1. Delta variant led to most post-vaccine infections in Delhi
Strain more transmissible: CSIR, NCDC
Variant Delta (B.1.617.2), the most pervasive variant of the coronavirus in India, constituted nearly three in four breakthrough infections in Delhi, according to a research study by scientists in Delhi. The variant was also characterised by high transmissibility, an accelerated surge in infections and, the scientists say, “…prior infections, high seropositivity and partial vaccination were insufficient impediments to its spread.”
Breakthrough infections are instances of people testing positive for the virus after getting vaccinated.
The study is yet to be peer-reviewed and appears as a pre-print and was authored by scientists at the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB) and the National Centre of Disease Control — two key labs of the Indian Sars Cov-2 Genomic Consortium (INSACOG) that tracks the emergence of key variants of the coronavirus.
In 27 instances of breakthrough infections analysed, the scientists found that two lineages dominated. B.1.617.1 (Kappa) comprised 8%, Delta was 76% and the remaining linked to variants that belonged to broader “B.1 lineages”.
However international variant Alpha, that in previous studies has been associated with a spike in cases in Delhi in February and March was absent in vaccination breakthrough-cases analysed.
The study also reports a new mutation in Delta called T478K that the scientists believe has a role to play in allowing the coronavirus to better infiltrate human cells.
“Our data indicates B.1.617.2 shows high transmissibility and surges without any increase in the Case Fatality Ratio (CFR). We estimate the transmissibility to be as much as 50% greater than B.1.1.7. Viral load of B.1.617.2 appears to be higher than B.1.1.7 and based on data from India and UK, so does vaccination break-through rate. B.1.617.2 is capable of creating very fast rising outbreaks with vaccination breakthroughs,” they note in their study.
Anurag Agrawal, Director, CSIR-IGIB and among the authors of the paper said that while the variant was extremely transmissible, there was no single super spreader event that contributed to the rise of the Delta variant in Delhi. Previous studies had shown that the farmer protests and religious gatherings had contributed to amplifying the Alpha variant in North India. The latter variant has now been outcompeted by the Delta.
“We should be doing more studies on the vaccine effectiveness in India against various strains. We must also assess the risk to various populations, by age, to decide on the dosage of vaccine.” Dr Agrawal said.
Naming Coronavirus Variants: WHO
Every variant would be given a name from the Greek alphabet, which would help simplify the public discussion and remove the stigma arising from the emergence of new variants.
As per the WHO, any country would willingly inform the existence of the virus variant if the new version would be non-stigmatic like Sigma or Rho instead of carrying the country’s name.
The letters of the Greek alphabet would refer to the variants.
B.1.1.7 variant would be known as Alpha which was first identified in Britain. The B.1.351, identified in South Africa would be named Beta.
The variant P.1 detected initially in Brazil is called Gamma and B.1.671.2 found in India would be called Delta.
The earlier found variant in the country would be known as Kappa.
Naming Covid Variants:
- WHO chose the labels after a wide consultation process and a very elaborate review of potential naming systems.
- Many experts were convened and partners from around the globe were called in for this purpose. The group was inclusive of individuals specializing in existing naming systems, nomenclature and virus taxonomic experts, researchers and national authorities.
- As per WHO, most variants of Coronavirus have no changes than the other in terms of virus properties. Some changes however have been observed like ease of spreading and disease severity or performance of vaccines.
- WHO has been studying the evolution of the virus since January 2020 and observed many VOI or Variants of Interest in late 2020.
- The established nomenclature systems would remain in use by scientists and scientific research. They were used for tracking the genetic lineages by GISAID, Nextstarin and Pnago.
- The group named WHO Virus Evolution Working Group along with the WHO COVID 19 reference lab network, representatives from GISAID, Nextstrain, Pangolin and other experts suggested the use of more communicable and easy to pronounce labels for Variants of Interest and Concern.
What is the Variant of Concern?
These variants have the following properties:
- Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID19 epidemiology
- Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation
- Decrease in effectiveness of the public health and social measures or available diagnostic techniques
What is the Variant of Interest?
The SARS-CoV- 2 variant which is phenotypically changed or has a genome with mutations that cause changes in amino acids. It is either
- Identified to cause community transmission in multiple countries
- Is assessed to be a VOI by WHO in consultation with the Virus Evolution working group.
What if the 24 Greek letters are exhausted?
As per Van Kerkhove, “When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet have been exhausted another series like the same would be announced.”
As per the initial plan the virus would have been named with two syllables that wont have been words. These would have been called Portmanteaus. However too many were apparently claimed already so it would have shifted to three syllables which would have been quite long.
The team also considered using numbers for each variant but the idea was rejected due to confusion it might have created.
How are Viruses Generally named?
Generally WHO follows a pattern for naming the viruses. They are named on the basis of their genetic structure to facilitate the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines.This work is generally done by various virologists and scientific communities. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) is basically responsible for naming the viruses.
2. DAC nod for building 6 conventional submarines
It also approved procurement of air defence guns at a cost of ₹6,000 crore
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on Friday approved the issuance of a Request For Proposal (RFP) for the construction of six conventional submarines under Project-75I at an estimated cost of ₹43,000 crore.
At a meeting, it also approved the procurement of air defence guns and ammunition for the Army at an approximate cost of ₹6,000 crore.
“This is a landmark approval, being the first case processed under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model. This would be one of the largest ‘Make in India’ projects and it will create a tiered industrial ecosystem for submarine construction in India,” Mr. Singh said on Twitter on the submarine deal.
With this approval, India would be enabled to achieve its 30-year submarine construction programme envisioned by the government to acquire national competence in their building and for Indian industry to independently design and construct them, he noted.
The SP model of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) aims to promote the role of Indian industry in manufacturing and build a domestic defence industrial ecosystem.
MDL, L&T shortlisted
The RFP is expected to be issued in the next couple of months, a defence official said. It would take at least two to three years for the deal to be concluded, and given the high technology and the long timelines, the cost would be spread over many years, a defence official added.
Last January, the DAC shortlisted Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) as the Indian partners for the deal. The Navy will now issue the RFP to them, who would respond to it in partnership with a foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).
As per the Navy’s requirements, the submarines, all of which will be built in India, should be equipped with Air Independent propulsion (AIP) modules and be able to fire land attack cruise missiles.
Five foreign OEMs- Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) (South Korea), Naval Group (France), Navantia (Spain), Rosoboronexport (Russia) and TKMS (Germany), have been selected.
The delay in the deal was the extra caution at each step of the process as this was being done for the first time, officials had said.
The modernisation of the Army’s air defence guns has been a long pending proposal and the DAC accorded approval for the procurement of the guns and ammunition under the Buy & Make (Indian) category of the procurement procedure.
The Defence Ministry said that responses from about a dozen Indian companies had been received and “all of them have expressed their willingness and commitment to manufacture this complex gun system and associated equipment by ensuring technology assimilation in India.”
Defence Acquisition Council (DAC)
- As an overarching structure, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), under the Defence Minister is constituted for overall guidance of the defence procurement planning process.
- DAC is the highest decision-making body in the Defence Ministry for deciding on new policies and capital acquisitions for the three services (Army, Navy and Air Force) and the Indian Coast Guard.
- The objective of the Defence Acquisition Council is to ensure expeditious procurement of the approved requirements of the Armed Forces in terms of capabilities sought, and time frame prescribed, by optimally utilizing the allocated budgetary resources.
- It was formed, after the Group of Ministers recommendations on ‘Reforming the National Security System’, in 2001, post Kargil War (1999).
Composition of Defence Acquisition Council
- Defence Minister: Chairman
- Minister of State for Defence: Member
- Chief of Army Staff: Member
- Chief of Naval Staff: Member
- Chief of Air Staff: Member
- Defence Secretary: Member
- Secretary Defence Research & Development: Member
- Secretary Defence Production: Member
- Chief of Integrated Staff Committees HQ IDS: Member
- Director General (Acquisition): Member
- Dy. Chief of Integrated Defence: Staff Member Secretary
Defence Procurement Process (DPP)
DPP is a national policy to purchase defence equipment.
The Defence Procurement Procedure mainly contains processes that needs to be followed to streamline and simplify defence procurement procedures and ultimately achieve the objective of self-reliance in meeting all the security needs of the Indian Armed Forces by promoting indigenous design, development and manufacture of Defence weapon systems and, platforms in a time-bound manner without any delays.
3. Serum Institute gets DCGI’s nod to produce Sputnik V
The output will be analysed at the Hadapsar facility in Pune
The DCGI has granted permission to the Serum Institute of India (SII) to manufacture the Sputnik COVID-19 vaccine in India for examination, test and analysis with certain conditions, official sources said on Friday.
The Pune-based firm has collaborated with Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Moscow in Russia for developing Sputnik V at its licensed Hadapsar facility. “The DCGI has granted permission to the Serum Institute to manufacture the Sputnik COVID-19 vaccine in India for examination, test and analysis at its licensed Hadapsar facility with certain conditions,” an official source said.
The company had submitted an application to the DCGI in this regard on Thursday. According to the four conditions set by the DCGI, the Serum Institute will have to submit a copy of the agreement between it and the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology for transfer of cell bank and virus stock and a copy of agreement for technology transfer with Gamaleya.
Further, the SII has to submit a copy of the RCGM permission to import cell bank and virus stock and a copy of the RCGM permission to initiate research and development of viral vector vaccine Sputnik V, the sources said. This licence, unless suspended or revoked, will be enforced for a period of three years from the date of its issuance on June 4.
The SII on May 18 had also applied to the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM), Department of Biotechnology seeking clearance for import of strains/seed lots and cell banks, and for carrying out research and development, the official sources said.
The RCGM has raised some queries over SII’s application and has sought a copy of material transfer agreement between the Pune-based firm and the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.
Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories is currently supplying Sputnik V in India.
The SII plans to seek restricted emergency use permission of the vaccine in India.
Drug Controller General of India (DCGI)
The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) is the head of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) in India.
Drug Controller General of India
The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) heads the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO).
- CDSCO is the central drug authority in India.
- CDSCO is a national level regulatory body under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
- The body is responsible for approving licenses for certain categories of drugs.
- It is headquartered in New Delhi.
- There are six functioning central drug testing laboratories under CDSCO.
- The DCGI also establishes standards for the manufacturing, sales, import, and distribution of drugs in India.
- The DCGI also regulates medical and pharmaceutical devices.
- In case of any dispute with respect to the quality of the drug, the DCGI is the appellate authority.
- The DCGI prepares and maintains the national reference standard for drugs.
- He ensures that there is uniformity in the implementation of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
- He is responsible for the training of Drug Analysts deputed by State Drug Control Laboratories and other Institutions.
- He is also in charge of the analysis of cosmetics received from the CDSCO as survey samples.
- The DCGI is also the central licensing authority for medical devices which fall under the Medical Device Rules 2017.
Functions of the CDSCO
The CDSCO is responsible for the following:
- Drug approval under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
- Conducting clinical trials.
- Setting standards for drugs.
- Quality control over drugs imported into the country.
- Coordinating activities of the state drug control organisations.
- Registration of foreign manufacturers of drugs and medical devices whose products are to be imported into the country.
- Grant of licences to import drugs by Government hospitals or Medical Institutions for the use of their patients.
- Recommend banning of drugs considered harmful or sub-therapeutic under section 26A drugs and Cosmetics Act.
4. INS Sandhayak decommissioned
The hydrographic survey ship was built indigenously
Hydrographic survey ship INS Sandhayak, the first of its class indigenously designed and built, was decommissioned after 40 years of service, at the Naval Dockyard Visakhapatnam on Friday in a low-key event attended only by in-station officers and sailors, in line with COVID-19 protocols.
At sunset, the Naval Ensign and the Commissioning Pennant were brought down for the last time onboard INS Sandhayak in the presence of Vice Adm A.B. Singh, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C), Eastern Naval Command (ENC), symbolising the decommissioning, a Navy statement said.
The ship was conceptualised by the then Chief Hydrographer to the Government of India, Rear Adm FL Fraser, who had a strong desire for indigenously designed and built hydrographic survey vessels in India, the Navy said. The design was finalised by Naval Headquarters and the construction began at Garden Reach Ship Builders Limited (GRSE) Kolkata (then Calcutta) by laying the keel in 1978. The ship was commissioned into the Navy on February 26, 1981, by Vice Adm M.K. Roy, then FOC-in-C, ENC.
“Since commissioning, the ship has been the alma mater, nurturing the hydrographers of the Navy and laying the foundation for a complete hydrographic coverage of the peninsular waters,” the Navy said. Also, the success of her design paved the way for all the survey ships in various modifications till recently, it stated. It said the ship had undertaken approximately 200 major hydrographic surveys and numerous minor surveys in both the east and west coasts of the country, the Andaman seas and neighbouring countries too.
The ship has also been an active participant in many significant operations such as Op Pawan (assisting the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in 1987), Op Sarong, and Op Rainbow (rendering humanitarian assistance post 2004 Tsunami) and participated in the maiden joint Indo-US HADR Exercise ‘Tiger-Triumph’.
- Indian Navy’s Sandhayak-class ship INS Jamuna, will carry out detailed hydrographic surveys and several shore-based survey activities.
- The ship has been deployed to Sri Lanka based on a mutual agreement to carry out a joint hydrographic survey off the south-west coast of Sri Lanka.
- Hydrography is the branch of applied sciences which deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of oceans, seas, coastal areas, lakes and rivers.
- The Hydographic survey is the measurement and study of features that affect maritime navigation.
- It also includes offshore oil exploration, dredging, oil drilling and other related activities.
- The standards and specifications to conduct the survey is released by International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).
International Hydrographic Organization:
- The International Hydrographic Organization is an intergovernmental consultative and technical organization that was established in 1921 to support the safety of navigation and the protection of the marine environment.
- India is also a member of IHO.
Indian Naval Hydrographic Department (INHD):
- INHD has eight indigenously built modern survey ships including one Catamaran Hull Survey Vessel (CHSV).
- The office of the department is located in Dehradun.
5. ‘Pfizer jab produces less anti-bodies against Delta’
People fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are likely to have more than five times lower levels of neutralising anti-bodies against the Delta variant, first identified in India, compared to the original strain, according to research published in The Lancet journal.
The study also shows that levels of these anti-bodies that are able to recognise and fight the virus are lower with increasing age, and that levels decline over time, providing additional evidence in support of plans to deliver a booster dose to vulnerable people.
The study analysed antibodies in the blood of 250 healthy people.
6. U.K. regulator approves Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds
The U.K.’s medicines regulator on Friday approved the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds, saying it is “safe and effective” in this age group and the benefits outweigh any risks.
Until now, COVID-19 vaccines being administered in the U.K. have been approved for adults aged 16 and over.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the decision followed a “rigorous review” of safety and effectiveness in the lower age groups and its conclusion is that the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh any risks.
“We have carefully reviewed clinical trial data in children aged 12 to 15 years and have concluded that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in this age group and that the benefits of this vaccine outweigh any risk,” said Dr June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive.
“We have in place a comprehensive safety surveillance strategy for monitoring the safety of all U.K.-approved COVID-19 vaccines and this surveillance will include the 12- to 15-year age group. No extension to an authorisation would be approved unless the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness have been met,” she said.
It will now be for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to advise on whether this age group will be vaccinated as part of the deployment programme, the MHRA said.
The regulator said no new side effects were identified and the safety data in children was comparable with that seen in young adults. As in young adults, the majority of “adverse events” were mild to moderate and relating to “reactogenicity”, such as a sore arm or tiredness.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the next step was for the JCVI to advise whether routine vaccination should be offered to those aged 12 to 17. The vaccine was approved for use for 16-and 17-year-olds in December 2020.
7. Hong Kong seals off Tiananmen vigil site
Police arrest vigil organiser; hundreds gather to commemorate the victims of China’s 1989 crackdown
Hundreds of people gathered near a Hong Kong park on Friday despite a ban on an annual candlelight vigil remembering China’s deadly crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and the arrest earlier in the day of an organiser of previous vigils.
Hong Kong police banned the vigil for a second straight year, citing COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, although there have been no local cases in the city for more than six weeks.
Police closed off large parts of Victoria Park — the venue of past vigils — and warned people not to participate in unauthorised assemblies, which carry a penalty of up to five years in jail.
Despite the ban and a heavy police presence, hundreds of people still turned up on Friday night to walk along the perimeter of the park. At 8 p.m., many turned on the flashlights on their smartphones while others lit candles in remembrance of those who lost their lives when China’s military put down student-led pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Hundreds, if not thousands, were killed in the crackdown.
Fear of reprisals
In past years, tens of thousands of people have gathered in Victoria Park to honour the dead. Last year, thousands attended despite the ban to light candles and sing songs. Police later arrested over 20 activists.
Wong, who joined the hundreds near the park on Friday said the Tiananmen Square crackdown is a memory shared by Hong Kongers, and he wanted to commemorate the students and citizens who were killed by the People’s Liberation Army.
China’s ruling Communist Party has never allowed public events on the mainland to mark the anniversary and security was increased at the Beijing square, with police checking pedestrians’ IDs as tour buses shuttled Chinese tourists in and out.
Chinese officials say the country’s rapid economic development in the years since what they call the “political turmoil” of 1989 proves that decisions made at the time were correct.
Earlier on Friday, police arrested Chow Hang Tung, a vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance which organised Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil, the group said.
After the ban was issued, Ms. Chow urged people to commemorate the event privately by lighting a candle wherever they are.
“I’m already being persecuted for participating and inciting last year’s candlelight vigil,” she said. “If I continue my activism in pushing for democracy in Hong Kong and China, surely they will come after me at some point, so it’s sort of expected.”
At the University of Hong Kong, students took part in an annual washing of the “Pillar of Shame” sculpture, which was erected to remember the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown.
“In cleaning the Pillar of Shame, we shall learn how our predecessors defended the freedom of expression before, and we shall not easily give up,” said Charles Kwok, the president of the students’ union.
Tiananmen Square Massacre Anniversary
June 4 marks the anniversary of the massacre of protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square by People’s Liberation Army of China.
- Tiananmen Square protests began in April 1989 after the death of a pro-reform leader Hu Yaobang.
- Civilian protesters had gathered for weeks in Tiananmen Square, in the center of Beijing, to call for political reform, in 1989.
- The Tiananmen Square protests are commonly known June Fourth Incident in China.
- The popular national movement inspired by the Beijing protests is sometimes called the ’89 Democracy Movement.
The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, commonly known as the June Fourth Incident, were student-led popular demonstrations in Beijing which took place in the spring of 1989 for Political reforms and received broad support from city residents, exposing deep splits within China’s political leadership. The protests were forcibly suppressed by hard-line leaders who ordered the military to enforce martial law in the country’s capital. The crackdown that initiated on June 3–4 became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre or the June 4 Massacre as troops with assault rifles and tanks inflicted casualties on unarmed civilians trying to block the military’s advance towards Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, which student and other demonstrators had occupied for seven weeks.
Considering the Rising aspirations of Beijing to play a role on the world stage , emergence of a big middle class in China , modern communications increasing interaction of Chinese people with rest of the world and insurgency in its border regions –Uyghur and Tibetans have made it impossible for China to respond in a similar manner should such protests occur in future . This quandary of china was clearly visible during the recent Umbrella Protests for Autonomy of Hong Kong.
8. RBI’s view on cryptocurrency stays, have major concerns: Das
Governor urges due diligence before investors take a call
RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das on Friday made it clear that the central bank’s view on cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin remains unchanged and it continues to have ‘major concerns’ on the volatile instruments.
“There is no change in RBI’s position (on cryptocurrencies). Our circular clarifies the position very well,” Mr. Das told reporters.
The RBI had first come out with a circular on the issue in 2018, cautioning people against investing in cryptocurrencies, that do not have sovereign character.
It had barred entities regulated by it from dealing in such instruments. However, the Supreme Court, in 2020, struck down the circular.
Mr. Das said a revised notification to financial institutions on Monday was necessitated because some banks were still referring to the old circular set aside by the Apex court and this was an attempt to set the record straight. The RBI had on Monday asked banks, NBFCs and payment system providers not to refer to its earlier 2018 circular in their communications to customers.
“With regard to RBI’s position (on cryptocurrencies), I had said earlier, we have major concerns around cryptocurrency which we have conveyed to the government,” Mr. Das said.
Some of the cryptocurrencies have seen a massive dip in their per unit trading prices lately, leading to erosion of investor wealth.
Mr. Das said the central bank is not into investment advice, but added that one should make one’s own appraisal and do due diligence before taking a call on investing in cryptocurrencies.
In simplistic terms, Cryptocurrency is a digitised asset spread through multiple computers in a shared network. The decentralised nature of this network shields them from any control from government regulatory bodies.
The term “cryptocurrency in itself is derived from the encryption techniques used to secure the network.
As per computer experts, any system that falls under the category of cryptocurrency must meet the following requirements.:
- Absence of any centralised authority and is maintained through distributed networks
- The system maintains records of cryptocurrency units and who owns them
- The system decides whether new units can be created and in case it does, decided the origin and the ownership terms
- Ownership of cryptocurrency units can be proved exclusively cryptographically.
- The system allows transactions to be performed in which ownership of the cryptographic units is changed.
Types of Cryptocurrency
The first type of crypto currency was Bitcoin, which to this day remains the most-used, valuable and popular. Along with Bitcoin, other alternative cryptocurrencies with varying degrees of functions and specifications have been created. Some are iterations of bitcoin while others have been created from the ground up
Bitcoin was launched in 2009 by an individual or group known by the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto. As of March 2021, there were over 18.6 million bitcoins in circulation with a total market cap of around $927 billion.
The competing cryptocurrencies that were created as a result of Bitcoin’s success are known as altcoins. Some of the well known altcoins are as follows:
Cryptocurrency has the following advantages
- Funds transfer between two parties will be easy without the need of third party like credit/debit cards or banks
- It is a cheaper alternative compared to other online transactions
- Payments are safe and secured and offer an unprecedented level of anonymity
- Modern cryptocurrency systems come with a user “wallet” or account address which is accessible only by a public key and pirate key. The private key is only know to the owner of the wallet
- Funds transfer are completed with minimal processing fees.
Cryptocurrencies have the following disadvantages.
- The almost hidden nature of cryptocurrency transactions makes them easy to be the focus of illegal activities such as money laundering, tax-evasion and possibly even terror-financing
- Payments are not irreversible
- Cryptocurrencies are not accepted everywhere and have limited value elsewhere
- There is concern that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not rooted in any material goods. Some research, however, has identified that the cost of producing a Bitcoin, which requires an increasingly large amount of energy, is directly related to its market price.
9. Editorial-1: Saving biodiversity, securing earth’s future
The National Biodiversity Mission can help mend the dysfunctional relationship between humanity and nature
On this World Environment Day (June 5), with the novel coronavirus pandemic raging across our vast country, we must reflect on the ways to rebuild our relationship with nature. India’s vast and rich biodiversity gives the nation a unique identity, of which we can be proud. The varied ecosystems across land, rivers, and oceans, feed our people, enhance public health security, and shield us from environmental disasters. Our biodiversity also serves as a perpetual source of spiritual enrichment, intimately linked to our physical and mental well-being.
Staggering value of forests
And while the precise economic value of all ecosystem services provided by biodiversity may not be known, estimates suggest our forests alone may yield services worth more than a trillion rupees per year. Imagine how much greater this value will be with grasslands, wetlands, freshwater, and marine added.
Sadly, today, we face not only one of the worst public health crises but also worldwide declines in biodiversity. Globally, we have lost 7% intact forests since 2000, and recent assessments indicate that over a million species might be lost forever during the next several decades. Our country is not an exception to these trends.
Climate change and the ongoing pandemic will put additional stresses on our natural ecosystems even though it is becoming clear that repairing our dysfunctional relationship with nature is one of the ways to mitigate climate change and curtail future outbreaks of infectious diseases that can bring unimaginable misery. Thus, preserving biodiversity is directly relevant to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of our people. We must rethink and reimagine the concept of One Health for all living organisms, including the invisible biota in soils that sustain our agricultural systems.
Investments in the field
Fortunately, our government is considering major investments in biodiversity science to meet societal needs. In 2018, the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC) in consultation with the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change and other Ministries approved an ambitious National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Well-Being (NMBHWB). A Bengaluru-based Biodiversity Collaborative is working with the National Biodiversity Authority to hold consultations and prepare road maps of the Mission that will be steered by a core of the country’s leading biodiversity science and conservation organisations, from public, academic, and civil society sectors.
The Mission will strengthen the science of restoring, conserving, and sustainably utilising India’s natural heritage; embed biodiversity as a key consideration in all developmental programmes, particularly in agriculture, ecosystem services, health, bio-economy, and climate change mitigation; establish a citizen and policy-oriented biodiversity information system; and enhance capacity across all sectors for the realisation of India’s national biodiversity targets and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
Furthermore, the Mission will allow India (home to nearly 8% of global biodiversity on just 2.3% of global land area, and containing sections of four of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots) to emerge as a leader in demonstrating linkage between conservation of natural assets and societal well-being.
An important framework
The ongoing spread of COVID-19 places this Mission among the most significant national initiatives. The pandemic has exposed the dysfunctional relationship between humanity and nature, and we must urgently address the issues it has laid bare: the emergence of infectious diseases; lack of food and nutritional security; rural unemployment; and climate change, with all its stresses on nature, rural landscapes, and public health. In response to these critical and interrelated issues, the Mission offers a holistic framework, integrated approaches, and widespread societal participation.
The Mission’s comprehensive efforts will empower India to restore, and even increase, our natural assets by millions of crores of rupees. Mitigation programmes will lessen the impacts of climate change and other natural disasters, such as pandemics and floods. We can rejuvenate agricultural production systems and increase rural incomes from biodiversity-based agriculture while also creating millions of green jobs in restoration and nature tourism. Restoration activities across India’s degraded lands, which amount to almost a third of our land area, alone could generate several million jobs.
The Mission will help India meet its commitments under the new framework for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and UN SDGs related to pressing social issues including poverty alleviation, justice and equity, and protection of life. It will generate a strong national community committed to sustaining biodiversity, promoting social cohesion and uniting the public behind an important goal.
Mission programmes will offer nature-based solutions to numerous environmental challenges, including degradation of rivers, forests, and soils, and ongoing threats from climate change, with the goal of creating climate-resilient communities. Scientific inputs, especially related to geospatial informatics and policy, can guide the development of strategies for conservation and ecosystem management.
Equally important, the Mission’s “One Health” programme, integrating human health with animal, plant, soil and environmental health, has both the preventive potential to curtail future pandemics along with the interventional capability for unexpected public health challenges. Additional programmes, directed at food and nutritional security, will in turn also influence public health outcomes.
Need for a cadre
The planned Mission recognises that we need a strong and extensive cadre of human resources required to meet the enormous and complex environmental challenges of the 21st century. This will require training professionals of the highest calibre in sustainability and biodiversity science, along with an investment in civil society outreach. The gains of environmental change will be upheld and carried forward by the cultural change from environmental education for millions of students, from kindergarten to postgraduate levels.
Finally, biodiversity is everywhere, and we interact with biodiversity all the time in our daily lives. Public engagement, whether it is in the policymaking arena, or in exploration, restoration and conservation of biodiversity, is a critical component of the planned Mission.
Today, on the heels of the International Day for Biological Diversity celebrated last month, nothing could be more important than to renew our pledge to nurture all life on earth.
10. Editorial-2: The time to limit global warming is melting away
There are no second chances and nations must use COP26 to address the enormous threat of climate change
This is an incredibly difficult time for the world. The world is facing two momentous challenges: COVID-19 and climate change. Both need us to come together globally to find a way forward. World Environment Day (June 5) is an important moment to take stock on climate change.
When I was in India earlier this year — my first visit to Asia in my new role — I saw first-hand India’s ambitious work on renewable energy, and held vital discussions with government leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, businesses and civil society. I was inspired by the resolve I saw.
India has a strong record on tackling climate change, including impressive domestic targets to have 450GW of renewable energy by 2030, and establishing the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). India played a critical role in delivering the landmark Paris Agreement and we are working just as closely with India in the run-up to COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, to be hosted by the United Kingdom in Glasgow from November 1-12, 2021. Last month, Mr. Modi and the U.K.’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed through the 2030 UK-India Roadmap to work closely together on the best ways to drive the green growth agenda. They reaffirmed their personal commitment to work together for an ambitious outcome in November and sustained action beyond.
When the U.K. welcomes the countries of the world to Glasgow in five months’ time, it will be a moment to get the world on track to address the enormous threat of climate change and build a cleaner, brighter future for everyone.
In 2015, the world signed the Paris Agreement, to limit global temperature rises to well below 2°C, aiming for 1.5°C, because the science tells us that would avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Emissions have to be cut
In terms of limiting warming, every fraction of a degree makes a difference. An average global temperature rise of 2°C, compared to 1.5°C, would see hundreds of millions more people affected. The Climate Action Tracker estimates that countries’ current emissions reduction targets have us on course for average temperature rises of 2.4°C. To limit warming to 1.5°C, we must halve global emissions by 2030. So this is the decisive decade.
This is what makes this year’s COP so critical, and as hosts of COP26, the U.K. is pressing for urgent action around four key goals.
First, to keep 1.5°C within reach, globally, we need to reach net zero by the middle of this century. To achieve this we will need to take strong action over the next decade. In the U.K. we have found that setting ambitious short-term targets backed up by a net zero target has given a clear signal that the future is low carbon. India will reach its own decisions, but I firmly believe India has an opportunity to show that a different development path is possible. An opportunity to be at the forefront of a new global green transition with all the benefits of jobs and cleaner air that brings. India has already proved it has the innovation and political will to do this. India has quadrupled wind and solar capacity in the last decade.
Our second goal is to protect people and nature from the worst effects of climate change. Even as the world has been dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic, the dangers of global warming have continued to become more evident.
Having been born in India and having spent time as the U.K.’s Secretary of State for International Development, I am committed that this COP will deliver for the communities most vulnerable to climate change. The two cyclones, Tauktae and Yaas, that hit India last month, show that we must act on the very real need for flood defences, warning systems and other vital efforts to minimise, avert and address the loss and damage caused by climate change. India’s CDRI, which the U.K. is proud to partner on, is already a great initiative towards this.
Our third goal is for developed countries to deliver the $100 billion they promised annually to support developing countries. The U.K. is pushing for all developed countries to increase their climate finance commitments ahead of COP26, to deliver the right flow of finance and technology to meet the needs of countries such as India in their transition. This is a personal priority for me, one that I am committing to work tirelessly to deliver — we need all developed countries to step up, as it is a matter of trust.
Working as a team
Fourth, we must work together to deliver on these goals. That includes building consensus among governments for an ambitious, balanced and inclusive outcome — so that the negotiations in Glasgow are a success. As well as bringing businesses and civil society on board behind our COP26 goals, and building up international collaboration in critical sectors.
We must act now, to launch a concerted effort to reduce emissions throughout the next decade. And use the COVID-19 recovery to reimagine our economies, building a better future.
I call on all countries to step up efforts on these goals, because COP26 is our last chance for keeping hopes of limiting global warming to 1.5°C alive, and our best chance of building a brighter future; a future of green jobs and cleaner air.
This is our moment. There are no second chances. Let us seize it together.
11. Editorial-3: Two cheers
India betters score in the latest SDG Index, but methodological tinkering is cause for concern
India’s push in the right direction in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to clean energy, urban development and health has helped it improve its overall SDG score from 60 in 2019 to 66 in 2021, according to NITI Aayog’s SDG India Index 2020-21. Besides SDGs on eradication of poverty and hunger, measures related to the availability of affordable, clean energy in particular, showed improvements across several States and Union Territories. The campaign to improve the access of households to electricity and clean cooking fuel has been shown to be an important factor. While this is cause for cheer, the Index reveals that there has been a major decline in the areas of industry, innovation and infrastructure besides decent work and economic growth, again made worse by the lockdowns imposed by the governments seeking to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. But the stark differences between the southern and western States on the one hand and the north-central and eastern States on the other in their performance on the SDGs, point to persisting socio-economic and governance disparities. These, if left unaddressed, will exacerbate federal challenges and outcomes, as seen in the public health challenges during the second wave across some of the worse-off States.
Notwithstanding the improvement in key indicators, the Index has curiously made some methodological changes that render comparisons on some SDGs over previous years moot. The SDG on inequality shows an improvement over 2019, but the indicators used to measure the score have changed. The 2020-21 Index drops several economic indicators and gives greater weightage to social equality indicators such as representation of women and people from marginalised communities in legislatures and local governance institutions, and crimes against SC/ST communities. By dropping the well-recognised Gini coefficient measure and the growth rate for household expenditure per capita among 40% of rural and urban populations (instead, only the percentage of population in the lowest two wealth quintiles is used), the SDG score on inequality seems to have missed out on capturing the impact of the pandemic on wealth inequality. This could be a significant miss as a UN assessment of the impact of COVID-19 had said that the South Asian region may see rising inequality. Methodological issues on measuring other SDGs have been flagged before, but the lack of adequate measurement of economic inequality seems to be a glaring miss. Like in the first wave, the second wave, with more fatalities, has had similar outcomes on livelihoods and jobs. While the better score for India in its endeavour to achieve SDGs will bring some cheer, governments must work on addressing pressing issues such as increased inequality and economic despair.