Current Affairs - International

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.

Meeting of NSAs of India, U.S. and UAE

On May 7th 2023, Saudi Prince and Prime Minister hosted a special meeting of the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of India, the U.S., and the UAE in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

  • About The Meeting: This meeting, described as another important "Quad" in West Asia, focused on discussing infrastructure initiatives in the Gulf region.
  • Discussions and Statements: The discussions aimed to strengthen relations and ties between the participating countries to promote growth and stability in the region.
  • The U.S. White House statement highlighted the shared vision of a more secure and prosperous Middle East region interconnected with India and the world.
  • The meeting between U.S. NSA and Indian NSA was part of preparations for upcoming meetings between Indian Prime Minister and U.S. President.
  • Infrastructure Initiatives and Countering China: The quadrilateral meeting discussed infrastructure projects, including connecting Gulf countries through a railway network and linking India via shipping lanes.
  • These initiatives are seen as a counter to China's Belt and Road initiative and its influence in the region.
  • The comprehensive economic partnership between India and the UAE was mentioned as a driving force behind the cooperation.

India-Israel Sign MoU on Science & Technology Cooperation

On 4th May, 2023, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Industrial Research and Development Cooperation was signed between the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, and the Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) of the Ministry of Defense of Israel.

  • The collaboration through the MoU will be steered and the execution monitored by a Joint Steering Committee led by the heads of the CSIR and DDR&D for taking forward mutually benefiting Industrial and technology cooperation.

The salient points of the collaboration are:

  • Knowledge-Sharing and Capacity-Building: The collaboration seeks to promote knowledge-sharing and capacity-building between Indian and Israeli scientists and researchers.
  • Focus on High Technology Areas: The collaboration will focus on high technology areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Quantum tech and semiconductors, synthetic biology, etc.
  • Industrial Sectors: The collaboration will cover various industrial sectors including Healthcare, Aerospace & Electronics Instrumentation, Civil, Infrastructure & Engineering, Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Sustainable Energy including Energy Devices, Ecology, Environment, Earth & Ocean Sciences and Water, Mining, Minerals, Metals & Materials, Agriculture, Nutrition & Biotechnology.
  • Hydrogen and Aerospace: Specific collaborations on Hydrogen and Aerospace currently under discussion between CSIR and DDR&D were briefed.
  • Therapeutics: Specific collaboration on Therapeutics between CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (CSIR-IICT) and M/s 101 Therapeutics for conducting clinical trials of a COVID-19 drug having enormous therapeutic potential was briefed.

The MoU is expected to strengthen the India-Israel relationship, which completed 30 years of successful diplomatic relations.

SCO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

On 4th & 5th May, 2023, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers’ meeting was held in Benaulim, Goa.

The meeting focused on stepping up economic cooperation, including national currency payments for mutual trade.

The key points of deliberations are as follows:

  • Proposal for National Currency Payments: The proposal for national currency payments came from Central Asian members and was prompted by the Ukraine war and sanctions imposed on Russia, a founding member of the organisation.
  • Economic And Cultural Cooperation: During India's presidency, the country is bringing issues of economic and cultural cooperation to the SCO's agenda, along with traditional security and terrorism issues.
  • Induction of Iran and Belarus: The meeting also discussed the induction of Iran and Belarus as full members and considered applications for observer status for Kuwait, UAE, Myanmar, and Maldives to join the grouping.
  • National Payments Collaboration: A final decision on all points, including national payments collaboration, will be taken at the SCO Heads of State Summit in July.

The Petersberg Dialogue on Climate Change

On May 2-3, 2023, the Petersberg Dialogue on Climate Change took place in Berlin which was jointly hosted by Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

About the Dialogue

The Petersberg Dialogue on Climate Change is an annual high-level political meeting on climate change being organized by the German government since 2010.

  • Ministers from 40 countries attended the conference to discuss the way forward towards COP28.

Key Points

Potential Global Renewables Target: It was highlighted that in order to limit the global warming to 1.5°C, the world needs to make sharp cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions.

Acceleration Agenda: The Secretary General of the United Nations said that the Agenda calls for coal phase-out by 2030 in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, and by 2040 in all others, as well as achieving Net Zero electricity generation and decarbonising major sectors. (Note: The OECD is an intergovernmental economic organization with 38 member countries, mostly high-income economies. Its headquarter is in Paris, France.)

On Track For $100 Billion Climate Finance: Developed countries are “on good track” to deliver the $100 billion per year they had promised to mobilise by 2020. However, delivering the $100 billion goal in 2023 might be too little too late.

Global Stocktake: 2023 is the year for the Global Stocktake, which is essentially a periodic review of global climate action which aims to assess whether current efforts will enable us to reach the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement.

UN Secretary-General's Call: United Nations Secretary-General emphasized the need for cleaning-up economies and breaking fossil fuel addiction and driving decarbonisation in every sector to achieve a 1.5-degree global warming pathway.

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