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1.Developing countries: star performer (Financial Express)

2.Antibiotics to Non-communicable diseases (Down to Earth)

3.Air pollution: Ostrich effect (Down to earth)

1.Developing countries: star performer (Financial Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the performance of developing countries in climate change efforts. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Developing countries are the star performer in climate change negotiation. Even in the early years of negotiations on climate change efforts, it was clear that developed nations not only had to lead these efforts but also had to help developing nations fulfil their obligations. However, developing countries stole the show by their excellent performance.

Developed countries: weak performer

  • Developed countries were supposed to help the developing countries fulfil their obligations. To that end, the mitigation goals agreed to in the Paris climate accord were acceptable, if not sufficiently ambitious.
  • However, there were early warnings, even during the presidential campaign last year, that a Trump administration would walk out of the accord and, in June this year, it did. As the rest of the world attempts to offset the consequences of a US exit the US is the second-largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) as well as the largest historical polluter a report by the NewClimate Institute, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the Netherlands’ PBL finds that many developed nations will not meet their emission reduction targets for 2030.
  • The study assesses 25 countries/economic unions which together contributed 79% of the total GHG emission in 2012. Of the 25, as many as 16 including developed jurisdictions like the EU, Canada, the US, South Korea and Australia, and large economies like Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand and the Philippines will undershoot their targets given their current policy actions and the resulting emission trajectories.

Performance of developing countries

  • In contrast, India and China, often portrayed as worse climate villains than they actually are, will achieve their targets.  Given how time is running out for emission mitigation efforts to have any meaningful impact, off-track countries need to quickly recalibrate policies.
  • Canada, one of the largest per capita polluters, has instituted a carbon standard for new coal-fired power plants, but given this standard doesn’t apply to existing plants, a lot of the reduction will be offset by the emissions from these plants.
  • On balance, Canada will not meet its target of cutting emissions by 17% below 2005 levels. In contrast, India, which has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity per unit of GDP by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030, and also to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 gigatonnes of CO2 (GtCO2), is projected to shoot past its 2020 target with current policies. It has also committed to increasing its share of non-fossil-fuel based power in total capacity to 40% by 2030 (with the help of international support). Under India’s draft electricity plan, the government is committed to stabilising coal-fired capacity at 250 GW by 2026 while expanding renewables capacity to 275 GW

Way ahead

  • If India’s vision is realised, India would have had a substantial impact on reducing emissions, thereby meeting its targets. Similar efforts by Brazil and China show a willingness to assume the leadership role when it comes to combating climate change. Developed nations must take a cue from these countries.

Question– What chapters can be learnt by the developing countries against their fight against climate change?

2.Antibiotics to Non-communicable diseases (Down to Earth)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the connection between anti-biotic and non-communicable diseases. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are those that are not infectious, progress slowly and last longer. Rapid urbanisation and ageing populations have exacerbated the rise of NCDs in the 21st century. The contributing risk factors are generally related to an individual’s lifestyle, which include an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco and alcohol intake. However, environmental factors such as chronic exposure to chemicals and pollution also play a role. These may include exposure to metals, pesticides, dyes, persistent organic pollutants, pharmaceuticals, chlorinated solvents and drinking water disinfectants.
  • The need to address environmental factors to prevent the rise of NCDs is being increasingly recognised. Antibiotics, for example, are one of the most commonly prescribed and used drugs to treat infections. Their use has been linked to NCDs through both cause and effect relationship. Antibiotic consumption in childhood can be a causal factor behind obesity in adulthood, which, in turn, may lead to NCDs. At the same time, some NCDs, such as diabetes, are associated with bacterial infections which call for greater antibiotic therapy, leading to higher drug resistance.

Traditional NCD such as diabetes and obesity

  • Antibiotics are commonly given to infants and mothers to prevent neonatal and maternal infections. People also often resort to self-medication and use antibiotics to address infections. Children administered with broad spectrum antibiotics before the age of two were found to have an increased risk of obesity in adolescence and adulthood. A study find out that antibiotic use in childhood contributes to weight gain that accelerates with age.
  • That antibiotics can impact the weight of humans also draws from the fact that they are widely used as growth promoters in intensive animal production systems such as poultry.
  • Antibiotic use has also been linked to diabetes. A research study in the UK, published in the European Journal of Endocrinology in 2015, traced the number of antibiotic prescriptions given to over 0.2 million patients affected with type 1 and 2 diabetes, and found that nearly half of the patients were prescribed antibiotics at some point during the study period (1995-2013). Also, the risk of type 2 diabetes increased with the repeated use of antibiotics.
  • Interestingly, no association between the risk of diabetes and antiviral or antifungal medicines was found, which indicates specific involvement of gut bacteria in triggering diabetes. A nationwide study in Denmark, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2015, found that the more a person is exposed to antibiotics, the higher are his/her chances of getting type 2 diabetes.

The link between them

  • The human gut is populated by a dense community of both beneficial and harmful bacteria, which are associated with the metabolic processes in the body. Antibiotic consumption influences the gut microbial ecology, causing chronic health issues through hormonal, inflammatory and metabolic changes. Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the influence of antibiotics on the gut microbiome and their role in contributing to NCDs.
  • An increase in Firmicutes and a reduction of Bacteroidetes, two of the largest bacterial phylum in humans, have been often observed in obese individuals as compared to lean ones, and referred widely to explain antibiotic-induced obesity. Firmicutes helps the body to extract calories from complex sugars and store them as fat. Antibiotics can also cause alterations in the host metabolism, including upregulation of genes and expression of proteins involved in lipogenesis, a metabolic process related to the formation of fat.
  • Antibiotics can also impact the hormonal balance in the body. For instance, antibiotics used to treat H pylori infections can cause an increase in ghrelin (hunger hormone) and leptin (satiety hormone) levels, which can, in turn, lead to increased appetite and body mass index. Antibiotics also possibly impact gut microbiota to influence the production of short chain fatty acids, lipoprotein, bile acid metabolism, insulin resistance and chronic low grade inflammation, all of which are associated with increase in body weight.

Contradictions

  • But not all experts agree with the hypothesis that a high ratio of Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes in the gut is responsible for obesity. According to a study published in the Journal of Biosciences in 2012, molecular analysis of the gut microbiota in obese Indian individuals showed that Bacteroidetes dominated the gut microbiome of surgically treated and non-treated obese individuals.
  • While alterations in the characteristics of gut microbial community may explain the relationship between antibiotic use and obesity or diabetes, infections have also been identified as causative factors for NCDs. For instance, episodes of Streptococcus infection and gastrointestinal infections are known to be followed by acute rheumatic fever and arthritis, respectively. Antibiotics are often held accountable because they are an indicator of an underlying infection.

Anti-microbial resistance

  • Several NCDs, such as cancer and diabetes, are accompanied by increased susceptibility to infections, which are treated with antibiotics. There has also been a rise of bugs resistant to antibiotics prescribed to treat such infections. Treatment of cancer, for example, is typically associated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, which leave patients with a weaker immune system.
  • Bacterial infections, such as bloodstream infection (BSI), urinary tract infection (UTI) and surgical site infection are quite common in such patients. Analysis of some recent Indian studies on bacteria isolated from cancer patients suffering from BSI, UTI or post-operative infections, indicates the prevalence of resistant Gram-negative bacteria namely E coli, P aeruginosa and Klebsiella spp and Acinetobacter spp.
  • Resistant Gram-positive S aureus and Enterococcus spp have also been isolated. These bacteria were resistant against a wide variety of antibiotics, some of which are critically important and used as “last-resort” antibiotic in hospitals

Impact on health

  • The tropical climate of India provides suitable conditions for the proliferation of bacterial diseases. This, along with largely unsanitary conditions, limited infection prevention and control, poor environmental policies and practice and inadequate health systems are the reasons for the high prevalence of infectious diseases. Antibiotic use is, therefore, constantly growing.
  • An estimate on global antibiotic consumption, published in The Lancet in 2014, states that India was the largest consumer of antibiotics from 2000 to 2010.

Way ahead

  • The National Health Policy, 2017, recognises the need for addressing NCDs, communicable diseases as well as antimicrobial resistance or AMR (AMR includes antifungal, antiviral and antibiotic resistance). Our health systems, infrastructure and policies should, therefore, work to reduce the burden of NCDs as well as infectious diseases. This will not only bring down antibiotic consumption, but also contain AMR spread. At the same time, controlling environmental factors, such as chemical exposure, should be made a part of India’s plan to reduce NCDs.
  • While the contribution of diet and lifestyle to obesity and diabetes are well-studied, the role of antibiotics on gut microbiome and its implications leading to NCDs have only recently been explored. In addition to the increased threat of antibiotic resistance, understanding the underlying mechanisms that explain the metabolic relationship between antibiotic consumption, drug resistance and NCDs is an emerging area of science. This calls for the creation of newer research agendas. This will not only lead to newer insights into the functioning of the microbial community, but also help create new treatment algorithms to tackle antibiotic resistance and NCDs and provide opportunities to tailor interventions to combat obesity.
  • Given the limited discovery of new antibiotics over the last few decades, it is necessary to preserve the existing ones and create sufficient public and consumer awareness on the proper and rational use of antibiotics. The National Action Plan on AMR, released in 2017, emphasises the need for antimicrobial stewardship in human health along with necessary education, training and communication.
  • Infectious diseases and NCDs are not completely independent of each other. Physicians associated with the treatment of NCDs share an equal responsibility to combat the spread of ABR. Infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship approaches must be followed. Rapid and accurate diagnosis is also essential to reduce possibilities of infection and allow the use of the most effective antibiotics. But most importantly, antibiotics should be judiciously prescribed and consumed.

Question– Throw light on the connections between antibiotics and non-communicable diseases.

3.Air pollution: Ostrich effect (Down to Earth)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the problems of air pollution. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • An indication of just how severe the air pollution over Delhi is the soaring price of air tickets to places like Goa as the middle-class flee the city. What an indictment.
  • Then, we are told that United Airlines has stopped flying to Delhi for the same reason. Earlier it distributed masks to passengers as they landed in Delhi. This is when the US is busy dumping its petroleum industry’s toxic waste on the global market and we in India are equally busy buying it up.

Bad conditions in north India

  • The fact is that pollution levels in north India, Delhi and its surroundings were alarmingly high in the past fortnight. The PM2.5 concentrations was in the emergency category, it was (and remains) very bad for our health. The reasons are many, and usual anticyclone conditions, in which winds brought dust from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and particles from burning crops in Pakistan, Punjab and Haryana. This collided over Delhi with moisture-laden winds from the east.
  • The ground level conditions were still and there was no dispersion. So, we had a cloud of pollutants hanging over us. We suffocated. But winds would blow and the crisis would be over. The problem is that we have done nothing to reduce the causes of emission.

The real problem

  • We know the causes of air pollution: vehicles, industries using pet coke, furnace oil and coal, burning of garbage, dust on roads, construction activities and farmers who burn crop residues because their options are limited. But what we forget in this theatre is that each solution suggested is contested.
  • For vehicles, the big game-changer is to improve fuel and technology to BS VI—standards that will lower emissions. But for years, vehicle manufacturers contested that this could not be done by 2020. The government sided with them setting 2028 and then 2025 as the transition date.
  • The same fight (and these are not drawing room arguments) took place when vehicles had to move to BS IV this April. Companies wanted more time as they had built up stocks of dirty vehicles. Their argument, “new vehicles are not the problem. Go after the old. We are only 1 per cent of the problem”.
  • It is now globally understood that diesel is a special problem, as these vehicles have the license to pollute much more than petrol and also emissions are carcinogenic. So restraint on diesel is critical. But the lobby is powerful; companies make profits out of the price differential between petrol and diesel; we, customers, love the giant SUV that runs on cheaper fuel. We are all complicit. But touch it and the answer is, “We are only 1 per cent of the problem.”

Way ahead

  • The problem is that whatever you can do to clean up vehicles, if we keeping adding like there is no tomorrow, there will be no tomorrow. So, there are two policy changes first to augment public transport and second to make driving more expensive through increased parking charges and taxes. But this is the classic chicken and egg dilemma—but one that remains stillborn. No action on one means no action on the other. There is outrage, but there is no accountability.
  • Then of course, there are the power plants that run on coal and the system that promotes the dispatch of cheaper electricity from older plants. But again, ask for changes and you will be told, “hands-off”; this is essential for economic growth of the country. Then ask for bans on the use of individual generator sets and you will be told, “Why us, we are only 1 per cent”.

Question–  Air pollution is a problem which has to be untangled from all the four directions . Comment.