Friday, 19 June 2015

Daily News Mail - News of 17/06/2015

Will India phase out fossil fuels as pledged by G7 nations?
  • After G7 countries committed to phase out fossil fuel consumption by 2100 in Germany recently, is it time that India also pursued this goal? While some climate experts argue that should be the case, others say that developed countries have a greater share of responsibility, which they haven’t lived up to as yet, and it is they that need to be pressured to do more.
  • “The long-term goals for decarbonisation in the G7 communiquĂ© are not matched by the pledges on emission reduction that they have tabled for 2020 and 2030,” senior economist Nitin Desai, a member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, said , to a query on whether the G7 countries’ announcement was indeed significant.
  • Indrajit Bose, climate expert at the Third World Network, said that the G7 countries had shifted the goalpost to the end of the century which was “highly unambitious.”
  • “These countries should have cut fossil fuel consumption long ago. In fact, the latest Structured Expert Dialogue report released in Bonn, Germany, shows that 1.5 degree Celsius is the desired global average surface temperature we should be aiming for and even 2 degree Celsius is unsafe. For this 40-70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions are required by 2050, which won’t be achieved by pushing the goal to 2100.”
No consensus yet
  • After the U.S.-China deal on climate change came through in November last year, there have been expectations that India too would commit itself to an emissions target. But no consensus with regard to cutting fossil fuel consumption was reached at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sessions which concluded on June 11 at Bonn, Germany, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), who attended it, said.
  • “Although some streamlining of probable goals did happen, a more concrete document would only emerge in the next session of the UNFCCC meet scheduled in August-September,” he said.
  • No headway has also been made in determining India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) for the 2015 Paris agreement. “Any decision on this front made by India would be keeping in mind our development and growth requirements,” he said.
  • Abhishek Pratap, senior campaigner (renewable energy) at Greenpeace India said that India’s coal consumption had not reached the same levels as China’s for it to commit to a peaking year as China did last year. According to him, for India to be able to phase out fossil fuels it would require financial support from the $100 billion Green Climate Fund available per year till 2020. However, European countries are not willing to extend this assistance, on the grounds that India is a rich country.
  • Prof. Sudhir Chella Rajan of IIT, Madras who tracks climate policy, said India could nevertheless safely pledge to cut fossil fuel consumption by 2100. But he emphasised that deep emission cuts must come from developed countries like the U.S. “It is no good saying that the U.S. is constrained by conservative politics. If we have to save the earth, we have to move beyond national politics.”
G-7 Countries
  • The Group of 7 (G7) is a group consisting of the finance ministers and central bank governors of seven major advanced economies as reported by the International Monetary Fund: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States meeting to discuss primarily economic issues. The European Union is also represented within the G7.
  • The next major G7 summit will be held in 2016 in Japan.
Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC)
  • Countries across the globe committed to create a new international climate agreement by the conclusion of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015. In preparation, countries have agreed to publicly outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take under a new international agreement, known as their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDCs will largely determine whether the world achieves an ambitious 2015 agreement and is put on a path toward a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty (currently the only international climate policy venue with broad legitimacy, due in part to its virtually universal membership) negotiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992. The objective of the treaty is to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system".
  • The UNFCCC was adopted on 9 May 1992, and opened for signature on 4 June 1992, after an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee produced the text of the Framework Convention as a report following its meeting in New York from 30 April to 9 May 1992. It entered into force on 21 March 1994. As of March 2014, UNFCCC has 196 parties.
  • The parties to the convention have met annually from 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was concluded and established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The 2010 CancĂșn agreements state that future global warming should be limited to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) relative to the pre-industrial level. The 20th COP took place in Peru in 2014.
Going all out for neutrino research
A very good article on neutrino particles by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India and Srijan Pal Singh, adviser to Dr. Kalam
  • Just a few years ago, we witnessed how a national project, the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO), which is to study fundamental particles called neutrinos, was subject to a barrage of questions from environmentalists, politicians and others ever since it was cleared. The project, which involves the construction of an underground laboratory, was initially to be located in the Nilgiris but later, on grounds that it was too close to tiger habitat, was moved to a cavern under a rocky mountain in the Bodi West Hills region of Theni district, about 110 kilometres west of Madurai in Tamil Nadu.
  • The already much-delayed and important physics project needs to be explained.
Reclaiming India’s position
  • India has been among the pioneers in neutrino research, the first of such laboratories having been established in the 1960s. We led neutrino research when our physicists used a gold mine at Kolar in Karnataka to set up what was then the world’s deepest underground laboratory. This was called the Kolar Gold Field Lab. In 1965, it enabled researchers to detect atmospheric neutrinos. In 1992, when the mine became uneconomical, the laboratory was shut down. With that, we lost our advantage in understanding the most mysterious particle in the universe. INO may reclaim this advantage and our global leadership.
  • Most of the advanced countries are already working vigorously in neutrino science with dedicated labs. These include the United States, Russia, France, Italy, China, Japan and South Korea. India is set to not only join this league, but also become a key player in global efforts in neutrino science. The Magnetized Iron Calorimeter (ICAL) being set up at INO will be among the largest ever in the world, weighing over 50,000 tonnes.
Widely occurring particle
  • Neutrinos, first proposed by Swiss scientist Wolfgang Pauli in 1930, are the second most widely occurring particle in the universe, only second to photons, the particle which makes up light. In fact, neutrinos are so abundant among us that every second, there are more than 100 trillion of them passing right through each of us — we never even notice them.
  • This is the reason why INO needs to be built deep into the earth — 1,300 metres into the earth. At this depth, it would be able to keep itself away from all the trillions of neutrinos produced in the atmosphere and which would otherwise choke an over-the-ground neutrino detector. Neutrinos have been in the universe literally since forever, being almost 14 billion years old — as much as the universe itself.
  • Neutrinos are very important for our scientific progress and technological growth for three reasons. First, they are abundant. Second, they have very feeble mass and no charge and hence can travel through planets, stars, rocks and human bodies without any interaction. In fact, a beam of trillions of neutrinos can travel thousands of kilometres through a rock before an interaction with a single atom of the rock and the neutrino occurs. Third, they hide within them a vast pool of knowledge and could open up new vistas in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics, communication and even in medical imaging, through the detector spin-offs.
Public misconceptions
  • Can neutrinos cause cancer? Not at all! Neutrinos are the least harmful of all elementary particles, as they almost never react with solid bodies. The mean free path for iron, or the average distance a neutrino will travel in say an iron rod, before interacting with an atom, is about 1 light year (9,460,730,472,580 km). Needless to say, with the human body being less than 2 metres in height, any harmful effect of neutrino is near impossible.
  • A few people with whom we have discussed this topic, tend to confuse the “neutrino” for the “neutron”. This has also led to the confusion that neutrinos can be weaponised, which is far from the truth. The neutron bomb, which many discuss, is dangerous but has nothing to do with harmless neutrinos and is made based on a technology around the neutrons, particles which are much heavier. To put this in perspective, the mass of a neutron is 1.67x10-27 kg while the mass of a neutrino is of the order of 1x10-37 kg . Hence, a neutrino is about 17 billion times lighter than a neutron. The two are incomparable.
Key role in science
  • First, neutrinos may have a role to play in nuclear non-proliferation through the remote monitoring of nuclear reactors. The plutonium-239 which is made via nuclear transmutation in the reactor from uranium-238 can potentially be used in nuclear devices by terrorist groups. Using appropriate neutrino detectors, the plutonium content can be monitored remotely and used to detect any pilferage. Neutrino research can be our answer to ensure that no terror group ever acquires nuclear weapons.
  • Second, understanding neutrinos can help us detect mineral and oil deposits deep in the earth. Neutrinos tend to change their “flavour” depending on how far they have travelled and how much matter they have passed through in the way. Far more importantly, we believe that this same property might help us detect early geological defects deep within the earth, and thereby might be our answer to an early warning system against earthquakes. This is where an area of Geoneutrinos is applicable. First found in 2005, they are produced by the radioactive decay of uranium, thorium and potassium in the Earth’s crust and just below it. Rapid analysis of these Geoneutrinos by neutrino monitoring stations — a process called Neutrino Tomography — could provide us vital seismological data which can detect early disturbances and vibrations produced by earthquakes.
Data transmission
  • Third, as we now know, neutrinos can pass right through the earth. They may open up a faster way to send data than the current ‘around the earth’ model, using towers, cables or satellites. Such a communication system using neutrinos will be free of transmission losses as neutrinos rarely react with the atoms in their path. This can open up new vistas for telecom and Internet services. Some scientists further believe that if there is any extraterrestrial form of life, neutrinos will also be the fastest and most trusted way to communicate with them.
  • Fourth, neutrinos are the information bearers of the universe — which are almost never lost in their path. India’s effort in studying neutrinos at INO may help us unravel the deepest mystery of the universe — why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe.
  • Some scientists believe that formidable neutrino research can help us understand dark matter. Dark matter and dark energy make up 95 per cent of the universe, far more predominant than ordinary matter in the universe — but we hardly understand it. Neutrinos are the only way to detect this great mystery which may completely alter our understanding of the universe and physics. Searches for this dark matter can only be carried out in INO.

ADB to increase India lending by 50 % to $12 b by 2018
  • Asian Development Bank proposes to increase lending to India by almost 50 per cent to $12 billion by 2018, ADB President Takehiko Nakao said on June 16.
  • “ADB aims at increasing its sovereign and non-sovereign lending from the present $7-9 billion in three years from 2015 to 2017 to $10-12 billion between 2016 and 2018 using ADB’s expanded lending capacity,” he said.
Asian Development Bank
  • The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is a regional development bank established on 22 August 1966 which is headquartered in Metro Manila, Philippines, to facilitate economic development in Asia. The bank admits the members of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP, formerly the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East or ECAFE) and non-regional developed countries. From 31 members at its establishment, ADB now has 67 members, of which 48 are from within Asia and the Pacific and 19 outside. The ADB was modeled closely on the World Bank, and has a similar weighted voting system where votes are distributed in proportion with members' capital subscriptions.

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