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Editorials/Opinions Analyses For UPSC 30 October 2021

Contents

  1. China’s cracking down on super skyscrapers
  2. Climate change jargons explained

China’s cracking down on super skyscrapers

Context:

Aiming to reduce China’s energy consumption, the country has passed guidelines limiting the height of super-high buildings as part of a larger crackdown on “vanity projects” in the country.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Conservation of Energy and Reduction of Carbon footprint)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About China’s crackdown on skyscrapers
  2. Towering glass structures are an environmental nightmare
  3. Tall buildings to save space aren’t so great

About China’s crackdown on skyscrapers

  • Home to some of the world’s tallest buildings, China is now cracking down on the construction of ‘super skyscrapers’ in smaller cities across the country.
  • The country’s strict new laws impose restrictions on the height of buildings based on the population density of different cities.
  • There is already an existing ban on buildings taller than 500 metres.
  • As per the country’s strict new rules, skyscrapers taller than 150 metres (490 ft) will be strictly limited, and those higher than 250 metres (820 ft) will be banned for cities with a population of fewer than 3 million.
  • The latest guidelines limiting the height of super-high buildings is part of a larger crackdown on “vanity projects” in the country. It also aims to reduce China’s energy consumption.

What can be considered as a trigger for the crackdown?

  • Authorities were focussed on ensuring the safety of these buildings. Tall buildings are required to have stringent anti-earthquake and firefighting capabilities. They also require adequate escape and rescue mechanisms. (This comes after several high-rise buildings reported accidents in recent years.)
  • Recently, a fire broke out in a particularly tall residential building in the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang and months later, a similar incident occurred in the city of Dalian.

Towering glass structures are an environmental nightmare

  • Any building playing host to hundreds of people is going to have a huge climate footprint, but the glass is particularly problematic.
  • With an all-glass building, the sunlight has unlimited access into the building, but no way to get out.
  • Conventional glass skyscrapers are just tall green houses. The heat inside can’t escape because the whole structure is wrapped in a glass skin. This just means more air conditioning.
  • The amount of energy used for cooling has more than doubled since 2000, and it will double again by 2040 if we don’t curb our reliance on air conditioning, according to the International Energy Agency.
  • It’s a vicious cycle: we build a glass skyscraper, then have to cool that glass skyscraper, which uses energy, which contributes to the climate crisis, which increases the temperature. The hotter weather makes the glass building even harder to cool, but we have to keep cooling it because sweaty co-workers are not happy co-workers, and so the cycle goes on.
  • Cutting down cooling isn’t enough to redeem these glass structures as these glass structures are very high in embodied energy. (Embodied energy is the energy it takes to make the material – Timber has a low embodied energy because it actually pulls carbon out of the air as it grows, whereas glass is very energy intensive.)

Tall buildings to save space aren’t so great

  • Mostly the argument is about density – if you pile a lot of homes or workplaces high on one spot, then you can use land and public transport more efficiently. There’s some truth in this, but you can also achieve high levels of density without going above 10 or 12 storeys.
  • The issue is – Embodied energy hasn’t until recently been paid as much attention as energy in use.
  • It has been deemed acceptable – to rip untold tonnes of matter from the earth and to pump similar tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, in order to produce magical architectural devices that might pay back some of their carbon debt some time in the next century.
  • There is a crucial need to bring attention to the high environmental cost of building tall skyscrapers in the first place and examining if they are truly necessary.

-Source: Indian Express


Climate change jargons explained

Context:

As a major UN climate conference gets underway a lot of technical terms will be tossed around and hence there is a need to understand these terms properly.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Mitigation
  2. Adaptation
  3. Carbon dioxide removal
  4. Carbon neutral
  5. Tipping point
  6. Unprecedented transition
  7. Sustainable development
  8. Abrupt change

Mitigation

  • IPCC definition: Mitigation (of climate change): a human intervention to reduce emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases. (Stopping climate change from getting worse.)
  • When people talk about “mitigation” they often focus on fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – used to make electricity and run cars, buses and planes.
  • Some ways to mitigate climate change include:
    • Using solar and wind power instead of coal-fired power plants;
    • Making buildings, appliances and vehicles more energy efficient so they use less electricity and fuel; and
    • Designing cities so people have to drive less.
  • Protecting forests and planting trees also help because trees absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and lock them away.

Adaptation

  • IPCC definition: In human systems, the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects; human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects. (Making changes to live with the impacts of climate change.)
  • People will have to find ways to live with the threats from Climate change is already happening like Heat waves, wildfires and floods.
  • Coastal cities may need sea walls to protect against floods.
  • More “adaptation” actions will be needed as climate change gets worse.

Carbon dioxide removal

  • IPCC definition: Carbon dioxide removal methods refer to processes that remove CO2 from the atmosphere by either increasing biological sinks of CO2 or using chemical processes to directly bind CO2. CDR is classified as a special type of mitigation. (Taking carbon dioxide out of the air.)
  • The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has been increasing for many years.
  • In 2019, there was 50% more more of it than in the late 1700s.
  • Planting trees and restoring grasslands can remove carbon dioxide from the air.
  • There are also carbon dioxide removal technologies that store it underground or in concrete, but these are new and not widely used.

Carbon neutral

  • IPCC definition: Carbon neutrality is achieved when anthropogenic CO2 emissions are balanced globally by anthropogenic carbon dioxide removals over a specified period. Carbon neutrality is also referred to as net-zero carbon dioxide emission. (Adding no net carbon dioxide into the air.)
  • This does not have to mean that you can’t add any carbon dioxide. It means that if you do add carbon dioxide into the air you take out the same amount.
  • The IPCC warns that the world needs to be carbon neutral by 2050 to avoid a serious climate crisis.
  • This means using both “mitigation” to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide added to the air and “carbon dioxide removal” to take carbon dioxide out of the air.

Tipping point

  • IPCC definition: A level of change in system properties beyond which a system reorganizes, often abruptly, and does not return to the initial state even if the drivers of the change are abated. For the climate system, it refers to a critical threshold when global or regional climate changes from one stable state to another stable state. (When it is too late to stop effects of climate change.)
  • One of the most talked-about tipping points involves the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet.
  • Some research suggests it may have already started happening. West Antarctica alone holds enough ice to raise sea levels worldwide by about 11 feet (3.3 meters).
  • If all glaciers and ice caps melt, sea levels will end up rising about 230 feet (70 meters).

Unprecedented transition

  • IPCC definition for “transition”: The process of changing from one state or condition to another in a given period of time. Transition can be in individuals, firms, cities, regions and nations and can be based on incremental or transformative change. (Making big changes together to stop climate change – in a way that has not been seen before.)
  • In 2015, countries around the world agreed to try to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F).
  • Among the biggest sources of global warming are coal-fired power plants.
  • Quickly shifting the world to renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, would be an unprecedented transition. Without big changes, climate change could make the world unlivable.

Sustainable development

  • IPCC definition: Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and balances social, economic and environmental concerns. (Living in a way that is good for people alive today and for people in the future.)
  • The United Nations has shared “sustainable development goals.” These goals aim to help countries grow in ways that are healthy for both people and the environment.
  • Producing more carbon dioxide than the planet can manage is an example of unsustainable development that’s causing climate change.

Abrupt change

  • IPCC definition: Abrupt climate change refers to a large-scale change in the climate system that takes place over a few decades or less, persists (or is anticipated to persist) for at least a few decades and causes substantial disruptions in human and natural systems. (A change in climate that happens much faster than it normally would.)
  • Our world is changing quickly as a result of climate change. Wildfires are raging in parts of the Western US that were once too wet to burn. Coral reefs are dying as the ocean is getting warmer.
  • These changes would not have happened so quickly – or at all – were it not for climate change.

-Source: Indian Express

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