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Weekly Current Affairs (15th to 21st May 2023) Part - 1 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC PDF Download

6th India-Canada Ministerial Dialogue on Trade and Investment

Context: Recently, the 6th India-Canada Ministerial Dialogue on Trade and Investment (MDTI) was held in Ottawa, Canada.

What are the Major Outcomes of the MDTI?

Support for India as G20 Chair:

  • The Canadian Minister expressed her support for India as the G20 Chair and its priorities in the G20 Trade and Investment Working Group.
  • She expressed her intention to participate in the upcoming G-20 Trade and Investment Ministerial meeting in India scheduled for August 2023.

Enhanced Cooperation:

  • The Ministers highlighted the importance of cooperation in sectors such as clean technologies for infrastructure development, critical minerals, electric vehicles and batteries, renewable energy/hydrogen, and artificial intelligence (AI).

Critical Mineral Supply Chain Resiliency:

  • The Ministers emphasised the importance of government-to-government coordination to promote critical mineral supply chain resiliency.
  • They committed to an annual dialogue at the official level during the Prospectors and Developers Association Conference (PDAC) in Toronto to discuss mutual interests.

Canada-India CEO Forum:

  • The Ministers agreed to rework and relaunch the Canada-India CEO Forum with renewed focus and priorities.
  • The CEO Forum would serve as a platform to enhance business-to-business engagement and could be announced at an agreed-upon early date.

Trade Mission and Delegation:

  • The Canadian Minister announced her leadership of a Team Canada trade mission to India in October 2023.
  • This mission aims to strengthen trade and investment ties, with a significant business delegation.

Weekly Current Affairs (15th to 21st May 2023) Part - 1 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC

What are the Areas of Cooperation Between India and Canada?

About:

  • India established diplomatic relations with Canada in 1947. India and Canada have a long-standing bilateral relationship based on shared democratic values, the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi religious nature of two societies and strong people-to-people contacts.

Political:

  • India and Canada share commonalities in Parliamentary structure and procedures.
  • In India, Canada is represented by the High Commission of Canada in New Delhi.
  • Canada also has Consulates General in Bengaluru, Chandigarh and Mumbai, as well as trade offices in Ahmedabad, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata.

Commerce:

  • India-Canada bilateral trade in goods reached approximately USD 8.2 billion in 2022, showing a 25% growth compared to 2021.
  • The services sector was emphasised as a significant contributor to the bilateral relationship, with bilateral services trade valued at around USD 6.6 billion in 2022.
  • Canadian Pension Funds have cumulatively invested around USD 55 billion in India and are increasingly viewing India as a favourable destination for investments.
  • More than 600 Canadian companies have a presence in India and more than 1,000 companies are actively pursuing business in the Indian market.
  • Indian companies in Canada are active in the field such as Information Technology, software, steel, natural resources and banking sectors.
  • The India-Canada Free Trade Agreement is also under negotiation.
  • An Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA) is expected to be signed in 2023 between India and Canada.
  • The agreement will cover a wide range of areas including goods, services, investment, rules of origin, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, and dispute settlement.

Science and Technology:

  • India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) signed an Arrangement with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) on September 16, 2015 to exchange experiences in nuclear safety and regulatory issues.
  • Indo-Canadian S&T cooperation has been primarily focussed on promoting Industrial R&D which has potential for application through development of new IP, processes, prototypes or products.
  • Canada was a partner country for the Technology Summit held in New Delhi in November 2017.
  • The Department of Earth Science and Polar Canada have started a programme for exchange of knowledge and scientific research on Cold Climate (Arctic) Studies.
  • Under the “Mission Innovation” program, India is collaborating with Canada in various activities in the areas of Sustainable Biofuels (IC4).
  • ANTRIX, the Commercial arm of ISRO, has launched several nanosatellites from Canada.
  • ISRO in its 100th Satellite PSLV launched on January 12, 2018, also flew Canadian first LEO satellite, from Indian spaceport Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh.

Education and Culture:

  • The Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (SICI) is a unique bi-national organisation fostering, since 1968, education and cultural cooperation and collaboration between India and Canada.
  • Canada was the Country of Focus at the 48th International Film Festival of India held in Goa in November 2017.
  • Canada Post and India Post joined hands to issue a commemorative stamp on Diwali in 2017.
  • Canada Post issued Diwali Stamps again in 2020 and 2021.
  • In October 2020, Canada announced the voluntary repatriation of the ancient Annapurna statue which was illegally acquired by a Canadian collector and had been kept at University of Regina.
  • The statue has since been handed over to India and has been placed inside Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi in November 2021.

United Nations Forum on Forests

Context: The eighteenth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF18), held in New York from May 8-12, 2023, brought together delegates from around the world to discuss the relationship between sustainable forest management (SFM), energy, and the achievement of the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What are the Major Highlights of UNFF18?

Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) in Tropical Region:

  • In a recent development, experts have underscored the significance of practicing SFM in tropical regions. With the surge in bioenergy consumption since 2013, there has been a mounting strain on forests, making the need for sustainable sourcing of tropical timber even more crucial.
  • The rise in bioenergy usage, driven by the global push for renewable energy sources, has inadvertently created additional pressure on tropical forests. As bioenergy relies on biomass, such as wood pellets and chips, as fuel, the demand for timber has intensified. This has raised concerns about the potential negative impact on forest ecosystems, biodiversity, and the overall sustainability of these regions.
  • By implementing sustainable practices, such as selective logging and reforestation, the long-term health and vitality of these forests can be safeguarded.

Forest Ecosystems and Energy:

  • Forestry director of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), highlighted the significant contribution of forest ecosystems to renewable energy requirements.
  • Over five billion people worldwide benefit from non-timber forest products, with forests providing 55% of these renewable energy needs.

Forests and Climate Change Mitigation:

  • The Emissions Gap Report's findings underscore the immense climate mitigation potential that forests hold. Through processes such as carbon sequestration, forests act as carbon sinks, absorbing and storing substantial amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • By preserving and sustainably managing forests, nations can leverage this natural capacity to help bridge the emissions gap and achieve climate targets.
  • Forests have the potential for reducing 5 gigatonnes of emissions.

Challenges and Countries Perspectives:

  • India: India presented a case of a UNFF country-led initiative on long-term SFM and expressed concerns regarding wildfires and the limitations of current forest certification schemes.
  • Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia highlighted the importance of preventing forest fires and urban expansion encroaching on forested areas.
  • Suriname: Suriname, claiming to be the most forested and carbon-negative country, shared its experiences of economic pressures impacting its green cover and environmental policies.
    • The country committed to deriving 23% of its net energy from renewable sources by 2025 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.
  • Congo and the Dominican Republic: These countries stressed their commitment to forest conservation measures and called for strategies to reduce pressures on natural forests while improving livelihoods, given their heavy reliance on fuelwood.
  • Australia: Australia mentioned that some species rely on fire for germination and shared information on mechanical fuel load reduction trials. The country emphasised the need to make wood residue markets financially feasible.
  • Other Perspectives: Countries like Zhimin and Satkuru suggested replacing plastic sticks with residues of compacted bamboo or sawdust to produce briquettes and pellets, offering sustainable alternatives for energy production.

What is the United Nations Forum on Forests?

About:

  • The UNFF is an intergovernmental policy forum which promotes “management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests and to strengthen long-term political commitment to this end.
  • UNFF was established in 2000 by the UN Economic and Social Council. The Forum has universal membership, and is composed of all Member States of the United Nations.

Major Related Events:

  • 1992 - UN Conference on Environment and Development adopts the Forest Principles” and Agenda 21.
  • 1995/1997 - Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (1995) and Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (1997) are established to implement the Forest Principles from 1995 to 2000.
  • 2000 - UNFF is established as a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council.
  • 2006 - UNFF agrees on four Global Objectives on Forests.

The Four Global Objectives on Forests:

  • Reverse the loss of forest cover worldwide through sustainable forest management (SFM);
  • Enhance forest-based economic, social and environmental benefits;
  • Increase significantly the area of sustainably managed forests;
  • Reverse the decline in official development assistance for SFM
  • Mobilise increased financial resources for implementation of SFM.
  • 2007 - UNFF adopts the UN Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests (Forest Instrument).
  • 2009 – UNFF adopts decision on financing for sustainable forest management which calls for creation of a Facilitative Process to assist countries in reversing a 20-year decline in forest financing.
  • The Facilitative Process has an initial focus on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Low Forest Cover Countries (LFCCs).
  • 2011- The International Year of Forests, “Forests for People”.

Carbon Dating

Context: Recently, the Allahabad High Court allowed the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct Carbon Dating of a 'Shivling' inside the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.

  • The petitioners have claimed the object inside the Gyanvapi mosque to be a "Shivling". The claim was disputed by the Muslim side, which said the object was part of a "fountain".
  • It set aside an order of the Varanasi District Court that rejected a plea for scientific investigation, including carbon dating, of the structure.

What is Carbon Dating?

About:

  • Carbon dating is a widely used method to establish the age of organic materials, things that were once living.
  • Living things have carbon in them in various forms.
  • The dating method is based on the fact that Carbon-14 (C-14) is radioactive, and decays at a well-known rate.
  • C-14 is an isotope of carbon with an atomic mass of 14.
  • The most abundant isotope of carbon in the atmosphere is C-12.
  • A very small amount of C-14 is also present.
  • The ratio of C-12 to C-14 in the atmosphere is almost static and is known.

Half Life:

  • Plants get their carbon through photosynthesis; animals get it mainly through food. Because plants and animals get their carbon from the atmosphere, they too acquire C-12 and C-14 in roughly the same proportion as is available in the atmosphere.
  • When they die, their interactions with the atmosphere stop. While C-12 is stable, the radioactive C-14 reduces to one half of itself in about 5,730 years — known as its ‘half-life’.
  • The changing ratio of C-12 to C-14 in the remains of a plant or animal after it dies can be measured and can be used to deduce the approximate time when the organism died.

Age Determination of Inanimate Things:

  • Carbon dating cannot be applied in all circumstances. It cannot be used to determine the age of non-living things like rocks, for example.
  • Also, the age of things that are more than 40,000-50,000 years old cannot be arrived at through carbon dating.
  • This is because after 8-10 cycles of half-lives, the amount of C-14 becomes almost very small and is almost undetectable.
  • For determining the age of inanimate things, instead of carbon, decays of other radioactive elements that might be present in the material become the basis for the dating method.
  • These are known as Radiometric Dating Methods. Many of these involve elements with half-lives of billions of years, which enable scientists to reliably estimate the age of very old objects.

What are the Radiometric Methods for Age Determination of Nonliving Things?

  • Potassium-Argon and Uranium-Thorium-Lead: Two commonly employed methods for dating rocks are Potassium-Argon dating and Uranium-Thorium-Lead dating.
  • The radioactive isotope of potassium decays into argon, and their ratios can give a clue about the age of rocks.
  • Uranium and thorium have several radioactive isotopes, and all of them decay into the stable lead atom. The ratios of these elements present in the material can be measured and used to make estimates about age.
  • Exposure to Sunlight: There are also methods to determine how long an object has remained exposed to sunlight. These apply different techniques but are again based on radioactive decay and are particularly useful in studying buried objects or changes in topology.
  • The most common of these is called cosmogenic nuclide dating, or CRN, and is regularly applied to study the age of ice cores in polar regions.
  • Indirect Carbon Dating: In some situations, carbon dating can be used indirectly as well.
  • A way in which the age of ice cores in glaciers and polar regions is determined by studying carbon dioxide molecules trapped inside large ice sheets.
  • The trapped molecules have no interaction with the outside atmosphere and are found in the same state as when they were trapped. Determining their age gives a rough estimate of the time when the ice sheets were formed.

What are the Limitations of Determining Age of Gyanvapi Shivling?

  • There are specific limitations in the case that prevent disruptive methods or uprooting of the structure, as directed by the SC.
  • Therefore, traditional methods like carbon dating, which involve analyzing trapped organic material beneath the structure, may not be feasible in this particular situation.

What is the Gyanvapi Dispute?

  • The Gyanvapi dispute revolves around the Gyanvapi Mosque complex in Varanasi. Hindu petitioners claim that the mosque was built on the site of an ancient Hindu temple. They argue that the presence of a "Shivling" serves as evidence of the temple's existence. The Petitioners have sought the right to worship Maa Shringar Gauri on the outer wall of the mosque complex.
  • The management committee of the mosque, however, maintains that the land is Waqf property and argues that The Places of Worship Act of 1991 prohibits any changes to the character of the mosque.
  • Historically, the Gyanvapi Mosque was built in 1669 during the reign of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. It was constructed after the demolition of the existing Vishweshwar temple. The plinth of the temple was left intact and served as the courtyard of the mosque, while one wall was preserved as the qibla wall facing Mecca. The present Kashi Vishwanath Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, was later built adjacent to the mosque by Rani Ahilyabai Holkar in the 18th century.
  • Various claims have been made over the years, with some asserting that the mosque remains the original sacred place of Hindu worship.

Water Footprint of AI

Context: As AI tools like OpenAI's ChatGPT continue to gain popularity for their versatility and automation capabilities, concerns are being raised regarding their environmental impact.

  • A recent study has shed light on the water footprint of Artificial Intelligence(AI) models, highlighting the significant amounts of water required to maintain data centers and train these models.

What is the Water Footprint of AI?

  • The water footprint of AI is the amount of water that is used to generate electricity and provide cooling for the data centers that run AI models.
  • The water footprint of AI can be divided into two components: direct water consumption and indirect water consumption.
  • Direct water consumption refers to the water that is evaporated or discharged as waste during the cooling process of data center servers.
  • Indirect water consumption refers to the water that is used to produce the electricity that powers data center servers.
  • The water footprint of AI can vary depending on several factors, such as the type and size of the AI model, the location and efficiency of the data center, and the source and mix of electricity generation.

How Much Water Does AI Consume?

  • According to a recent study titled "Making AI Less 'Thirsty:' Uncovering and Addressing the Secret Water Footprint of AI Models", training a large AI model such as GPT-3 can directly consume up to 700,000 liters of clean freshwater, which is enough to produce 370 BMW cars or 320 Tesla electric vehicles.
  • The same study also estimated that a conversation with an AI chatbot such as ChatGPT can consume up to 500 ml of water for 20-50 questions and answers, which may not seem like much until you consider that ChatGPT has more than 100 million active users who engage in multiple conversations.
  • The GPT-4, expected to have a larger model size, is predicted to further amplify these water consumption statistics.
  • However, estimating the water footprint of GPT-4 is challenging due to the lack of publicly available data for calculation.
  • Although online activities using AI models occur digitally, the physical storage and processing of data take place in data centers.
  • Data centers generate considerable heat, necessitating water-intensive cooling systems, often utilizing evaporative cooling towers.
  • To maintain system integrity, the water used must be pure freshwater, and data centers also require significant water for power generation.

What are the Concerns with the Water Footprint of AI?

Water Scarcity:

  • Water scarcity is a global issue, and AI technologies contribute to the problem. AI infrastructure requires significant amounts of freshwater for cooling, which strains limited water resources.

Environmental Impact:

  • Extraction of freshwater for AI operations can harm aquatic biodiversity.
  • Energy required for water treatment and transport for AI operations contributes to carbon emissions and climate change.

Unsustainable Resource Management:

  • Diverting water for AI operations can hinder access to water for human consumption, agriculture, and other critical needs.

Equity and Social Implications:

  • Water scarcity disproportionately affects vulnerable communities that rely on limited water supplies for their livelihoods.
  • The water-intensive nature of AI can further exacerbate inequities by diverting water away from communities that need it the most.

Long-term Sustainability:

  • The expanding AI industry could place additional strain on water resources without addressing the water footprint issue.
  • Addressing the water footprint is crucial for the long-term sustainability of both AI development and water availability.

How Can the Water Footprint of AI be Reduced?

Use Renewable Energy Sources:

  • By using renewable energy sources like wind or solar power to generate electricity, we can significantly reduce the amount of water needed.

Implement Water-Efficient Cooling Systems:

  • Most data centers, which house the servers and other hardware that power AI systems, use water-based cooling systems. Implementing water-efficient cooling technologies like air cooling or direct-to-chip liquid cooling can help reduce the amount of water used.

Develop Water-Efficient Algorithms:

  • AI algorithms can be designed to be more water-efficient by reducing the need for computational power or by optimizing algorithms to use less water-intensive processes.

Increase Hardware Lifespan:

  • Extending the lifespan of hardware can reduce the amount of water used in its production. By designing hardware that lasts longer and is upgradeable, we can reduce the need to replace hardware frequently.

Promote Responsible Water Management:

  • Encouraging responsible water management practices by data centres and other AI companies can help reduce the water footprint of AI.
  • This includes measures like recycling wastewater, using rainwater harvesting systems, and implementing water-efficient landscaping practices.
  • Adopting policies and regulations that incentivize or mandate the reduction of the water footprint of AI by setting standards, targets, or taxes.

4th Positive Indigenisation List

Context: In a significant move towards promoting self-reliance in the defence sector and reducing imports, India's Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) have received approval for the fourth Positive Indigenisation List (PIL).

  • The list comprises 928 strategically-important Line Replacement Units (LRUs), sub-systems, spares, and components, with an import substitution value of approximately Rs 715 crore.

What is a Positive Indigenisation List?

About:

  • The concept of the positive indigenization list entails that the Indian Armed Forces, comprising the Army, Navy, and Air Force, will exclusively source the listed items from domestic manufacturers.
  • These manufacturers may include entities from the private sector or Defense Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs).
  • The fourth Positive Indigenisation List follows three previous PILs that were published in December 2021, March 2022, and August 2022, respectively.
  • So far, 310 items have been successfully indigenised, with the breakdown as follows: 262 items from the first PIL, 11 items from the second PIL, and 37 items from the third PIL.
  • This initiative is in line with India's vision of 'Atma Nirbharta' (self-reliance) and aims to boost the domestic defence industry, enhance investment, and reduce dependency on imports.

Indigenisation and In-house Development:

  • To achieve indigenization, the DPSUs will utilize different routes under the 'Make' category, focusing on in-house development through the capabilities of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and the private Indian industry.
  • This approach will provide a boost to the economy, encourage investment in the defense sector. Additionally, this initiative will foster the growth of design capabilities within the domestic defense industry by actively involving academia and research institutions.

Procurement and Industry Participation:

  • The DPSUs are set to initiate procurement action for the items listed in the fourth PIL. To facilitate the process, Srijan Portal Dashboard has been specifically designed for this purpose.

What is the Status of Indigenisation of the Defence Sector in India?

Need for Indigenization:

  • India's arms imports fell 11% between 2013-17 and 2018-22, the country is still the world’s top importer of military hardware in 2022 highlighted by a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Current Estimates and Targets:

  • Current estimates place India's defensive capital expenditure at USD 130 billion over the next five years.
  • The defense ministry has set a USD 25 billion (Rs 1.75 lakh crore) turnover goal in defense manufacturing in the next five years, including an export target of USD 5 billion worth of military hardware.

Government Initiatives:

  • Priority Procurement: The Defense Acquisition Procedure (DAP)-2020 gives priority to the procurement of capital items from domestic sources under the Buy Indian (IDDM) category.
  • Liberalised Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Policy: The FDI policy allows for 74% FDI under the automatic route in the defense industry, and up to 100% through Government route wherever it is likely to result in access to modern technology.
  • Mission DefSpace: The Mission DefSpace has been launched to promote defense-related innovations and developments in the space sector.
  • Innovations for Defense Excellence (iDEX) Scheme: The iDEX scheme involves startups and MSMEs in defense innovation projects, fostering their participation and contribution.
  • Defense Industrial Corridors: Two Defense Industrial Corridors have been established in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, focusing on developing defense manufacturing ecosystems and attracting investments.

Examples of Indigenous Defense Arsenal in India:

  • Tejas Aircraft: The Tejas is a lightweight, multi-role supersonic aircraft designed and developed indigenously in India.
  • Arjun Tank: Developed by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), the Arjun Tank is a 3rd generation main battle tank that showcases India's expertise in armored vehicle technology.
  • NETRA: The NETRA is an airborne early warning and control system developed domestically, providing crucial surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
  • ASTRA: India has successfully developed the ASTRA, an all-weather beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile, enhancing the country's air defense capabilities.
  • LCH ‘Prachand’: It is the first indigenous Multi-Role Combat Helicopter which has potent ground attack and aerial combat capability.
  • ICG ALH Squadrons: In a major boost to further strengthen the capabilities of the Indian Coast Guard, ALH Mk-III squadrons were commissioned in Porbandar and Chennai in June and December 2022.

Challenges:

  • Technological Gap: Developing cutting-edge defence technologies and acquiring advanced capabilities is a significant challenge for India.
  • The country has traditionally relied on foreign suppliers for critical defence technologies, and bridging the technological gap requires substantial investments in research and development (R&D), as well as collaboration with industry and academia.
  • Infrastructure and Manufacturing Base: Building a robust defence industrial base and infrastructure to support indigenous production is a major challenge.
  • The defense manufacturing ecosystem in India needs to be modernized, with improvements in infrastructure, technology transfer, skilled workforce development, and streamlined procurement processes.
  • Testing and Certification: Ensuring the quality, reliability, and safety of indigenously developed defense systems through rigorous testing and certification processes is crucial.
  • Developing robust testing facilities and establishing effective quality control mechanisms are essential for gaining the confidence of users and export markets.

Way Forward

  • Create a Defense Innovation Ecosystem: There is a need to establish a dedicated defense innovation ecosystem that brings together defense organizations, research institutions, startups, and technology companies.
    • This ecosystem should promote collaboration, knowledge sharing, and technology transfer to drive indigenous defense capabilities.
  • Defense Technology Accelerators: Establish defense technology accelerators that provide mentorship, funding, and resources to startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) working on cutting-edge defense technologies.
    • These accelerators should facilitate connections with defense organizations, offer access to test facilities, and help navigate regulatory processes.
  • Defence Skilling and Training Programs: There is a need to develop skilling and training programs to bridge the gap between academia and industry in defense-related disciplines.
    • Collaborating with universities and technical institutes to design specialized courses and certifications that align with defense technology requirements will be a significant step in this direction.
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