Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 13 July 2023

US formally rejoin UNESCO

GS Paper - 2 (International Relations)

The United States formally rejoined the UN’s scientific, educational and cultural organization after a five-year absence. The US return to the Paris-based UNESCO was based mainly on concerns that China has filled a leadership gap since the US withdrew during the Trump administration. UNESCO’s governing board voted to approve the Biden administration’s proposal for the US to rejoin. The US is now the 194th member of UNESCO.


  • The Trump administration in 2017 announced that the US would withdraw from UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias.
  • The US and Israel stopped financing UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011.
  • The Biden administration has requested $150 million for the 2024 budget to go toward UNESCO dues and arrears. The plan foresees similar requests for the ensuing years until the full debt of $619 million is paid off.
  • That makes up a big chunk of UNESCO’s $534 million annual operating budget. Before leaving, the US contributed 22% of the agency’s overall funding.
  • The United States previously pulled out of UNESCO under the Reagan administration in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. It rejoined in 2003 during George W. Bush’s presidency.


  • UNESCO is a UN agency tasked with furthering international cooperation and peace through the promotion of educational, scientific and cultural causes.
  • For instance, it designates locations globally as World Heritage Sites, which means international recognition and possible funding.
  • The United States was a founding member of UNESCO in 1945.


ISRO wants to explore the Moon’s South Pole

GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

Set to be launched from Andhra Pradesh’s Sriharikota, the Chandrayaan-3 is India’s third lunar mission. It’s a follow-up to the 2019 Chandrayaan-2 mission, which partially failed after its lander and rover couldn’t execute a soft-landing on the Moon. According to Isro officials, the Chandrayaan-3 will reach the lunar orbit almost a month after its launch, and its lander, Vikram, and rover, Pragyaan, are likely to land on the Moon on 23 August 2023. Notably, the landing site of the latest mission is more or less the same as the Chandrayaan-2: near the south pole of the moon at 70 degrees latitude. If everything goes well, the Chandrayaan-3 will become the world’s first mission to soft-land near the lunar South Pole.

Why hasn’t any spacecraft ever landed near the lunar South Pole?

  • There is a very good reason why all the landings on the Moon so far have happened in the equatorial region.
  • Even China’s Chang’e 4, which became the first spacecraft to land on the far side of the moon — the side that does not face the earth — landed near the 45-degree latitude.
  • It is easier and safer to land near the equator. The terrain and temperature are more hospitable and conducive for a long and sustained operation of instruments.
  • The surface here is even and smooth, very steep slopes are almost absent, and there are fewer hills or craters. Sunlight is present in abundance, at least on the side facing the earth, thus offering a regular supply of energy to solar-powered instruments.
  • The polar regions of the Moon, however, are a very different, and difficult, terrain. Many parts lie in a completely dark region where sunlight never reaches, and temperatures can go below 230 degrees Celsius.
  • Lack of sunlight and extremely low temperatures create difficulty in the operation of instruments.
  • In addition, there are large craters all over the place, ranging from a few centimetres in size to those extending to several thousands of kilometres.

Why do scientists want to explore the lunar South Pole?

  • Due to their rugged environment, the polar regions of the Moon have remained unexplored.
  • But several Orbiter missions have provided evidence that these regions could be very interesting to explore.
  • There are indications of the presence of ice molecules in substantial amounts in the deep craters in this region — India’s 2008 Chandrayaan-1 mission indicated the presence of water on the lunar surface with the help of its two instruments onboard.
  • In addition, the extremely cold temperatures here mean that anything trapped in the region would remain frozen in time, without undergoing much change.
  • The rocks and soil in Moon’s north and south poles could therefore provide clues to the early Solar System.

Why don’t some parts of the lunar Polar Regions receive any sunlight?

  • Unlike the Earth, whose spin axis is tilted with respect to the plane of the Earth’s solar orbit by 23.5 degrees, the Moon’s axis tilts only 1.5 degrees.
  • Because of this unique geometrysunlight never shines on the floors of a number of craters near the lunar north and south poles. These areas are known as Permanently Shadowed Regions, or PSRs.
  • In a 2019 report, NASA said, “Water that happens to find its way into PSRs may remain there for long periods of time.
  • Data from the Diviner instrument onboard LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon) which measures temperatures across the Moon, including PSRs, indicate that some surfaces are cold enough so that water is stable at the surface.”


Global Biofuel Alliance to boost global trade

GS Paper - 3 (Energy)

The Global Biofuel Alliance (GBA) will boost global trade and secure availability of biofuels, said the union minister for petroleum and natural gas Hardeep Singh Puri. The alliance will provide a boost to global trade, secure the supply and availability of biofuels and coordinate internationally recognized standards and codes.


  • The alliance will be a competent organization which will set technical standards for sustainable aviation fuel business in collaboration with relevant industry bodies.
  • It would have a three-category membership structure bringing together member countries, partner organizations and industries.
  • Noting that it has received interest from countries, the membership to the alliance would also be open for interested countries beyond G20 members.
  • IndiaBrazil and the US are the current signatories to the alliance. The alliance will be open for membership on 22 July 2023.
  • Globally, sustainable biofuels are one of the most important alternative sources of energy and will significantly contribute in achieving Net Zero.
  • It is already economically viable and hence is in the forefront of emerging fuels. IEA estimates that the percentage mix of liquid and gaseous biofuels in liquid and gaseous fuels can grow from the current 1.6% up to 15.8% by 2050 in the net zero scenarios.
  • India has an ambitious biofuel programme. Currently all fuel pumps in the country sell 10% ethanol (E10) blended petrol.


  • India achieved the target of 10% ethanol blending in petrol in June last year, ahead of the targeted timeline of November 2022. Government now aims to roll out E20 petrol across the country by FY25-26.
  • E20 petrol, or petrol with 20% ethanol, is now available at 1,350 fuel retail outlets and will be available all over the country by 2025.
  • India is a success story in biofuels. India’s bioenergy story has the potential to be replicated in other countries while highlighting the value biofuels can bring to energy securitydecarbonization and a circular economy to life.

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