19th January 2021

Businesses step up bid to pull greenhouse gases from the air. It’s a gamble

  • As carbon dioxide is increasing, technology can be used to suck from the sky which is physically possible but this way has been dismissed as an impractical way to fight climate change and far too expensive to be of much use.
  • But as global warming accelerates and society continues to emit greenhouse gases at a dangerous rate, large companies facing pressure to act on climate.
  • A growing number of corporations are pouring money into so-called engineered carbon removal— for example, using giant fans to pull carbon dioxide from the air and trap it. The companies say these techniques, by offsetting emissions they can’t otherwise cut, may be the only way to fulfill lofty “net zero” pledges.
  • Few companies are investing in a large “direct air capture” plant that will use fans and chemical agents to scrub carbon dioxide from the sky and inject it underground.
  • Other companies have begun spending on start-ups working on carbon removal techniques, such as sequestering the gas in concrete for buildings.
  • Microsoft will soon announce detailed plans to pay to remove one million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
  • According to the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nations may need to remove between 100 billion and 1 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere this century to avert the worst effects of climate change— far more than can be absorbed by simply planting more trees.
  • But many carbon removal technologies remain too expensive for widespread use, often costing $600ormorepertonneofcarbon.There’s widespread agreement that companies pledging to address climate change should first do everything possible to slash their emissions — by using more renewable power or improving energy efficiency.
  • Most of the time, it’s easier to prevent emissions in the first place than it is to pull back carbon dioxide after it’s diffused into the atmosphere.
  • But that still leaves significant sources of emissions that have no easy solutions, like cement manufacturing, long-distance shipping or air travel.

Rare earth metals are used extensively in clean energy technologies

  • A survey done by United Nations University (UNU) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the impact e-waste has on child health, raised concerns around chemical burns, cancer and stunted growth.
  • Eradicating these substances from discarded products is difficult and costly, which is why much of the e-waste exported to the developing world under the pretence of being reused or refurbished ends up being dumped.
  • Naturally abundant wind, geothermal, solar, tidal and electric energy are being hastened as the future of the planet’s energy needs. And rare earth elements are used in a bevy of technolgies to generate this cleaner, renewable energy like wind turbine magnets, solar cells, smartphone components, cells used in electric vehicles, among others.
  • Rare earth metals, they comprise seventeen chemical elements — 15 lanthanides (anthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium), scandium and yttrium.
  • Despite the name, rare earth elements are found abundantly in the Earth’s crust. They are widely dispersed and found in low concentrations that are not economically exploitable.
  • Extraction and mining of rare earth metals involves similar land-use exploitation, environmental damage and ecological burden as any other mining operation. They are mined using extremely energy-intensive processes, spewing carbon emissions into the atmosphere and toxins into the ground.
  • Many of these metals, which include mercury, barium, lead, chromium and cadmium, are extremely damaging to the health of several ecosystems, including humans. 

Global Scenario

  • Until 1948, India and Brazil were the world’s primary producers of rare earth metals.
  • The countries with the most rare earth metals currently are China (the largest reserves in the world), the United States, Brazil, India, Vietnam, Australia, Russia, Myanmar, and Indonesia.
  • Due to ambitious renewable energy initiatives resulting from many nations pursuing renewable technologies, there is a need for caution.
  • Especially when the largest reserves in the world, the largest users and the country which is involved in a majority of the supply chains is China.

Road Ahead

  • Recycling of these rare earth metals for continous usage for various technologies is a good option that can be considered.
  • It is a lengthy process which involves demagnetisation (by heating), crushing and roasting, followed by a leaching process and a separation method before a final roasting to produce a mixed rare earth oxide. 
  • The usage of these metals in our most advanced technologies and which form a critical part of the renewable energy revolution should be handled with careful, sincere and cleaner measures if the way forward has to be greener and environment-friendly.


The missing manual scavengers of India

  • The survey of manual scavengers in 2018 was conducted by the National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC) at the behest of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. 
  • The number of manual scavengers dropped to 42,303 in 2018 from 770,338 in 2008, which shows gross underassessment rather than being reflective of their actual numbers in India.
  • While the Indian government attributes this drop to the strict enforcement of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and the impact of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
  • There are many shortcomings in the implementation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan as well as procedures adopted to arrive at the official figure of manual scavengers. 
  • The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 aims to eliminate insanitary latrines (those not connected to pits/septic tanks/sewage lines) alongside tracking the rehabilitation of manual scavengers in other occupations and conducting periodic surveys.
  • To eliminate this practice, the act has provisions for stringent penalties, for direct or indirect employment of any person in hazardous cleaning of sewers or septic tanks by any person, local authority or agency.
  • On the other hand, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has made unprecedented and positive behavioural and infrastructural changes with regard to the usage of toilets, we need more effort and time to substantially reduce manual scavenging. Perhaps, at a policy level, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has addressed the issue of access to toilets, ignoring those cleaning them.
  • The efforts to abolish manual scavenging have garnered momentum within the state machinery, advocacy groups and academia the last three decades, particularly since the constitution of the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA) in 1994.
  • Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge, launched last year, aims to completely mechanise all septic and sewage tank cleaning operations in 243 cities across India, by April 30, 2021.
  • The state and society needs to take active interest in the issue and look into all possible options to accurately assess and subsequently eradicate this practice.
  • It also warrants an engagement of all stakeholders for the proper introduction of mechanisation and ensuring that it is made available to all those who are forced to engage in this undignified practice.

CRPF gets 21 DRDO-developed bike ambulances for remote area operations

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) hands over Motor Bike Ambulance ‘Rakshita’ to Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

  • Rakshita is handed by the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS), Delhi based DRDO laboratory, to CRPF.
  • Rakshita is a bike-based casualty transport emergency vehicle and is fitted with a customized reclining Casualty Evacuation Seat (CES), which can be fitted in and taken out as per requirement.
  • The bike ambulance will help in overcoming the problems faced by Indian security forces and emergency healthcare providers.
  • It will provide life-saving aid for evacuation of injured patients from low intensity conflict areas.
  • This bike ambulance is useful not only for the paramilitary and military forces but has potential civil applications too.

First-ever National Road Safety

The first-ever National Road Safety Month was inaugurated. The campaign for the same will continue till February 17.

  • To build awareness about road safety
  • To reduce road accidents in India

During the last few years, a road safety week was being organised, but considering the importance of the issue, a month-long programme has been made this year.

  • The inaugural function was launched by Union Minister for Defence and Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways.
  • In India, a total of 1.5 lakh people died, while more than 4.5 lakh people got injured in road accidents every year, resulting in social-economic losses from accident deaths equivalent to a shocking 3.14% of GDP every year.
  • 70% deaths are in the age group of 18 to 45-year-old people, which is nearly 415 people dying per day in India.
  • Government can succeed only when Road Safety would become a grass-routed mass movement only and only through ‘Jan-bhaagidari’ and ‘Jan-sahbhaag’. Governments at all levels, union, state and municipal authorities must play as facilitators to make this Jan-Sahbhaag successful.
  • Several measures are being taken to reduce road accidents by Restructuring and Strengthening 4E’s of Road safety i.e. (1) Engineering, (2) Education, (3) Enforcement and (4) Emergency care Services.

Gujarat rivers remain highly polluted despite norms

Pollution has been increased in the Sabarmati, Mahisagar, Narmada, Vishwamitri and Bhadar due to unchecked flow of untreated industrial effluent into rivers in Gujarat.

  • Gujarat ranks fourth among the top five States with highly polluted rivers, with as many as 20 rivers in the critically polluted category.
  • According to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) data, the Sabarmati is among the most polluted rivers in the country.
  • As per the official parameters, if the chemical oxygen demand (COD), which indicates organic pollutant load, is higher than 250 mg per litre, then it should not be released into the rivers.
  • Most of the Gujarat rivers where the effluents are dumped into, the COD level is in the range of 700 to 1000 mg per litre.
  • While Dissolved Oxygen (DO) level [indicating the health of a river] in perennial rivers like Mahisgar should be in the range of 6 to 8 mg per litre, it is actually below 2.9 mg per litre.

Govt. may raise import duties by 5-10%

India is considering raising import duties by 5%-10% on more than 50 items including smartphones, electronic components and appliances in the upcoming budget.

  • The move to increase import duties is part of Prime Minister’s self-reliant India campaign that aims to promote and support domestic manufacturing.
  • Government was seeking to target additional revenue of about ?200 billion to ?210 billion, as it looks to shore up revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic-driven slowdown that has stung the economy.
  • The list of items likely to attract steeper duties is set to include appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners too.
  • Last year, India raised duties on a range of products such as footwear, furniture, toys, electrical and electronics items by up to 20%.

China’s economy grows 2.3%, slowest pace in 44 years

  • China’s economy expanded in 2020 by 2.3% , the slowest pace of growth since the end of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in 1976
  • China will, however, likely be the only major economy to have avoided a contraction in a pandemic-hit year, underlining its strong recovery after weeks of lockdown at the start of the year brought economic activity in the Asian giant to a near-standstill.
  • China will be the only major economy to have avoided a contraction in a pandemic-hit year.
  • It underlined its strong recovery after weeks of lockdown at the start of the year brought economic activity in the Asian giant to a near-standstill.
  • China’s economy contracted 6.8% in the first quarter. The stringent lockdown allowed it to curb the spread of COVID-19.
  • The economy recovered to grow 3.2% in the second quarter, 4.9% in the third and 6.5% in the last quarter of 2020.
  • While China is currently dealing with the return of clusters of local outbreaks, the fact that the spread was limited and controlled meant the impact on the economy would be “controllable”.
  • China had also crossed the landmark of 100 trillion yuan ($15.4 trillion) for the first time in 2020.
  • A range of stimulus measures, largely led by spending on infrastructure projects, was the main driver of growth in 2020 along with a rebound in exports, which grew 10.9% in December and 4% last year.
  • Value-added industrial output was up 2.8%, as the last quarter saw growth of 7.1%. Fixed asset investment grew 2.9%. Retail sales, however, contracted by 3.9% last year, after expanding 8% in 2019.
  • The post-pandemic government support measures helped create 11.86 million new urban jobs, beating the 9 million target and marking a turnaround after the first quarter’s massive job losses.

‘Land under PLA control since 1959’

Recently, NDTV showed satellite images of a new Chinese settlement in Arunachal Pradesh and after that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) remarked that it was not aware of infrastructure construction by China in the past several years “along the Line of Actual Control (LAC)” and that India has also stepped up its construction.

  • Satellite images show the construction of a big village on the banks of Tsari Chu river in Upper Subansiri district between November 2019 and November 2020.
  • Village lies south of the McMahon Line, the demarcation between Tibet and India’s Northeast which New Delhi believes marks the boundary between India and China in the region. This line is disputed by Beijing.
  • Construction of this village appears to be a violation of a key part of multiple agreements reached with India that ask both countries to “safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas” and decree that ”Pending an ultimate settlement of the boundary question, the two sides should strictly respect and observe the line of actual control and work together to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas.”
  • This is the first time the government has acknowledged Chinese construction, although the land has been under the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) control since 1959.
  • Prior to that, there was an Assam Rifles post there which was overrun. They have been doing construction there on and off. There were some temporary constructions few years back. They have now done permanent construction there.

New monsoon forecast models on the anvil

  • The India Meteorological Department (IMD) may introduce new monsoon models this year to better forecast changes in rainfall.
  • Three different models that could be tested this year. Two of them were dynamical models and one a statistical model.
  • The monsoon that concluded in 2020 was unique, in that with monsoon 2019, it was only the third time in a century that India saw back-to-back years of above normal rainfall.
  • In both years — and monsoon 2019 was a 25-year high — the IMD failed to forecast the magnitude of the excess and only indicated that the monsoon would be “above normal”.

Computer Simulation

  • In the former, the climate on any particular day is simulated on supercomputers and meteorologists observe the changing daily output.
  • The other is the traditional statistical model that equates relationships of physical parameters, such as for instance sea surface temperatures, snowfall, the temperature of landmass etc, with the actual observed rainfall in the past.
  • The three models under consideration are: 12 global circulation models (dynamical) whose outputs would be combined into a single one; a model that gauges rainfall based on the sea surface temperature in the tropics and the statistical model based on climate variables observed during the pre-monsoon.
  • All of them are ‘ensembles’ meaning smaller models are combined to arrive at an average value.
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