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1.BRICS off the wall (The Hindu)

2.Après le déluge- on Mumbai flood (The Hindu, Down to Earth)

3.Powering aspirational India (The Hindu)

 

1.BRICS off the wall (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the upcoming BRICS summit and its importance. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The months-long border standoff between China and India on the Doklam plateau, an obscure patch of disputed land near Bhutan in the Himalayas, came to a sudden close. Various days of behind-the-scenes diplomatic effort succeeded in defusing what once appeared to be a high-stakes and intractable crisis.
  • As the countdown for the September summit of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping begins, scholars, academics and government officials have been brainstorming ways in which the emerging economies can set the global agenda, based on new rules of governance. It is important to see how the bilateral relationship and several other changes in geopolitics are now going to change the course of the BRICS engagement as well.

The power of five

  • The formation of the BRIC group (Brazil, Russia, India and China, South Africa joined in 2010) by emerging economies was with a declared objective of battling “Western hegemony”.
  • BRICS went from a modest 16-paragraph joint statement at Yekaterinburg in June 2009 to the more substantive 110 paragraphs that the five countries agreed upon in the Goa Declaration of October 2016, developing common positions not just on climate change but also on terrorism, energy, and world politics.
  • Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill in 2001 called BRIC as group of “paper tigers”, however now BRICS members account for about 23 per cent of the world economy, and contributed to more than half of global growth in 2016, with more and more investment being driven into the five economies, mainly led by India and China.
  • BRICS countries better their positions in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, also they were struck a small blow against Bretton Woods institutions, and the BRICS New Development Bank set up in 2015 has already given out about $6 billion in loans for 23 projects across BRICS countries.

Challenging summit

  • The BRICS now faces its most challenging summit, not because of the West or the developed world, but because of growing differences between its two biggest members, India and China. As the BRICS summit is coming ahead it is important to see how the bilateral relationship will change the course.
  • The BRICS summit will be being held in China’s coastal city of Xiamen from September 3-5. It highlights the theme- “BRICS: stronger partnership for a brighter future.”
  • The bilateral tensions will no doubt spill over to the multilateral negotiations at Xiamen, especially given the negative atmosphere built up by state-run Chinese media these past few weeks. The bilateral tensions will no doubt spill over to the multilateral negotiations at Xiamen, especially given the negative atmosphere built up by state-run Chinese media over past weeks.
  • Beyond the bilateral issues over the boundary, Nuclear Suppliers Group membership for India, terrorism, the Dalai Lama and others, the rift over China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is also likely to dominate discussions at BRICS, as it now underpins all of China’s other policies.
  • China has a plan for a “BRICS-Plus” or “Friends of BRICS” grouping, with plan to include Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Mexico to an expanded version of BRICS. The suggestion of including Pakistan is something India has baulked at and won’t pass quite yet, but it wouldn’t want to be seen to be opposing China’s rationale of promoting “south-south cooperation” further.
  • Russia, which was the prime mover for the grouping, has moved closer to China and away from India; this could affect the language of the joint statement, especially on issues like Afghanistan, on which BRICS members had previously been on the same page.
  • Russia’s estrangement from the U.S. and Europe post-2014 and the Ukraine crisis in particular have increased its dependence on its east and south, mainly in the direction of the $300 billion Russia-China oil pipeline that China is funding. Russia’s shift on dealing with the Taliban is a strong signal of which way it is headed.
  • The U.S.’s new Afghanistan-Pakistan-India policy, that builds India’s economic assistance into its own strategy for Afghanistan, will crystallise battle lines in the latest round of this age-old battle, with Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan ranged on one side, and India, the U.S. and NATO allies now on the other. Russia on both BRICS conference as well as the Heart of Asia summit has cavilled at backing India’s strong language on terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

Way ahead

  • BRICS has fared better than two other groupings, SAARC and the Non-Aligned Movement, whose last summits India skipped, and appears to have abandoned. It remains to be seen how the two leaders use next week’s bilateral encounter to chart a road map to repair ties.

Question– Explain the relevance of BRICS for India to achieve its dreams of becoming a regional power.

2.Après le déluge- on Mumbai flood (The Hindu, Down to Earth)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the recent flood events which shows the need to improve infrastructure and protocols in urban centres. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • Twelve years after Mumbai faced the great deluge, the public administration of an aspiring global metropolis continues to demonstrate mediocrity in managing a disaster, especially when it rains. The return of the deluge to Mumbai and the paralysis suffered by the city bring up the question of why Indian cities are unable to improve their resilience to extreme weather events.

Beyond management

  • Flood is beyond the political wrangling on bad management; such extreme weather events trigger valuable research and analysis on developing better prediction and management systems. Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology has provided pathways for nearly 450 sq. km of the city to better prepare for monsoonal floods, using the worst-case scenario of a dozen years ago as the baseline.
  • There have been various proposed reforms over the time, ranging from clearing of drainage channels and removal of encroachments to the creation of holding ponds to temporarily store large volumes of water, however there is need of an inquiry whether these reforms have gained any traction.
  • Also mangrove wetlands in the eastern fringes and drain paths in the north-west of the city have lost much of their capacity owing to unplanned development. The latest downpour underlines why loss of urban wetlands should be halted and compensatory lakes created.

Important learning

  • There is need to learn from Mumbai, sothat we are prepare for a future in which scientists think there will be more days of short but intense rain spells. Numerical weather prediction has consistently improved.
  • Researchers from IIT has forecasted remarkably accurate models that open up possibilities for authorities to evacuate vulnerable sections early, residents to stock up on essential supplies and disaster management authorities to review options.
  • Indian cities are poorly planned and managed, exposing them to cyclical weather havoc; it is imperative that civic bodies produce flood risk maps and restrict development in the areas.
  • Monsoon flooding is inescapable, citizens and communities need to prepare, putting new constructions on stilts, retrofitting houses to locate electrical installations high above, and creating a first response protocol are all important.
  • Introduction of insurance cover for householder losses will provide financial protection and, crucially, require city administrations to provide professional management.

Way forward

  • The best way to manage flood risk has become a critical focus for policymakers, yet this remains a complex task, with many different requirements. As risk can never be eliminated, it is important to build resilience within communities, so that if a flood does occur, society can absorb and recover from the damage. More importantly, societies should adapt in order to be better prepared for floods in the future.

Question– What is Urban flooding? How it is more harmful than rural flooding? What type of policy interventions are needed to tackle the urban flooding?

3.Powering aspirational India (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the need of investment to increase the use of low-carbon energy sources. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • In India, over 300 million people don’t have access to electricity, power cuts are rampant and per capita power consumption is significantly lower than the world average but in sharp contrast to this India has been declared as power-surplus. Surplus or deficit is determined by calculating the difference between the demand for power and availability. It is the definition of “demand” that lies at the base of this paradox.
  • According to the Load Generation Balance Report (LGBR) for 2016-17, the Centre has set a target of generating 1,178 billion units with overall surplus of 1.1 per cent and peak surplus of 2.6 per cent.

Understand the electricity need

  • There is need to understand the electricity need in India by the two approaches. One approach is to follow a top-down econometric model whereby one examines growth in the economy, looks at the relationship between economic growth and energy requirements, and incorporates influence of technological and policy changes exogenously. The alternative is a bottom-up approach, whereby one estimates demand based on equipment saturations, efficiencies and usage.
  •  The International Energy Agency report shows that average global per capita electricity consumption is 3030kWh. The corresponding figure for India is about 805 units and for developed countries of the OECD, it is 8,028. The data from these reports can use to set a target which India can aim at.
  • India’s population by the middle of century will be about 1.6 billion and  transmission and distribution losses will come down to the lowest technically feasible value of about 7%, India must plan to generate about 8,600 Billion Units (BU) to provide 5,000 units per capita per annum to its citizens.
  • The emphasis on energy conservation and improvement in energy efficiency of industry and household gadgets will help in reducing electricity consumption, but bringing it down to below 5,000 units per annum to enjoy a standard of living enjoyed by citizens of OECD countries seems difficult.

Targets

  • The target of per capita availability of 5,000 units per annum is very modest because of several reasons. In India the percentage share of electricity in total energy consumption is increasing. The International Atomic Energy Agency has estimated that the share was 34.8% in 2015 for Middle East and South Asia and is projected to increase to 52% in 2050.
  • The Government of India has announced policy initiatives such as electricity and housing for all, accelerated infrastructure development, Make in India, electrification of transport, etc. which call for more electricity and on a reliable basis.
  • The electricity consumption is continuously rising elsewhere in the world. Aspirational India has a desire to work and live in air-conditioned spaces, reduce the drudgery of home work by using electrical appliances, entertain itself by deploying the best theatre system, commute in comfort in non-polluting transport and so on. Once basic amenities are available, an ordinary Indian will become an aspirational Indian. Human lives have become more productive because of electrical lighting and indoor climate control, thus the consumption is increasing day by day.
  • So there is need arises that we must maximise the use of low-carbon energy sources, i.e. hydropower, variable renewable energy (VRE), and nuclear power. A NITI Aayog report says India’s solar and wind energy potential is greater than 750 GW and 302 GW respectively. Assuming a load factor of 20%, this could generate 1,840 BU.

Way forward-

  • The government recent moves such as the Cabinet nod to the construction of 10 indigenous pressurised heavy water reactors, taking further steps for the construction of units 3-6 at Kudankulam, and completing all steps towards operationalisation of the nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan are all steps in the right direction.
  • The share of electricity generated by nuclear power must be ramped up as soon as possible and large investments must be made in research and development in electricity storage technologies to derive full benefit from VRE sources.

Question– What type of low carbon strategies can be used by Indian power plants and vehicle manufacturers?