Current Affairs - International

Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates (JME)

Recently, the 2023 Edition of the Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates (JME) was released by UNICEF, WHO, and the World Bank. It includes estimates of prevalence and numbers for child stunting, overweight, wasting and severe wasting.

The key findings are:

  • Reduction in Stunting: India has shown a reduction in stunting among children under five years. The prevalence rate of stunting dropped from 41.6% in 2012 to 31.7% in 2022. This resulted in 1.6 crore fewer stunted children in 2022 compared to 2012.
  • Global and Regional Comparison: Globally, the prevalence of stunting declined from 26.3% in 2012 to 22.3% in 2022. In South Asia, including India, the decline was more significant, dropping from 40.3% to 30.5%.
  • Burden of Stunting: India's share of the global burden of stunting decreased from 30% to 25% over the past decade.
  • Wasting Concern: Wasting remains a concern in India, with an overall prevalence rate of 18.7% in 2022. India contributes 49% to the global burden of wasting.
  • Obesity Levels: The prevalence of obesity among children in India increased marginally from 2.2% in 2012 to 2.8% in 2022. India's obesity numbers grew to 31.8 lakh from 27.5 lakh, contributing to 8.8% of the global share. However, the overall classification for obesity in India remains low compared to the global prevalence of 5.6%.
  • Weight Issue: The prevalence rate of overweight children globally increased from 5.5% to 5.6%.
  • NFHS Data: The decline in stunting observed in India aligns with the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 data, which estimated a prevalence of 35.5% compared to 38% in NFHS-4 and 48% in NFHS-3.
  • NFHS-5 also highlighted improvements in access to health services and reductions in underweight children but raised concerns about anaemia.
  • Maternal Malnutrition and Wasting: Wasting is a complex indicator that assesses acute malnutrition over short periods. In India, two-thirds of wasting cases among children at 12 or 24 months were found to be caused by maternal malnutrition. This suggests that children are born with low weight for height and do not recover despite weight gain.

Quad Leaders’ Summit

On 20th May 2023, Indian Prime Minister participated in the third in-person Quad Leaders’ Summit held in Hiroshima, Japan, along with Prime Minister of Australia, Prime Minister of Japan, and President of the United States of America.

The Quad Leaders’ Vision Statement- “Enduring Partners for the Indo-Pacific” was released during the summit.

Initiatives announced during the summit include:

  • Clean Energy Supply Chains Initiative: Clean Energy Supply Chains Initiative would facilitate research and development and support the Indo-Pacific’s energy transition.
  • In addition, the Quad Principles of Clean Energy Supply Chains were approved to guide engagement with the region on clean energy supply chain development.
  • Quad Infrastructure Fellowships Programme: The programme will support policy makers and practitioners in the region to design, build and manage sustainable and viable infrastructure in their countries.
  • Partnership for Cable Connectivity and Resilience: It aims to leverage Quad’s collective expertise in design, manufacturing, laying and maintenance of undersea cables to secure and diversify these critical networks.
  • ORAN Deployment in Palau: The leaders announced their support for the deployment of Open Radio Access Network (ORAN) in Palau, marking the first such deployment in the Pacific region.
  • They also released the ORAN Security Report to support industry investment in open, interoperable and secure telecom platforms.
  • Quad Investors' Network: A private sector-led platform called the Quad Investors' Network has been launched to facilitate investments in strategic technologies.
  • Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness: The leaders welcomed progress of the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness, which was announced during the previous Quad Summit last year in Tokyo.
  • Data Sharing Partners in South East and the Pacific: They noted that data sharing with partners in Southeast Asia and the Pacific under this programme is underway and would soon include partners in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Indian Prime Minister highlighted how India’s approach to demand-driven development cooperation with the region was contributing to these efforts.
  • The leaders also emphasized the need to preserve the integrity of the United Nations (UN), its Charter, and its agencies. The leaders agreed to maintain regular dialogue and sustain the momentum of Quad engagement.

Risk Reduction Hub Event

On 18th May 2023, India's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) jointly organized the Risk Reduction Hub Event at the United Nations headquarters during the High-level meeting of the midterm review of Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) 2015-2030.

  • About the Event: This event was organized in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), and India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
  • Aim: The aim of the event was to discuss ‘The Roles of States for Promoting Investments in Disaster Risk Reduction towards Resilient and Sustainable Future'.
  • It also aimed to discuss the midterm review of Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) 2015-2030.
  • States' Primary Role in Disaster Risk Reduction: States' primary role in disaster risk reduction was emphasized as a fundamental requirement for achieving the SDGs and minimizing damages and impacts of climate change.
  • It also emphasized the need for a balanced financial architecture to address all aspects of disaster risk reduction and strengthen early warning systems during emergencies.
  • Priorities Aligned with SFDRR: During India's Presidency of the G20, the Working Group on DRR proposed five priorities aligned with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR).
  • These priorities include expanding global coverage of early warning systems, making infrastructure systems resilient to disasters and climate change, establishing robust national financial frameworks, enhancing disaster response systems, and promoting ecosystem-based approaches.
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (Sendai Framework) was the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda and provides Member States with concrete actions to protect development gains from the risk of disasters.

The Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update

On May 17, 2023, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released its Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, revealing concerning projections for the next few years.

Key findings of the report are:

  • Average Temperature in 2022: The average global temperature in 2022 was 1.15°C higher than the 1850-1900 average, with La Niña temporarily offsetting the long-term warming trend.
  • El Niño Forecast: La Niña conditions ended in March 2023, and an El Niño is expected to develop in the coming months, potentially leading to increased global temperatures in 2024.
  • Projected Temperature Increase: The annual mean global near-surface temperature for each year between 2023 and 2027 is projected to be 1.1°C to 1.8°C higher than the 1850-1900 average, serving as a baseline before greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Chance of Temperature Record: There is a 98% chance that at least one of the next five years will surpass the temperature record set in 2016, which experienced an exceptionally strong El Niño event.
  • Probability of Higher Mean Temperature: The likelihood of the five-year mean temperature for 2023-2027 being higher than the previous five years is also 98%.
  • Disproportionate Arctic Warming: Arctic warming is disproportionately high, with the temperature anomaly predicted to be over three times larger than the global mean anomaly when averaged over the next five northern hemisphere extended winters compared to the 1991-2020 average.
  • Precipitation Patterns: Predicted precipitation patterns for the May to September average of 2023-2027 indicate increased rainfall in the Sahel, northern Europe, Alaska, and northern Siberia, while reduced rainfall is expected in the Amazon region and parts of Australia compared to the 1991-2020 average.

Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy

On May 16, 2023, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a new report titled "Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy."

The release of the report coincides with the upcoming second round of negotiations on a legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution, known as Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee-2 (INC-2), which will be held in Paris.

The first round of negotiations, INC-1, took place in Punta Del Este, Uruguay, and highlighted the growing concern regarding the interconnections between plastic, human health, and environmental health.

Key Findings of the Report

  • Global Plastic Pollution Reduction and Urgency for Action: According to the report, global plastic pollution can be reduced by 80 percent by 2040 if countries and companies implement deep policy and market shifts, utilizing existing technologies and transitioning to a circular economy.
  • Higher Costs and Increased Pollution with Delays: The report emphasizes that any delays in implementing these necessary shifts will result in higher costs and an additional 80 million tonnes of plastic pollution by 2040. This alarming projection highlights the urgency to take action promptly.
  • Economic Benefits and Job Creation: It estimates savings of $1.27 trillion from costs and recycling revenues, as well as an additional $3.25 trillion saved from avoided externalities such as health, climate, air pollution, marine ecosystem degradation, and litigation-related costs. Moreover, this shift could result in a net increase of 700,000 jobs by 2040.
  • Management of Plastic Waste: The report said that that even with the current plastic pollution mitigating measures, 100 million tonnes of plastics from single-use and short-lived products will still need to be safely managed annually by 2040, alongside the significant existing plastic pollution.
  • Design Standards and Responsibility: It suggests setting and implementing design and safety standards for the disposal of non-recyclable plastic waste. It also proposes holding manufacturers responsible for products that release microplastics.
  • Levy on Virgin Plastic Production: The report suggests that much of the required funding can be obtained by redirecting planned investments for new production facilities or by implementing a levy on virgin plastic production.
  • Adopting a Circular Economy Approach: To combat plastic pollution effectively, the report urges governments and businesses worldwide to adopt a circular economy approach. This approach entails eliminating unnecessary and problematic plastic uses and making three essential market shifts: reuse, recycle, and reorient and diversify.
  • Establishing a Global Fiscal Framework: To facilitate the transition to a circular economy, the report recommends establishing a global fiscal framework that enables recycled materials to compete with virgin materials on a level playing field.
  • This framework would create economies of scale for sustainable solutions and establish monitoring systems and financing mechanisms.
  • Specific Policies for Plastic Pollution: It also addresses specific policies such as design and safety standards, minimum recycling targets, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, taxes, bans, communication strategies, public procurement, and labeling.
  • Urgency for Action and a Healthier Planet: The UNEP report provides valuable insights and recommendations to combat plastic pollution and promote a circular economy. The urgency to take action is paramount, and implementing the suggested measures can lead to a significant reduction in plastic pollution, economic savings and a healthier planet for future generations.

Comprehensive TEPA

On May 15, 2023, India and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) made significant progress in their endeavor to establish a comprehensive Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement (TEPA).

  • TEPA: It refers to a free trade agreement between India and the EFTA bloc. Such agreements aim to reduce or eliminate customs duties on traded goods and facilitate trade in services and investments through eased regulations.
  • EFTA: It is an inter-governmental organization founded as an alternative for states not wishing to join the European Community. Its primary objective is to promote and intensify free trade among its member countries. Importantly, EFTA countries are not part of the European Union (EU).

Key Points of the Meeting

  • Importance of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA): India and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) bloc, consisting of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, emphasized the potential benefits of an FTA.
  • Two-way Commerce: It would enhance two-way commerce, boost investment flows, generate job opportunities, and drive economic growth.
  • Potential Economic Benefits: A TEPA between EFTA and India is expected to bring significant economic advantages. These include the development of integrated and resilient supply chains, the creation of new business opportunities, increased trade and investment flows, job creation, and overall economic growth.
  • Modalities of a Comprehensive TEPA: Commerce and Industry Minister engaged in discussions with EFTA representatives in Brussels to deliberate on the modalities of a comprehensive Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement (TEPA).
  • Previous discussions held on April 26 paved the way for resuming negotiations for the agreement.
  • Intensified Efforts and Steady Pace: Both sides agreed to ramp up their efforts and continue discussions at a steady pace. Multiple meetings are planned in the coming months to achieve a common understanding on critical issues pertaining to the TEPA.
  • Principles of Trust and Respect: The statement highlighted the importance of building discussions on principles of trust and respect for each other's sensitivities. This approach aims to ensure a fair, equitable, and balanced agreement between India and EFTA.
  • Trade Data: Trade data presented indicates that India's exports to EFTA countries from April-February 2022-23 amounted to USD 1.67 billion, while imports reached USD 15 billion during the same period. The trade balance currently favors the EFTA group.
  • Strengthening Economic Ties: The discussions reflect the commitment of India and the EFTA states to strengthen their economic ties. The TEPA will lay the foundation for a comprehensive partnership, unlocking economic opportunities and contributing to the growth and prosperity of both regions.

The United Nations Forum on Forests18

From May 8-12, 2023, the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF18) held its eighteenth session in New York, addressing the crucial topic of integrated policies on sustainable forest management (SFM) and energy to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations.

  • Aim: To explore the nexus between sustainable forest management, energy, livelihoods, and the achievement of SDGs, fostering global collaboration and knowledge-sharing in these crucial areas.

Key Points of the Discussion

  • Importance of SFM: The executive director of the International Tropical Timber Organization, emphasized the organization's commitment to practicing SFM in tropical regions.
  • Sustainable sourcing of tropical timber was highlighted as a crucial aspect of SFM.
  • Role of Forests in Energy and Livelihoods: The forestry director of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highlighted that forest ecosystems provide 55 percent of renewable energy requirements, benefiting over five billion people globally. Additionally, 33 million individuals are directly employed in the forestry sector, and industrially harvested trees contribute significantly to bioenergy.
  • Forests' Contribution to Reducing Emissions: Head of UNEP's Nature for Climate branch, cited the Emissions Gap Report, which states that forests have the potential to reduce five gigatonnes of emissions.
  • It was noted that demand determines carbon market prices rather than the supply of forest goods.
  • India’s country-led Initiative:India presented a UNFF country-led initiative on long-term SFM, addressing concerns about wildfires and current forest certification schemes.
  • Most Forested and Carbon-Negative Country: Suriname, claiming to be the most forested and carbon-negative country, shared its experiences with economic pressure impacting green cover and environmental policies. They committed to significant renewable energy targets.
  • Preventing Forest Fires:Saudi Arabia emphasized the need to prevent forest fires and urban expansion encroaching on forests.
  • Balancing Forest Conservation and Livelihoods: Congo and the Dominican Republic called for strategies to reduce pressures on natural forests while improving livelihoods, given their heavy dependency on fuelwood.
  • Conservation Measures: Various forest conservation measures such as SFM, REDD+, forest planning, and certification were highlighted. (Note: REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, and the "+" refers to the role of conservation, sustainable forest management, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks).
  • Innovative Approaches: Suggestions were made to replace plastic sticks with compacted bamboo or sawdust residues for producing briquettes and pellets.
  • China’s Achievement:China shared its achievement of generating 41.32 gigawatts of power through wood biomass, contributing to its goal of carbon neutrality before 2030 and also emphasized the need for financially feasible wood residue markets.
  • Transitioning Towards Agroforestry: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stressed the importance of integrated and innovative approaches to transition towards agro-food and agroforestry.

G7 Ministerial Meeting on Health Innovation

On 14th May, 2023, the G7 Ministerial meeting on Health Innovation was held in Nagasaki, Japan. Health Ministers of the G7 countries and invited “Outreach 4” countries of India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand participated in the meeting.

The meeting was held to discuss the priorities, implementation and utilization of health innovation like digital health towards ensuring Universal Health Coverage.

Key points of India's address are:

  • Use of Technology in Health Service Delivery: Use of technology & Digital Health Tools are an enabler & equalizer which can facilitate strengthened health service delivery and aid in achievement of Universal Health Coverage.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has catalysed the use of technology in health service delivery and also highlighted the need to focus on an enabling framework to bridge the digital divide across the countries, specifically amongst low-and-middle-income countries.
  • Co-WIN: India’s COVID-19 vaccine delivery platform, Co-WIN has monitored the administration of over 2.2 billion vaccine doses across the length and breadth of the country and monitored not only cold chain management but also facilitated citizens and vaccinators in administration of the vaccines besides providing a QR code based digital vaccine certificate.
  • eSanjeevani: This national telemedicine platform, launched during the pandemic, has already coordinated more than 115 million free of cost consultations to the citizens, making it the world’s biggest telemedicine platform.
  • Digital Health Tools: Artificial Intelligence, smart wearables & big data analytics can aid precision medicine, personalized healthcare, genomics, and Clinical Decision Support Systems, ensuring the right treatment to the right person at the right time.
  • India has already taken a policy decision to provide all such digital tools free of cost to the world as Digital Public Goods.
  • Digital Health as a Priority: India’s G20 Presidency has brought digital health as a specific priority and has proposed the convergence mechanisms of all digital initiatives across the world through formation of Global Initiative on Digital Health housed at World Health Organization’s headquarter.
  • This initiative with a network-of-network approach will be crucial in bridging the global digital divide and urged the support of G7 countries for the proposed initiative in this regard.

8th Meeting of Agriculture Ministers of SCO

On 12th May, 2023, the 8th meeting of Agriculture Ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member countries was held through video conferencing.

During the meeting, India said it gives importance to its relations with SCO in promoting multilateral, political, security, economic and people-to-people interactions.

The key points of India’s address are:

  • Smart Agriculture Project: Under the chairmanship of India, SCO member countries adopted the Smart Agriculture project.
  • Cooperation for Food and Nutrition Security: India said in order to maintain the normal functioning of the food supply chain in the present conditions, there is a need for close contact and cooperation between various countries for food and nutrition security.
  • Budget Allocation: The budget allocation for agriculture and allied sectors in India has increased more than 5 times in 10 years from 2013-14.
  • India’s Performance: India said it has performed well in the agriculture sector, contributing to global food security with food grain production, registering a significant growth in exports, and exports of agricultural and allied products have crossed Rs 4 lakh crore.
  • Sharing Best Practices: India, with its comprehensive development path in the agriculture sector, will continue to share its best practices and build capacities with other countries, bilaterally as well as in collaboration with international organizations, so that they too become self-reliant and food-secure nations.
  • Role of Research: The rich agricultural research has played an important role in solving the issue of food security, improving the income of farmers and agriculture workers and also for the sustenance of the people in India.
  • Technology and Innovation: Efforts are being made by the Government of India to make the country self-reliant in the agriculture sector with concerted efforts in innovation, digital agriculture, climate smart technologies, development of high yielding, biofortified varieties, and agricultural research.
  • Digitization: Under National e-Governance Plan in Agriculture, Agristack and India Digital Eco-system for Agriculture, most of the schemes are being digitized and brought on a single platform, so that farmers can easily access these schemes and take benefits from them.

6th India-Canada Ministerial Dialogue on Trade & Investment

On May 8, 2023, the sixth Ministerial Dialogue on Trade & Investment (MDTI) between India and Canada concluded successfully in Ottawa.

India’s Union Minister of Commerce and Industry, Consumer Affairs and Food, and Public Distribution and Textiles, and Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development co-chaired the dialogue.

Key outcomes of the dialogue are:

  • Strong Foundation and Deepening Bilateral Ties: The Ministers emphasized the strong foundation of the trade and economic relationship between India and Canada.
  • They recognized the opportunity to further deepen bilateral ties and economic partnership.
  • Increase in Bilateral Trade and Investments: Bilateral trade in goods between India and Canada reached nearly C$12 billion in 2022, marking a substantial 57% increase from the previous year.
  • The Ministers acknowledged the growth of two-way investments and their contribution to strengthening economic and trade ties.
  • India's Role in G-20 and Global Economy: The Ministers highlighted ongoing discussions at the G-20 meetings under the Indian Presidency.
  • India's role as a global economy of the future was acknowledged, with Canadian Minister expressing support for India as the G20 Chair and congratulating the Government of India and Indian business organizations on their successes at the G-20 events.
  • Indo-Pacific Region’s Importance: Canadian Minister recognized the importance of the Indo-Pacific region for Canada's prosperity and security.
  • Canada's Indo-Pacific Strategy and India's significance in the region were acknowledged, indicating potential for increased cooperation.
  • Enhanced Cooperation: Both Ministers called for enhanced cooperation in sectors such as agriculture, chemicals, green technologies, infrastructure, automotive, clean energy, electronics, and minerals and metals to expand bilateral trade and investment.
  • Role of MDTI and CEPA Negotiations: The Ministers emphasized the institutional role of the MDTI in promoting bilateral trade and investment ties.
  • They highlighted the re-launch of the India-Canada Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) negotiations in 2022, with ongoing negotiations for an Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA) as a transitional step towards the CEPA.
  • Supply Chain Resilience: The Ministers discussed the importance of supply chain resiliency in critical sectors, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
  • Rules-based Order: They stressed the need to promote the international rules-based order and enhance cooperation in clean technologies, critical minerals, electric vehicles, batteries, renewable energy/hydrogen, and artificial intelligence.
  • Science, Technology, and Innovation: Science, technology, and innovation were identified as priority areas for enhanced cooperation.
  • Collaboration in startups, innovation partnerships, research and business communities was emphasized. The significance of organized forums for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and women entrepreneurs was also highlighted.
  • Relaunch of CEO Forum and Trade Mission: Canadian Minister appreciated the visit of an Indian business delegation, enhancing business-to-business engagement.
  • Both Ministers expressed eagerness to relaunch the Canada-India CEO Forum with renewed focus and priorities. Canadian Minister announced her intention to lead a Team Canada Trade Mission to India in October 2023.
  • Recognition of Peoples’ Movement and Migration: The Ministers acknowledged the movement of professionals, skilled workers, students, and business travelers between India and Canada.
  • They expressed the desire for enhanced discussions in the area of migration and mobility to further enhance the bilateral economic partnership.
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