- Air pollution
- Summit on AI safety held by the British government in Bletchley Park.
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Air pollution
Context: According to the Air Quality Early Warning System for Delhi, an average wind speed of less than 10 km per hour is unfavourable for dispersion of pollutants. However, even a small increase brings relative improvement.
What is Air Pollution ?
- Air pollution is contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.
- Household combustion devices, motor vehicles, industrial facilities and forest fires are common sources of air pollution.
- Pollutants of major public health concern include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.
- Outdoor and indoor air pollution cause respiratory and other diseases and are important sources of morbidity and mortality.
Types of Air Pollutants
- Particulate Matter (PM): Particulate matter consists of tiny solid or liquid particles suspended in the air. These particles can vary in size, with PM2.5 (particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller) and PM10 (particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or smaller) being of particular concern. PM pollution can result from various sources, including vehicle emissions, industrial processes, and natural events like dust storms.
- Ground-Level Ozone (O3): Ground-level ozone is not emitted directly into the air but forms when pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react in the presence of sunlight. Ozone is a major component of smog and can cause respiratory problems.
- Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2): Nitrogen dioxide is a reddish-brown gas primarily produced from combustion processes, such as those in vehicles and power plants. It can irritate the respiratory system and contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone.
- Sulfur Dioxide (SO2): Sulfur dioxide is a colorless gas produced by the combustion of fossil fuels containing sulfur, such as coal and oil. Exposure to SO2 can lead to respiratory issues and contribute to acid rain formation.
- Carbon Monoxide (CO): Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas produced by incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels. High levels of CO can be dangerous, as it can interfere with the body’s ability to transport oxygen.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): VOCs are a group of organic chemicals that can easily evaporate into the air. They are released from various sources, including vehicle emissions, industrial processes, and the use of certain products like paints and solvents. VOCs can contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone and smog.
- Lead (Pb): While lead emissions have significantly decreased due to regulations, lead is a toxic heavy metal that can still be found in the air, especially in areas near lead-emitting sources like lead-acid battery manufacturing and recycling facilities.
- Ammonia (NH3): Ammonia is a gas released from agricultural and industrial activities. It can contribute to the formation of fine particulate matter and have harmful effects on air quality and ecosystems.
- Mercury (Hg): Mercury is a toxic heavy metal released into the air primarily from industrial processes, such as coal combustion. It can accumulate in the environment and pose health risks.
- Radon (Rn): Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can enter homes and buildings from the ground. Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon can increase the risk of lung cancer.
Impacts of Air Pollution
- Respiratory and Cardiovascular Health Effects:
- Respiratory Issues: Exposure to air pollution, particularly fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone (O3), can lead to respiratory problems such as coughing, wheezing, and exacerbation of asthma.
- Cardiovascular Problems: Air pollution is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases.
- Reduced Lung Function: Long-term exposure to air pollution, especially in children, can lead to reduced lung development and decreased lung function.
- Cancer Risk: Some air pollutants, like benzene and formaldehyde, are classified as carcinogens and can increase the risk of developing cancer.
- Premature Deaths: Air pollution is linked to premature mortality. It contributes to thousands of premature deaths each year due to its impact on respiratory and cardiovascular health.
- Acid Rain: Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions contribute to the formation of acid rain, which can harm aquatic ecosystems, damage buildings, and impact soil quality.
- Ecosystem Damage: Air pollutants can harm ecosystems by causing forest decline, reducing crop yields, and disrupting aquatic habitats.
- Climate Change: Certain air pollutants, such as black carbon (soot) and methane, are also potent climate forcers. They contribute to global warming and climate change.
- Visibility Reduction: Particulate matter and pollutants like sulfur dioxide can reduce visibility, impacting aviation, transportation safety, and scenic views.
- Economic Costs: Air pollution imposes significant economic costs on healthcare systems, agriculture, and businesses due to health-related expenses, crop damage, and decreased worker productivity.
Initiatives taken to combat Air Pollution
- System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) Portal
- Air Quality Index: AQI has been developed for eight pollutants viz. PM2.5, PM10, Ammonia, Lead, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, ozone, and carbon monoxide.
- Graded Response Action Plan (for Delhi)
- For Reducing Vehicular Pollution:
- BS-VI Vehicles,
- Push for Electric Vehicles (EVs),
- Odd-Even Policy as an emergency measure (for Delhi)
- New Commission for Air Quality Management
- Subsidy to farmers for buying Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) Machine for reducing stubble burning.
- National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP):Under NAMP, four air pollutants viz. SO2, NO2, PM10, and PM2.5 have been identified for regular monitoring at all locations.
- SAMEER app has been launched wherein air quality information is available to public along with provision for registering complaints against air polluting activities.
- Crowd sourcing of innovative ideas/ suggestions/proposals from public is done through CPCB website to strengthen efforts for improving air quality in Delhi-NCR.
- The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is implementing Environment Education, Awareness and Training Scheme with the objective to promote environmental awareness among all sections of the society and to mobilize people’s participation for conservation of environment. Under the National Green Corps (NGC) programme of the Ministry, about one lakh schools have been identified as Eco-clubs, wherein, nearly thirty lakh students are actively participating in various environment protection and conservation activities, including the issues related to the air pollution.
2 . Summit on AI safety held by the British government in Bletchley Park
Context: The two-day November 1-2 summit that has drawn in global leaders, computer scientists, and tech executives began with a bang, with a pioneering agreement wrapped up on the first day, which resolved to establish “a shared understanding of the opportunities and risks posed by frontier AI”.
About the Summit
- Twenty-eight major countries including the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and India, and the European Union agreed to sign on a declaration saying global action is needed to tackle the potential risks of AI.
The Bletchley Park Declaration
- The declaration endorsed by Brazil, Ireland, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates, incorporates an acknowledgment of the substantial risks from potential intentional misuse or unintended issues of control of frontier AI, especially cybersecurity, biotechnology, and disinformation risks.
- It noted for potential for serious, even catastrophic, harm, either deliberate or unintentional, stemming from the most significant capabilities of these AI models as well as risks beyond frontier AI, including those of bias and privacy.
- As part of the agreement on international collaboration on frontier AI safety, South Korea will co-host a mini virtual AI summit in the next six months, and France will host the next in-person summit within a year from now.
Different Countries , Varied Stance
- The EU has taken a tough line, proposing to bring in a new AI Act that classifies artificial intelligence according to use-case scenarios, based broadly on the degree of invasiveness and risk.
- The UK is at the other end of the spectrum, with a decidedly “light-touch” approach that aims to foster, and not stifle, innovation in this field.
- The US approach is seen to be somewhere in between, with Joe Biden‘s executive order setting the stage for defining an AI regulation rulebook that will ostensibly build on the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights unveiled by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in 2022.
- China has released its own set of measures to regulate AI.
- Union Minister of State for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who is representing India at Bletchley Park, said at the opening plenary session that the weaponisation represented by social media must be overcome, and steps should be taken to ensure AI represents safety and trust.
- India has been progressively pushing the envelope on AI regulation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called for a global framework on the expansion of “ethical” AI tools. This statement put a stamp of approval at the highest level on the shift in New Delhi’s position from not considering any legal intervention on regulating AI in the country to a move in the direction of actively formulating regulations based on a risk-based, user-harm approach.
4 . CBAM
Context: The European Union’s proposed carbon tax on imports is an ‘ill-conceived’ move that would become the “death knell” for its manufacturing sector, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said, adding that even if the plan that is set to kick in from 2026 isn’t eventually abandoned, India would neutralise it by levying its own carbon tax.
What is CBAM?
- The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism is a plan from the European Union (EU) to tax carbon-intensive products, such as iron and steel, cement, fertiliser, aluminium and electricity generation, from 2026.
- Its primary objective is to avert ‘carbon leakage’. It refers to a phenomenon where a EU manufacturer moves carbon-intensive production to countries outside the region with less stringent climate policies. In other words, replace EU-manufactured products with more carbon-intensive imports.
- The gradual introduction of the CBAM is aligned with the phase-out of the allocation of free allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) to support the decarbonisation of EU industry.
- By confirming that a price has been paid for the embedded carbon emissions generated in the production of certain goods imported into the EU, the CBAM will ensure the carbon price of imports is equivalent to the carbon price of domestic production, and that the EU’s climate objectives are not undermined. The CBAM is designed to be compatible with WTO-rules.
- The CBAM will enter into force in its transitional phase as of 1 October 2023 and permanent system enters into force on 1 January 2026. It will initially apply to imports of certain goods and selected precursors whose production is carbon intensive and at most significant risk of carbon leakage: cement, iron and steel, aluminium, fertilisers, electricity and hydrogen.
- From 2026, once the CBAM is fully implemented, importers in the EU would have to buy carbon certificates corresponding to the payable carbon price of the import had the product been produced in the continent, under its carbon pricing rules.
- Conversely, if a non-EU producer is paying a price (or tax) for carbon used to produce the imported goods, back home or in some other country, the corresponding cost would be deducted for the EU importer.
- The Commission, in coordination with relevant authorities of the member states, would be responsible for reviewing and verifying declarations as well as managing the central platform for the sale of CBAM certificates.
- It will avert the possibility of carbon leakage alongside encouraging producers in non-EU countries to green their manufacturing processes. Moreover, it will ensure a level playing field between imports and EU products. This would also form part of the continent’s broader European Green Deal which endeavours to achieve 55% reduction in carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030 and become a climate neutral continent by 2050.
- The gradual introduction of the CBAM would be in parallel with the phasing out of the allocation of free allowances given out under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), which was also aimed at supporting the decarbonisation of the region’s industries.
- The ETS had set a cap on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be released from industrial installations in certain sectors. Allowances were to be bought on the open decentralised ETS trading market; however, certain allowances were given out for free to prevent carbon leakage.
- Though effective in addressing the issue of leakage, the EU concluded it dampened the incentive to invest in greener production at home and abroad. This was because of the tendency to rely on free allowances to meet operational requirements and obligations. Thus, the idea to have an import-based tariff instead.
Implications for India
- The imposition of the CBAM is likely to affect a significant share of India’s exports to the EU. In fact, the UNCTAD forecasts that India will lose $1-1.7 billion in exports of energy-intensive products such as steel and aluminium.
- In addition to the quantum of the “carbon border tax” itself, the CBAM will increase compliance costs by requiring companies to monitor, calculate, report, and verify emissions.
- It constrains developing countries to either expedite their climate targets under the Paris Agreement or face a disadvantage in the EU market.
- The BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries have criticised an EU CBAM saying that it would be coercive and/or punitive, violating both the UNFCCC CBDR principle and the nationally determined spirit of the Paris Agreement.
- The CBAM may also be discriminatory under WTO rules as it differentiates between the like products coming from different countries solely based on their carbon footprint.
- It also poses the risk of creating a domino-effect, whereby carbon border measures may become commonplace, with countries such as Australia and the US already looking at such measures.
- Economy-wide impact of this would mean a slump in demand in not only these commodities but also others, via forward and backward linkages. Such a slump may severely affect the economic fortunes of the poorer countries despite their much lower per-capita emissions.
- This may also mean a trade diversion of exports from India as well as many other developing countries away from the EU towards other countries, resulting in an excess supply situation, thereby reducing the global prices of these commodities.
5 . E-Cigarettes
Context: Despite advertising restrictions, 85% of young people, surveyed across four countries, reported being exposed to e-cigarette advertising from at least one type of media.
About the news
- In an online survey aimed at examining factors associated with e-cigarette use among youth, The George Institute for Global Health surveyed approximately 1,000 persons aged 15 to 30 each in Australia, China, India and the UK.
- It assessed demographic characteristics, e-cigarette and tobacco use, number of friends and family members who vape and exposure to e-cigarette advertising (television, print, radio and social media).
- the Researchers Said That the Average Number of Types of Media to which respondents were exposed was five. The number of media types was significantly associated with use of e-cigarettes.
- Social media and advertising around vape shops and other retailers appeared to be the key exposure locations, raising the need for urgent attention.
- Across all four countries, 85% of respondents (2,645) had been exposed to e-cigarette advertising on at least one type of media, ranging from 79% for never users to 95% for current users. In online contexts, exposure was more common for most social media platforms compared to general Internet usage.
- Exposure was most common for vape shops (48%) and supermarkets/corner stores/petrol stations (42%). There was substantial exposure across other media such as television, magazines, billboards and radio.
What are e-cigarettes ?
- E-cigarettes, short for electronic cigarettes, are battery-powered devices designed to deliver nicotine or other substances to users in the form of an aerosol, commonly referred to as vapor.
- They are often used as an alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes.
Concerns with E-cigarettes
- Youth Vaping Epidemic: E-cigarette use among young people, particularly in high school and middle school students, has surged, leading to concerns about a potential youth vaping epidemic. The appealing flavors and marketing strategies have contributed to the uptake of e-cigarettes among youth.
- Nicotine Addiction: E-cigarettes often contain nicotine, an addictive substance. The nicotine content can lead to addiction, particularly among young and inexperienced users who may not have used traditional tobacco products before.
- Health Risks: While e-cigarettes are generally considered less harmful than traditional cigarettes, they are not without health risks. Inhaling aerosolized e-liquids can still expose users to harmful chemicals and toxins, some of which are known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular issues.
- Battery-Related Incidents: There have been cases of e-cigarette batteries overheating, exploding, or catching fire. These incidents can result in injuries to users.
- Regulatory Challenges: The rapidly evolving e-cigarette industry and the emergence of new products have posed regulatory challenges for health authorities. Ensuring that e-cigarettes are marketed, sold, and used safely is a complex task.
E-cigarettes in India
- Possession of e-cigarettes and similar devices in any form, quantity or manner is in violation of the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarette Act (PECA) 2019.
- The Act prohibits the production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution and advertisement of e-cigarettes in India.
- Any person who contravenes this provision will be punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, or a fine of up to one lakh rupees, or both.
- For any subsequent offence, the person will be punishable with an imprisonment of up to three years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees.
- Under the Act, no person is allowed to use any place for the storage of any stock of e-cigarettes.
6 . Facts for Prelims
- Systematic Voter Education and Participation (SVEEP) is the flagship program of the Election Commission of India for voter education, spreading voter awareness and promoting voter literacy in India.
- It is a multi-intervention programme that reaches out through different modes and media to educate citizens, electors, and voters about the electoral process in order to increase their awareness and promote their informed participation.
- It is designed according to the socio-economic, cultural, and demographic profile of the state as well as history of electoral participation in previous rounds of elections.
- The Commission produces several voter awareness materials and disseminates the same through various mediums/platforms of communication i.e Print Media, Electronic Media, Social Media etc.
- Bletchley Park is an English country house and estate in Bletchley, Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire) that became the principal centre of Allied code-breaking during the Second World War.
- The mansion was constructed during the years following 1883 for the financier and politician Sir Herbert Leon in the Victorian Gothic, Tudor, and Dutch Baroque styles, on the site of older buildings of the same name.
- Bletchley Park is most known for cracking the ‘unbreakable’ Enigma code. Enigma machines were cipher machines used by the Nazis to encrypt their radio messages. They featured a set of rotors, as well as a plugboard, which helped create over a 150 quintillion combinations.
- Recently , it hosted the world’s first global summit on artificial intelligence (AI).
Extended Fund facility
- The Extended Fund Facility (EFF) is an initiative of IMF which provides financial assistance to countries facing serious medium-term balance of payments problems because of structural weaknesses that require time to address.
- To help countries implement medium-term structural reforms, the EFF offers longer program engagement and a longer repayment period.