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Focus on GDP Fuelling Inequality and Short-Termism

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Photo by Benny Jackson on Unsplash

Decades of prioritizing economic growth over social equity has led to historically high levels of wealth and income inequality and caused governments to miss out on a virtuous circle in which growth is strengthened by being shared more widely and generated without unduly straining the environment or burdening future generations. These are the findings from the World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Development Index 2018, which is released today.

Excessive reliance by economists and policy-makers on gross domestic product as the primary metric of national economic performance is part of the problem, since GDP measures current production of goods and services rather than the extent to which it contributes to broad socio-economic progress as manifested in median household income, employment opportunity, economic security and quality of life.

The Inclusive Development Index is an annual assessment that measures how 103 countries perform on 11 dimensions of economic progress in addition to GDP. It has three pillars: growth and development; inclusion; and intergenerational equity – sustainable stewardship of natural and financial resources.

According to this year’s index, over the past five years, the 29 advanced economies included in the study have on average flatlined in terms of inclusion, which is measured by median household income, poverty, and wealth and income inequality, despite boosting their Growth and Development score by over 3%. The four indicators that make up the index’s Growth and Development pillar are: GDP per capita; labour productivity; employment; and healthy life expectancy.

Over the same period, only 12 of the 29 advanced economies were successful in reducing poverty and only eight saw a decrease in income inequality.

More worrying still: rich and poor countries alike are struggling to protect future generations. The index’s Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability pillar – which takes into account public debt; carbon intensity of GDP; dependency ratio and adjusted net savings (which measures savings in an economy after investments in human capital, depletion of natural resources and the cost of pollution) – actually deteriorated in upper-, middle- and low-income economies since 2012 and improved only marginally (0.6%) in advanced economies.

Top performing countries

According to the index, the most inclusive advanced economy in the world in 2018 is Norway. The Nordic nation ranks second overall for intergenerational equity and third for the two other pillars of the index: Growth and Development, and Inclusion. Small European economies dominate the top of the index, with Australia (9) the only non-European economy in the top 10.

Of the G7 economies, Germany (12) ranks the highest. It is followed by Canada (17), France (18), the United Kingdom (21), the United States (23), Japan (24) and Italy (27). In many countries, there is a stark difference between individual pillars. For example, the US ranks 10 out of 29 for Growth and Development; however, it ranks 28 on Inclusion and 26 on Intergenerational Equity. France, on the other hand, fares less well on Growth and Development (21 out of 29); however, it ranks 12 for Inclusion. Its low ranking on Intergenerational Equity (24) suggests it may be storing up problems for the future.

Six emerging European economies are located in the top 10 spots in the emerging economies’ ranking: Lithuania (1), Hungary (2), Latvia (4), Poland (5), Croatia (7) and Romania (10). These countries perform well on Growth and Development, benefiting from EU membership, as well as on inclusion indicators, as median living standards rose and wealth inequality declined significantly. Latin America also performs well, with three countries featured in the top 10: Panama (6), Uruguay (8) and Chile (9).

Performance is mixed among BRICS economies, with the Russian Federation ranking 19th, followed by China (26), Brazil (37), India (62) and South Africa (69). Although China ranks first among emerging economies in GDP per capita growth (6.8%) and labour productivity growth (6.7%) since 2012, its overall score is brought down by lacklustre performance on Inclusion. Other emerging countries such as Mexico (24), Indonesia (36), Turkey (16) and the Philippines (38) show more potential on Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability but lack progress on Inclusion indicators such as income and wealth inequality.

Key findings and policy implications

IDI data suggest that relatively strong GDP growth cannot be relied upon by itself to generate inclusive socio-economic progress and rising median living standards. All but three advanced countries have experienced GDP growth over the last five years, but only 10 of 29 have registered clear progress in the IDI’s Inclusion pillar. A majority, 16 of 29, have seen Inclusion deteriorate, and the remaining three have remained stable. A majority of those countries with the best GDP growth performance failed to improve on Inclusion. This pattern is repeated in the relationship between GDP growth and performance on Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability with 11 of 29 showing clear progress and 18 of 29 deteriorating.

Emerging -country data show a similar disconnect between GDP growth and Inclusion. Of the 30 emerging economies with the highest GDP per capita growth over the past five years, only six have scored similarly well on a majority of the Inclusion indicators, while 13 have been no better than mediocre and 11 have registered outright poor performance. With respect to Intergenerational Equity, only eight have scored similarly well on a majority of the Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability indicators, while 12 have been no better than mediocre and 10 have registered outright poor performance.

This evidence suggests that GDP growth is a necessary but not sufficient condition for achievement of the broad-based progress in living standards by which most people judge countries’ economic success. This message is particularly relevant at a time when global economic growth is returning to a more robust level and policy-makers could do more to future-proof their economies and make them more equitable. Political and business leaders should not expect higher growth to be a panacea for the social frustrations, including those of younger generations who have shaken the politics of many countries in recent years.

“Economic growth as measured by GDP is best understood as a top-line measure of national economic performance. Broad, sustainable progress in living standards is the bottom-line result societies expect. Policy-makers need a new dashboard focused more specifically on this purpose. It could help them to pay greater attention to structural and institutional aspects of economic policy that are important for diffusing prosperity and opportunity and making sure these are preserved for younger and future generations,” said Richard Samans, Managing Director and Head of Global Agenda at the World Economic Forum.

About the Inclusive Development Index

The IDI is a project of the World Economic Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Economic Progress, which aims to inform and enable sustained and inclusive economic progress through deepened public-private cooperation, thought leadership and analysis, strategic dialogue and concrete cooperation, including by accelerating social impact through corporate action.

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New ADB Platform to Help Boost Financing for Climate Action

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has launched a new platform aimed at helping its developing member countries in Asia and the Pacific mobilize funding to meet their goals under the Paris Agreement.

The NDC Advance platform will help countries mobilize finance to implement Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) regarding greenhouse gas emissions that each country has voluntarily committed to under the Paris Agreement. NDCs also describe priority actions for countries to adapt to climate change.

The announcement was made at the 24th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, which is aiming to finalize a rulebook for the Paris Agreement when it goes into effect on 1 January 2020.

The agreement aims to limit the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C, while aiming for 1.5°C.

“Through their NDCs, our developing member countries have made ambitious commitments to respond to climate change,” said ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Mr. Bambang Susantono. “We need to ensure that countries are able to mobilize the needed financing to deliver on their commitments. NDC Advance will help countries devise investment plans to tap financing from a variety of sources and to implement priority projects effectively.”

NDC Advance is funded through a $4.55 million grant from ADB and will have three aims: providing technical assistance that helps countries better engage with potential sources of climate finance and to make use of innovative finance mechanisms; identifying and prioritizing climate projects; and supporting countries in tracking how projects deliver against their NDC goals.

The new initiative will help propel the climate actions ADB has committed to under its Strategy 2030 program.

ADB earlier this year committed to ensuring that 75% of its operations will support climate change mitigation and adaptation by 2030, while providing cumulative climate financing of $80 billion from its own sources between 2019 and 2030.

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Egypt: Shifting Public Funds from Infrastructure to Investing in People

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Egypt has an opportunity to capitalize on current reforms by enabling more private investment in infrastructure and freeing up public funds for investments in people’s education, health and social protection. This is according to a new World Bank report launched today in Cairo,‘’Egypt: Enabling Private Investment and Commercial Financing in Infrastructure’’, which calls for increasing the public funds available for building human capital by expanding successful energy reforms to other key sectors, such as transport, logistics, water and agriculture.

Egypt can learn from global experience and gain by increasing the use of private sector finance, management expertise and innovation in commercial infrastructure and agriculture, conserving public sector resources for where they are needed most”, said Clive Harris, Head for Maximizing Finance for Development for the World Bank.

Egypt is now beginning to reap the benefits of its transformative economic reform program. Macroeconomic stability and market confidence have been largely restored, growth has resumed, fiscal accounts are improving, and the public debt ratio is projected to fall for the first time in a decade.

Egypt has demonstrated that by having a package aimed at reducing economic risks, pursuing sector level reforms and well-prepared bankable projects, large scale foreign and domestic investment can be achieved, This is visible through the  US$ 2 billion invested in the largest solar park in the world, Benban, as well as US$ 13 billion in the Zohr field and other natural gas projects” said Ashish Khanna, Program Leader for Sustainable Development at the World Bank.

The report indicates that the action plan to further enabling private investment requires clear policy actions to resolve four cross cutting barriers to private investment – namely better management of land, transparency in Government procurement, efficiency in state owned enterprise and encouraging long term domestic financing. This needs to be complemented with developing projects for private investments with maximum economic impact, like the regional energy hub, logistics corridors, freight transport and agricultural transformation hubs.

The gains from reforms would also free up scarce public resources and allow for them to be re-allocated to investments in the education and health of Egyptians, the country’s human capital. Reforms in the energy sector provide an example of what is possible. The reform of energy subsidies freed up US$14 billon, reduced the pressure on the national budget and allowed the quadrupling of the investments in social safety net programs.

According to the report, for Egypt to maintain its reform momentum and focus on investing in its citizens, it will need to broaden and deepen its reform agenda to other sectors. This would be part of a fundamental shift away from the state as a provider of employment and output to an enabler of private investment; with the economy driven by a dynamic private sector generating jobs for the youth.

The report identifies four sectors which have huge potential for private investments and illustrates how successfully attracting those investments would generate growth, create jobs and ultimately contribute to developing Egypt’s human capital. The four sectors analyzed in the report are: transport, energy, water and sanitation, and agriculture.

The World Bank provides technical, analytical and financial support to help Egypt reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity. The focus of Bank support includes social safety nets, energy, transport, rural water and sanitation, irrigation, social housing, health care, job creation, and financing for micro and small enterprises. The World Bank currently has a portfolio of 16 projects with a total commitment of US$6.69 billion.

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New Initiative to Mitigate Risk for Global Solar Scale-up

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The World Bank and Agence Française de Développement (AFD) are developing a joint Global Solar Risk Mitigation Initiative (SRMI), an integrated approach to tackle policy, technical and financial issues associated with scaling up solar energy deployment, especially in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Initiated in Delhi at the first International Solar Alliance (ISA) summit in March 2018, the initiative will support the ISA’s goal to reduce costs and mobilize $1,000 billion in public and private investments to finance 1,000 GW of global solar capacity by 2030.

“The World Bank, in partnership with AFD, remains committed to the International Solar Alliance’s goals and to global efforts to fight climate change. Through this new, integrated approach, we hope to further scale up solar energy use by reducing the cost of financing for solar projects and de-risking them, especially in low-income countries,” said Riccardo Puliti, Senior Director of Energy and Extractives at the World Bank.

As the costs for solar power have fallen steadily, solar power is increasingly viewed as a key component in the fight against climate change. However, solar deployment has been slow in some emerging markets, particularly Africa, due to layers of risks perceived by the private sector in financing solar projects. The SRMI aims to change that.

“This partnership with ISA and the World Bank is another step towards achieving the objective of the Paris Agreement of redirecting financial flows in favor of low carbon and resilient development pathways.  AFD is glad to join forces with these partners to deliver on the commitments made at COP21, to bring solutions to de-risk potential solar investments and mobilize the private sector to invest in sustainable development” said Rémy RIOUX, CEO of AFD.

The SRMI’s integrated approach will include:

  • Support for the development of an enabling policy environment in targeted countries
  • A new digital procurement (e-tendering) platform to facilitate and streamline solar auctions
  • Targeting relatively small (under 20 MW) solar projects, offering a more comprehensive risk mitigation package of support to a wider range of investors and financiers to promote scale up at later stages. The financial risk mitigation package offered by SRMI will be supported by technical assistance and concerted engagement on planning, resource mapping and power sector reforms to ensure the creditworthiness of utilities in these countries
  • Mitigating the residual project’s risks through adequate risk mitigation financial instruments for both on and off-grid projects

The governments of India and France launched the ISA, an international organization as part of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 to scale up solar energy resources, reduce the cost of financing for solar projects around the world and ultimately help reach the Sustainable Development Goal on energy (SDG7) of providing access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy to all. To date, 71 countries have signed the constituting treaty of the ISA, and 48 have ratified it.

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