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15th December 2020 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Content

  1. Green over brown
  2. Firing a warning shot across big tech’s bows
  3. India needs to rethink its nutrition agenda

Editorial: Green over brown

Context:

India asserted at the virtual Climate Ambition Summit, co-convened by the UN to mark five years of the Paris Agreement, that it is well on its way to not just fulfilling its national pledge on emissions reduction, but exceeding the commitment.

Relevance:

GS Paper 3: Environmental conservation; Environmental pollution and degradation;

Mains Questions:

  1. India’s climate goals are on track, but future investments must be sustainable. Comment 15 marks
  2. Why understanding the impact of climate change at regional level is important? 15 Marks
  3. ‘Climate Change’ is a global problem. How India will be affected by climate change? How Himalayan and coastal states of India will be affected by climate change?

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is climate change?
  • Observed changes in climate in the Indian Region.
  • Causes of climate change in Indian Ocean
  • Consequences of climate change in Indian Region
  • Measures to address the climate change.
  • Way Forward

What is climate Change?

Climate variability includes all the variations in the climate that last longer than individual weather events, whereas the term climate change only refers to those variations that persist for a longer period of time, typically decades or more. In the time since the industrial revolution the climate has increasingly been affected by human activities that are causing global warming and climate change.

  • GHGs, along with other anthropogenic activities such as aerosols and changes in land use and land cover (LULC) have caused global average temperature to rise by around 1°C since pre-industrial times.
  • Warming induced mainly by anthropogenic factors with minor contributions of natural climatic factors since 1950s has already contributed to a significant increase in weather and climate extremes globally (e.g., heat waves, droughts, heavy precipitation, and severe cyclones).

Observed changes in climate in the Indian Region:

The Ministry of Earth Sciences’ (MoES) has come up with the report titled ‘Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region’. As per the report, following are the observed and projected changes in various climatic dimensions over the Indian region:

  • Temperature rise: India’s average temperature has risen by around 0.7°C during 1901–2018 By the end of the twenty-first century. Amplification of heat stress is expected across India, particularly over the Indo-Gangetic and Indus river basins.
  • Sea-level rise in the North Indian Ocean: Sea-level rise is intimately related to thermal expansion due to rising ocean sea surface temperature (SST), heat content, and the melting of glaciers that add water to the world’s oceans.
  • Change in Rainfall pattern: Summer monsoon rainfall (June to September) over India which contribute to more than 75% of the annual rainfall has declined by 6% between 1951-2015 especially in the densely populated Indo-Gangetic plains and the Western Ghats. The frequency of localized heavy rain occurrences has significantly increased by 75% during 1950–2015. Monsoon onset dates are likely to be early or not to change much, and the monsoon retreat dates are likely to be delayed, resulting in lengthening of the monsoon season.
  • Floods: Flooding events over India have also increased since 1950, in part due to enhanced occurrence of localized, short-duration intense rainfall events.
    • Flooding occurrences due to intense rainfall are projected to increase in the future. Higher rates of glacier and snowmelt in a warming world would enhance stream flow and compound flood risk over the Himalayan river basins.
    • The Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra basins are considered particularly at risk of enhanced flooding in the future in the absence of additional adaptation and risk mitigation measures.
  • Drought: The overall decrease of seasonal summer monsoon rainfall during the last 6–7 decades has led to an increased propensity for both the frequency and spatial extent of droughts. The area affected by drought has increased by 1.3% per decade over the same period.
  • Tropical cyclone storms: There has been a significant reduction in the annual frequency of tropical cyclones over the NIO basin since the middle of the twentieth century (1951–2018). In contrast, the frequency of very severe cyclonic storms (VSCSs) during the post-monsoon season has increased significantly (+1 event per decade) during the last two decades (2000–2018).
  • Himalayan Cryosphere: The Hindukush Himalayas (HKH) (largest area of permanent ice cover outside the North and South Poles, also known as the ‘Third Pole’) underwent rapid warming at a rate of about 0.2o C per decade during the last 6–7 decades.

Causes of climate change in Indian Ocean:

  • The surface air temperature changes over India are attributed mostly by greenhouse gases and partially offset by other anthropogenic forcing including aerosols and Multi-temporal Land Use Land Cover (LULC) change.
  • Sea-level rise of the North Indian Ocean NIO during the recent 3–4 decades are closely linked to the weakening trend of summer monsoon winds and the associated slowdown of heat transport out of the NIO.
  • The radiative effects of anthropogenic aerosol forcing over the Northern Hemisphere have considerably offset the expected precipitation increase from GHG warming and contributed to the observed decline in summer monsoon precipitation.
  • Increased variability of monsoon precipitation and increased water vapour demand in a warmer atmosphere that tend to decrease soil moisture content.

Consequences of climate change in Indian Region:

  • Food Security: Due to lack of irrigation, a large number of farmers are dependent on monsoon rainfall to practice agriculture (between 50 to 60 percent of Indian agriculture is rainfed, without access to any form of irrigation).
  • Water security: The growing propensity for droughts & floods because of changing rainfall patterns would be detrimental to surface and groundwater recharge. Also, the rising sea level leads to intrusion of saltwater in the coastal aquifers contaminating the ground water. E.g. in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Lakshadweep etc. Declining trend in snowfall and retreat of glaciers in HKH region may impact the water supply in the major rivers and streams including the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra.
  • Energy infrastructure and supply: Rising temperatures are likely to increase energy demand for space cooling, which if met by thermal power would further add to the global warming by increasing GHG emissions.
  • Damage to coastal infrastructure: Potential coastal risks include loss of land due to increased erosion, damage to coastal projects & infrastructure such as buildings, roads, monuments, and power plants, salinization of freshwater supplies and a heightened vulnerability to flooding. Damage to coastal infrastructure For example, higher sea levels and receding coastlines escalate the destructive potential of storm surge associated with cyclonic storms that may be additionally compounded by land subsidence occurring in parts of the country due to factors such as the declining water table depth.
  • Human Health: Studies indicate that climate change may seriously compromise human health particularly among children and the elderly. Higher temperatures, extreme weather events, and higher climate variability could elevate risk of heat strokes, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, and stress-related disorders.
  • Biodiversity: With the climate changing more rapidly than the usual pace of evolutionary adaptability of many species, they may face increasing threats on account of these changes. Species specially adapted to narrow environmental conditions are likely to be affected the most. For example, the Indian Ocean is home to 30% of the world’s coral reefs and 13% of global wild-catch fisheries. This marine ecosystem, including corals and phytoplankton, and fisheries are being impacted by a rise in heat waves in the ocean, known as marine heat waves.
  • Social Issues: Large scale migration induced due to climatic disasters such as droughts, cyclones and floods cause social distress at the source and destination places. This reflects into unorganised nature of jobs, slums in urban areas and also social tensions.
  • Cascading of climatic hazards: Multiple negative climate events when acting in tandem could create an extreme situation. For instance, a region may experience an abnormally long or intense summer heat wave followed by intense monsoon floods that alternate with lengthening dry spells.

Measures to address the climate change:

  • National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) identifies measures that simultaneously advance the country’s development and climate change related objectives of adaptation and mitigation through focused National Missions.
  • Climate Change Action Program (CCAP) is a central sector scheme to build and support capacity at central and state levels, strengthening scientific and analytical capacity for climate change assessment, establishing appropriate institutional framework and implementing climate actions.
  • National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020 under which Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India (FAME India) scheme was formulated to promote manufacturing and sustainable growth of electric & hybrid vehicle technology.
  • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 enables integrating environmental concerns into developmental activities and encourages the adoption of mitigation strategies in the developmental plan.
  • National Adaptation Fund on Climate Change that supports concrete adaptation activities for the States/UTs that are particularly vulnerable to climate change & are not covered under on-going schemes.
  • Green bonds issued by financial, non-financial or public entities where the proceeds are used to finance 100% green projects and assets specifically linked to climate-change mitigation, adaptation & resilience. India also has the second largest Emerging green bond market after China.
  • International Solar Alliances (ISA) to provide a dedicated platform for cooperation among solar resource rich countries to harness their solar energy potential by collaborative efforts in the field of solar technologies.
  • India’s NDCs targets submitted under the Paris Climate agreement:
    • reducing the emission-intensity of its GDP by 33%–35% (vis-à-vis 2005) by 2030;
    • achieving 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel resources by 2030;
    • creating additional carbon sink of 2.5–3 billion ton of CO2 equivalent by 2030 through forest and tree cover.

Way Forward:

Tackling climate change is a balancing act between the present and the future. One way to do this would be to frame more holistic goalposts. Current policies seek to maximize GDP, which does not capture the potential for future prosperity entirely. An alternative could be something like the UN’s Inclusive Wealth Index, which measures three different types of capital: Produced (infrastructure, etc.), human (education, etc.) and natural (land, forests, etc.), all of which are important for prosperity to sustain. The UN measure is not perfect but is useful to track multiple indicators that feed into a society’s progress.


Editorial: Firing a warning shot across big tech’s bows

Context:

In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice brought a lawsuit against Google for misusing its dominant position as search engine.

Relevance:

GS Paper 3: Indian Economy (issues re: planning, mobilisation of resources, growth, development, employment); Inclusive growth and issues therein.

Mains Questions:

  1. Lawsuits and regulatory moves in the West suggest that their easy, unchecked expansion may be coming to an end. In this context, discuss how big digital companies misuse their monopoly in digital Market. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is Market Monopoly?
  • Features of Monopolistic Market:
  • Effects of Monopolistic Markets
  • How digital companies misuse its power
  • Way Forward

What is Market Monopoly?

A monopolistic market is a theoretical condition that describes a market where only one company may offer products and services to the public. A monopolistic market is the opposite of a perfectly competitive market, in which an infinite number of firms operate. In a purely monopolistic model, the monopoly firm can restrict output, raise prices, and enjoy super-normal profits in the long run.

Features of Monopolistic Market:

  • Single supplier: A monopolistic market is regulated by a single supplier. Hence, the market demand for a product or service is the demand for the product or service provided by the firm.
  • Barriers to entry and exit: Government licenses, patents, and copyrights, resource ownership, decreasing total average costs, and significant start-up costs are some of the barriers to entry in a monopolistic market.
  • Profit maximiser: In a monopolistic market, the company maximizes profits. It can set prices higher than they would’ve been in a competitive market and earn higher profits. Due to the absence of competition, the prices set by the monopoly will be the market price.
  • Price discrimination: A company that is operating in a monopolistic market can change the price and quantity of the product or service. Price discrimination occurs when the company sells the same product to different buyers at different prices.

Effects of Monopolistic Markets:

  • The typical political and cultural objection to monopolistic markets is that a monopoly, in the absence of other suppliers of the same product or service, could charge a premium to their customers.
  • Consumers have no substitutes and are forced to pay the price for the goods dictated by the monopolist. In many respects, this is an objection against high prices, not necessarily monopolistic behavior.
  • The standard economic argument against monopolies is different. According to neoclassical analysis, a monopolistic market is undesirable because it restricts output, not because of monopolist benefits by raising prices. Restricted output equates to less production, which reduces total real social income.
  • Even if monopolistic powers exist, such as the U.S. Postal Service’s legal monopoly on delivering first-class mail, consumers often have many alternatives such as using standard mail through FedEx or UPS or email. For this reason, it is uncommon for monopolistic markets to successfully restrict output or enjoy super-normal profits in the long run.

How digital companies misuse its power

  • In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice brought a lawsuit against Google for misusing its dominant position as search engine by
    • undermining competitors;
    • favouring its own content in search results;
    • doing deals with other companies to become the default search engine in many browsers and devices;
    • and then using data on its users and competitors to reinforce its dominance and get even more revenue from advertising.
  • The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Facebook, accusing it of abusing its market power in social networking to crush smaller competitors. The specific instances of Facebook’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram were cited, which apparently resulted from concerns that the growing popularity of these platforms could break the company’s hold on social media.
  • Amazon “functions as a gatekeeper for e-commerce”, reducing competition and thereby also harming consumers. It has exploitative relationships with other sellers on the platform, which “live in fear of the company” and which Amazon refers to as “internal competitors”.
  • Sellers are not allowed to contact shoppers directly, often limited in their ability to sell on other platforms, face “strong-arm tactics in negotiations” and have to choose between getting “atrocious levels of customer service” or better service for a fee.
  • Like the other companies, Amazon profits from ideas and products developed by others, and simply buys up start-ups or even open-source cloud-software developers when it wants.
  • Apple also favours its own apps and seeks to put rivals at a disadvantage on its products and leaves developers with little choice for reaching consumers. Like Google, it levies high commission fees (of 30%) that end up being charged on consumers.

Impact on Users:

  • The dangers of these aggressive monopolies are not confined to the competitors — users also suffer because of fewer options and weaker privacy controls.
  • Both WhatsApp and Facebook have eroded the privacy protections that they earlier promised, by changing the terms of service communicated through long and complicated messages that most users simply do not read.
  • All these companies hoard the data they collect, which increasingly covers all aspects of their users’ lives. For many of them, data are now the biggest source of revenues and profits. All sorts of use can be made of data:
    • marketing and targeted advertising,
    • influencing and manipulating political outcomes,
    • targeting individuals based on particular criteria,
    • enabling surveillance by both governments and private agencies.

Way Forward:

It is time for Indians to wake up and realise that anti-trust regulation and public control over digital companies—including home-grown ones — have become critical for them.


Editorial: India needs to rethink its nutrition agenda

Context:

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has released data fact sheets for 22 States and Union Territories (UTs) based on the findings of Phase I of the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5).

Relevance:

GS Paper 2: Poverty and hunger issues

Mains Questions:

  1. Poor nutritional outcomes in NFHS-5 show that a piecemeal approach does not work. Suggest some measures to improve the nutritional status in India. 15 marks
  2. There have been several indicators of the slowing down of economic growth and employment distress, which are bound to have an effect on hunger and nutrition. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Findings of the findings of Phase I of NFHS-5.
  • Causes of poor nutritional status in India.
  • Measures taken by the government
  • Way Forward

Findings of the findings of Phase I of NFHS-5.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has released data fact sheets for 22 States and Union Territories (UTs) based on the findings of Phase I of the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5). Followings are the findings the reports:

  • Of the 22 States and UTs, there is an increase in the prevalence of severe acute malnutrition in 16 States/UTs (compared to NFHS-4 conducted in 2015-16).
  • Kerala and Karnataka are the only two big States among the six States and UTs where there is some decline.
  • The percentage of children under five who are underweight has also increased in 16 out of the 22 States/UTs.
  • Anaemia levels among children as well as adult women have increased in most of the States with a decline in anaemia among children being seen only in four States/Uts.
  • Most States/UTs also see an increase in overweight/obesity prevalence among children and adults, once again drawing attention to the inadequacy of diets in India both in terms of quality and quantity.
  • The data report an increase in childhood stunting (an indicator of chronic undernutrition and considered a sensitive indicator of overall well-being) in 13 of the 22 States/UTs compared to the data of NFHS-4.
  • All indications from these initial results of NFHS-5 are that we are likely to see an increase in prevalence of childhood stunting in the country during the period 2015-16 to 2019-20.

Causes of poor Malnutrition in India

  • The gender skew in Indian societies, which leads to poor education, lack of reproductive choice and inadequate nutrition from childhood, perpetuates a vicious legacy of under-nutrition.
  • In recent years, the culture wars over non-vegetarian food habits have also led several states to knock off eggs — one of the cheapest sources of protein for children — off mid-day meal and Anganwadi menus.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak — and the lockdown to contain its spread which left millions stranded and hungry — has sent incomes into a tailspin, with the economy yet to recover from the shock. The pandemic has also sharpened the edge of all inequalities, and ripped apart fragile welfare nets.
  • Broken Food systems: Food systems (all the elements and activities involved in the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food) are failing to provide children with the diets they need to grow healthy.
  • Globalization is shaping food options and choices: 77% of processed food sales worldwide are controlled by just 100 large firms.
  • Urbanization: In cities, many poor children live in ‘food deserts’, facing an absence of healthy food options, or in ‘food swamps’, confronted with an abundance of high-calorie, low-nutrient, processed foods.
  • Poverty: Poor families tend to select low-quality food that costs less. Because of poverty and exclusion, the most disadvantaged children face the greatest risk of all forms of malnutrition.
  • Climate shocks, loss of biodiversity, and damage to water, air and soil are worsening the nutritional prospects of millions of children and young people, especially among the poor
  • Despite the National Food Security Act – 2013 ensuring every citizen “access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices”, two crucial elements that still got left out are the non-inclusion of nutritious food items such as pulses and exclusion of potential beneficiaries.

Measures to improve nutritional status in India:

  • Direct interventions such as supplementary nutrition (of good quality including eggs, fruits, etc.), growth monitoring, and behaviour change communication through the ICDS and school meals must be strengthened and given more resources.
  • Universal maternity entitlements and child care services to enable exclusive breastfeeding, appropriate infant and young child feeding as well as towards recognising women’s unpaid work burdens have been on the agenda for long, but not much progress has been made on these.
  • The expansion in social protection schemes and public programmes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Public Distribution System, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), and school meals have contributed to reduction in absolute poverty as well as previous improvements in nutrition indicators.
  • At the same time, the linkages between agriculture and nutrition both through what foods are produced and available as well as what kinds of livelihoods are generated in farming are also important.

Way Forward:

Overall, one of the main messages is that the basic determinants of malnutrition – household food security, access to basic health services and equitable gender relations – cannot be ignored any longer. An employment-centred growth strategy which includes universal provision of basic services for education, health, food and social security is imperative.

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