The Hindu Editorial Analysis
28 April 2021

1) A patently wrong regime

Over the last few decades, intellectual property rules have served as a lethal barrier to the right to access healthcare

GS 2: Government Policies & Interventions


Context:

  • Even an unprecedented pandemic can do little, it appears, to upset the existing global regime governing monopoly rights over the production and distribution of life-saving drugs.
  • Intellectual property rules that have served as a lethal barrier to the right to access healthcare over the last few decades.
  • The neo-liberal order, under which these laws exist, is so intractable today that a matter as seemingly simple as a request for a waiver on patent protections is seen as a claim unworthy of exception.

Request for waiver

  • On October 2 last year, India and South Africa submitted a joint petition to the World Trade Organization (WTO), requesting a temporary suspension of rules under the 1995 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
  • A waiver was sought to the extent that the protections offered by TRIPS impinged on the containment and treatment of COVID-19.
  • The request for waiver has, since, found support from more than 100 nations.
  • But a small group of states — the U.S., the European Union, the U.K. and Canada among them — continues to block the move.
  • Their reluctance comes despite these countries having already secured the majority of available vaccines, with the stocks that they hold far exceeding the amounts necessary to inoculate the whole of their populations.
  • Reports suggest that for most poor countries it would take until at least 2024 before widespread vaccination is achieved.
  • A patent is a conferral by the state of an exclusive right to make, use and sell an inventive product or process.
  • Patent laws are usually justified on three distinct grounds:
    • On the idea that people have something of a natural and moral right to claim control over their inventions;
    • On the utilitarian premise that exclusive licenses promote invention and therefore benefit society as a whole; and
    • On the belief that individuals must be allowed to benefit from the fruits of their labour and merit, that when a person toils to produce an object, the toil and the object become inseparable.
    • Each of these justifications has long been a matter of contest, especially in the application of claims of monopoly over pharmaceutical drugs and technologies.

A new world order

  • In India, the question of marrying the idea of promoting invention and offering exclusive rights over medicines on the one hand with the state’s obligation of ensuring that every person has equal access to basic healthcare on the other has been a source of constant tension.
  • The colonial-era laws that the country inherited expressly allowed for pharmaceutical patents.
  • But in 1959, a committee chaired by Justice N. Rajagopala Ayyangar objected to this on ethical grounds.
  • The committee found that foreign corporations used patents, and injunctions secured from courts, to suppress competition from Indian entities, and thus, medicines were priced at exorbitant rates.
  • To counter this trend, the committee suggested, and Parliament put this into law through the Patents Act, 1970, that monopolies over pharmaceutical drugs be altogether removed, with protections offered only over claims to processes.
  • This change in rule allowed generic manufacturers in India to grow.
  • As a result, life-saving drugs were made available to people at more affordable prices.
  • The ink had barely dried on the new law, though, when negotiations had begun to create a WTO that would write into its constitution a binding set of rules governing intellectual property.
  • It was believed that a threat of sanctions, to be enforced through a dispute resolution mechanism, would dissuade states from reneging on their promises and with the advent in 1995 of the TRIPS agreement this belief proved true.
  • It was only when Indian companies began to manufacture generic versions of these medicines, which was made possible because obligations under TRIPS hadn’t yet kicked in against India, that the prices came down.

Refuting objections

  • Instead, two common arguments are made in response to objections against the prevailing patent regime.
  • One, that unless corporations are rewarded for their inventions, they would be unable to recoup amounts invested by them in research and development.
  • Two, that without the right to monopolise production there will be no incentive to innovate.
  • Both of these claims have been refuted time and again.
  • Most recently, it has been reported that the technology involved in producing the Moderna vaccine in the U.S. emanated out of basic research conducted by the National Institutes of Health, a federal government agency, and other publicly funded universities and organisations.
  • Similarly, public money accounted for more than 97% of the funding towards the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
  • It’s also been clear for some time now that its research is usually driven towards diseases that afflict people in the developed world.
  • Therefore, the claim that a removal of patents would somehow invade on a company’s ability to recoup costs is simply untrue.
  • The second objection — the idea that patents are the only means available to promote innovation — has become something of a dogma.
  • The economist Joseph Stiglitz is one of many who has proposed a prize fund for medical research in place of patents.
  • A system that replaces patents with prizes will be “more efficient and more equitable”, in that incentives for research will flow from public funds while ensuring that the biases associated with monopolies are removed.

Conclusion

  • The unequal vaccine policy put in place by the Indian state is indefensible.
  • But at the same time, we cannot overlook the need for global collective action.
  • If nation states are to act as a force of good, they must each attend to the demands of global justice.
  • The pandemic has demonstrated to us just how iniquitous the existing world order is.
  • We cannot continue to persist with rules granting monopolies which place the right to access basic healthcare in a position of constant peril

 

2) Marking the beginning of a green era

To combat climate change, Saudi Arabia has launched the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative

GS 3: Climate Change


Context:

  • Two recent initiatives launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to combat the threat of climate change — the ‘Saudi Green Initiative’ and the ‘Middle East Green Initiative’.
  • The Saudi leadership of the summit highlighted how climate change had negatively impacted the planet, people’s lives and their well-being.

Progress towards goals

  • Ambition alone cannot attain goals. Good results depend on our ability to act.
  • The G20 introduced initiatives like establishing a Global Coral Reef Research and Development Accelerator Platform to accelerate scientific knowledge and technology development in support of coral reef survival, conservation, resilience, adaptation and restoration.
  • G20 leaders also acknowledged the Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) Platform as a tool towards affordable, reliable, and secure energy and economic growth.
  • The Saudi Green Initiative aims to
  • Raise the vegetation cover,
  • Reduce carbon emissions,
  • Combat pollution and land degradation, and
  • Preserve marine life.
  • As part of the initiative, 10 billion trees will be planted in the Kingdom.
  • It aims to reduce carbon emissions by more than 4% of global contributions, through a renewable energy programme that will generate 50% of Saudi’s energy from renewables by 2030.
  • Saudi Arabia is working towards raising the percentage of its protected areas to more than 30% of its total land area, representing roughly 6,00,000 sq km, exceeding the global target of 17%.
  • As part of the Middle East Green initiative,
  • Saudi Arabia will work with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and regional partners to plant an additional 40 billion trees in the West Asian region.
  • It represents 5% of the global target of planting one trillion trees and reducing 2.5% of global carbon levels.
  • Saudi Arabia has been sharing its expertise and know-how with its neighboring countries to reduce carbon emissions resulting from hydrocarbon production in the region by 60% and globally by 10%.
  • Saudi Arabia currently operates the largest carbon capture and utilization plant in the world, turning half a million tones of CO2 annually into products such as fertilizers and methanol.
  • It also operates one of the region’s most advanced CO2-enhanced oil recovery plants that captures and stores 8,00,000 tonnes of CO2 annually.
  • Plans are afoot to deploy additional carbon capture, utilisation and storage infrastructure.
  • Saudi Arabia have already joined hands in February 2019 with India when it joined the International Solar Alliance during the Crown Prince’s state visit to the country, hence promoting cooperation in the renewable energy sector.
  • Later that year, when the Indian Prime Minister visited Saudi Arabia, several MoUs and agreements in key sectors including renewable energy were signed.
  • To ensure momentum and continuity, Saudi Arabia will convene an annual summit called the Middle East Green Initiative which will host leaders from the government, scientists and environmentalists to discuss the details of implementation.
  • Saudi Arabia also recognises the scarcity of financial resources to irrigate the terrain.

Working towards Vision 2030

  • In 2016, the Crown Prince unveiled Vision 2030, a comprehensive road map to improve the quality of life of the citizens of the country.
  • As part of this, Saudi Arabia carried out a comprehensive restructuring of the environmental sector and established the Environmental Special Forces in 2019.
  • With NEOM and The Line, Saudi Arabia has already redefined the idea of sustainable habitats.
  • NEOM’s location also gives Saudi Arabia many advantages in the field of hydrogen production.
  • According to the World Bank, for every dollar invested in resilient infrastructure, $4 in benefits are generated.
  • With the Public Investment Fund recently pumping in $15 billion in the NEOM project and another $10 billion in renewable and solar energy projects, it is clear that the pandemic has only strengthened Saudi Arabia’s resolve to realise the goals of Vision 2030 and become one of the major producers of renewable energy with a capacity to generate 9.5 GW by 2023.
  • Our close friend and strategic partner India has also made remarkable commitments to tackle climate change and is on track to achieve its Paris Agreement targets.
  • India’s renewable energy capacity is the fourth largest in the world and has an ambitious target of achieving 450 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030.
  • Saudi Arabia hopes that the launch of the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative marks the beginning of a green era and that these initiatives provide momentum to other countries to unify their efforts to save our planet.