Down To Earth (December 1-15 2023)



  • With climate change, there is a growing discussion on the need to re-engineer the current model of agriculture and the food system.


  • The Agriculture and Food sector is highly vulnerable to the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.
  • Rising temperatures and sea levels, changes in rainfall patterns and water temperatures, ocean acidification and more frequent and intense extreme weather events, will all affect how and where we produce our food.
  • It contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in a variety of ways — through methane emissions from rice cultivation and livestock and through nitrous oxide from the use of synthetic fertilisers and manure on fields.
  • The large-scale clearing of forests, including rainforests, to produce beef cattle and even palm oil and multi-continent transport for food processing and sale adds to the crisis of our climate-risked world.

Agriculture and GHGs:

  • The agriculture sector, together with forestry and other land uses, contributes nearly a quarter of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
    • Half of this share comes from direct agricultural emissions, mainly from livestock, with most of the rest from deforestation of which agriculture is the main driver.
  • Emissions from the global fishing industry are only 4% of emissions from food production but grew by 28% between 1990 and 2011, with little coinciding increase in production.

Agricultural model for livelihood-nutrition-nature security: The elements of the agricultural model in our climate-risked world are as follows:

  • It has to be a low-input-based model that protects the farmer from multiple risks. It will lead to higher yields, which will give the farmer higher income. It is clear that low-input agriculture is not necessarily lower in productivity.
    • The conventional strategy—even what is being promoted in the name of smart agriculture—depends on high-cost inputs, which add to the cost of cultivation.
    • However, for smallholder farmers, where there are little economies of scale, this is just not possible.


  • Input-intensive model of livestock production: Most dairy farmers are still individuals, using combinations of open and stall feeding for their animals. Their farms are based on agrosilvopastoral systems.
  • Farmers are increasingly using expensive inputs—from fertilisers to seeds to pesticides. This adds to their debt burden, making them even more vulnerable to crop losses and extreme weather impacts.


  • Climate resilient agriculture: Climate change brings new pests and can change the practices of agriculture as well as the use of non-chemical alternatives.
    • Climate resilience requires more ability to cope, recover, and ultimately put higher returns in the hands of farmers, and can provide opportunities for farmers to maximise gains.
  • Risk minimisation: It means promoting multiple cropping systems to promote biodiversity as farmers grow more than one crop on the field. Livestock economy has to be made integral for management of risk so that there is income from different sources.
  • Choice of crops: These need to be nutritive and compatible with the local environment. For example if there is water shortage, farmers need to grow water prudent crops like millets.
    • Change of cropping patterns towards climate-resilience will need this supportive structure by government enable policies
  • The choice of food that farmers grow is in the hands of consumers. If we change our diets, it provides signals to the farmer to grow differently.

Steps taken by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):

  • Global Assessments and Implications for Food Security and Trade: It discusses how global warming impacts where and how food is produced, and its significant consequences for food security, health and nutrition, water scarcity, and climate adaptation. It highlights the implications for global food trade.
  • FAO Strategy on Climate Change 2022–2031: It recognizes the role of agrifood systems as part of the solution to climate change and seeks complementarities with the missions of other organisations and related agreements. The strategy emphasises the need for climate action at global, regional, national, and local levels across agrifood systems.
  • Agri-food funding to tackle climate change: FAO warns that financing allocated to tackle climate change in the agri-food system has ‘plummeted’ in recent years, and highlights the urgency to act on climate change impacts on agrifood systems.



  • Short-duration paddy cultivation can help solve Punjab and Haryana’s stubble burning problem.


  • Short duration paddy varieties like PR-126 and PB-1509 that mature in 110-120 days through direct seeded rice sowing, in which the rice seed is planted in the soil with or without irrigation before seeding, provide farmers 50 days to manage stubble.
  • Kharif season (2023): Paddy has been cultivated on about 4.8 million hectares (ha) in Punjab and Haryana. Of this, 1.4 million ha is under the basmati variety, whose straws are generally used as fodder by the farmers and the rest 3.4 million ha is under coarse grain varieties (locally known as Parmal), whose straws have been disposed off by farmers for ages by burning, which causes air pollution.


  • The government’s efforts to manage paddy stubble in the last one decade are primarily ex-situ, which are very limited and cumbersome. They need heavy, costly machinery and involve many channels. They are neither farmer-friendly nor environment-friendly, which is why they have nearly failed.
  • Farmers have a short window of 20 days (between harvesting of paddy and sowing of the next crop) to clear the stubble and prepare their fields.
    • Maximum incidence of stubble burning is reported after October 30, when sowing of wheat is just 10-15 days away.


Short Duration Varieties (SDVs):

  • The cultivation of SDVs provides an extended window between Kharif harvesting of paddy and wheat sowing for Rabi, thereby giving sufficient time to the rice farmers for in-situ management and removal of excess paddy straw.
  • The dwarf varieties have less production of straw as compared to the tall varieties.


Steps need to taken:

  • For promotion of SDVs and for environment-friendly paddy cultivation system, the government needs to take the following measures:
    • Legal promotion of direct seeded rice and ban on transplantation for coarse grains, paddy varieties, with changes in Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act, 2009, and financial incentives of R5,000 per acre (1 acre equals 0.4 ha) to the farmers.
    • Fixing legal responsibility of owners of combine harvester machines for in-situ stubble management for which the government should provide a financial incentive to farmers.
    • Rescheduling of the government procurement processes so that all paddy harvesting-related operations are completed before the onset of the winter winds to the northwestern plains.
  • These steps could provide an effective solution to stubble burning, and save nearly 30% of ground-water, and reduce the cost of cultivation, labour and energy.



The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released ‘Emissions Gap Report 2023’ titled as ‘Broken Record – Temperatures hit new highs, yet world fails to cut emissions (again)’.

Major highlights of the Emissions Gap Report 2023:

Paris Agreement goals:

  • The world is heading for a temperature rise far above the Paris Agreement goals unless countries deliver more than they have promised.
    • It says that even if countries followed through with their current emission reduction goals, the world would reach 2.5-2.9°C of warming this century.
  • The report finds that there has been progress since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.
    • Greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 were projected to increase by 16% at the time of the agreement’s adoption. Today, the projected increase is 3%.
  • However, predicted 2030 greenhouse gas emissions still must fall by 28% for the Paris Agreement 2°C pathway and 42% for the 1.5°C pathway.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs):

  • Fully implementing unconditional NDCs made under the Paris Agreement would put the world on track for limiting temperature rise to 2.9°C above pre-industrial levels this century.
    • Fully implementing conditional NDCs would lower this to 2.5°C.

Suggestions made in report:

  • The report calls for all nations to accelerate economy-wide, low-carbon development transformations. Countries with greater capacity and responsibility for emissions will need to take more ambitious action and support developing nations as they pursue low-emissions development growth.
    • It underscores the urgent need for nations to take more ambitious action to mitigate climate change.
  • The report looks at how stronger implementation can increase the chances of the next round of NDCs, due in 2025, bringing down greenhouse gas emissions in 2035 to levels consistent with 2°C and 1.5°C pathways.
  • It looks at the potential and risks of Carbon Dioxide Removal methods – such as nature-based solutions and direct air carbon capture and storage.



  • Ad-hoc working groups of the Convention on Biological Diversity meet to discuss preserving traditional knowledge, benefit sharing.


  • Ad-hoc working groups of CBD met to discuss recommendations to the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to CBD in 2024 like preservation of indigenous knowledge and fair and equitable sharing of benefits from use of resources.

Suggestions made by the working groups:

  • Article 8 (J) of CBD: It ensures that countries respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCS) used to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity. It promotes wider use of this knowledge while ensuring equitable sharing of benefits.
    • Certain recommendations such as the role of languages in traditional knowledge and updating traditional knowledge indicators were adopted. 
    • The meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Article 8 (j) was tasked to ensure it is aligned with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework established in 2022.


  • Diverging opinion: As per the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), indigenous peoples are to be considered separate from local communities.
    • UNPFII said that it is unacceptable to undermine the status and standing of indigenous peoples by combining or equating them with non-indigenous entities.
    • There were diverging opinions on whether a permanent subsidiary body on indigenous issues should be created under CBD.
  • Digital Sequence Information (DSI): The Ad-hoc Working Group on Benefit-sharing centred around the multilateral mechanism for DSI.
    • DSI is a term used for gene sequences or proteins that allow for access to biological resources without physical samples, and hence IPLCS risk losing out on benefits arising from their use.


Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD):

  • It is a result of the Rio Earth Summit held in Brazil in 1992.
  • Objective of CBD: To conserve Biological diversity, along with the traditional knowledge associated with such diversity.
  • It seeks to ensure that if any biological resources are used, then it should be done in a sustainable manner, while providing for Fair and Equitable Benefit sharing at the same time.
  • The CBD’s governing body is the Conference of the Parties (COP).
  • COP, the ultimate authority of all governments (or Parties) that have ratified the treaty, meets every two years to review progress, set priorities and commit to work plans.



  • The Lancet released a ‘Countdown on Health and Climate Change’ report recently.


  • The Lancet Countdown is an international research collaboration that tracks the relationship between health and climate change across five key domains and 47 indicators.
  • The 2023 Global Report of the Lancet Countdown underscores the imperative for a health-centred response in a world facing irreversible harms.

Key findings of the report:

  • The country lost 191 billion potential labour hours due to heat exposure in 2022.
    • It is a 54% increase from the number of hours lost in 1991-2000 and is equal to losing $219 billion in potential associated income.
    • Agricultural workers are the worst affected.
  • Climate inaction is costing lives and livelihoods today, with new global projections revealing the grave and mounting threat to health of further delayed action on climate change.
  • At 1.14ºC of global heating, the risks of climate change are rapidly growing, costing lives and livelihoods worldwide, today.
  • Health systems are increasingly strained, and failure to support equitable adaptation has left populations unprotected in the face of the increased climate hazards.
  • Each tonne of greenhouse gases emitted makes adaptation increasingly challenging and costly and worsens the health risks that people will face for decades to come.
  • Health-centred climate action could still save millions of lives every year. A just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy and energy efficiency can reduce the health harms of energy poverty, power high-quality health-supportive services, and prevent the millions of deaths occurring annually from exposure to fuel-derived air pollution.

Impact of climate change on human health:

  • WHO states that climate change is directly contributing to humanitarian emergencies from heatwaves, wildfires, floods, tropical storms, and hurricanes, which are increasing in scale, frequency, and intensity.
    • It is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050.
  • The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) mentions that climate change impacts human health in both direct and indirect ways.
    • Direct impacts include injury, illness, and death from extreme weather events, while indirect effects can result from alterations to the environment, such as worsening air pollution levels and changes in infectious diseases.
  • The COP28 in Dubai hosted the first ‘Health Day’ ever held at the climate talks, a positive step towards raising awareness and fostering collaborative efforts to protect lives and livelihood from the adverse health impacts of global warming.
  • Climate emergencies are impacting vulnerable populations the most, and governments must fund health initiatives to create resilient systems.



  • Air pollution is causing greater loss of healthy life years in children compared to older people, a phenomenon that stunts India’s economic and social well-being.


  • Scientific evidence shows air pollution can contribute to adverse birth outcomes, infant mortality, damaged lung function, asthma, cancer, and can represent a factor that increases the risk of neurological disorders and childhood obesity.


  • Children are uniquely vulnerable to the damaging health effects of air pollution.
    • Children are physiologically more vulnerable to air pollution than adults because their brains, lungs and other organs are still developing.
    • Air pollution is associated with new or exacerbation of pre-existing health conditions in children such as asthma and bronchitis.
  • Children are exposed to air pollution almost everywhere.
    • 1 in 10 deaths in children under the age of five are attributed to air pollution exposure, according to WHO.
    • 20% of newborn deaths are attributed to air pollution, most related to complications of low birth weight and preterm births
    • About 93% (1.8 billion) of the world’s children under 15 years old breathe poisonous air every day that is risking their health, cognitive development and future.

Sources of exposure:

  • Outdoor air pollution: Outdoor air pollution is lethal and contributed to 4.2 million premature deaths in 2019, including almost 154,000 deaths of children under the age of five.
  • Indoor air pollution: In 2020, 2.4 billion people globally don’t have access to clean cooking, exposing millions of children to high levels of air pollution.
    • Women and children in poorer countries spend much of their time around the fireplace, exposing themselves to concentrations of some pollutants that are higher than the level found outside.
    • The widespread lack of access to clean energy has tragic consequences on a vast scale: indoor air pollution was responsible for 3.2 million premature deaths in 2019, including over 237,000 deaths of children under the age of five.

Steps need to takes:

  • Air pollution and its impacts on children are violations of their right to a liveable and viable future. Governments should invest in gathering data on the sources of air pollution and its health impacts, particularly on children and the public, to inform their standards and policies, and prioritise high-risk areas.
    • There is a need to increase ambition of national climate and environmental policies, such as National Adaptation Plans or Nationally Determined Contributions.
  • Provide affordable, clean fuel options and incentives to shift to cleaner modes of transport.
  • Strengthen policies and investments to expedite the transition to clean, efficient energy and transport across all sectors.
    • Introduce and enforce advanced emission standards.
    • Establish renewable energy targets and support policies to achieve them.
  • Invest in ‘net zero’ and more resilient health systems, reducing pollution and emissions.
  • Conduct research on the effects of air pollution on children’s health as well as potential treatment, prevention and management.



  • 15 major methane-emitting countries and the EU made a pledge to control Methane, which are cumulatively responsible for 68% of global methane emissions (% contribution to global methane emissions in 2022).


  • Signatories to ‘Global Methane Pledge’ agreed a target of reducing anthropogenic methane emissions by 30% by 2030.


Global Methane Pledge (GMP)

  • Methane is a powerful but short-lived climate pollutant that accounts for a third of net warming since the Industrial Revolution.
  • Rapidly reducing methane emissions from energy, agriculture, and waste can achieve near-term gains in our efforts in this decade for decisive action and is regarded as the single most effective strategy to keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5˚C within reach while yielding co-benefits, including improving public health and agricultural productivity.
  • The Global Methane Pledge (GMP) was launched at COP26 by the European Union and the United States.
  • Meeting the GMP would reduce methane emissions to a level consistent with 1.5°C pathways while delivering significant benefits for human and ecosystem health, food security and our economies.
  • It has the potential to reduce warming by at least 0.2 °C by 2050 and prevent annually 26 million tons of crop losses, 255,000 premature deaths, 775 thousand asthma-related hospitalizations and 73 billion hours of lost labour due to extreme heat.


Major Pledges:

US (9%)

  • US Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan, 2022, outlines targets for methane emission reduction in oil and gas, waste and abandoned coal sectors.
  • The Inflation Reduction Act, 2022, incentivises methane mitigation and levies a tax on oil and gas methane emissions.

EU 27 (5.18%)

  • EU Methane Action Plan 2022 that contains industry-wise guidelines to reduce greenhouse gases (announced).
  • A law to place methane emissions limits on Europe’s oil and gas imports from 2030 (announced).

Brazil (6%)

  • National Zero Methane Program enforced in 2022

Russia (7%)

  • Strategy of Socio-economic Development of the Russian Federation with a Low Level of Greenhouse Gas Emissions until 2050 (announced).

China (16%)

  • National Methane Action Plan to promote measures to cut down methane (announced).
  • China is part of the seven-member Oil and Gas Methane Alliance. Members to reduce methane intensity in natural gas production to below 0.25% by 2025 through technology sharing (announced).
  • Methane Action Plan in November 2023, but it does not contain targets to cut emissions (announced).

India (8%)

  • National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture to promote climate-resilient practices including methane reduction in rice cultivation (ongoing measure).
  • Indian Council of Agriculture Research is developing technologies with methane mitigation potential (ongoing measure).
  • The National Livestock Mission is developing improved bovine breeds (ongoing measure).
  • Promoting production of green fodder (ongoing measure).
  • Gobar-Dhan scheme and New National Biogas and Organic Manure Programme have methane-reduction components (ongoing measure).

Pakistan (2%)

  • National Climate Change Policy of Pakistan,2012
  • National Methane Action Roadmap (Drafting stage)

Australia (2%)

  • Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock Program to promote research, development and deployment of methane-reducing livestock feed technologies.




  • The US and China announced an agreement to increase clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


  • The US and China, two of the world's largest polluters, agreed on a joint statement emphasising the tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 (a target declared at the Group of 20 meet earlier this year).
    • The joint statement comes before COP28 to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), indicating an attempt to set a tone for negotiations on energy transition and phaseout of fossil fuels.
  • The statement, however, is silent on phasing down fossil fuels and focuses on carbon sequestration and removal technologies, which is still at a nascent stage, to reduce emissions.
    • The two countries focus on carbon capture, use and storage.
  • The US and China recall, reaffirm, and commit to further the effective and sustained implementation of ‘US-China Joint Statement Addressing the Climate Crisis’ and the ‘US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action’ in the 2020s.
  • They remain committed to the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement and decisions thereunder, including the Glasgow Climate Pact and the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, aiming to hold the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.



  • According to World Weather Attribution (WWA), the three-year drought being seen in the western Asian countries of Syria and Iraq has been made 25 times and Iran 16 times more likely due to climate change.

Key Findings of WWA:

  • It found that without 1.2°C of global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels, the drought, which is currently classified as ‘Extreme’ on the US Drought monitor scale, would have been classified as ‘Normal' or wet conditions.
  • The researchers of WWA said that the drought is primarily driven by a drastic increase in temperature and thus potential evapotranspiration from the earth’s surface.
  • Since 2020, extreme drought in Syria, Iraq and Iran has led to food and water shortages affecting tens of millions of people.
  • The drought affects a region with a highly vulnerable population due to varying degrees of fragility and conflict including war and post-war transition, rapid urbanisation in the face of limited technical capacity, and regional instability.
    • These dynamics increased vulnerability to the impacts of drought and created a humanitarian crisis.
  • The whole Euphrates and Tigris basin and large parts of Iran experienced extreme and exceptional agricultural drought over the 36 months up to June 2023, making it the second-worst drought on record in both regions.



  • Iceland declared a state of emergency after experiencing more than 4,000 earthquakes since late October.


  • Authorities evacuated the town of Grindavík and Reykjanes in the southwestern peninsula after reports from the country's meteorological agency warned of an imminent volcanic eruption triggered by the frequent tremors.
  • Such an eruption would also impact aviation due to release of ash.

About Iceland:

  • Iceland is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, technically the longest mountain range in the world, but on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.
    • The ridge separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates — making it a hotbed of seismic activity.
  • On average, Iceland experiences around 26000 earthquakes a year according to Perlan, a Reykjavik-based natural history museum. Most of them are imperceptible and unconcerning.
    • Sometimes, a swarm of earthquakes — a sequence of mostly small earthquakes with no identifiable mainshock — is a troubling precursor to a volcanic eruption.




  • The EU Commission renewed its authorisation for use of glyphosate even as member-states failed to give an opinion on extending its approval.

About Glyphosate:

  • It is an herbicide that is applied to the leaves of plants to kill both broadleaf plants and grasses. The sodium salt form of glyphosate is used to regulate plant growth and ripen specific crops.
  • It was first registered for use in the US in 1974.
  • It works by preventing the plants from making certain proteins that are needed for plant growth. It isn’t likely to vaporise after it is sprayed.


  • Pure glyphosate is low in toxicity, but products usually contain other ingredients that help the glyphosate get into the plants.
    • The other ingredients in the product can make the product more toxic.
  • Products containing glyphosate may cause eye or skin irritation.
  • Swallowing products with glyphosate can cause increased saliva, burns in the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
  • Use of glyphosate raises concerns because it was declared carcinogenic to humans in 2015 by the World Health Organization.
    • However, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the European Chemicals Agency classify glyphosate as non-carcinogenic.



  • Mock meat and other plant-based alternatives are gaining popularity in India as a sustainable and ethical alternative to traditional animal meat.

What is Plant based meat?

  • Plant-based meat (also referred as meat alternative or mock meat meat) is a food product eaten as a replacement for meat.
  • It bio-mimics or replicates meat, seafood, eggs, and milk derived from animals — by looking, smelling, and tasting like them.
  • It is made from vegetarian or vegan ingredients such as soy, wheat gluten, pea protein or mycoprotein.

Meat a healthier protein source than plants:

  • Our food consists of three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. While carbohydrates and fats provide energy for our bodies, proteins are essential for continuous tissue repair and growth.
  • In India, the high prevalence of diabetes and heart disease necessitates careful consideration of protein sources.
    • While plant proteins are a valuable source of essential nutrients, they often accompany a substantial amount of carbohydrates.
  • However, the mock meat producers claim that every 100 g of their product provides 17.7 g of protein, 15.93 g of fat, and 2.62 g of carbohydrates.


  • These are consumed as a source of dietary protein by vegetarians, vegans, and people following religious and cultural dietary laws.
  • Their demand has also increased among non-vegetarians seeking to reduce the environmental impact of meat production in terms of greenhouse gas production, water and land use.


  • These are not necessarily healthier than meat due to their highly processed nature and sodium content.
  • Uses of preservatives in plant-based meat, etc.


  1. Analyse the impacts of climate change on agriculture and food production.
  2. What are the major advantages and disadvantages of short duration paddy crops?
  3. Analyse the impacts of climate change on human health.
  4. How air pollution can affect India’s economic and social well-being? Suggest measures to tackle air pollution.