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Weekly Current Affairs (15th to 21st December 2023) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC PDF Download

Annual Arctic Report Card: NOAA

Context: In a recent revelation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the 18th Annual Arctic Report Card paints a stark picture of the Arctic's environmental state. Highlighting the intense repercussions of extreme weather events and climate change on this critical region, the report underscores the urgent need for attention and action.

Understanding the Arctic Report Card

The Arctic Report Card, issued annually since 2006, stands as a comprehensive, peer-reviewed repository of crucial environmental data. It serves as a beacon of clear, reliable, and concise information, providing insights into various facets of the Arctic environmental system concerning historical records.

Key Highlights of the Report

Record High Temperatures

  • The Arctic witnessed its warmest summer on record in 2023, escalating at nearly four times the global warming rate since 1979. This year ranked as the sixth warmest in the region since 1900.

Impact of Rising Temperatures

  • Escalating temperatures led to unprecedented wildfires, prompting community evacuations, a reduction in sea ice extent, severe floods, food insecurity, and rising sea levels. These directly affected ecosystems, human health, and cultural practices.

Thawing of Subsea Permafrost

  • Warmer ocean temperatures hastened the thawing of subsea permafrost, releasing methane and carbon dioxide, further contributing to global warming and aggravating ocean acidification. The extent and impact of these released greenhouse gases raise significant concerns.

Food Insecurity Due to Salmon Decline

  • Western Alaska witnessed a significant decline in Chinook and chum salmon populations, impacting Indigenous communities heavily reliant on these fish for sustenance. The decline carries cultural, food security, and economic implications.

Wildfires in Arctic Regions

  • Canada experienced its worst wildfire season, affecting 40% of its Arctic and Northern landmass. High temperatures and dry conditions facilitated the burning of over 10 million acres in the Northwest Territories, leading to evacuations and diminished air quality.

Glacier Thinning and Flooding

  • Rising temperatures caused dramatic thinning of the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska, resulting in annual floods. An unprecedented flood in August 2023 caused severe property damage in Alaska’s Juneau.

Greenland Ice Sheet Melting

  • Greenland’s ice sheet experienced its fifth melting episode in 34 years, losing approximately 350 trillion pounds of mass between August 2022 and September 2023. This melting significantly contributes to rising sea levels.

Understanding the Arctic: A Vital Polar Region

  • The Arctic, positioned at Earth's northernmost part, exhibits seasonally varying snow and ice cover. Encompassing the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and territories of several nations, it holds immense ecological significance and relevance.

Exam Insights and Questions

  • The report's findings align with UPSC Civil Services Examination Previous Year Questions, emphasizing the critical impact of methane hydrate deposits, Arctic ice melt, and glacier thinning on climate change and human activities.

Conclusion

The NOAA's 18th Annual Arctic Report Card stands as a testament to the urgent need for concerted global action to address the intensifying environmental crisis in the Arctic. With its profound ecological implications, this report serves as a clarion call for proactive measures and international cooperation to mitigate climate change effects in this vulnerable region.

e-Cigarettes

Context: In recent news, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a resounding call for governments worldwide to classify e-cigarettes as akin to tobacco products. This urgency includes advocating for the banning of all flavors, posing a significant challenge to cigarette companies that have banked on smoking alternatives. But why has the WHO taken such a stringent stance?

Unveiling e-Cigarettes: What Exactly Are They?

E-cigarettes, also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS), are battery-operated devices that function by heating a liquid into an aerosol, which users inhale and exhale. The liquid typically comprises nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin, flavorings, and various chemicals, offering a range of products in the market.

WHO's Worries and Raised Concerns

Ineffectiveness for Smoking Cessation

  • The WHO has highlighted concerns about the lack of evidence showcasing e-cigarettes as effective smoking cessation tools at a population level. Instead, alarming evidence has emerged about adverse health effects, especially among younger demographics.

Impact on Youth and Rising Usage

  • The recruitment and potential entrapment of children and adolescents into e-cigarette use raise worries about nicotine addiction. Shockingly, statistics indicate a surge in e-cigarette use among adolescents compared to adults in various countries, signaling a grave concern.

Health Risks and Addictive Nature

  • While the long-term health implications of e-cigarettes remain underexplored, these devices generate toxic substances, some of which are known carcinogens. Additionally, nicotine's highly addictive nature poses health risks to both users and bystanders, especially worrying for young users.

Proponents' Argument: Are There Any Benefits?

Harm Reduction

  • Advocates argue that e-cigarettes offer harm reduction, as they contain nicotine but lack many harmful carcinogens found in traditional cigarettes. This argument is particularly strong for adult smokers seeking a safer alternative to conventional tobacco products.

Economic Revenue and Consumer Choice

  • There's an economic standpoint suggesting that regulating and legalizing e-cigarettes could generate substantial tax revenue for governments. Furthermore, supporters stress the importance of consumer choice, advocating for access to less harmful nicotine delivery systems.

Understanding Nicotine and Government Initiatives

  • Nicotine, a plant alkaloid found in tobacco plants, serves as a sedative and stimulant. Its use in e-cigarettes at higher concentrations than traditional cigarettes raises concerns. Governments globally have implemented various initiatives and regulations to counter tobacco consumption, including tax hikes and stringent control programs.

The Road Ahead: Urgent Measures and Recommendations

  • There's an urgent need for comprehensive measures to combat the rise of e-cigarette use, counter nicotine addiction, and establish robust tobacco control strategies. Advocates propose regulating and taxing e-cigarettes akin to other "sin goods" like cigarettes and alcohol, aiming to discourage excessive use while allowing access to a potentially safer alternative for smokers.

Conclusion

  • The debate surrounding e-cigarettes is multifaceted, touching upon public health, regulation, economics, and individual choice. Addressing these concerns requires a delicate balance between harm reduction, stringent regulations, and fostering awareness about the risks associated with these emerging products.
  • The WHO's call for immediate action underscores the gravity of the situation, emphasizing the need for governments to take proactive steps to safeguard public health while ensuring access to effective smoking cessation methods.

Surat Diamond Bourse

Context: The inauguration of the Surat Diamond Bourse (SDB) by the Indian Prime Minister marks a pivotal moment in the global diamond and jewelry trade.

  • This mammoth office complex stands as a testament to Surat's prowess in diamond cutting and polishing, aiming to shift the diamond trading hub from Mumbai to Surat, Gujarat.

Why Surat Diamond Bourse Matters?

The SDB stands tall as the world's largest office complex dedicated to the diamond industry. Its establishment signals a strategic move to leverage Surat's expertise in diamond craftsmanship, facilitating a significant shift in the dynamics of India's diamond market.

Diamond Industry Landscape in India

India holds the esteemed position of being the world's largest center for cutting and polishing diamonds, contributing over 90% to the global polished diamond manufacturing. The country's diamond fields are geographically dispersed across various regions, including Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha.

Global Diamond Production Dynamics

Understanding the global landscape, major diamond-producing countries like Russia, Botswana, Canada, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo dominate the market. However, recent geopolitical dynamics have stirred concerns, notably the G7's imposition of import restrictions on Russian-origin diamonds, impacting India's gems and jewelry trade.

Rise of Lab-Grown Diamonds (LGDs)

Amid environmental concerns and ethical considerations, lab-grown diamonds have gained substantial traction. These diamonds, grown in controlled laboratory environments, possess identical chemical, optical, and physical properties as natural diamonds. Importantly, they bypass the social and environmental impacts associated with traditional mining practices.

Understanding Lab-Grown Diamond Production Methods

Lab-grown diamonds are cultivated using two primary methods: Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) and High Pressure, High Temperature (HPHT). Both techniques rely on a seed, essentially a slice of another diamond, as the foundation for the growth process.

India's Leap into Lab-Grown Diamond Export

While India remains a dominant force in the diamond industry, its share in the lab-grown diamond sector hovers around 2-3%. The burgeoning global demand for eco-friendly diamonds has, however, led to a surge in India's export earnings. The recent announcement in Budget 2023-24 to eliminate Customs duty on imported seeds for rough lab-grown diamonds underscores India's commitment to enhancing its stake in this evolving market.

Conclusion

The Surat Diamond Bourse's inauguration symbolizes a remarkable stride in India's diamond industry, emphasizing innovation, sustainability, and market adaptability. As the industry navigates geopolitical shifts and embraces eco-conscious practices, India's embrace of lab-grown diamonds stands as a progressive leap toward a more sustainable and ethically sound future in the world of gems and jewelry.

Arbitration Agreements In Unstamped Contracts Valid

Context: The Indian judicial landscape witnessed a significant upheaval as the Supreme Court, in a recent verdict, redefined the validity of arbitration agreements within unstamped or insufficiently stamped commercial contracts. 

  • This watershed ruling, delivered by a seven-judge Constitution Bench, marked a decisive departure from prior jurisprudence, ushering in a new era for dispute resolution mechanisms in the country.

Key Highlights of the SC Decision

In an impactful move, the Chief Justice of India, presiding over a curative petition, overturned a precedent set by an earlier five-judge Bench in the N.N. Global case. The apex court affirmed that the absence or inadequacy of stamp duty on substantive contracts, as per the Indian Stamp Act, 1899, should not render arbitration clauses void or unenforceable. Emphasizing that non-stamping is a curable defect, the Bench clarified that such deficiencies do not impede arbitration proceedings under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

The Impact on Arbitration Landscape in India

This groundbreaking judgment delineates the autonomy of the Arbitration Act as a self-contained code, thereby insulating its provisions from interference by other statutes. By removing the hindrance posed by non-payment or insufficient stamping of contracts, the ruling bolsters India's aspiration to emerge as a global hub for swift resolution of commercial disputes.

Understanding Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Mechanisms

Arbitration

  • Arbitration, governed by the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, offers a less formal avenue for dispute resolution. An arbitral tribunal delivers a binding decision, promoting expeditious conflict resolution. Judicial intervention in arbitration proceedings is limited, fostering a quicker resolution compared to traditional court trials.

Conciliation

  • Unlike arbitration, conciliation involves a non-binding process mediated by a neutral third party—the conciliator. Parties in dispute collaborate to reach a mutually acceptable resolution. If both parties accept the conciliator's settlement document, it becomes legally binding.

Mediation

  • Mediation employs an impartial mediator to facilitate dialogue between disputing parties. The mediator aids in achieving a mutually acceptable resolution without imposing a decision. India's Mediation Act of 2023 encourages institutional mediation and provides a mechanism for enforcing mediated settlement agreements.

Negotiation

  • This non-binding method involves direct discussions between parties to resolve disputes without third-party intervention. It's a commonly used approach across various domains, from business to personal matters.

Arbitration Council of India (ACI): A Step Forward

Aligned with India's constitutional mandate to foster respect for international law and encourage arbitration for international dispute settlement, the Arbitration Council of India (ACI) is pivotal. Comprising esteemed members from the judiciary, academia, and arbitration practitioners, the ACI seeks to promote and regulate arbitration, mediation, and alternative dispute redressal mechanisms.

Exploring Lok Adalats and the Evolving ADR Landscape

Lok Adalats, an integral part of India's alternative dispute resolution framework, have the jurisdiction to settle civil matters pre-litigation. These forums have gained prominence as awards issued by Lok Adalats are deemed decrees of civil courts, promoting expeditious resolution.

UPSC Civil Services Examination Insights

The UPSC Civil Services Examination often delves into topics related to dispute resolution mechanisms, including Lok Adalats and changes in arbitration laws. Understanding these concepts is essential for aspirants preparing for the examination.

Conclusion

The recent SC ruling solidifies the primacy of arbitration agreements within unstamped or inadequately stamped contracts, fortifying India's stance as an arbitration-friendly jurisdiction. This transformative judgment paves the way for expeditious resolution of commercial disputes and augments India's standing as a robust destination for international arbitration.

International Energy Agency’s Coal 2023 Report

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released its highly anticipated annual coal market report, outlining crucial shifts and projections in global coal demand. Titled the "Coal 2023 Report," this comprehensive analysis foresees a pivotal change in the trajectory of coal consumption, signaling a structural decline by 2026. Various factors, including the rise of renewable energy and increased nuclear generation in key regions, are set to reshape the future of coal's role in the global energy landscape.

Key Highlights

Global Coal Demand Trends

  • The report highlights a record-high global coal demand in 2022 amid the global energy crisis, witnessing a 4% year-on-year rise to reach 8.42 billion tonnes (Bt). Asia emerged as the primary driver, with China experiencing a 4.6% surge equivalent to 200 million tonnes (Mt), and India marking a substantial 9% increase amounting to 97 Mt. 
  • Indonesia saw a remarkable 32% surge driven by nickel smelters. Contrastingly, the United States faced an 8% decline, totaling 37 Mt, the most significant drop among major markets. Europe, despite a 4.3% increase, exhibited restrained growth due to factors like subdued hydropower and nuclear electricity generation.

Future Projections and Uncertainties

  • Anticipations suggest a decline in coal demand in most advanced economies through 2023, projecting a 2.3% decrease in global coal consumption by 2026. Despite this decline, coal consumption is expected to remain above 8 billion tonnes, emphasizing its continued impact as a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions. China, India, and Indonesia, the largest coal producers, are expected to set output records in 2023, accounting for over 70% of global production.

Factors Influencing Decline in Coal Demand

  • The shift towards renewable energy sources significantly contributes to the expected decline in coal demand. The report links this decline to global climate changes, including transitions from El Nino to La Nina, potentially boosting hydropower output. Moreover, the increasing deployment of low-cost solar photovoltaic systems and moderate growth in nuclear generation, especially in China, India, and the European Union, are influencing coal-fired generation.

China's Dominance in Coal Markets

  • China's coal consumption is projected to decrease in 2024 and stabilize through 2026. The country anticipates a recovery in hydropower output while witnessing substantial growth in solar PV and wind electricity generation. However, uncertainties loom due to major structural changes and economic growth fluctuations in China. Meanwhile, India, Indonesia, and other emerging economies are expected to persist in relying on coal for economic growth despite commitments to expand renewables.

Efforts Towards Emission Reduction

  • Efforts to curb 'unabated' coal use are considered crucial for achieving international climate targets. Initiatives like the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) aim for a nearly 95% reduction in coal emissions between 2020-2050.

The International Energy Agency: A Brief Overview

  • The IEA, founded in 1974 in response to the mid-1970s oil crisis, focuses on energy policies, economic development, energy security, and environmental protection. With 31 member countries, 13 association countries including India, and 4 accession countries, the agency plays a vital role in providing information on the international oil market and addressing disruptions in oil supply.

Conclusion

Despite coal's historical significance in global energy production, the IEA's report signals a transformative period ahead. As the world navigates the transition towards cleaner energy sources, balancing economic growth and environmental sustainability remains paramount. The projections outlined in the "Coal 2023 Report" serve as a call to action, urging concerted efforts and policy interventions to steer towards a more sustainable energy future.

The document Weekly Current Affairs (15th to 21st December 2023) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC is a part of the UPSC Course Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly.
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FAQs on Weekly Current Affairs (15th to 21st December 2023) Part - 2 - Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC

1. What is the Annual Arctic Report Card?
Ans. The Annual Arctic Report Card is a comprehensive assessment of the state of the Arctic region, focusing on environmental, climatic, and ecological changes. It is published annually by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and provides valuable scientific information about the Arctic's ongoing transformation.
2. What does the International Energy Agency's Coal 2023 Report entail?
Ans. The International Energy Agency's Coal 2023 Report is a detailed analysis of the global coal industry, forecasting its future trends and developments. It provides insights into coal production, consumption, and trade, as well as the environmental and economic implications associated with coal usage. The report helps policymakers and stakeholders make informed decisions regarding energy and climate strategies.
3. Are arbitration agreements in unstamped contracts valid?
Ans. Yes, arbitration agreements in unstamped contracts can be valid. The validity of an arbitration agreement does not depend on the physical stamping of the contract but rather on the intention of the parties involved. As long as the agreement meets the legal requirements for a valid contract and clearly outlines the parties' consent to resolve disputes through arbitration, it can be enforceable.
4. What is the significance of the Surat Diamond Bourse?
Ans. The Surat Diamond Bourse is a prominent diamond trading hub located in Surat, India. It plays a crucial role in the global diamond industry as it facilitates the trading, cutting, and polishing of diamonds. The bourse provides a secure and regulated marketplace for diamond merchants, ensuring transparency and fair practices in the diamond trade.
5. What are some potential health risks associated with e-cigarettes?
Ans. E-cigarettes, also known as electronic cigarettes or vaping devices, carry several potential health risks. These include nicotine addiction, lung damage, respiratory issues, cardiovascular problems, and potential exposure to harmful chemicals. The long-term health effects of e-cigarette use are still being researched, but it is important to be aware of the potential risks and make informed choices regarding their usage.
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