1.Vertical forests (Geography and you)

2.The impacts of deteriorating state capacity (Live Mint)

3.Leveraging the energy regime (Business standard)

1.Vertical forests (Geography and you)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the idea of vertical forests which consists of a building which is based on an integration of modern architecture along with planting of trees and plants to create a green space. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Deforestation and pollution have become a serious trouble and are even more of a concern in big cities with the air quality being constantly deteriorated by the fumes from vehicles and industries. And while the pollution is increasing, the green cover required to combat is decreasing, mainly to clear space for human settlement.
  • Hence, our cities are turning into concrete jungles with the quality of air decreasing, thus increasing the chance of a variety of diseases. To combat this a new idea has been developed by builders and architects around the world, Vertical Forest or a Tree scraper.

What exactly are vertical forests?

  • The Vertical Forest has trees and plants to absorb carbon dioxide and suspended particulate matter(SPM), which helps in reducing smog while creating a buffer to dampen the noise pollution, and are believed to lessen the heating effect around the building and in the area nearby because of transpiration from the trees and plants thus providing a cool environment upto an extent which translates to lesser energy consumption.
  • A single building can be beneficial for the surrounding area, and in the current scenario where demands for space is growing, this can be a healthy compromise between sustainability and productivity.
  • Following the concept, Italian firm Stefano Boeri Architetti designed a Vertical Forest building which has won them multiple innovation and design awards second place in Emporis Skyscraper Award and also came first in the Best Tall Building Worldwide.
  • The added greenery serves as a way to redefine the urban space. It is a model of vertical densification of nature within the city. The two Vertical Forest towers, one 256-foot and the other 344-foot, are covered from top to bottom by more than 700 trees and 90 species of plants. For perspective, if all the trees and plants were planted on a single piece of land, the forest will take an area of about two acres more or less.

Increasing adoption of the idea

  • Now with China’s announcement that it will be using the services of Stefano Boeri to build at least two Vertical Forest towers in Nanjing to combat the worrisome air pollution present in China, the idea has received a new fillip. The project has an estimated completion time of 2018 and initial reports suggest that each building will be able to absorb upto 25 kg of carbon dioxide and give out 60 kgs of oxygen in a year.
  • With such announcements coming from around the world, it remains to be seen if a similar model of Vertical Forest can be built in our metropolitan cities Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru where pollution is wreaking havoc.
  • However, the high cost of developing may not deem fit as a profitable venture for our debt ridden developers who try every antic to decrease cost. Also to make a considerable effect in the pollution levels around the cities, quite a few of these buildings will need to be put in place, with their set of challenges to work upon.

Way ahead

  • Creating vertical gardens is the need of the hour in India. Architects, engineers and developers and political leaders, of course, should look at green buildings as an alternative. It starts from your balcony itself. At the same time, we should keep planting more trees because there is no replacement for trees.
  • It is one way of creating vertical gardens. In India, another way is to create gardens around flyover pillars. Shrubs and bushes which also act as dust absorbents will be used. We do not have much space in cities and old trees are being cut across the country. To ensure a green cover in the city itself, we would focus on walls of buildings and pillars. However, initial costs of installation would be expensive but it will be worth it”

Question What are the vertical garden ? How they can be integrated in the urban planning of India?

2.The impacts of deteriorating state capacity (Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the cascading problems caused by poor state capacity. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • India’s poor state capacity is often blamed on inadequate government spending but government inability to use allocated funds is also to blame.
  • A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report made public earlier this week points out that the approximately Rs2,500 crore in the Clean Ganga Fund set up by the government remains unutilized. This failure points to a long-running problem in Indian governance the inability of Union ministries and state governments to cash the cheques the Centre writes.

Poor state capacity

  • Problems caused by poor state capacity is often blamed on inadequate government spending. The criticism has merit.
  • Consider vital human development areas such as education and healthcare. In the 2017-18 Union budget, education spending came to about 3.71% of gross domestic product (GDP), a considerably lower percentage than, say, peer nations in the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) grouping. This is a persistent trend. Likewise, government healthcare spending, taking both the Centre and states into account, has hovered around the wholly inadequate 1.5% of GDP mark.
  • But this is an incomplete perspective. The problem is not merely inadequate government expenditure. It is also a failure to absorb and deploy allocated resources at every level of government.
  • Education, again, is a good example. A CAG performance audit tabled in Parliament in July this year pointed out that despite persistent demands for more right to education (RTE) funds from the Centre, state governments have failed to spend over Rs87,000 crore of the allocated corpus over the past six years.
  • Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the underutilization ranged from 21% of allocated funds to 41%. This showed, the audit noted damningly, “poor planning and execution by state governments, resulting in non-accomplishment of goals to provide infrastructure.

Interrogating other areas

  • Similar patterns can be seen across budget heads. The National Clean Energy and Environment Fund (NCEEF) has been the backstop for the Modi government’s strong push to renewable energy. In April this year, the government diverted the Clean Energy cess on coal production, meant to be funnelled to the NCEEF, to compensate states for revenue lost under the goods and services tax—then appropriated an unspent Rs56,700 crore from the NCEEF as well. The corpuses for other once-prominent schemes like the Nirbhaya Fund and Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao remain largely untapped. And programmes like the National Rural Health Mission and Integrated Child Development Services have often failed to use their allocated funds in recent years.

Reasons for such a trend

  • The reasons for such failures are broad and diffuse. State budgets have not always responded adequately to the increased devolution of funds starting from the 2015-16 Union budget. There is often a substantial mismatch between fund allocation and outlay planning at various levels of implementation.
  • The Centre for Policy Research’s Accountability Initiative has pointed out that the fund release timetable for the fiscal year can be a problem as well in, for instance, healthcare, when the Centre has backloaded the release.
  • Nevertheless, there are a number of lessons here. Firstly, the reliance on cesses must stop. They are meant to be budgetary band-aids temporary levies to address a pressing need. When they become long-term measures with more added steadily, they become a form of regressive taxation. The fact that in a number of areas, the funds thus collected are unutilized, wasted or diverted witness the coal cess or the Delhi government’s green fund to combat air pollution adds insult to injury.
  • Secondly, reducing the number of ministries is a must. The proliferation of unnecessary silos and the inevitable turf wars that come with it create planning and implementation hurdles. Given the BJP’s Lok Sabha strength and relatively low reliance on alliance partners, the government had a good opportunity to do so. It has squandered it.
  • Thirdly, the Central and state governments must follow through with devolution of funds as well as planning and implementation at both the panchayat level and for city governments. This is not foolproof. Again, the Delhi government’s green fund is a case in point. So is the financial capital’s Brihanmumbai municipal corporation the richest in the country but with an abysmal record when it comes to using allocated funds in a city crying out for improved infrastructure.
  • Nevertheless, devolution puts funds where there is the highest chance of their being used effectively.
  • Lastly, positive rights such as the right to education and right to food might make for good optics, but in the absence of the infrastructure and capacity to absorb and spend resources, they give rise to numerous wastages.

Way ahead

  • State capacity is not built in one government term. But the Modi government’s minimum government, maximum governance promise is a good foundational principle. Now if only it nd succeeding administrations could deliver.

Question: In the present context, will further devolution improve the quality of government spending? 

 

3.Leveraging the energy regime (Business standard)

Synoptic line: It throws light on why the moment is opportune to take advantage of shifting pricing and supply dynamics in the oil and gas sector globally. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The dominance of oil, natural gas and coal in the global energy mix is being questioned by intensifying carbon policies, technological disruptions in mobility and, to an extent, changing energy geopolitics. A closer look at India’s energy mix reflects a clear trend towards gas and renewables, but there is no imminent danger to demand for oil, forecast to grow at least until 2040.
  • However, oil companies are under pressure to prepare for a possible low-carbon future. There is a fear of being too late to embrace newer energy sources, matched by equally high risks in moving too fast. In such a scenario, oil companies are likely to take a two-pronged approach: diversify into new sources of energy while capitalizing on growth opportunities in conventional forms of energy.

Strategy to be adopted

  • Presently, the major fossil fuels account for more than 90% of India’s total primary commercial energy supply (TPCES). At present, India’s import dependence in the oil and gas sector is significant and the Prime Minister has set a target to reduce dependence on crude imports by 10% by 2022. The moment is opportune for India to take advantage of shifting pricing and supply dynamics in the oil and gas sector globally. In order to leverage the resources advantage, it should focus on the following areas.

Taking advantage of softened oil prices:

  • The oil and gas industry is recovering from the upheaval caused by the fall in global oil prices and weak demand. The price per barrel of Brent crude crossed $60 mark this month, against $40 a year ago; still well below the $115 peak reached in 2011. Even with the uptick in oil prices expected to continue, it is a buyer’s market and India needs to be aggressive in scouting for the best prices and competing supply sources.
  • Recently, government-owned refiners started taking supplies of US crude in a bid to curtail dependence on West Asian crude and Opec (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) in an expanded supply market.
  • While the slump in oil prices did not spell good news for global upstream firms and many curtailed their exploration and production efforts, it worked differently for Indian government-owned upstream companies, which hit the gas on exploration, production and asset acquisition. This was on account of a significant decline in the cost of equipment and services associated with exploration and production. That effort must continue.
  • With 3.14 million sq. km of potential reserves lying unexplored until 2016, India’s potential in the oil and gas sector is immense and there exists vast headroom for new discoveries.
  • Another area that calls for attention is enhanced oil recovery. With the global average recovery factor for a typical oilfield being around 40%, a substantial amount of identified oil ends up as leftover despite existing production infrastructure. There is a need to enhance recovery from oilfields to reduce import dependence.
  • Adoption of digitization, automation and robotics, which can substantially reduce operational costs and increase oilfield productivity, should be considered seriously.

Refining and re-gassing more efficiently while adding value in petrochemicals: 

  • India has emerged as a refining hub in Asia, serving a massive domestic market for refined petroleum products and even exports. Also, the government’s push towards a gas-based economy has given significant thrust to liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports, given the low domestic natural gas output. Both these elements present an opportunity for India’s downstream and midstream oil and gas sectors.
  • The key word here is ‘efficiency’. With a slump in global oil and gas prices, refiners and LNG importers have an opportunity to get more bang for their buck by enhancing efficiency in refining and re-gasification of LNG. The key to enhancing efficiency lies in the optimum utilization of resources and adoption of the latest technologies.
  • The evolving market dynamics, including increasing demand and competition from new entrants, need to be tracked by downstream firms. Some of the key areas to focus in the the mid- to long-terminclude enhancing the overall operational efficiency of plants, flexibility in refinery configuration, improving energy efficiency, upgrading the quality of fuel while upgrading facilities to produce BS-IV and BS-VI compliant fuels.
  • Petrochemicals offer a great opportunity to beef up the downstream value chain. India’s petrochemical market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10% over the next five years to reach the $100 billion mark by 2022. The industry can potentially enhance the country’s growth through the development of niche products for exports and advanced integrated complexes for polymer production. Petrochemicals are also lucrative as companies have complete pricing freedom for these products.

Strengthening sales and distribution networks: 

  • With major fuels in India deregulated, retailers must focus on their sale and distribution networks, particularly with more companies entering a market earlier dominated by state-owned companies.
  • Similar efforts should be made for petrochemicals. Strengthening the sales and distribution network for petrochemicals will ease margin pressures for distributors, while ensuring reliable supply for small to mid-sized distributors. The current distribution network is concentrated around a few producers, calling for the development of a strong network.

Way ahead

  • Indian stakeholders need to adopt an aggressive but cautious approach to fully harness the opportunity created as a result of changing dynamics in the global oil and gas sector. Aligning the current business model for the right mix of growth options in conventional and newer energy will help companies emerge at the top while also helping India reduce dependence on crude imports.

Question: Indian stakeholders need to adopt an aggressive but cautious approach to fully harness the opportunity created as a result of changing dynamics in the global oil and gas sector. Comment.