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The Potential Role of Behavioural Economics for the 2017 German G-20 Presidency

Enrique Muñoz-Salido

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The Federal Republic of Germany assumed last December the 2017 presidency of the G-20, after China held the 2016 presidency since December 2015. Proposed in the aftermath of the financial crisis of Asia and Latin America, the G-20 started in 1999 as a long-term global-governance informal forum rather than an organisation.

Even though the starting objective was to prevent problems on the balance of payments and financial markets by focusing on monetary, fiscal, and financial policies, nowadays the G-20 has expanded its list of priorities with the inclusion of the sustainability pillar, stressed by unprecedented energy challenges and a saving potential of 27% by 2020 in the European household sector reported by the European Union (European Commission, 2006).

Since the first G-20 presidency, the objectives of the committee have been hard to match, what, in light of the beginning of a new presidency, offers some ideas to reflect on. In parallel, the successful behavioural approach taken by the Obama Administration (The White House, 2016; Social and Behavioural Sciences Team, 2016) might sow the seeds of a bitter dissension in the international arena, re-considering the neo-classical economic approach brought into disrepute against a brand-new, flourishing behavioural way. In line with those reflections, a growing body of evidence in the empirical literature on behavioural economics and environmental policy points to soft policy interventions yielded by behavioural drivers in environmental policy intervention (Muñoz-Salido, 2016). As in protecting the environment seems to be no rush, must policy-makers move beyond traditional intervention paradigms in environmental negotiations?

Most important behavioural drivers which influence human perceptions are framing and heuristics. On the one hand, framing influences how individuals perceive a prospect by playing with the structure and format in which it is offered. An illustrative framing paradigm is given by Kahneman (2012), who asked individuals for their preference upon two different ways for addressing a flu epidemic with a different degree of risk. Individuals’ choice was clearly determined by framing the question in terms of saving lives – gain – or preventing deaths – avoiding a loss – instead of considering their actual level of risk. If the question was framed in terms of preventing deaths, the majority of individuals chose the risky way, whereas if it was framed in terms of saving lives, the majority of individuals chose the less risky solution. Theoretically, Kahneman’s (2012) results overlap Tversky & Kahneman’s (1992), which brought individuals’ risk aversion for gains and risk seeking tendency for losses into the ground of the behavioural economics. On the other hand, heuristics is an automatic shortcut that the mind takes within ambiguous and difficult decision scenarios. Following the seminal work of Tversky & Kahneman (1974), three recurrent heuristics paradigms are representativeness, availability and anchoring. In the context of environmental economics, an individual may assess the risk of an environmental disaster to occur by basing her judgment on either the prospect’s similarity with other prospects, the frequency with which it happens or by anchoring its likelihood with previous standard comparisons. For instance, an individual within an environmental negotiation may judge the probability of having a hurricane in her country by either assuming that the aforesaid environmental disasters only happen in tropical countries, regardless the actual probability of it to occur.

In short, this way that individuals perceive prospects’ probabilities instead of valuing their actual Bayesian probabilities implies a feature of human bounded rationality when assessing potential environmental effects that can imply a determinant factor for successful environmental policy adoptions, which makes the objectives of the G-20 Sustainability Pillar even harder to match.

Bearing in mind lessons from above regarding individuals’ insensitivity to probabilities but sensitivity to outcomes, it’s easy to reflect on using the ‘proximity’ impact in order to increase mental images’ influence over behaviour. This could fight against individuals’ automatic shortcuts and underweighting tendency of environmental consequences and hence achieve to influence their perception. One famous paradigm of this application is that achieved by the documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ (Gore, 2006), which, in 2006, achieved to influence dozens of governments around the world. The documentary aims at raising the global warming awareness by reporting imminent fatal consequences. Reaction were remarkable. Prime Ministers of dozens of countries urged population to watch it as well as included it as a content in schools, achieving to gently and effectively ‘nudge’ institutional policy-makers from the globe. Furthermore, another convincing intervention though in light of framing and loss-aversion within institutions is that committed by Steinacker (2006), who finds governments’ pro-active attitudes to problem-solving when outcomes are presented as a negative externality rather than a positive, implying a potential chance for nudging in environmental negotiations.

Linking all of those reflections, G-20 German presidency could aim at centering on framing the potential consequences of not protecting the environment into a fatal and immediate set of events, stressing individuals’ loss aversion and sensitivity to outcomes. Alternatively, they could also try to influence individuals’ loss-aversion and tendency to underweight probabilities of suffering potential consequences of such behaviour by showing individuals’ their traumatic consequences and using heuristic techniques to change their perception of that prospects. G-20 German presidency could use such soft interventions as part of its administrative strategy within the G-group for assuring to prioritize the 2017 Sustainability Pillar.

Enrique is an MSc Candidate in Social Anthropology at Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford. His research interests lie at the intersection of human behaviour and social interactions and his top analytical skills comprise macro and micro data analysis and statistical methods. Prior to joining Oxford, Enrique completed his MSc in Economics (distinction) at the University of Brighton, UK, where he was a Santander Scholar, and his undergraduate degree at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain.

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Circular Economy: New rules will make EU the global front-runner in waste management and recycling

MD Staff

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EU Member States approved a set of ambitious measures to make EU waste legislation fit for the future, as part of the EU’s wider circular economy policy.

The new rules – based on Commission’s proposals part of the Circular Economy package presented in December 2015 – will help to prevent waste and, where this is not possible, significantly step up recycling of municipal and packaging waste. It will phase out landfilling and promote the use of economic instruments, such as Extended Producer Responsibility schemes. The new legislation strengthens the “waste hierarchy”, i.e. it requires Member States to take specific measures to prioritize prevention, re-use and recycling above landfilling and incineration, thus making the circular economy a reality.

Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella said: “The final approval of new EU waste rules by the Council marks an important moment for the circular economy in Europe. The new recycling and landfilling targets set a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe. Our main task now is to ensure that the promises enshrined in this waste package are delivered on the ground. The Commission will do all it can to support Member States and make the new legislation deliver on the ground.”

The Commission had originally presented proposals for new waste rules in 2014, which were withdrawn and replaced by better designed, more circular and more ambitious proposals on December 2015 as part of the Circular Economy agenda of the Juncker Commission. These proposals were then adopted and are now part of the EU rule book.

The new rules adopted today represent the most modern waste legislation in the world, where the EU is leading by example for others to follow.

The details of the new waste rules:

Recycling targets for municipal waste

By 2025 By 2030 By 2035
55% 60% 65%

In addition, stricter rules for calculating recycling rates will help to better monitor real progress towards the circular economy.

New recycling targets for packaging waste

  By 2025 By 2030
All packaging 65% 70%
Plastic 50% 55%
Wood 25% 30%
Ferrous metals 70% 80%
Aluminium 50% 60%
Glass 70% 75%
Paper and cardboard 75% 85%

Separate collection

Building on the existing separate collection obligation for paper and cardboard, glass, metals and plastic, new separate collection rules will boost the quality of secondary raw materials and their uptake: hazardous household waste will have to be collected separately by 2022, bio-waste by 2023 and textiles by 2025.

Phasing out landfilling

Landfilling of waste makes no sense in a circular economy and can pollute water, soil and air. By 2035 the amount of municipal waste landfilled must be reduced to 10% or less of the total amount of municipal waste generated.

Incentives

The new legislation foresees more use of effective economic instruments and other measures in support of the waste hierarchy. Producers are given an important role in this transition by making them responsible for their products when they become waste. New requirements for extended producer responsibility schemes will lead to improving their performance and governance. In addition, mandatory extended producer responsibility schemes have to be established for all packaging by 2024.

Prevention

The new legislation will place a particular focus on waste prevention and introduce important objectives for food waste in the EU and halting marine litter to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals in these areas.

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Strong labour relations key to reducing inequality and meeting challenges of a changing world of work

MD Staff

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Globalisation and rapid technological innovation have spurred unprecedented economic growth but not everyone has benefited. Unions and employers, together with governments, can play a major role in making growth more inclusive and helping workers and businesses face the challenges of a changing world of work. Good labour relations are a way to reduce inequalities in jobs and wages and better share prosperity, according to a new OECD-ILO report.

Building Trust in a Changing World of Work finds that trade union membership is declining in a majority of countries, while in several emerging economies large shares of the workforce are still in the informal economy. The share of employees whose job conditions and pay are regulated by collective bargaining varies greatly across sectors and countries, from less than 10% in Turkey to over 90% in Sweden. Coverage of collective bargaining have also seen a marked decline in many countries over the last decades, although in some countries more workers are covered today thanks to decisive policy reforms.

“Creating more and better jobs is key to achieving inclusive economic growth. At a time marked by increasing job insecurity, wage stagnation and new challenges from the digital revolution, constructive labour relations are more important than ever,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report alongside Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Margot Wallström, French Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow and ILO Deputy Director-General for Field Operations & Partnerships, Moussa Oumarou.

The report is part of the Global Deal for Decent Work and Inclusive Growth, an initiative launched in 2016 by the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and developed in cooperation with the OECD and the ILO. This multi-stakeholder partnership aims to foster social dialogue as a way of promoting better-quality jobs, fairer working conditions and helping spread the benefits of globalisation, in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals. The Global Deal has around 90 partners representing governments, businesses, employers’ and workers’ organisations and other bodies who make voluntary commitments to contribute to a more effective dialogue and negotiated agreements on labour issues.

“We are convinced that the Global Deal for Decent Work and Inclusive Growth can  help to spur more and better social dialogue so we can provide all workers with strong voices, protection, fair working conditions and good levels of trust with employers,” Mr Gurría said.

“The new report shows that enhanced social dialogue can create opportunities for more inclusive labour markets and economic growth, better socio-economic outcomes and greater well-being for workers, improved performance for businesses and restored trust for governments,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

Some 2 billion workers around the world – more than half the global labour force – are in informal and mostly insecure jobs, according to the report, meaning they do not have formal contracts or social security. Annually there are 2.78 million work-related deaths and 374 million non-lethal work-related injuries and illnesses.

The report highlights the crucial role that unions and employers can play in shaping the future of work by jointly deciding what technologies to adopt and how, contributing to manage transitions for displaced workers, helping identify skills needs and developing education and training programs. The report also shows that when looking at the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises companies with a higher social score (a measure of their capacity to generate trust and loyalty among the workforce, customers and wider society) also have a stronger financial performance.

This report analyses the voluntary commitments made by Global Deal partners and gives examples of initiatives to improve labour relations that have been taken in different countries and sectors.

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How digital is your country? Europe needs Digital Single Market to boost its digital performance

MD Staff

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European Commission published the results of the 2018 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), a tool which monitors the performance of Member States in digital connectivity, digital skills online activity, the digitisation of businesses and digital public services.

According to it, the EU is getting more digital, but progress remains insufficient for Europe to catch up with global leaders and to reduce differences across Member States. This calls for a quick completion of the Digital Single Market and increased investments in digital economy and society.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, said: “This is a shift, albeit small, in the right digital direction. As a whole, the EU is making progress but not yet enough. In the meantime, other countries and regions around the world are improving faster. This is why we should invest more in digital and also complete the Digital Single Market as soon as possible: to boost Europe’s digital performance, provide first-class connectivity, online public services and a thriving e-commerce sector.”

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, said: “We look forward to a rapid progress on major reforms such as the European Electronic Communications Code aiming at boosting investments in enhanced connectivity. This year’s Digital Economy and Society Index demonstrates that we must deploy further efforts to tackle lack of digital skills among our citizens. By integrating more digital technologies and equipping them with skills, we will further empower citizens, businesses and public administrations. This is the way to succeed the digital transformation of our societies.”

Over the past year, the EU continued to improve its digital performance and the gap between the most and the least digital countries slightly narrowed (from 36 points to 34 points). Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands scored the highest ratings in DESI 2018 and are among the global leaders in digitalisation. They are followed by Luxembourg, Ireland, the UK, Belgium and Estonia. Ireland, Cyprus and Spain progressed the most (by more than 15 points) over the last four years. However, some other EU countries still have a long way to go and the EU as a whole needs to improve to be competitive on the global stage.

DESI 2018 shows:

Connectivity has improved, but is insufficient to address fast-growing needs

  • Ultrafast connectivity of at least 100 Mbps is available to 58% of households and the number of subscriptions is rapidly increasing. 15% of homes use ultrafast broadband: this is twice as high as just two years ago and five times higher than in 2013.
  • 80% of European homes are covered by fast broadband with at least 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) (76% last year) and a third (33%) of European households have a subscription (23% increase compared to last year, and 166% compared to 2013).

The number of mobile data subscriptions has increased by 57% since 2013 reach 90 subscriptions per 100 people in the EU. 4G mobile networks cover on average 91% of the EU population (84% last year).

Indicators show that the demand for fast and ultrafast broadband is rapidly increasing, and is expected to further increase in the future. The Commission proposed a reform of EU telecoms rules to meet Europeans’ growing connectivity needs and boost investments.

More and more Europeans use the internet to communicate

The highest increase in the use of internet services is related to telephone and video calls: almost half of Europeans (46%) use the internet to make calls, this is almost a 20% increase compared to last year and more than 40% increase compared to 2013. Other indicators show that 81% of Europeans now go online at least once a week (79% last year).

To increase trust in the online environment, new EU rules on data protection will enter into force on 25 May 2018.

The EU has more digital specialists than before but skills gaps remain

  • The EU improved very little in the number of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates (19.1 graduates per 1000 people aged 20 to 29 years old in 2015, compared to 18.4. in 2013);
  • 43% of Europeans still do not have basic digital skills (44% last year).

Alongside the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, the Commission has launched the Digital Opportunity Traineeships to tackle the digital skills gap in Europe. The pilot initiative will provide digital traineeships for up to 6,000 students and recent graduates until 2020 in another EU country.

Businesses are more digital, e-commerce is growing slowly

While more and more companies send electronic invoices (18% compared to 10% in 2013) or use social media to engage with customers and partners (21% compared to 15% in 2013), the number of SMEs selling online has been stagnating over the past years (17%).

In order to boost e-commerce in the EU, the Commission has put forward a series of measures from more transparent parcel delivery prices to simpler VAT and digital contract rules. As of 3 December 2018, consumers and companies will be able to find the best deals online across the EU without being discriminated based on their nationality or residence.

Europeans use more public services online

58% of internet users submitting forms to their public administration used the online channel (52% in 2013).

  • 18% of people use online health services.

In April 2018, the Commission adopted initiatives on the re-use of public sector information and on eHealth that will significantly improve cross-border online public services in the EU.

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