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31 January Current Affairs

International Year Of The Periodic Table

In News:

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the organisation of the periodic table, UNESCO has launched the International Year Of The Periodic Table.

Key facts relevant for Prelims:

Russian scientist Dmitry Mendeleev published the first periodic such table in 1969.

The table organizes all chemical elements by the number of protons in a given atom and other properties.

There are seven rows, called periods, and 18 columns, called groups, in the table.

Elements in the same group share similar properties. Those in the same period have the same number of atomic orbitals.

Most elements on the table are metals divided into six broad categories – alkali metals, alkaline earths, basic metals, transition metals, lanthanides and actinides. They are located on the left, separated from the non-metals on the right by a zig-zag line.

Lanthanides and actinides, often called “inner transition metals”, are commonly hived off as a separate section under the main table as including all 30 – including Uranium – would make the table too wide.

The table is a useful tool for people to derive relationships between the different properties of the elements. It can also help predict the properties of new elements that have yet to be discovered or created.

Who maintains periodic table?

The International Union of Pure Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is responsible for maintaining the periodic table.

IUPAC is an international federation of National Adhering Organizations that represents chemists in individual countries. It is a member of the International Council for Science (ICSU).

Headquarters of IUPAC is in Zürich, Switzerland.

Established in 1919 as the successor of the International Congress of Applied Chemistry for the advancement of chemistry.

Its members, the National Adhering Organizations, can be national chemistry societies, national academies of sciences, or other bodies representing chemists.

The IUPAC’s Inter-divisional Committee on Nomenclature and Symbols (IUPAC nomenclature) is the recognized world authority in developing standards for the naming of the chemical elements and compounds.

1001 Inventions:

UNESCO has also launched its educational initiative, 1001 Inventions: Journeys from Alchemy to Chemistry. Consisting of educational material and science experiments to help young people improve their understanding of chemistry and its numerous uses, the initiative will be brought to schools around the world during 2019.

Source: The Hindu

Corruption Perception Index 2018

In News:

Corruption Perception Index 2018 has been released.

Details:

The index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople.

It uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.

What is Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI)?

It is a composite index that draws from 12 surveys to rank nations around the globe. It has become a benchmark gauge of perceptions of corruption and is used by analysts and investors.

The index is also based on expert opinions of public sector corruption and takes note of range of factors like whether governmental leaders are held to account or go unpunished for corruption, the perceived prevalence of bribery, and whether public institutions respond to citizens’ needs.

The Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index make the following observations:

Denmark is the world least corrupt country scoring 88 out of 100 points. Denmark is followed by New Zealand and Finland.

Somalia has been ranked last with a score of 10 behind South Sudan and Syria.

More than two-thirds of evaluated countries scored below 50 points, while the average score remained at last year’s level of only 43 points.

For the first time the United States dropped out of the top 20 and it was ranked at 22nd rank.

Along with Brazil, US was placed in the watch list by Transparency International.

Corruption and the crisis of democracy:

Cross analysis with global democracy data reveals a link between corruption and the health of democracies.

Full democracies score an average of 75 on the CPI; flawed democracies score an average of 49; hybrid regimes – which show elements of autocratic tendencies – score 35; autocratic regimes perform worst, with an average score of just 30 on the CPI.

More generally, countries with high levels of corruption can be dangerous places for political opponents. Practically all of the countries where political killings are ordered or condoned by the government are rated as highly corrupt on the CPI.

Performance of India:

India’s ranking increased from 81st in 2017 to 78 in 2018. India had slid from 79th rank in 2016.

Since India gears up for general elections, there was a little significant movement in its CPI score, which moved from 40 in 2017 to 41 in 2018.

In spite of spectacular public mobilisation in 2011, where citizens demanded the government to take action against corruption and advocated for the passage of the comprehensive Jan Lokpal bill, the efforts ultimately fizzled and fell flat, with little to no movement on the ground to build the specialist anti-corruption infrastructure required.

To make real progress against corruption and strengthen democracy around the world, Transparency International calls on all governments to:

Strengthen the institutions responsible for maintaining checks and balances over political power, and ensure their ability to operate without intimidation.

Close the implementation gap between anti-corruption legislation, practice and enforcement.

Support civil society organisations which enhance political engagement and public oversight over government spending, particularly at the local level.

Support a free and independent media, and ensure the safety of journalists and their ability to work without intimidation or harassment.

Source: The Hindu

“The Future of Rail” Report

In News:

“The Future of Rail” Report has been released by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Details:

It examines how the role of rail in global transport might be elevated as a means to reduce the energy use and environmental impacts associated with transport.

Key findings from The Future of Rail:

Rail is among the most energy efficient modes of transport for freight and passengers – while the rail sector carries 8% of the world’s passengers and 7% of global freight transport, it represents only 2% of total transport energy demand.

Today, three-quarters of passenger rail transport activity takes place on electric trains, which is an increase from 60% in 2000 – the rail sector is the only mode of transport that is widely electrified today. This reliance on electricity means that the rail sector is the most energy diverse mode of transport.

The regions with the highest share of electric train activity are Europe, Japan and Russia, while North and South America still rely heavily on diesel.

Passenger rail is significantly more electrified than freight in almost all regions, and regions with higher reliance on urban rail and high-speed rail are those with the largest share of passenger-kilometres served by electricity.

Most conventional rail networks today are located in North America, Europe, China, Russia, India, and Japan. These regions make up about 90% of global passenger movements on conventional rail with India leading at 39%, followed by China at 27%.

In contrast, significant investments have been made in high-speed rail and metros. High-speed rail provides an important alternative to aviation while urban rail provides a solution to cities impacted by congestion and air pollution. Growth has been most notable in China, which has overtaken all other countries in terms of network length of both types within a single decade.

Focus on India:

India’s railway system has played a fundamental role in the country’s development, transporting people and goods throughout its vast territory, integrating markets and connecting communities.

Rail passenger traffic in India has increased by almost 200% since 2000 and freight traffic by 150%, yet latent demand for mobility in India remains huge. In fact, rail activity in India is set to grow more than any other country.

Today, the conventional rail system in India comprises a total route length of almost 68000 km. Metro systems exist in 10 Indian cities. A further 600 km of metro lines are planned for the next few years.

For now, India does not have any high-speed rail. However, in 2015 India and Japan signed an agreement to develop a high-speed rail line connecting the cities of Ahmedabad and Mumbai, to come into operation in 2023.

Seven other high-speed lines are currently under consideration. Once completed, they would connect the four cities that constitute the Golden Quadrilateral (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai) plus other intermediate cities.

About IEA:

Established in 1974 as per framework of the OECD.

MISSION – The IEA works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 30 member countries and beyond. Our mission is guided by four main areas of focus: energy security, economic development, environmental awareness and engagement worldwide

Headquarters (Secretariat): Paris, France

A candidate country must be a member country of the OECD. But all OECD members are not IEA members (Ex:Chile, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and Slovenia).

To become member a candidate country must demonstrate that it has:

crude oil and/or product reserves equivalent to 90 days of the previous year’s net imports, to which the government has immediate access (even if it does not own them directly) and could be used to address disruptions to global oil supply

a demand restraint programme to reduce national oil consumption by up to 10%

legislation and organisation to operate the Co-ordinated Emergency Response Measures (CERM) on a national basis

legislation and measures to ensure that all oil companies under its jurisdiction report information upon request;

measures in place to ensure the capability of contributing its share of an IEA collective action.

IEA mandate:

To focus on the “3Es” of effectual energy policy:

Energy security

Economic development

Environmental protection

Reports:

Global Energy & CO2 Status Report 2017.

World Energy Outlook.

World Energy Statistics 2017.

World Energy Balances 2017.

Energy Technology Perspectives.

Source: PIB

Africa Centre for Climate and Sustainable Development

In News:

The Africa Centre for Climate and Sustainable Development was inaugurated by the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at Rome.

Details:

The centre has been opened by the Italian government in association with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

About the Centre:

The centre would facilitate coordination among the G7 and African countries on common initiatives in Africa to achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda.

The Centre would contribute towards addressing the needs of Africa by providing a platform for G7 countries to steer their cooperation to contrast environmental degradation and promote sustainable economic growth in the region.

The centre will provide a fast-track, demand-driven mechanism for African countries to access grant resources that support policies, initiatives, and best practices on climate change, food security, access to water, clean energy, and accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa.

The centre would be hosted by UNDP which would utilise its extensive country office network and programmatic hubs, and global expertise and knowledge, to enable the African countries to access the resources available through it.

Source: Down to Earth

Effects of global warming on El Niño in the 21st Century

In News:

A study, published in Journal nature, has thrown some light on the effects of global warming on El Niño in the 21st Century.

Highlights of the study:

As per the study, though the theater of action for El Niño is the tropical Pacific Ocean, its global reach costs the global community tens of billion dollars each time. El Niño may impact weather phenomenon across the world. For Eg: The eagerly-awaited winter rain and snow storms over California did not occur over California during the latest extreme El Niño.

The study notes that strong El Niño’s and thus extreme weather events associated with such strong El Niño’s will increase in the coming decades. This should serve as a warning to the countries on all continents that suffer from these extreme weather events.

However, available data is not sufficient to say with confidence how the tropical Pacific has responded to global warming till now. It is unclear if the impact of global warming on El Niño can easily be extracted considering its intrinsic tendencies and the fact that it depends on so many factors that are not easily predictable.

In this context, it is imperative that models be held to very stringent standards on their performance of El Niño behaviour during historic periods, especially the 20th century, as a test of their reliability for future projections.

This would also be necessary for projecting other events such as droughts and floods. For example, droughts over India are closely tied with El Niño and any projections of how droughts will respond to global warming will depend on how models perform in their historic depiction of El Niños as well as monsoons and how reliably they can project El Niño response to global warming in addition to how the models perform in reproducing floods to and droughts of 20th century.

Need of the hour:

Develop strong and accurate models to study El Niño and effects of global warming on it. This would also be necessary for projecting other events such as droughts and floods.

What is ENSO?

ENSO is nothing but El Nino Southern Oscillation. As the name suggests, it is an irregular periodic variation of wind and sea surface temperature that occurs over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. ENSO affects the tropics (the regions surrounding the equator) and the subtropics (the regions adjacent to or bordering the tropics). The warming phase of ENSO is called El Nino, while the cooling phase is known as La Nina.

What is El Nino?

El Nino is a climatic cycle characterised by high air pressure in the Western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern. In normal conditions, strong trade winds travel from east to west across the tropical Pacific, pushing the warm surface waters towards the western Pacific. The surface temperature could witness an increase of 8 degrees Celsius in Asian waters. At the same time, cooler waters rise up towards the surface in the eastern Pacific on the coasts of Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. This process called upwelling aids in the development of a rich ecosystem.

What causes El Nino?

El Nino sets in when there is anomaly in the pattern. The westward-blowing trade winds weaken along the Equator and due to changes in air pressure, the surface water moves eastwards to the coast of northern South America. The central and eastern Pacific regions warm up for over six months and result in an El Nino condition. The temperature of the water could rise up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Warmer surface waters increase precipitation and bring above-normal rainfall in South America, and droughts to Indonesia and Australia.

What are El Nino’s effects?

El Nino affects global weather. It favours eastern Pacific hurricanes and tropical storms. Record and unusual rainfall in Peru, Chile and Ecuador are linked to the climate pattern.

El Nino reduces upwelling of cold water, decreasing the uplift of nutrients from the bottom of the ocean. This affects marine life and sea birds. The fishing industry is also affected.

Drought caused by El Nino can be widespread, affecting southern Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands. Countries dependent on agriculture are affected.

Australia and Southeast Asia get hotter.

A recent WHO report on the health consequences of El Nino forecasts a rise in vector-borne diseases, including those spread by mosquitoes, in Central and South America. Cycles of malaria in India are also linked to El Nino.

Source: Down to Earth

Institutions in News- Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC)

In News:

Punit Goenka is the new chairman of BARC.

About BARC:

It is a collaborative Industry Company founded in 2010 by stakeholder bodies that represent Broadcasters, Advertisers, and Advertising and Media Agencies.

BARC India was set up as per guidelines of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India.

Promoters of BARC India are Indian Broadcasting Foundation, Indian Society of Advertisers and Advertising Agencies Association of India.

BARC India has evolved a transparent, accurate, and inclusive TV audience measurement system on the foundation of robust and future-ready technology backbone. Together with the audience measurement system, BARC India provides a suite of Insight products designed for Broadcasters, Advertisers and Agencies. The data generated and the insights provided by BARC India aids in making efficient decision making by the stakeholders.

Institutions in News- National Statistical Commission

In News:

The Government of India through a resolution dated 1st June, 2005 set up the National Statistical Commission (NSC).

Details:

The setting up of the NSC followed the decision of the Cabinet to accept the recommendations of the Rangarajan Commission, which reviewed the Indian Statistical System in 2001. The NSC was constituted with effect from 12th July 2006 with a mandate to evolve policies, priorities and standards in statistical matters.

The Commission consists of a part-time Chairperson, four part-time Members, an ex-officio Member and a secretary. The Chief Statistician of India who is the Head of the National Statistical Office is the Secretary of the Commission and the Chief Executive Officer of the NITI Aayog is the ex-officio Member of the commission.

The commission has also been entrusted with the functions of the Governing Council of the National Sample Survey Office which include overseeing the conduct of National Sample Surveys (NSS) on various socioeconomic subjects through the NSSO and the State Directorate of Economics and Statistics.

Aber- the new digital currency

In News:

The central banks of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia have launched a common digital currency called ‘Aber’, which will be used in financial settlements between the two countries through Blockchains and Distributed Ledgers technologies.

Details:

The use of the currency will be restricted to a limited number of banks in each state. In case that no technical obstacles are encountered, economic and legal requirements for future uses will be considered.

Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC)

The HSFC, the hub of ISRO’s future manned missions, was inaugurated at ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru.

HSFC shall be responsible for the implementation of Gaganyaan project — which involves mission planning, development of engineering systems for crew survival in space, crew selection and training and also pursue activities for sustained human space flight missions.

Cow urine may be adding to global warming

In News:

A study says cow urine may be adding to global warming.

Details:

The urine from the ruminant is a source of nitrous oxide emissions (N2O), a gas that is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Most times, when cow urine is used in degraded pastures, N2O emissions are tripled.

The cattle and livestock are a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas, and therefore a contributor to global warming, is well-known. However, the role of cow urine is less understood.

How vulnerable is India?

Dung and urine are commonly mixed together for manure in Indian fields. Since, India also hosts the world’s largest livestock population, as well as significant tracts of degraded land, the findings may have a bearing on nitrogen emissions from Indian fields.

A 2012 satellite study by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said that about 30% of India’s geographical area (or about 96.4 million hectares) is degraded.

Degraded pastures not only affect food security and the livelihood of farmers today, but affect the livelihood of future farmers because they emit more gases that cause global warming.

Degraded grasslands emitted more N2O than healthy pastures because the vegetation in the latter took up some of the reactive nitrogen compounds and only the leftovers were emitted.