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1.Lessons from Beijing to tackle pollution (Down to Earth)

2.Work to be done on SDG (Business standard)

3.Changing trends in World politics (BBC, WSJ)

1.Lessons from Beijing to tackle pollution (Down to Earth)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the recent action of China on pollution. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • According to the World Health Organisation, ten of the world’s 20 most pollutedcities are in India, and three in China. The two countries top the ignoble list of deaths related to air pollution, with more than one million each in 2015. The two are the world’s most populous countries and also have among the highest proportions of deaths related to air pollution.

China’s progress

  • China is making progress. The central government has taken a systematic and coordinated approach to managing air pollution. It has adopted a suite of policies that promote alternative energy and punish regulatory breaches.
  • The country is rapidly scaling back capacity for coal-fired powerand steel, whose production is suspected of threatening respiratory health. China is also soliciting foreign investment in green energy technologies, and has intensified inspections of major polluters around Beijing.
  • In Beijing alone, finesfor pollution topped USD$ 28 million in 2015. To combat vehicle exhaust smoke, which is responsible for one-third of Beijing’s emissions, an annual quota of 150,000 new cars was established for 2017, with 60,000 allotted only to fuel efficient cars. Beginning in 2018, this quota will be reduced by one third, to 100,000 annually. This will limit the total number of cars to around 6.3 million.
  • Beijing is also aiming to reduce coal consumptionfrom the current 11 million tons per year to under 5 million by 2020.
  • There is some evidence that these measures are working. In the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, PM2.5 levels decreasedby 27% between 2013 and 2016.

India’s inactivity

  • By comparison, India’s political inefficiency is making regional air pollution a nearly intractable problem. Although the states of Haryana and Punjab have banned farmers from burning straw, implementation has been minimal. Policy coordination is also weak across states governed by rival political parties. For example, the leaders of Delhi and Haryana have publicly clashedabout who is to blame for air pollution. They have also failed to hold discussions about the problem or to find feasible solutions.
  • Farmers constitute a significant voting base in Haryana and Punjab. This has led state governments to demand compensationfrom central government for losses farmers incur by ceasing burning. Such focus on short-term political gain is distracting policymakers from collaborating on regional solutions. The consequences of territorial grandstanding are deadly.
  • Another difference between India and China is the level of apathy among the government and general public. In China, years of seething public anger prompted Prime Minister Li Keqiang to “declare war” on pollution in 2014.
  • In India, public outrage over air pollution is still “seasonal” and rarely swells beyond social media. The central government has remained largely silent about pollution while state leaders indulge in meaningless inter-party squabbling and political theatre.
  • Amid this discouraging accountability vacuum, India’s Supreme Court recently assumed the mantle of leadership on air pollution. It banned fireworksin the capital during the Diwali festival and pushed for response focused action planning. While these are encouraging steps, bypassing the legislative process on such fundamental public health issues is hardly ideal or sustainable.

Way ahead

  • India has made remarkable progress lifting millions of people out of poverty in recent years. It aspires to be a global superpower, but has singularly failed to curb air pollution. Central government must intervene to coordinate collaborative policy among states and hold officials accountable for inaction. Central government should also reinforce state-level initiativesto minimise burning and promote sustainable farming.
  • More broadly, it may be time to ask whether highly argumentative democratic models are always the best solution for problems that transcend city and provincial boundaries. Sensible and informed policy leadership is needed to solve environmental challenges. India must rise above petty politics, lest the country bicker its way into smoggy irrelevance.

Question: What are the urgent actions that are needed on the part of govt. to tackle pollution? What India can learn from China in this regard?

2.Work to be done on SDG (Business standard)

Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of nudging countries for their performance in SDG. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • The ambitious targets taken under SDG in 2015 are not held legally binding on the Nations and hence subjected to whims and fancies of the countries.
  • There is an urgent need to fix a mechanism to hold the responsibility of the countries with regard to their responsibilities to eradicate global problems.

SDG

  • The Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs), officially known as Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
  • These 17 Goals build on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals, while including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice, among other priorities. The goals are interconnected often the key to success on one will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another.
  • The SDGs work in the spirit of partnership and pragmatism to make the right choices now to improve life, in a sustainable way, for future generations. They provide clear guidelines and targets for all countries to adopt in accordance with their own priorities and the environmental challenges of the world at large.

Need to measure the progress of goals

  • It is ambitious enough to address several socioeconomic concerns and make the development process inclusive. However, since it’s not binding on member nations, there is apprehension that it may end up becoming another of the Millennium Development Goals, which were only partially achieved.
  • The High-level Political Forum comprising the political representatives (heads of states or ministers) of the members meets every July at the UN in New York to review progress on Agenda 2030.
  • The voluntary national reviews (VNR) aim to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
  • In India, the process is led by NITI Aayog, Research and Information System for Developing Countries, a think tank attached to Ministry of External Affairs, and the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
  • The government has already identified existing programmes and policies which are linked to different goals under SDGs. Sources suggest that the government has also sought inputs from civil society, especially to the VNR process. It’s not clear whether the inputs of civil society organisations (CSO) will be part of the government report
  • However, there are several questions as whethe the VNR process an effective mechanism to review SDGs?
  • The governments try to show that they already do very well. There is no reflection about problems, challenges or what policies should be changed to achieve the SDGs. A closer look at last year’s VNR by nations gives a clear impression that they presented only a rosy picture of their performance.

Way ahead

  • There should be a clear mechanism to hold a moral as well as binding responsibility on the nations with regard to achievement of the SDG(s). Seeing the advent of global problems and issues such as increasing inequality, poverty, climate change, there is a need of immediate attention.

Question: How the responsibility of nations can be ensured in the case of achievement of SDG ?

3.Changing trends in World politics (BBC, WSJ)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the rising phenomena of right wing ideology in elections. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • There is rise of right-wing politics in several countries of the world. Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US demonstrate the popularity of right-wing politics in various parts of the world. Also, right-wing politics is gaining traction in countries like France and Germany.
  • Backed by populism, right-wing politics is becoming more and more popular and widespread in several countries.

The rise of right-wing

  • Brexit,  Trump’s victory and French presidential results make clear enough that how populist and right wing is winning without any real idea or solution, but simply by suggesting a drastic change.
  • it is true that racism, sexism and xenophobia (nationalism and prejudice) have played a role, but they do not explain why such politicians are actually winning now. That is so because the base maximum 20% in any country that votes on a consistently racist, sexist or xenophobic platform is not sufficient to carry an election.
  • In order to win, such politicians have to buttress their captive constituencies with at least another 10% votes. These 10% extra voters are not driven by racism, sexism or xenophobia; they are driven by the failure of mainstream politicians to address their problems.

Pattterns

  • All of them makes exactly the same noises i.e. noises against the status quo and promises of significant change. So desperate are many people for drastic change that they buy these noises.
  • Faced with such sweeping distrust and dissatisfaction, centrists, liberals and leftists seem to have no answer but to chant the mantra of “racism, sexism, xenophobia”. It is a mantra that is based on a ground reality there is a base of voters with such prejudices but it does not explain the main phenomenon, which is the political distrust of voters who are not primarily motivated by such prejudices.
  • The rise and popularity of right-wing politics can be categorized into economic and non-economic factors. Immigration and the movement of refugees into Europe played a role. While xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia and other kinds of discrimination play roles in the rise and popularity of right-wing politics in various countries, there are economic factors at play as well.
  • Many Western countries have followed a policy of neoliberalism for the last few decades. A combination of privatization, deregulation including financial deregulation, free trade and globalization characterize neoliberalism. Globalization and outsourcing have allowed countries like China to rapidly develop while developed countries have benefited from cheaper goods and services produced in low-wage countries. At the same time, technological improvement has allowed to automate manufacturing processes, lowering manufacturing costs by using fewer number of workers. Automation has benefited companies as fewer number of workers mean lower costs and, consequently, higher profits and efficient production processes.
  • However, the benefits of globalization, outsourcing and automation came at a high cost. Companies in developed countries moved their production processes to low-wage countries or outsourced parts of their production processes to low-wage countries. Globalization, outsourcing and automation have led to dissipation of the manufacturing sector in developed countries that employed the working class in these countries. This led to increased unemployment among the working class and a shrinking middle class. While manufacturing flourished in low-wage countries.
  • However, the unemployed did not find alternative employment which forced them to fall into difficult financial circumstances or even poverty. At the same time, the beneficiaries of globalization, outsourcing and automation included the multi-national companies and large corporations. The suffering of the working class and middle-class have led to rise of angst and anger among this segment of the population, which is a majority in many developed countries. They are disillusioned with globalization and free trade, and the way it has wreaked havoc to their livelihood.
  • This led to these people rallying against the establishment in these countries contributing to the rise of anti-establishment popularity among the masses and support of right-wing politics, including far-right politics, in these countries. The disillusionment and resentment with neoliberalism, globalization and insufficient social programs have contributed to Brexit in the UK, Donald Trump being elected in the US and the rise of right-wing parties in France, Germany, etc.
  • Moreover, the failure is not that of voters. The failure is of politicians who have become simply managers and junior-level ones at that of capital! They are not doing their jobs, and when the ordinary voter casts her ballot for someone like Mr. Trump, who is part of the problem rather than the solution, she does so out of desperation more often than out of prejudice.

Way ahead

  • Globalization, outsourcing and automation have taken a toll on the working class and middle-class of developed countries. The governments of these countries can introduce social programs that will help the adversely affected population. Health care is a considerable cost to people, especially the working class and middle-class segments of the population. Sometimes, health care costs can push someone into poverty. The introduction of more affordable health care or universal health care could help the low-income and middle-income people in having access to health care services.
  • while some of the unemployed workers found alternative employment, others have fallen into financial difficulty or poverty. In order to help them have a decent living that will contribute to social stability, guaranteed minimum income may be introduced.
  • The income tax system can be made more progressive so that it taxes high-income earners more to finance social programs targeting the low-income and middle-class sections of the society. This will reduce income inequality while helping the low-income and middle-class.
  • The introduction of subsidies and lower corporate taxes can encourage companies to produce domestically and even reshore, which is bringing back jobs to their home countries.
  • A combination of these economic and public policies accompanied by social policies like increased awareness among the population of the benefits of immigration will definitely reduce the anger and disillusionment among the adversely affected sections of the population in developed countries.

Question: It is being observed that the increasing occurrences of chauvinism and ultra nationalism is not only hurting the immigrant and sending countries but also hurting the host countries in the long run. Critically analyse.