Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 08 July 2023

US govt open to studying geoengineering

GS Paper - 3 (Environment)

Solar radiation management (SRM) — strategies that seek to control how much sunlight reaches the Earth — is part of a controversial concept called ‘geoengineering’ that has caught the fancy of some sections as a potential solution to global warming. A White House report released suggested the Biden administration is open to studying the possibility of SRM’s effectiveness, once more bringing the issue to the forefront of the climate debate.

What is geoengineering?

  1. Geoengineering is broadly divided into two categories — technologies for capturing carbon (carbon dioxide removal) and methods for managing how much of the Sun’s heat reaches the Earth.
  2. For the latter, proposed solutions target preventing the Sun from heating up the Earth (solar radiation management), or removing heat from the Earth’s atmosphere into space (Earth radiation management).
  3. Popular theoretical ideas for SRM include modifying cloud structures, and spraying aerosols into the stratosphere.  

Modifying cloud structures

  1. Clouds are our natural umbrella — being white, they reflect sunlight, keeping the Earth cool. Clouds that are present above the oceans cool the surface below substantially.
  2. There are proposals to further “whiten” these clouds and expand their cover, through a process called marine cloud brightening (MCB).
  3. This can be theoretically achieved by seeding the region with smaller particles that can induce condensation and create water droplets.
  4. These particles are smaller than natural aerosols that float above the ocean. Hence, when water condenses and aggregates around these particles high up in the atmosphere, smaller droplets of water are produced.
  5. Smaller droplets of water have a larger surface area than largernatural droplets.
  6. Hence, clouds with smaller droplets are lighter and more reflective, as compared to natural clouds above the ocean, which are darker (for example, thunderstorm clouds). 

Stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI)

  1. Releasing reflective particles into the upper atmosphere is more complex to execute. This is called stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI).
  2. At stratospheric latitudes, higher than cloudslighter coloured particles such as polluting sulphur particles, can reflect sunlight.
  3. This idea is inspired by volcanic eruptions, like that of the Philippines’ Mount Pinatubo in 1991. The eruption released millions of tonnes of sulphur dioxide — which reacts with other substances to form suplhate aerosols.
  4. The eruption led to a drop of 0.6°C in global temperatures for about 2 years. However, it also caused a temporary shift in Asian rain patterns.

Unknown consequences

  1. The biggest impediment, ideologically, in evaluating and implementing geoengineered climate interventions is that their consequences are unknown.
  2. Climate systems are notoriously difficult to model because of chaos — even a small change can have cascading and unforeseen effects that can’t be predicted.
  3. Studies have recommended negative emissions as the last resort. This is beyond the net-zero and zero-emissions scenario.
  4. However, researchers are mainly concerned that there is no knowledge yet on how to implement these solutions safely, without affecting other Earth systems or worsening problems.
  5. Research into geoengineering so far has been difficult to quantify, carry out, and is ethically contentious, because of which experiments with results have not really taken place.


Data Protection Bill approved

GS Paper - 2 (Polity)

Nearly six years after the Supreme Court held privacy to be a fundamental right, the Centre has made a second attempt at framing legislation for protection of data. The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, a draft of which was floated in November, is expected to be tabled in Parliament’s Monsoon Session that begins on 20 July 2023. The Union Cabinet approved the draft Bill on 5 July 2023.

What is the significance of a privacy law?

  1. The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, is a crucial pillar of the overarching framework of technology regulations the Centre is building, which also includes the Digital India Bill — the proposed successor to the Information Technology Act, 2000, the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, and a policy for non-personal data governance.
  2. Last August, the government withdrew from Parliament an earlier version of the data protection Bill that had been almost four years in the making, after it had gone through multiple iterations and a review by a Joint Committee of Parliament, and faced pushback from a range of stakeholders including tech companies and privacy activists.
  3. The proposed law will apply to processing of digital personal data within India; and to data processing outside the country if it is done for offering goods or services, or for profiling individuals in India.
  4. It requires entities that collect personal data — called data fiduciaries — to maintain the accuracy of datakeep data secure, and delete data once their purpose has been met.
  5. The Bill is expected to allow “voluntary undertaking” — meaning that entities violating its provisions can bring it up with the data protection board, which can decide to bar proceedings against the entity by accepting settlement fees. Repeat offences of the same nature could attract higher financial penalties.

What are the concerns around the draft Bill?

  1. The Bill approved by the Cabinet is understood to have largely retained the contents of the original version that was proposed in November 2022. This is especially true of some of the proposals that privacy experts had flagged earlier.
  2. Wide-ranging exemptions for the central government and its agencies, which were among the most criticised provisions of the previous draft, are understood to have been retained unchanged.
  3. The Bill is learnt to have prescribed that the central government can exempt “any instrumentality of the state” from adhering to the provisions on account of national security, relations with foreign governments, and maintenance of public order among other things.
  4. The control of the central government in appointing members of the data protection board — an adjudicatory body that will deal with privacy-related grievances and disputes between two parties — is learnt to have been retained as well.
  5. The chief executive of the board will be appointed by the central government, which will also determine the terms and conditions of their service.
  6. There is also concern that the law could dilute the Right to Information (RTI) Act, as personal data of government functionaries is likely to be protected under it, making it difficult to be shared with an RTI applicant.

What changes are likely?

  1. A key change in the final draft is learnt to have been made in the way it deals with cross-border data flows to international jurisdictions — moving from a ‘whitelisting’ approach to a ‘blacklisting’ mechanism.
  2. The proposed law could allow global data flows by default to all jurisdictions other than a specified ‘negative list’ of countries — essentially an official blacklist of countries where transfers would be prohibited.
  3. The draft that was released for public consultation in November said the central government will notify countries or territories where personal data of Indian citizens can be transferred — that is, a ‘whitelist’ of jurisdictions where data transfers would be allowed.
  4. A provision on “deemed consent” in the previous draft could also be reworded to make it stricter for private entities, while allowing government departments to assume consent while processing personal data on grounds of national security and public interest.


Chandrayaan-3 ‘mated’ with LVM3

GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) announced that it had successfully integrated the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft with the launch vehicleLaunch Vehicle Mark-III (LVM3), at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh’s Sriharikota. The Chandrayaan-3 mission will be India’s second attempt to make a spacecraft land on the Moon.

Why has Chandrayaan-3 been integrated with LVM3?

  1. The Chandrayaan-3, which consists of a lander, rover and propulsion modulecan’t travel to space on its own.
  2. It needs to be attached — like any satellite — to launch vehicles or rockets, like the LVM3 in this case.
  3. Rockets have powerful propulsion systems that generate the huge amount of energy required to lift heavy objects like satellites into space, overcoming the gravitational pull of the Earth.

What is LVM3?

  1. LVM3 is India’s heaviest rocket, with a gross lift-off weight of 640 tonnes, an overall length of 43.5m and 5m-diameter payload fairing (nose-shaped equipment to protect the rocket from aerodynamic forces).
  2. The launch vehicle can carry up to 8 tonnes of payload to the lower earth orbits (LEO), which is about 200 km from the Earth’s surface. But when it comes to the geostationary transfer orbits (GTO), which lie much further ahead, up to about 35,000 km from the Earth, it can carry much less, only about four tonnes.
  3. This, however, does not mean that LVM3 is weak compared to rockets used by other countries or space companies for similar jobs.
  4. For instance, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Ariane5 rocket has a lift-off mass of 780 tonnes and can carry 20 tonnes of payloads to LEO and 10 tonnes to GTO.
  5. LVM3 made its first journey into space in 2014 and also carried the Chandrayaan-2 in 2019.
  6. Most recently, in March this year, it placed 36 OneWeb satellites, weighing about 6,000kg, in LEO, showing its capabilities to deliver multiple satellites into space.
  7. This was the second time that LVM3 made a commercial launch — the first one came in October 2022 when it delivered the OneWeb India-1 mission.