1.Rescuing the Great Barrier reef (Down to Earth)

2.Feasibility of UBI for India (Live Mint)

3.Why farmers burn stubble (Down to Earth)

1.Rescuing the Great Barrier reef (Down to Earth)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the remedial measures to be adopted to save the corals of great barrier reef. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The Great Barrier Reef is suffering from recent unprecedented coral bleaching events. But the answer to part of its recovery could lie in the reef itself, with a little help.
  • At least two potential interventions show promise as means to boost climate resilience and tolerance in the reef’s corals: assisted gene flow and assisted evolution.

Damage to the reef

  • Coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017 took its biggest toll on the reef to date, with two-thirds of the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem impacted in these back-to-back events. The consequence was widespread damage.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will dampen coral bleaching risk in the long term, but will not prevent it. Even with strong action to tackle climate change, more warming is locked in. So while emissions reductions are essential for the future of the reef, other actions are now also needed.
  • Even in the most optimistic future, reef-building corals need to become more resilient. Continued improvement of water quality, controlling Crown-of-Thorns Starfish, and managing no-take areas will all help. But continued stress from climate change in frequency and intensity increasingly overwhelms the natural resilience despite the best conventional management efforts. Although natural processes of adaptation and acclimation are in play, they are unlikely to be fast enough to keep up with any rate of global warming.
  • So to boost the reef’s resilience in the face of climate change we need to consider new interventions – and urgently.

What is assisted gene flow?

  • The idea here is to move warm-adapted corals to cooler parts of the reef. Corals in the far north are naturally adapted to 1C to 2C higher summer temperatures than corals further south.
  • This means there is an opportunity to build resistance to future warming in corals in the south under strong climate change mitigation, or to decades of warming under weaker mitigation.
  • There is already natural genetic connectivity of coral populations across most of the reef. But the rate of larval flow from the warm north to the south is limited, partly because of the South Equatorial Current that flows west across the Pacific.
  • The South Equatorial Current splits into the north-flowing Gulf of Papua Current and south-flowing East Australian Current off the coast of north Queensland. This means coral larvae spawned in the warm north are often more likely to stay in the north.
  • So manually moving some of the northern corals south could help overcome that physical limitation of natural north-to-south larval flow. If enough corals could be moved it could help heat-damaged reefs recover faster with more heat-resistant coral stock.

What is assisted evolution?

  • While assisted gene flow may be effective for southern or recently degraded reefs, it will not be enough or feasible for all reefs or species. Here, we argue that assisted evolution could help.
  • Assisted evolution is artificial selection on steroids. It combines multiple approaches that target the coral host and its essential microbial symbionts.
  • These are aimed at producing a hardier coral without the use of genetic engineering. Experiments at the Australian Institute of Marine Science are already making progress, with results yet to be published.
  • First, evolution of algal symbionts in isolation from the coral host has been fast-tracked to resist higher levels of heat stress. When symbionts are made to reengage with the coral host, benefits to bleaching resistance are still small, but with more work we expect to see a hardier symbiosis.
  • Secondly, experiments have created new genetic diversity of corals through hybridisation and researchers have selected these artificially for increased climate resilience.
  • Natural hybridisation happens only occasionally on the reef, so this result gives us new options for climate hardening corals using existing genetic stocks.

Way ahead

  • These interventions would not introduce or produce new species. Assisted gene flow would simply enhance the natural flow of warm-adapted corals into areas on the reef that desperately need more heat tolerance.
  • Risk of increasing the spread of diseases may also be low because most parts of the Reef are already interconnected. A full understanding of risks is an area of continued research.
  • These are just two examples of new tools that could help build climate resilience on the reef. Other interventions are developing and should be put on the table for open discussion.

Question– What is coral bleaching? How it is being aggravated by climate change and what type remedial measures can be adopted?

 

2.Feasibility of UBI for India (Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the reasons as why UBI may not be suitable in present circumstances. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has added its bit to the ongoing debate on Universal Basic Income in India. Universal Basic Income is seen by many as an alternative to the existing system of subsidies, which is often associated with systemic inefficiencies.
  • The latest Fiscal Monitor of the IMF, in its analysis, used fiscal space equivalent to the cost of the public distribution system and energy subsidies in 2011-12. It showed that this can finance an annual Universal Basic Income of Rs2,600 per person, which is equivalent to about 20% of that year’s median per capita consumption, with the estimated cost at about 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP). The Fund did not account for the subsidy reforms of recent years. 

Universal Basic Income

  • Although the basic idea of Universal Basic Income is not new for India the erstwhile Planning Commission had worked on it in the early 1960s it has attracted significant attention in the recent past. A large proportion of the population in India still lives below the poverty line and a number of government programmes providing subsidies and support to the poor are marred by inefficiencies. There are leakages in the system, and often, people who actually need government support are left out. Therefore, it is argued that Universal Basic Income will overcome these problems by providing a basic income to all citizens.

Why India cannot opt for Universal Basic Income

  1. The biggest issue is that India doesn’t have the fiscal capacity to implement Universal Basic Income. For example, the Economic Survey calculations showed that a 75% universality rate with an annual Universal Basic Income of Rs7,620 per year at 2016-17 prices will cost about 5% of the GDP.
  • It is often assumed that resources can be raised by rationalizing subsidies and capturing a part of the revenue forgone on account of various tax exemptions, including in the personal income tax. These may not happen. The revenue forgone in most cases is optical and the result of poor design. In any case, a part of it is now out of the system with the implementation of the goods and services tax. Further, politically, it will be extremely difficult to roll back subsidies in order to create fiscal space for Universal Basic Income.
  • It is always advisable for the government to work on reducing non-merit subsidies, but the gains should be used to increase capital spending, which will help boost growth in the medium-to-long term.
  1. Universal Basic Income can create distortions in the labour market. A steady, permanent and guaranteed income without any work is likely to affect labour mobility and participation.
  • It is also likely to increase wages, as has been witnessed after the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Higher wages without a commensurate increase in productivity will affect India’s competitiveness. This could also have longer-term implications in terms of higher inflation and lower growth. The distortions in the labour market will, of course, depend on the amount of Universal Basic Income.
  1. The nature of Indian politics can create complications. It is highly likely that political parties, in order to improve their chances in elections, would want to increase the amount of Universal Basic Income or try to bring back subsidies in some form or the other, which will have fiscal implications. To be sure, India still has to prove that it can actually run balanced budgets for an extended period. The political class always has this temptation to declare premature victories and give away fiscal gains.

Way ahead

  • What India needs is not Universal Basic Income. It needs rationalization of subsidies, better targeting and operational efficiency. It needs to move to cash transfers at an accelerated pace with the use of Jan-Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile. This will help reduce costs and spare resources for capital spending to augment growth.
  • As history has shown, the best way to pull people out of poverty is sustained higher growth. Therefore, rather than creating permanent doles like Universal Basic Income for the entire population, which will be impossible to reverse in the future, the idea should be to save costs with better targeting.
  • This will help create the necessary conditions for higher growth which will decisively lift people out of poverty.

Question– What is the basic idea behind UBI? How it can be made more suitable for Indian context?

3.Why farmers burn stubble (Down to Earth)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the reasons of stubble burning during October-November months. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Wheat stubble burning is a relatively new issue which started with the use of mechanised harvesting using combine harvesters.
  • In India, burning is a common occurrence. There is a cultural acceptance for everything that is burnt. Soil biology is not discussed much.

Problems of manual labour and storage

  • When it comes to wheat residue burning in Punjab, there is a problem with manual labour. Migrant workers have stopped visiting the state. There is a mismatch between manual labour required and its availability.
  • Though wheat straw is suitable for animals, it is problematic to store huge volumes of straw in one part of the land. It is also difficult to transport it back to villages, as additional cost is incurred.
  • Fodder storage problem is the main cause behind farmers burning wheat residue. At the village level, there is also the problem of selling the husk due to the absence of a proper rate for fodder. Absence of market linkages is responsible for this.
  • Attitudinal problem and the lack of law enforcement are also to be blamed. There is shortage of manual labour, as most migrant workers leave in October-November and come back in May-June.

Buying time

  • The main problem behind crop burning is the rotational cropping system of rice and wheat. Farmers burn stubble as they have to quickly clear the fields for the next crop. Also, cost of fodder is too high or of converting the stubble into something else.
  • India is the third largest wheat producer and there is pressure on farmers to grow more and more crops. Also, we are not tracking soil health. Biomass burning is a huge thing in Africa also. The slash and burn agriculture is done on a sustainable scale as it is not a yearly thing.
  • Burning of wheat stubble has been going on for decades. Earlier, bulk of the harvesting was done manually and then the stubble used to be pulled out or ploughed back into the field. With the increase in mechanised harvesting, longer stalks are left back. These require a longer time to decompose once ploughed back into the land.
  • So, farmers tend to burn the crop residue and then plough the land. Labour shortage and growing additional crops of paddy (or sometimes vegetables) are also reasons why farmers tend to burn crop residues. There is a chronic shortage of labour in Punjab and Haryana and the wage rate is very high these days.

A widespread phenomenon

  • Besides India, wheat stubble burning is an issue in China as well. This is primarily happening in rice-wheat system areas where farmers have to go for transplanting of rice manually after wheat. Small stubbles, if not managed properly, create obstacles to labourers in transplanting. Sometimes, stubbles accumulate in one area of the field and damage newly planted rice seedlings.
  • In addition to stubble burning, sugarcane residue burning is fast catching up in Maharashtra.

Way ahead

  • It will be good to have a mechanism in place to give carbon credits (incentives) to farmers, who are not burning stubble and recycling it back to the soil.
  • If farmers go in for a green manure crop or a summer legume just after harvesting wheat, this can help in managing wheat stubbles.
  • Incorporation is the best method and the stubble should go back to the soil. Stubble is organic matter and it improves the soil value.

Question– Stubble burning is an alarming issue in North India during the month of November. What type of remedies can be adopted by the government on its part to curb this practice?