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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 24 May 2021

Contents

  1. Mount Nyaragongo eruption
  2. Lithuania quits ‘divisive’ China’s 17+1 group
  3. BRICS Astronomy Working Group on telescopes
  4. Data Protection in India & WhatsApp’s privacy policy
  5. IEA’s Net Zero Emissions (NZE) Roadmap
  6. Zebrafish, induced torpor and spaceflight

Mount Nyaragongo eruption

Context:

An active volcano in Congo, Mount Nyaragongo, erupted again.

The Indian Army contingent under the United Nations peace keeping mission (MONUSCO) assisted in protecting civilians and U.N. officials as well as assets during the evacuation.

Relevance:

GS-I: Geography (Physical geography, Volcanoes, Important Geophysical phenomena), GS-III: Disaster Management

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Mount Nyiragongo
  2. Stratovolcano
  3. Albertine Rift

Mount Nyiragongo

  • Mount Nyiragongo is an active stratovolcano in the Virunga Mountains associated with the Albertine Rift.
  • It is located inside Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo just west of the border with Rwanda.
  • The crater presently has two distinct cooled lava benches within the crater walls and Nyiragongo’s lava lake has at times been the most voluminous known lava lake in recent history.
  • Nyiragongo and nearby Nyamuragira are together responsible for 40 per cent of Africa’s historical volcanic eruptions.
  • The volcano partly overlaps with two older volcanoes, Baratu and Shaheru, and is also surrounded by hundreds of small volcanic cinder cones from flank eruptions.

Stratovolcano

  • A stratovolcano, also known as a composite volcano, is a conical volcano built up by many layers (strata) of hardened lava and tephra.
  • Unlike shield volcanoes, stratovolcanoes are characterized by a steep profile with a summit crater and periodic intervals of explosive eruptions and effusive eruptions, although some have collapsed summit craters called calderas.
  • The lava flowing from stratovolcanoes typically cools and hardens before spreading far, due to high viscosity.
  • The magma forming this lava is often felsic, having high-to-intermediate levels of silica (as in rhyolite, dacite, or andesite), with lesser amounts of less-viscous mafic magma.
  • Stratovolcanoes are sometimes called “composite volcanoes” because of their composite stratified structure built up from sequential outpourings of erupted materials.
  • They are among the most common types of volcanoes, in contrast to the less common shield volcanoes.
  • Two famous examples of stratovolcanoes are Krakatoa in Indonesia, known for its catastrophic eruption in 1883, and Vesuvius in Italy, whose catastrophic eruption in AD 79 buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
  • In modern times, Mount St. Helens in Washington State, USA and Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines have erupted catastrophically, but with fewer deaths.

Albertine Rift

  • The Albertine Rift is the western branch of the East African Rift, covering parts of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
  • It extends from the northern end of Lake Albert to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika. The geographical term includes the valley and the surrounding mountains.
  • The Albertine Rift and the mountains are the result of tectonic movements that are gradually splitting the Somali Plate away from the rest of the African continent.
  • The mountains surrounding the rift are composed of uplifted Pre-Cambrian basement rocks, overlaid in parts by recent volcanic rocks.

-Source: The Hindu


Lithuania quits ‘divisive’ China’s 17+1 group

Context:

  • Lithuania said that it was quitting China’s 17+1 cooperation forum with central and eastern European states that includes other EU members, calling it “divisive”.
  • The Baltic country urged fellow EU members to pursue “a much more effective 27+1 approach and communication with China.”
  • Recently, Lithuania also took several steps that angered Beijing, including the blocking of Chinese investment and announcing it would open a trade office in Taiwan.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbors, Important International Groupings affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries
  2. Lithuania

Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries

  • Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries (China-CEE/16+1) is an initiative by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to promote business and investment relations between China and 16 countries of CEE (CEEC) – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia.
  • The format was founded in 2012 in Warsaw to push for cooperation of the “17+1” (the 17 CEE countries and China).
  • The China-CEE secretariat is in Beijing, with 17 “national coordinators” in each of the partner CEE countries.
  • The format’s goals are to promote the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and enhance cooperation in the fields of infrastructure, transportation and logistics, trade and investment”.

Lithuania

  • Lithuania is a country in the Baltic region of Europe and it lies on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea.
  • Lithuania is a developed country, with a high-income advanced economy; ranking very high in the Human Development Index.
  • It ranks favourably in terms of civil liberties, press freedom and internet freedom.
  • However, Lithuania has experienced a gradual population decline since the 1990s, with social issues such as income inequality and high suicide rate remaining a problem.
  • Lithuania is a member of the European Union, the Council of Europe, eurozone, the Nordic Investment Bank, Schengen Agreement, NATO and OECD. It participates in the Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8) regional co-operation format.

-Source: The Hindu


BRICS Astronomy Working Group on telescopes

Context:

The BRICS Astronomy Working Group has recommended networking of telescopes in member countries and creating a regional data network.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Important International Groupings affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Highlights of the BRICS Astronomy Working Group (BAWG) Meeting
  2. What is BRICS?

Highlights of the BRICS Astronomy Working Group (BAWG) Meeting

  • Under the science, technology and innovation track of the BRICS 2021 calendar, India hosted the seventh meeting of BRICS Astronomy Working Group (BAWG) on online mode in May 2021. It witnessed participation from all five BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Future directions

  • The members of the working group indicated future directions of research in this area such as building a network of intelligent telescopes and data, study of transient astronomical phenomena in the universe, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning applications to process the voluminous data generated by the enhanced multi-wavelength telescope observatory.
  • The delegates deliberated on strategic and operational matters and recommended the networking of existing telescopes in BRICS countries and creating regional data network.
  • They agreed to develop a flagship project in this area, according to a statement by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India. From the Indian side, the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, and the DST coordinated the meeting.

Enhance collaboration

  • The BAWG, which provides a platform for BRICS member countries to collaborate in the field of astronomy, recommended that each country should present the scientific results of the work being carried out in their country.
  • This will help seek funding support to realise the flagship project whenever funding opportunities were announced by BRICS funding agencies.
  • The BAWG noted the importance of enhancing collaboration among astronomers from the BRICS countries.
  • India assumed the BRICS Presidency from January 2021.

What is BRICS?

  • BRICS is the international grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
  • This was set up as a move towards greater multi­polarity; hence the spread across three continents and both hemispheres.
  • In terms of GDP, China occupies the second position; India the fifth; Brazil the ninth; Russia the 11th; and South Africa the 35th.
  • In terms of growth rates, China grew at 6%; India at 4.5%, Russia 1.7%, Brazil 1.2% and South Africa 0.1%.

Achievements of BRICS

  • The main achievement of BRICS is the New Development Bank, with each country contributing equally to its equity
  • The bank has so far financed over 40 projects at a cost of $12 billion
  • The BRICS countries are also developing a joint payments mechanism to reduce foreign trade settlements in U.S. dollars
  • An offshoot of the group, dealing with climate change, is BASIC (BRICS without Russia), which met at the Spain conference in December 2019 and reiterated its support to the Paris Agreement

-Source: The Hindu


Data Protection in India & WhatsApp’s privacy policy

Context:

Instant messaging platform WhatsApp may face legal action in India by May 25 if it does not send a satisfactory reply to a new notice sent by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asking the company to withdraw its latest privacy policy update.

Relevance:

GS-III: Internal Security Challenges (Cyber Security), Science and Technology (IT & Computers)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy
  2. Significance of Data
  3. Need for Data Protection
  4. Personal Data Protection Bill 2019
  5. Advantages of the changes
  6. Issues with the bill

About WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy

  • According to WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy, users would no longer be able to stop the app from sharing data (such as location and number) with its parent Facebook unless they delete their accounts altogether.
  • Its privacy updates are designed to make the business interactions that take place on its platform easier while also personalising ads on Facebook. That is how it will have to make its money.
  • According to the Government, the messaging app discriminates against Indian users vis-à-vis users in Europe on the matter of a choice to opt-out of the new privacy policy.
  • WhatsApp users in Europe can opt-out of the new privacy policy owing to the laws in the European Union (EU) called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which shield them from sharing data from Facebook or grant them the power to say no to WhatsApp’s new terms of service.

Significance of Data

  • Data is the large collection of information that is stored in a computer or on a network.
  • Data is collected and handled by entities called data fiduciaries.
  • While the fiduciary controls how and why data is processed, the processing itself may be by a third party, the data processor.
  • This distinction is important to delineate responsibility as data moves from entity to entity. For example, in the US, Facebook (the data controller) fell into controversy for the actions of the data processor — Cambridge Analytica.
  • The processing of this data (based on one’s online habits and preferences, but without prior knowledge of the data subject) has become an important source of profits for big corporations.
  • Apart from it, this has become a potential avenue for invasion of privacy, as it can reveal extremely personal aspects.
  • Also, it is now clear that much of the future’s economy and issues of national sovereignty will be predicated on the regulation of data.
  • The physical attributes of data — where data is stored, where it is sent, where it is turned into something useful — are called data flows. Data localisation arguments are premised on the idea that data flows determine who has access to the data, who profits off it, who taxes and who “owns” it.

Need for Data Protection

  • According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI)’s Digital in India report 2019, there are about 504 million active web users and India’s online market is second only to China.
  • Large collection of information about individuals and their online habits has become an important source of profits. It is also a potential avenue for invasion of privacy because it can reveal extremely personal aspects.
  • Companies, governments, and political parties find it valuable because they can use it to find the most convincing ways to advertise to you online.

Personal Data Protection Bill 2019

  • The Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 (PDP Bill 2019) is being analyzed by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) in consultation with experts and stakeholders.
  • The Bill covers mechanisms for protection of personal data and proposes the setting up of a Data Protection Authority (DPA) of India for the same.
  • Some key provisions the 2019 Bill provides for which the 2018 draft Bill did not, such as that the central government can exempt any government agency from the Bill and the Right to Be Forgotten, have been included.
  • The Bill proposes “Purpose limitation” and “Collection limitation” clause, which limit the collection of data to what is needed for “clear, specific, and lawful” purposes.
  • It also grants individuals the right to data portability and the ability to access and transfer one’s own data. It also grants individuals the right to data portability, and the ability to access and transfer one’s own data.
  • Finally, it legislates on the right to be forgotten. With historical roots in European Union law, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), this right allows an individual to remove consent for data collection and disclosure.
  • The Bill trifurcates data as follows:
  1. Personal data: Data from which an individual can be identified like name, address etc.
  2. Sensitive personal data (SPD): Some types of personal data like as financial, health, sexual orientation, biometric, genetic, transgender status, caste, religious belief, and more.
  3. Critical personal data: Anything that the government at any time can deem critical, such as military or national security data.

Advantages of the changes

  • Data localisation can help law-enforcement agencies access data for investigations and enforcement.
  • As of now, much of cross-border data transfer is governed by individual bilateral “mutual legal assistance treaties”.
  • Accessing data through this route is a cumbersome process and also instances of cyber-attacks and surveillance can be checked easily.
  • Social media is being used to spread fake news, which has resulted in lynchings, national security threats, which can now be monitored, checked and prevented in time.
  • Data localisation will also increase the ability of the Indian government to tax Internet giants.
  • A strong data protection legislation will also help to enforce data sovereignty.

Issues with the bill

  • The current draft requires the DPA to maintain a cadre of adjudicating officers and specifies their desired areas of expertise.
  • All other important details, like the terms of appointment, jurisdictional scope, and procedure for hearings, are, however, left to be decided by the central government.
  • The Bill doesn’t even specify whether the adjudication process can, or should, be preceded by mediation, which could help in the amicable settlement of many complaints.
  • Many contend that the physical location of the data is not relevant in the cyber world. Even if the data is stored in the country, the encryption keys may still be out of reach of national agencies.
  • National security or reasonable purposes are an open-ended term, this may lead to intrusion of state into the private lives of citizens.
  • Technology giants like Facebook and Google have criticised protectionist policy on data protection (data localisation).
  • Protectionist regime supress the values of a globalised, competitive internet marketplace, where costs and speeds determine information flows rather than nationalistic borders.
  • Also, it may backfire on India’s own young startups that are attempting global growth, or on larger firms that process foreign data in India.

-Source: Indian Express


IEA’s Net Zero Emissions (NZE) Roadmap

Context:

The recently released International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Net Zero Emissions (NZE) Roadmap aims to provide a pathway to bridge the current gap between rhetoric and reality in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the energy and industry sectors.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Important International Institutions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the International Energy Agency (IES)
  2. What is Net zero emissions?
  3. Highlights of IEA’s Net Zero Emissions (NZE) Roadmap
  4. Aims/Targets of the Net Zero Emissions (NZE) Roadmap

About the International Energy Agency (IES)

  • The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an autonomous Intergovernmental Organisation established in 1974 in Paris, France.
  • IEA mainly focuses on its energy policies which include economic development, energy security and environmental protection. These policies are also known as the 3 E’s of IEA.
  • India became an Associate member of IEA in March 2017 but it was in engagement with IEA long before its association with the organization.
  • The World Energy Outlook Report is released by the IEA annually, and recently, it even released the India Energy Outlook 2021 Report.
  • IEA Clean Coal Centre is dedicated to providing independent information and analysis on how coal can become a cleaner source of energy, compatible with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

What is Net zero emissions?

  • ‘Net zero emissions’ refers to achieving an overall balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions taken out of the atmosphere.
  • To achieve this:
  • Human-caused emissions (like those from fossil-fueled vehicles and factories) should be reduced as close to zero as possible.
  • Any remaining Greenhouse gasses GHGs should be balanced with an equivalent amount of carbon removal, for example by restoring forests.
  • In scenarios that limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, carbon dioxide (CO2) reaches net-zero on average by 2050. Total GHG emissions reach net-zero between 2063 and 2068.

Highlights of IEA’s Net Zero Emissions (NZE) Roadmap

  • Climate pledges by governments till date even if fully achieved would fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C.
  • The roadmap aims to examine the impacts of announced NZE pledges and what they might mean for the energy sector and to develop a new energy-sector pathway towards achieving NZE globally by 2050.
  • The roadmap also aims to set out key policy recommendations for governments to act upon in the near-term, and a long-term agenda for change to achieve net-zero goals, including with a view to reaching other Sustainable Development Goals.
  • It is supposed to provide a pathway to bridge the current gap between rhetoric and reality in reducing GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions from the energy and industry sectors.

Principles according to the roadmap

  • The roadmap calls for following the principle of Technology neutrality, with adoption driven by costs, technological readiness, country and market conditions and trade-offs with wider societal goals. Technology Neutrality is generally described as the freedom of individuals and organizations to choose the most appropriate and suitable technology to their needs and requirements for development, acquisition, use or commercialisation, without dependencies on knowledge involved as information or data.
  • The roadmap also calls for following the principle of Universal international cooperation, in which all countries contribute to net zero, with an eye to a ‘just transition’ and where advanced economies lead.
  • The roadmap also calls for Minimizing Volatility – an orderly transition that seeks to minimise stranded assets where possible, while ensuring energy security and minimising volatility in energy markets.

Aims/Targets of the Net Zero Emissions (NZE) Roadmap

  • More than 400 milestones to guide the global journey to net zero by 2050 according to the NZE roadmap include:
  • No investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants.
  • No sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars by 2035.
  • The global electricity sector should reach net-zero emissions by 2040.
  • It calls for annual additions of solar power to reach 630 gigawatts by 2030, and those of wind power to reach 390 gigawatts.
  • It suggests 714% more renewables, 104% more nuclear, 93% less coal and 85% less natural gas for global electricity generation towards 2050.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine


Zebrafish, induced torpor and spaceflight

Context:

Researchers showed that zebrafish has demonstrated how induced hibernation (torpor) may protect humans from the elements of space, especially radiation, during space flight.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Science and Technology (Important developments in Space technology)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Zebrafish
  2. Highlights of the study

Zebrafish

  • Zebrafish (Danio rerio) is a small (2-3 cm long) freshwater fish found in the tropical and subtropical regions.
  • The fish is native to South Asia’s Indo-Gangetic plains, where they are mostly found in the paddy fields and even in stagnant water and streams.
  • They are classified as a species of least concern on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.
  • They have been used to study vertebrate development, evolution, genetics, and disease due to its adequate regeneration capacity of almost all its organs, including the brain, heart, eye, spinal cord.
  • Zebrafish have a similar genetic structure (around 70%) to humans.
  • As a vertebrate, the zebrafish has the same major organs and tissues as humans. Their muscle, blood, kidney and eyes share many features with human systems.

Highlights of the study

  • Recent technological advancements might have made space travel more accessible. However, long-term space travel is incredibly detrimental to human health.
  • The study could help in understanding how a form of hibernation, known as induced torpor (a state of reduced metabolic activity) may provide radio-protective effects.
  • The researchers exposed zebrafish to radiation like what would be experienced on a six-month journey to Mars. They observed signs of oxidative stress (imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals), DNA damage, stress hormone signaling and changes to the cell-division cycle.
  • The researchers then induced torpor in a second group of zebrafish which were then exposed to the same dose of radiation. The results showed that torpor lowered the metabolic rate within the zebrafish and created a radioprotective effect, protecting against the harmful effects of radiation.

What is Torpor and why is this study significant?

  • Torpor, a form of hibernation, is a brief spell of suspended animation. It usually lasts less than a day. When in torpor, an animal’s metabolism, heartbeat, breathing, and body temperature are greatly reduced.
  • Hibernation is a physiological condition found in many species. It protects them against harsh conditions, such as food scarcity and low environmental temperatures.
  • Replicating hibernation may therefore protect astronauts against the harsh conditions of space flight, which include challenges such as radiation exposure, bone and muscle wastage, advanced ageing and vascular problems.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine

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