agriculture nearly doubled over the 1966 to 1977 period and this was the main reason why poverty in China came down from 33% of the population in 1978 to 3%  in 2001.

What was India's Approach?

  • In India, the most rapid poverty reduction occurred from the late 1960s and the late 1980s but this was not because of reforms, rather due to strong policy support to agriculture.
  • India still continues with state food procurement and distribution, mainly because it is seen as affirmative action for over two-thirds of the population, including the poorest, who are dependent on agriculture and the rural economy, for livelihood.

What was the important differentiating factor between the two strategies?

  • The Chinese policymakers first created the incentives and institutions required by the market economy
  • Then in the mid-1980s, they began to slowly open up markets, by withdrawing central planning and reducing the scope of procurement while expanding the role of private trade and markets.

Reasons why India could not replicate China:

  • Of course, it is no one’s case that India could have simply replicated the China model.
  • It is crucial to note that China had more favourable initial conditions- even in 1970, China had a significant edge over India be it health, education, more egalitarian access to land, and growth of the power sector.
  • And that explains why despite the private and economic restrictions imposed on the Chinese rural population, the country could achieve sustained growth even before the reforms.
  • Seen in this perspective, the whole issue of Minimum Support Prices is essentially about flawed incentives.
  • Notwithstanding the economic logic that greater play of free markets will improve outcomes for farmers, it is unreasonable to expect farmers of Punjab and Haryana to give up on the safety of MSPs overnight.
  • Ideally, the government should have built up the case for markets ground up and allowed farmers the time to adjust to market forces.
  • But if we examine the essential nature of policies in other sectors, we would find that there too policies suffer from the same issue.
  • For instance, the production linked incentives to boost India’s manufacturing is essentially about shielding the domestic firms from market competition.
  • So are the policies justifying import bans and higher import tariffs. Similarly, India’s decision to stay out of RCEP is also driven by the same notion-  shielding the domestic firms from market forces.
  • Data shows that the bulk of farm produce was traded privately even before these laws came into force.

Way Ahead:

The key concern for India should be the creation of incentives and institutions for a market economy to function because therein lies the only sustainable solution to allaying deep-set suspicions.



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