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Daily Current Affairs

16-December-2023

1) "India's Energy Dilemma: COP28 Fallout, Coal Resurgence, and the Imperative for Energy Storage"

Topic: GS3 – Environment

This topic is relevant for both UPSC Prelims and Mains in the context of current affairs, governance, environment, economics, and international relations.

Context:
  • COP28, the UN Climate Change Conference of 2023, ended with a significant agreement to move away from fossil fuels.
  • However, the final agreement included no mention of the much-discussed phase-out of fossil fuels.
  • Strong opposition from nations like South Africa, China, and India to a plan limiting the construction of new coal-fired power facilities without carbon capture and storage had an impact on the omission.

 India’s Coal Pivot Before COP28

  • In contrast to previous emphasis on renewable energy, India’s Union Power Ministry planned to dramatically enhance its coal-powered generation capacity before to COP28.
  • The administration reversed course and decided to install 80 GW of coal capacity by 2031-32, little than a week before the conference.
  • Previously, the government had focused on renewable energy.

Renewables Challenges and Intermittency

  • India has struggled to maintain its increasing renewable capacity over the last ten years, despite a persistent push for renewable energy.
  • The grid has challenges in managing intermittency as a result of its growing reliance on renewable energy sources.
  • The system is now primarily fueled by sporadic sources like solar and wind, but the government’s campaign for renewables has reduced emission intensity by 24%.

Storage Challenges and Grid Management Issues

  • Policymakers understand the necessity for workable energy storage solutions in order to support a monthly increase of 1,000 MW from non-fossil fuels.
  • Grid managers struggle to control the fluctuations in renewable generation patterns in the absence of storage.
  • The idea that renewables may achieve grid parity is called into doubt because, on paper, renewable power is nearly twice as expensive as standby thermal power.

The Decision for Energy Storage and the Question of Storage Alternatives

  • An evaluation published on November 22 indirectly acknowledged the necessity of energy storage and the fact that it works best in tandem with renewable energy sources.
  • Since lithium-ion batteries are now considered unfeasible, India is exploring other options such as hydrogen and hybrid generating models combined with off-stream pumped storage.
  • The choice to add 60 GW to the capacity of new coal power highlights the significance of coal as a baseload energy source.

Challenges and Alternatives for Renewable Energy

  • The challenges that struggling power distribution firms (discoms) are facing with solar and wind-based generation is the reason behind the increased drive for coal.
  • The administration is aware of the limitations on increasing nuclear capacity and is looking into lithium-ion storage solutions.
  • The choice to boost coal capacity goes beyond what the draft suggested and underscores how difficult it is to strike a balance between grid reliability and renewable energy.
What is COP 28’s theme and agenda?
  • The main objective of Cop every year is to review and assess the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) terms, the Paris Agreement, and the Kyoto Protocol. The latter is a binding treaty agreed in 1997 for industrialised nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • At Cop28, member states negotiate while also facing their first Global Stocktake (GST). This refers to a scorecard that analyses countries’ progress towards the Paris Agreement, with the goal of sparking actionable objectives for climate action plans due in 2025.

Financial Implications and the Future of Energy Storage

  • To satisfy the anticipated demand for renewable capacity in 2031–2022, estimates indicate that a significant investment in battery storage between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 8 lakh crore will be needed during the next ten years.
  • The financial strain and new regulatory changes make one wonder where India’s energy landscape will end up in the future.
PYQ: Describe the major outcomes of the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). What are the commitments made by India in this conference?  (250 Words, 15 marks) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2021)
Practice Question: Assess the economic and international relations dimensions of COP28 decisions, and propose recommendations for a balanced and sustainable energy future in India. (250 words) 15 marks

2) Arctic Climate Crisis: Record Summer Heat, Thawing Permafrost, and Environmental Ramifications

Topic: GS3 – Environment

This topic is relevant for both UPSC Prelims and Mains in the context of climate change and societal impacts.

Context:
  • The 2023 summer marked the warmest on record in the Arctic, an area that has warmed almost four times faster than the global average since 1979.
  • The latest Arctic Report Card, released by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), indicates that the past year (October 2022 to September 2023) ranks as the sixth warmest in the Arctic since comprehensive record-keeping began in 1900.
  • This assessment is based on the collaborative efforts of 82 scientists from 13 countries.

 Subsea Permafrost Thawing and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • The thawing of subsea permafrost, or the frozen soil with organic materials beneath the bottom, has increased, according to the article.
  • This process is accelerating due to warmer ocean temperatures, which is releasing powerful greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
  • There are serious environmental problems caused by the decomposition of organic matter in sub-sea permafrost, which intensifies ocean acidification and adds to global warming.

Impact on Fisheries and Biodiversity

  • The effects of climate change on freshwater ecosystems and marine environments have had concerning effects on the fisheries of Western Alaska.
  • Chinook and chum salmon counts in the area were exceptionally low, 81% and 92% below the 30-year mean, respectively.
  • The report also cites a decline in the size of adult salmon, which has resulted in fishery closures, increased user conflicts, and significant effects on food security and culture for indigenous groups that have historically relied on salmon for survival.

Wildfires in Arctic Regions and Canada’s Crisis

  • Over the past year, there have been major wildfires in the Arctic regions, especially in Canada.
  • In the Northwest Territories, more than 10 million acres were destroyed in the worst wildfire season in Canadian history.
  • The exceptional flames were caused by a combination of factors, including high temperatures, dry vegetation, and below-average rainfall.
  • These factors highlight the wider effects of climate change on ecosystems and societies.

Flooding and Ice Melting: Glacier Thinning in Alaska and Greenland

  • Rising temperatures over the last 20 years have caused the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska to significantly thin, resulting in yearly floods in the area.
  • A glacier lake on a tributary of the Mendenhall Glacier broke through its ice dam in August 2023, causing serious property damage and enormous floods in Juneau, Alaska.
  • The report also mentions Greenland’s ice sheet melting, including a fifth record-breaking incident at the highest point in the 34-year record.
  • The ice sheet lost almost 350 trillion pounds of mass between August 2022 and September 2023, despite above-average winter snow accumulation.
PYQ: How do melting of the Arctic Ice and glaciers of the Antarctic differently affect the weather patterns and human activities on the Earth? Explain (UPSC CSE (M) GS-1 2021)
Practice Question: Examine the findings of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Arctic Report Card 2023, highlighting the implications of the record Arctic summer heat and the resulting environmental challenges. (250 words) 15 marks

3) Global AI Governance: GPAI Adopts New Delhi Declaration, Emphasizing Innovation and Ethics.

Topic: GS3 – Science and Tech

This topic is relevant for both UPSC Prelims and Mains in the context of governance, ethics, international relations, and technology policy.

Context:
  • The New Delhi resolution, which highlights the necessity of addressing hazards connected with AI systems, was unanimously endorsed by the 29 members of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI).
  • The proclamation emphasises how crucial it is to support fair access to computational power and a variety of datasets two essential resources for AI progress.

 Balancing Innovation and Risks in AI Systems

  • The GPAI New Delhi proclamation aims to strike a balance between innovation and tackling concerns associated with AI, in contrast to the consensus reached at the UK AI Safety Summit.
  • The declaration emphasises concerns about fairness, privacy, intellectual property rights, and the need for a global framework anchored in democratic ideals and human rights, while embracing the economic benefits of advanced AI systems.

Key Principles and Focus Areas of the Declaration

  • The declaration highlights how quickly artificial intelligence (AI) is developing and how this can lead to innovation, economic expansion, and the creation of jobs in a variety of industries.
  • It demands an international framework based on human rights, privacy, security, intellectual property rights, personal data protection, and democracy.
  • Priorities include providing equal access to vital resources for AI innovation, with a particular emphasis on advancing AI innovation in agriculture.

Global Perspectives on the New Delhi Declaration

  • Experts warn that these kinds of accords might only work between nations that share similar values.
  • A global risk-based approach to AI is being attempted by GPAI, which is led by the democratic world and includes nations including India, the US, the UK, France, Japan, and Canada.
  • Notably, this multinational gathering does not include China, a digital behemoth.

Comparison with the Bletchley Park Declaration

  • The GPAI New Delhi proclamation primarily encourages innovation in a number of industries, including healthcare and agriculture, even if it recognises the need to address hazards associated with AI.
  • By contrast, the Bletchley Park declaration, which was signed during the UK AI Safety Summit, emphasises the security and safety risks associated with AI, recognising the possibility of grave consequences and stressing the importance of developing policies based on risk assessments.

India’s Evolving Position on AI Regulation

  • A few months ago, India had no intention of adopting legal measures in the regulation of AI.
  • Now, however, it is actively developing legislation based on a risk-based, user-harm approach.
  • During the GPAI Summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised the dual potential of AI and urged the creation of an international framework to guarantee its ethical use.
  • India is currently considering regulatory measures to address ethical issues and associated risks in light of the economic benefits of AI, which represents a change from prior attitudes.
More about GPAI
  • The goal of the multinational, multi-stakeholder Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence is to promote the ethical, human-centered development and application of AI.
  • To be more precise, GPAI brings together top specialists from academia, business, government, and civil society to “bridge the gap between theory and practice” through practical AI initiatives and projects. The objective is to lessen government red tape, promote international cooperation, and serve as a global hub for talks about responsible AI.
  • GPAI was formally introduced in 2020 with fifteen founding members, including The Republic of Korea, Singapore, Slovenia, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States, and European Union.
  • It was first announced during the margins of the 2018 G7 Summit.
  • The US, the UK, the EU, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, and Singapore are among the twenty-five nations that make up GPAI’s membership today. India became a founder member of the organisation in 2020.

 

Future Steps and Collaborations

  • The declaration made by GPAI New Delhi is consistent with India’s increasing recognition of the necessity of rules in the AI industry.
  • To combat AI-based disinformation, the nation is looking into taking specific legislative action, such as passing new legislation or changing current regulations.
  • In an effort to address the changing problems in the AI landscape, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has also recommended the creation of a domestic statutory authority and international partnerships for the responsible use of AI.
PYQ: Introduce the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI). How does Al help clinical diagnosis? Do you perceive any threat to privacy of the individual in the use of Al in healthcare? (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2023)
Practice Question: Assess the challenges and opportunities in achieving a global risk-based approach to AI, considering differing perspectives among countries. How can international collaborations, such as GPAI, contribute to a responsible and equitable use of AI on the global stage? (250 words) 15 marks

4) Bombay High Court Directs Urgent Pune Lok Sabha Bypoll, Criticizes Election Commission's Delay.

Topic: GS2 – Polity

This topic is more relevant for UPSC Prelims due to its focus on legal provisions, constitutional processes, and specific events related to bypolls and vacant Lok Sabha seats.

Context:
  • After sitting MP Girish Bapat passed away on March 29, the Bombay High Court ordered the Election Commission of India (ECI) to hold a bypoll as soon as possible to fill the vacancy in the Pune Lok Sabha seat.
  • Bombay High Court criticised the ECI for allegedly “abdicating constitutional duties.”

 Petition Challenging ECI’s Certificate

  • Pune voter and law graduate Sughosh Joshi filed a lawsuit on November 7 against the ECI’s certificate, which was issued on August 23, claiming that it would be difficult to hold the by-election.
  • Joshi demanded the bypoll by September 28 and contended that a parliamentary vacancy should be filled within six months in accordance with the Representation of the People Act.
  • He voiced worries about the lack of representation for the constituency and the delays in infrastructure projects.

ECI’s Response and Legal Provisions

  • In response to Joshi’s argument, the ECI argued that he lacked standing to bring a writ petition and that instead, he should have filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
  • The ECI attributed its challenges to its involvement in the 2024 Lok Sabha election preparations.
  • The Representation of the People Act’s Section 151A legal provisions were highlighted, outlining the exceptions for having by-elections within six months.

High Court’s Ruling and Criticism of ECI

  • The Bombay High Court emphasised the necessity of preventing protracted gaps in constituency representation while upholding Joshi’s right to bring a writ suit as a voter.
  • The ECI’s position was dismissed by the court as “bizarre” and was accused of endangering the democratic framework outlined in the constitution.
  • Given that the Pune Lok Sabha seat has been vacant since March 29, 2023, the court rejected the exclusions listed under Section 151A.

Lack of Consultation Transparency and Possible Appeals

  • The court questioned the Union Law and Justice Ministry’s and the ECI’s lack of transparency in their consultation.
  • Despite the High Court’s directive for the Pune by-election to start immediately, the ECI may file an appeal with the Supreme Court because of the close proximity to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
What are Bypolls?
  • Bypolls, sometimes referred to as special elections or bye-elections, are elections that are conducted to fill open seats in India’s legislative bodies.
  • It fills unexpected vacancies and is an essential part of the larger political cycle, completing regular elections.

Vacant Lok Sabha Seats and Recent Developments

  • The ruling is made against the backdrop of 18 open Lok Sabha seats, 13 of which were left empty by legislators following the state Assembly elections.
  • Between March and May of this year, the remaining five seats including Girish Bapat’s Pune seat were abandoned for various reasons, including deaths.
  • The decision clarifies the constitutional necessity of holding timely by-elections to guarantee constituent representation.
PYQ: To enhance the quality of democracy in India the Election Commission of India has proposed electoral reforms in 2016. What are the suggested reforms and how far are they significant to make democracy successful? (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2017)
Practice Question: Examine the significance of the Bombay High Court’s directive to conduct an immediate bypoll for the Pune Lok Sabha constituency. (150 words) 10 marks

5. Centre tells airports to curb expansion of retail outlets to reduce congestion.

Topic: GS3 Indian Economy– Infrastructure Development

This topic is not much relevant in the context of Prelims but more for mains in the context of understanding significance of infrastructure and challenges faced.

Context:
  • The government advises airports to limit retail outlets and lounges impacting passenger handling.
  • Terminal restructuring, enhanced infrastructure, and increased security personnel aim to prevent congestion.
  • Advanced security technology, including full-body scanners, planned for faster checks from May 2024.

 Congestion at Indian Airports: Issues, Reasons, and Solutions

Issues:

  • High passenger demand:India’s rapid economic growth has led to a surge in air travel, exceeding the capacity of many airports.
  • Infrastructure limitations:Many older airports lack sufficient runways, terminals, and baggage handling systems to handle the increased traffic.
  • Ground handling inefficiencies: Long wait times for check-in, security, and baggage claim due to outdated processes and understaffing.
  • Air traffic control bottlenecks: Limited airspace and inefficient air traffic management systems contribute to delays and congestion.
  • Urban planning constraints:Expanding airports in dense urban areas faces challenges like land acquisition and environmental concerns.

Reasons:

  • Uneven infrastructure development:Investment in airport infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with passenger growth, leading to bottlenecks at major hubs.
  • Focus on low-cost airlines: Prioritization of budget carriers has led to increased passenger volume but lower revenue, limiting investment in airport upgrades.
  • Lack of regional connectivity:Dependence on major hubs for connecting flights creates bottlenecks and congestion at these airports.
  • Limited privatization:Public ownership of most airports restricts competition and incentivizes cost-cutting measures that compromise efficiency.
  • Complex regulatory environment: Multiple agencies and overlapping regulations create delays and inefficiencies in airport operations.

Way Forward:

  • Prioritize airport infrastructure development:Allocate sufficient funding for expansion and modernization of existing airports and construction of new ones in emerging markets.
  • Improve ground handling efficiency:Implement automation, invest in technology, and streamline processes to reduce wait times and improve passenger experience.
  • Optimize air traffic management:Upgrade technology, implement airspace optimization strategies, and explore regional cooperation to improve air traffic flow.
  • Encourag privatization:Consider partnerships with private players to leverage their expertise and investment in airport development and management.
  • Promote regional connectivity: Develop smaller airports and regional hubs to distribute air traffic and reduce congestion at major airports.
  • Simplify regulations:Streamline approval processes and create a single regulatory body to expedite airport development and operation.
  • Invest in sustainable solutions:Implement green initiatives like solar power and rainwater harvesting to reduce environmental impact and operational costs.
PYQ: The Indian aviation sector is facing challenges due to infrastructure constraints at major airports. Discuss the factors contributing to this challenge and suggest measures for improving airport infrastructure to meet the growing demand for air travel. (250 words, 15 marks). (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 – 2019)
Practice Question: India’s air travel surge strains infrastructure. Analyze challenges and propose solutions for efficient airport operations, especially in emerging regions. (150 words, 10 marks).

6. Exports shrink again, trade deficit narrows as imports fall faster.

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy – Current Trends
Context:
  • In November, India’s goods exports declined by 2.83%, imports fell by 4.33%, leading to a narrowed trade deficit of $20.58 billion.
  • Cumulative fiscal trends show resilience amid global challenges.
November Trade Data:
  • Goods exports decline by 2.83% to $33.9 billion, while imports fall sharply by 4.33% to $54.48 billion.
  • Trade deficit sharply narrows to $20.58 billion, marking a 6.7% YoY decrease and 31.2% less than October.
Context and Fiscal Trends:
  • Commerce Secretary emphasizes India’s outperformance in exports amid global trade challenges.
  • Cumulative exports for April-November at $278.8 billion, down 6.5%, with a trade deficit of $166.35 billion, 12.1% narrower YoY.
India’s Exports Shrink Again
Reasons for India’s Export Decline:
  • Global slowdown: Weakened global demand, especially in key markets like the US and Europe, is impacting Indian exports across sectors.
  • Rising input costs: Global inflation and increased domestic prices of raw materials and energy are making Indian exports less competitive.
  • Trade barriers: Rising trade protectionism and non-tariff barriers in some countries are hindering Indian exports’ access to markets.
  • Domestic logistics challenges: Inefficient infrastructure, high transportation costs, and complex regulations hinder export competitiveness.
  • Limited diversification: Overdependence on a few key export sectors and markets makes India vulnerable to external shocks.
Way Forward:
  • Focus on high-value exports: Encourage exports of manufactured goods, pharmaceuticals, and IT services with higher margins and value addition.
  • Boost domestic manufacturing: Strengthen domestic manufacturing capabilities to reduce reliance on imports and enhance competitiveness.
  • Diversify markets and products: Explore new markets in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, and develop new export products beyond traditional sectors.
  • Improve logistics efficiency: Invest in infrastructure development, streamline customs procedures, and reduce transportation costs.
  • Promote trade facilitation: Implement trade agreements effectively and negotiate favorable trade terms with key partners.
  • Support export-oriented industries: Provide financial incentives, skill development programs, and technological assistance to boost export competitiveness.
  • Address domestic bottlenecks: Improve regulatory framework, ease compliance requirements, and address issues like labor laws and land acquisition.
Practice Question: India’s export decline persists. Analyze factors beyond global slowdown and propose targeted interventions to revitalize key sectors and diversify markets. (150 words, 10 marks)

7. Maldives will not renew agreement for joint hydrographic survey with India: top official.

Topic: GS2 – International Relations- India and its Neighbourhood This topic is not much relevant in the context of Prelims but more for mains in the context of India’s neighbourhood relations.
Context:
  • The Maldives Cabinet decides against renewing the 2019 hydrographic survey MoU with India.
  • Critics cite sovereignty concerns, while the decision follows the recent demand for the withdrawal of Indian troops, indicating evolving diplomatic dynamics.
Non-Renewal of MoU:
  • Maldives Cabinet decides not to renew the 2019 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with India for hydrographic surveying.
  • MoU, set to expire in 2023, will not be extended, as confirmed by Mohamed Shahyb, Chief Spokesperson at President Mohamed Muizzu’s office.
Hydrographic Surveys Background:
  • Three joint hydrographic surveys were conducted by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the Indian Navy under the 2019 agreement.
  • Surveys aimed at updating navigational charts for enhanced navigational safety and to boost the Blue Economy of the Maldives.
Critics and Sovereignty Concerns:
  • Some critics, part of the ‘India Out’ campaign, view the initiative as an infringement on Maldivian sovereignty.
  • Lack of comments from the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, or the Indian High Commission in Malé on the recent Cabinet decision.
Troop Presence Issue:
  • Progress update awaited on President Muizzu’s announcement regarding the withdrawal of Indian troops from the Maldives.
  • The announcement was made after President Muizzu’s meeting with PM Narendra Modi on December 2 during the COP-28 summit in the UAE.

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