Current Affair – May 8, 2021

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CURRENT AFFAIRS

Mount Sinabung

  • Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung, located in the North Sumatra province has recently erupted, belching a massive column of volcanic ash and smoke 3 km into the sky.
  • The volcano had erupted in March as well, a cloud of hot ash into the sky. The volcano has been active since 2010 when it erupted after nearly 400 years of inactivity.

Location of Indonesia

  • Indonesia is home to many active volcanoes owing to its location in the “Ring of Fire” or the Circum-Pacific Belt.
  • The ring of fire is  an area along the Pacific Ocean characterised by active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes. It is home to about 75% of the world’s volcanoes and about 90% of earthquakes also occur here.

Why does a volcano erupt?

  • There are three types of volcanoes — active, dormant or extinct. An eruption takes place when magma (a thick flowing substance), that is formed when the earth’s mantle melts, rises to the surface. As magma is lighter than rock, it is able to rise through vents and fissures on the surface of the earth. Following eruption, the magma is called lava.
  • Explosivity depends on the composition of the magma. When the magma is runny and thin, gases can easily escape it. However, if the magma is thick and dense and gases cannot escape it, it builds up pressure inside resulting in a violent explosion.
Source: Indian Express

Global Methane Assessment: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions”

  • The report Global Methane Assessment: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions was released by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the United Nations Environment Programme May 6, 2021.

What does the report say?

  • Human-caused methane emissions must be cut by 45% to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
  • Such a cut would prevent a rise in global warming by up to 0.3 degrees Celsius by 2045. It would also prevent 260,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits annually, as well as 25 million tonnes of crop losses.
  • Human-caused methane emissions are increasing faster currently than at any other time since record keeping began in the 1980s.
  • Carbon dioxide levels have dropped during the COVID-19pandemic. However, methane in the atmosphere reached record levels last year.This was a cause of concern as methane was an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. It was responsible for about 30% of warming since pre-industrial times.
  •  Cutting methane emissions can rapidly reduce the rate of warming in the near-term as the gas broke down quickly.
  • Governments worldwide were aspiring to reduce methane. For instance, the European Commission had adopted the European Union Methane Strategy in October 2020. It outlined measures to cut methane emissions in Europe and internationally.

Sectors

  •  Most human-caused methane emissions came from three sectors: Fossil fuels, waste and agriculture.
  • Oil and gas extraction, processing and distribution accounted for 23% of methane emissions in the fossil fuel sector. Coal mining accounted for 12% of emissions.
  • Landfills and wastewater made up about 20% of emissions in the waste sector.
  • In the agricultural sector, livestock emissions from manure and enteric fermentation constituted for roughly 32% and rice cultivation 8% of emissions.

Mitigation potential: Region wise

  • The mitigation potential varied between countries and regions. Europe had the greatest potential to curb methane emissions from farming, fossil fuel operations and waste management.
  • India had the greatest potential to reduce methane emissions in the waste sector.
  •  China’s mitigation potential was best in coal production and livestock, while Africa’s was in livestock, followed by oil and gas.

Mitigation potential: Industry wise

  • Fossil fuel industry had the greatest potential for low-cost methane cuts. Up to 80% of measures in the oil and gas industry could be implemented at negative or low cost.
  • The waste sector could cut its methane emissions by improving the disposal of sewage around the world.

Way forward

  • Three behavioural changes — reducing food waste and loss, improving livestock management and adopting healthy diets (vegetarian or with a lower meat and dairy content) — could reduce methane emissions by 65–80 million tonnes per year over the next few decades.
Source: Downtoearth

S&P Global Ratings

  • As per S&P Global Ratings, India’s sovereign rating will remain unchanged at the current level of BBB­ for the next two years despite the potential adverse impact of the surging pandemic on its economy.

What is sovereign credit rating?

  • A credit rating can be assigned to any entity that seeks to borrow money—an individual, corporation, state or provincial authority, or sovereign government.
  • A sovereign credit rating is an independent assessment of the creditworthiness of a country or sovereign entity
  • Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s (S&P) are the big three international credit rating agenciescontrolling approximately 95% of global ratings business.

What does the various Investment Grades by S&P indicate?

AAA: Extremely strong capacity to meet financial commitments (Investment Grade)

AA: Very strong capacity to meet financial commitments (Investment Grade)

A: Strong capacity to meet financial commitments, but somewhat susceptible to economic conditions and changes in circumstances (Investment Grade)

BBB: Adequate capacity to meet financial commitments, but more subject to adverse economic conditions (Investment Grade)

BB: Less vulnerable in the near-term but faces major ongoing uncertainties to adverse business, financial and economic conditions (Speculative Grade)

B: More vulnerable to adverse business, financial and economic conditions but currently has the capacity to meet financial commitments (Speculative Grade)

CCC: Currently vulnerable and dependent on favorable business, financial and economic conditions to meet financial commitments (Speculative Grade)

CC: Highly vulnerable; default has not yet occurred, but is expected to be a virtual certainty (Speculative Grade)

C: Currently highly vulnerable to non-payment, and ultimate recovery is expected to be lower than that of higher rated obligations (Speculative Grade)

D: Payment default on a financial commitment or breach of an imputed promise;also used when a bankruptcy petition has been filed (Speculative Grade)

Source: The Hindu

Application of Artificial Intelligence to Agriculture


Artificial intelligence is based on the principle that human intelligence can be defined in a way that a machine can easily mimic it and execute tasks, from the simplest to those that are even more complex.Example include vision-recognition systems on self-driving cars.

Applications

Use of weather forecasting: With help of AI farmers can analyze weather conditions by using weather forecasting which helps they plan the type of crop can be grown and when should seeds be sown.

Soil and crop health monitoring system: A German-based tech start-up PEAT has developed an AI-based application called Plantix that can identify the nutrient deficiencies in soil including plant pests and diseases by which farmers can also get an idea to use fertilizer which helps to improve harvest quality. This app uses image recognition-based technology.

Analyzing crop health by drones: Drone captures data from fields and then data is transferred via a USB drive from the drone to a computer and analyzed by experts.Experts can provide a detailed report containing the current health of the farm. It helps the farmer to identify pests and bacteria helping farmers to timely use of pest control and other methods to take required action

Precision Farming and Predictive Analytics: AI applications in agriculture have developed applications and tools which help farmers inaccurate and controlled farming by providing them proper guidance to farmers about water management, crop rotation, timely harvesting, type of crop to be grown, optimum planting, pest attacks, nutrition management.

Agricultural Robotics: Robot are being trained to control weeds and harvest crops at a faster pace with higher volumes compared to humans.They are trained to check the quality of crops and detect weed with picking and packing of crops at the same time. These robots are also capable to fight with challenges faced by agricultural force labor.

AI-enabled system to detect pests: AI systems use satellite images and compare them with historical data using AI algorithms and detect that if any insect has landed and which type of insect has landed like the locust, grasshopper, etc. And send alerts to farmers to their smartphones so that farmers can take required precautions and use required pest control thus AI helps farmers to fight against pests.

Conclusion

Artificial Intelligence in agriculture not only helping farmers to automate their farming but also shifts to precise cultivation for higher crop yield and better quality while using fewer resources.

Arguments for and against waiver of IP rights during the Pandemic

  • The decision of US President to support India-South Africa proposal, seeking a waiver of patent protection for technologies needed to combat and contain COVID­19, comes as a shot in the arm for global health
  • WTO operates on consensus rather than by voting, the proposal did not advance despite drawing support of over 60 countries.
  • Pharmaceutical industry fiercely opposed it and some countries like Germany also voiced opposition.

Arguments against the move and counter arguments

  1. Quality apprehension: Capacity for produc­ing vaccines of assured quality and safety was limited to some labora­tories and it would be hazar­dous to permit manufacturers in low and middle income countries to play with technologies they can­ not handle.

Counter

  • Pharmaceutical manu­facturers had no reservations about contracting industries in those countries to manufacture their patent protected vaccines for the global market.
  • Multinational firms have subcontracted manu­facture of patented products to in­dustries with low production costs in developing countries. This has been true for pharmaceutical pro­ducts, branded consumer products or luxury goods.
  1. Offer license: Counter to patent waiver is an offer to license manufacturers in developing countries, while re­taining patent rights.

Counter

  • This restricts the opportunity for production to a chosen few. The terms of those agreements are opaque and offer no assurance of equity in access to the products at affordable prices, either to the country of manufac­ture or to other developing countries.
  1. COVAX: It is stated that develop­ing countries could be supplied vaccines through the COVAX facil­ity, set up by several international agencies and donors.
  • While well intended, COVAX has fallen far short of promised delivery.
  • Some U.S. States have received more vaccines than the entire Africa has from COVAX.
  1. Limited Capacity: There is no evidence that extra ca­pacity exists for producing vaccines outside of firms undertaking them now.

Counter

  • Manufactur­ers from many countries ex­pressed their readiness and avidly sought opportunities to produce the approved vaccines. They in­cluded industries in Canada and South Korea.
  • High income countries and other donors should rather support the growth of more capacity to meet the current and likely future pandemics.
  • Example of India: India built up capacity and gained a reputation as a respected global pharmacy by moving from product patenting to process pa­tenting between 1970 and 2005.
  1. Not combat present crisis: Time taken for waiver utilisation by new firms will be too long to help combat the present pandemic.

Counter

  • No end date seems for this pandemic when many countries have low vaccination rates and variants are gleefully emerging from unprotected populations.
  • The speed with which previously little known companies produced vaccines in record time in 2020.
  • Sup­port others to develop that capac­ity through technology transfer.
  • Efficacy and safety of their pro­ducts can be assessed by credible regulatory agencies and the WHO.
  • Patent waiv­ers will also benefit by increasing immediate ac­cess essential drugs and diagnostics.
  1. China: A waiver allow China to steal their technologies, now and in the fu­ture.
  • The original genomic se­quence was openly shared by Chi­na, which gave these firms a head start in developing vaccines.
  1. Incentive: Innovation and invest­ment by industry need to be financially rewarded to incentivise them to develop new products.

Counter

  • Even if compulsory licences are is­sued bypassing patent restric­tions, royalties are paid to the ori­ginal innovators and patent holders. They will continue to gain revenue, though not super profits.
  • Much of the foundational science that built the path for vaccine produc­tion came from public funded un­iversities and research institutes. Further, what use is it to hold on to patents when global health and the global economy are devastat­ed

Way forward

  • WTO re­solves debates by consensus and not by voting. The process may drag on, despite U.S. intervention.
  • Developing countries must start issuing compulsory licences. The Doha declaration on TRIPS flexibilities permits their use in a public health emergency.
  • National governments must be trusted to promote credible companies and not permit fly­-by-night operators.
  • High income countries and multi­lateral agencies should provide financial and technical support to enable expansion of global pro­duction capacity.
Source: The Hindu

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