The planet heats up

This piece originally appeared on Livemint.com

 

Even as the US elected Donald Trump, who had questioned climate change in the past, 2016 missed out on the distinction of being the hottest on record since 1880. It could well have been, but the temperatures cooled down in September and October, which one of the media outlets that supported Trump mistook as evidence against global warming. The reason was a retreating El Niño, an abnormal weather pattern caused by warm waters of the western Pacific Ocean flowing eastwards.

As it stands, the world is getting warmer (chart 1). While the temperature rise in 2015 and 2016 is due to El Niño, it’s not the only reason (chart 2). One of the immediate effects is the speed at which glaciers are receding (chart 3). In July, 90 million cubic yards of glacier collapsed in the Aru range in Tibet, resulting in one of the largest avalanches.

Meanwhile, a new study, published recently in Nature Geoscience, confirmed more strongly than before the link between climate change and glacial melting. In 2017, we will do well to keep track of those glaciers, and what Trump does with the Paris climate pact aimed at mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

 

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News in Numbers, Nov 15, 2016: In pursuit of black money abroad…

415

What is it? The number of Indians under scrutiny as part of the Panama Papers investigation. The Panama Papers is a global investigation into alleged flouting of rules (to facilitate tax evasion, arms deals, bribery, financial fraud and drug trafficking) by the setting up of offshore entities.

Why is it important? This investigation, which is probing Indians named in the leaked files, is one of the largest offshore inquiries initiated in the country. The Foreign Tax and Tax Research division of the Finance Ministry has sent 198 references to 13 jurisdictions seeking financial and investment details of Indians who have incorporated offshore entities in their territories. The number of references sent by the division has more than doubled since July (when 91 references had been sent) while the number of Indians under the scanner has also increased from 297 in July to 415 now.

Tell me more: Of the 415 Indians, members of a multi-agency taskforce led by the Central Board of Direct Taxes are probing 71 non-resident Indians, 184 have admitted that they have incorporated the offshore entities provided in the lists and 70 are said to be “untraceable”. The Income Tax (Investigation) wing has carried out searches at the premises of nine people and surveys in the case of 14 individuals.

 

1.2°C

What is it? The margin by which global temperatures for January to September 2016 were above pre-industrial levels, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Why is it important? The United Nations’ agency in its provisional statement on the status of the global climate has said that 2016 is “very likely” to be the hottest year on record and also, the third straight year to set a new high. This is because temperatures increased in the first few months of the year due to El Niño (occasional warming of waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean) though the biggest factor is the greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

Tell me more: At least half of the extreme weather events in the recent years have been due to human-induced global warming. Extreme weather and climate-related events impacted farming and food security in 2015/16, which affected 60 million people globally.

 

165,918

What is it? The number of Indian students studying in the US in 2015-16, according to a report.

Why is it important? This is the highest ever number of Indian students in the US, 25% higher than the previous year’s figure. India was the second-leading country of origin among international students after China, which sent almost twice the number of students as India. The number of international students in US colleges and universities surpassed the million-mark for the first time during the academic year of 2015-16. However, there are fears that President-elect Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant stance may result in stricter visa and immigration rules, making it difficult for international students to pursue their higher education and find jobs in the US.

Tell me more: China, India and Saudi Arabia together accounted for over half (53%) of the international students in the US last year. Nearly three-fourths of the international students received a majority of their funding support from outside of the US, mainly from family and personal sources as well as their home country governments or universities.

 

1 hectare

What is it? The maximum forest land that can be diverted for community toilets (in each case) under the Swachh Bharat Mission, as per a general approval by the central government.

Why is it important? This has been in response to Maharashtra government’s request to allow them to construct community toilets on forest land under the programme, which has set a target of India achieving the open defecation free status by 2019 and building toilets is an important component in this. Under the approval, government agencies need not wait for permission for the use of forest land for building toilets though this is subject to approval from gram panchayats in rural areas and local bodies in urban areas. Construction of community toilets would not alter the current legal status of the land.

Tell me more: The Divisional Forest Officer would check the requirements of the forest land for this project and will also certify it. The general approval is conditional, which includes not cutting more than 50 trees per hectare, user agency has to plant and maintain twice the number of trees felled and only indigenous tree species should be planted.

 

Rs 21,870 crore

What is it? The amount sought from the government by the directors of the seven older Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) to improve the institutes’ global rankings.

Why is it important? The estimated amount to be invested over five years is to improve their research output and international outlook besides strengthening faculty and infrastructure. About three months ago, the IIT Council approved Project Vishwajeet, which is aimed at improving the seven IITs positions in global rankings by a number of measures including boosting international faculty strength, have a better faculty-student ratio, increasing share of international students and allowing off-campus PhD students.

Tell me more: Despite having one of the world’s toughest entrance examinations and having churned out some of the best minds across various industries globally, IITs have lagged behind in global rankings. For instance, in the recently introduced QS World University Rankings 2016-17, none of the IITs figure in the top 150 and the highest slot occupied by any IIT was at 185.

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