After praise from Obama, the reality of the "Indian miracle" shows a country still submerged in widespread poverty and underdevelopment
"India is not simply emerging, India has already emerged." When he uttered these words before the Indian Parliament last November, U.S. President Barack Obama generated a wave of euphoria. The next day, The Times of India proclaimed that Obama said "exactly what India wanted to hear," having declared his host country a valuable partner in helping to "define the century."
Yet soon after Obama's visit, a certain disenchantment began to set in. When the country's most respected businessman, Ratan Tata, found himself entangled in a troublesome wiretapping case, he about how he'd just been at a summit with the US president who "talked about us having emerged and not as being an emerging force…(while) here we are, fallen" into the pettiness of scandals. Just the kind of scandals one expects from the Third World, rather than global leaders.
Another taste of India's uneasiness with its new "great power" status came with Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to India in December. On the state visit, the French Development Agency agreed to help Indian authorities fund a renewable energy project, but India insisted that the accord not be officially signed during the French president's visit, out of fear the country would be painted again as underdeveloped, and in need of assistance.
In fact, the suggestion that India is no longer an emerging country is premature. Instead, it might be best compared to an iceberg: the visible tip is much smaller than the submerged part. The visible part is real, and it shines brightly for the world: a global leader in high-tech outsourcing, and its industry groups, like Tata, have shown they can compete with Europe's giants. There are billionaires who unabashedly display their wealth and upper-middle class families who enjoy Western luxuries and regularly indulge in the joys of consumerism in the country's gleaming shopping malls.
But the submerged part of the "iceberg" is in fact much more important. Rural India, which represents 70% of the country's population, has remained almost completely shut off from the country's modernization. A look at global data is telling. In the 2010 UN human development ranking, India placed 119th out of 169 countries. Just over half of active adults live on less than $1.25 per day, and only 62.8% of the population is literate. In 2008, GDP per capita was $1.02 dollars, compared to $3.27 and $8.21 in China and Brazil, respectively. The 2010 world hunger index established by the International Food Policy Research Institute puts India 67th out of 84 developing countries, far behind Pakistan and many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Suman Bery, Managing Director of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, a prominent think tank, explains: "We must not forget that India is by far the poorest G20 country in terms of GDP per capita." The activist and economist Jean Dreze, who specializes in poverty in India, is more outspoken: "If Obama wanted to say that India has emerged as a market for the United States, he is probably right. But the Indian elite has chosen to understand that he said India has emerged as a superpower. It's one of the country's favorite fantasies, but it is completely disconnected from reality."
What has changed in recent years, then, has been foreign perception of India's reality. "Ten years ago," says Bery, "India was perceived as an enormous reservoir of human misery. But today, the country has been asked to assume global responsibilities." Why the change? In part, the economist explains, "because of population and the country's growth." But also because India is increasingly seen as a counterweight to China, which is often a source of worry in the West. But the reality, Bery estimates, is that India's development "is just the beginning of a journey that will take 30 to 40 years."
Fortunately, the iceberg analogy has its limits. The natural tendency of a block of ice floating in the sea is to melt, its visible part gradually disappearing. In India's case, the opposite is likely to occur. Even if the path to development is long and difficult, the optimism and fortitude that characterize the country give cause for hope.
For the India that has already emerged, the underdeveloped portion of the country may even serve as an opportunity: "I agree in part with Obama, that we have emerged relative to where we were in the past," says Chanda Kochhar, CEO of ICICI, India's second largest bank. "But compared to the opportunities that are before us, no, we have not yet emerged. We can still lead the country into double-digit growth and keep it there for two decades. And it will require much work."
The iceberg that is modern India, in other words, will one day rise out from the water. But defying the laws of nature was never going to be quick or easy.
Read the original article in French
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
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