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Growing financial sector reform starts to deliver private finance for sustainability

MD Staff

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Huge progress on reforming the global financial system over the last four years has started to deliver desperately needed financing for sustainability and set up the next wave of action, according to a new United Nations report released today.

The final report of the UN Environment Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System highlights opportunities to align the financial system with sustainable development, as well as pathways to success. The report offers real signs that a shift to a sustainable financial system is well under way.

“Over the four years of the Inquiry’s operations, we have seen reform of the global financial system gather pace as banks, investors and regulators realize they must step up – not just to protect people and the planet, but their bottom lines,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

“This is hugely encouraging, but we now have to turn widespread acknowledgement of the need for change into a global movement that delivers the finance we require to provide a better future for everyone.”

Evidence of change

The Inquiry, which completed its four-year mandate in March 2018, worked with policymakers, international organizations, financial institutions and civil society to help put sustainable finance at the heart of the development debate.

Its final report, Making Waves: Aligning the Financial System with Sustainable Development, finds that sustainability is now becoming part of routine practice within financial institutions and regulatory bodies.

Green bond issuance grew from US$11 billion in 2013 to US$155 billion in 2017. Key to this growth has been the market-creating role of public authorities, including key development banks. Yet such progress needs to be set against the scale of the global bond market of around US$100 trillion.

Divestments in carbon-intensive assets reached an estimated US$5 trillion in 2016, set against investments in coal, oil and gas over the same period of around US$710 billion.

National action is critical, and there are a growing number of ambitious roadmaps on sustainable finance. The number and range of policy measures to advance sustainable finance has increased. At the end of 2013, 139 policy and regulatory measures were in place across 44 jurisdictions. Four years on, the number of measures has risen to 300 in 54 jurisdictions, with a substantial rise in system-level initiatives.

There has been a striking growth in international initiatives, such as the G20 Green Finance Study Group (GFSG), co-chaired by China and the UK, with UN Environment serving as its Secretariat.

However, report also cautions that current financial flows are still nowhere near enough to deliver the trillions of dollars needed each year to finance the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

Getting the financial system we need

Although the report finds that capital is beginning to flow to the new economy, it cautions that far more is continuing to support the old economy.

Making Waves shows that systemic change is possible, in this case in how global finance aligns to sustainable development,” said Simon Zadek, Co-Director of the Inquiry. “It also reminds us that this is unfinished business – we need more waves of action to deliver the timely scale of changes needed to get the job done.”

However, the engagement of increasingly influential players, the growth of powerful coalitions that support collaborative action, the shifting focus towards areas such as digital finance, the roles of rating agencies, and key policy platforms such as the G20 all point to further action.

“Most of the initiatives that are now underway to accelerate sustainable finance, whether by central banks, pension funds, credit rating agencies or insurance companies, would have been simply unthinkable when the Inquiry started back in 2014,” said Nick Robins, Co-Director of the Inquiry. “This should us give us confidence that we can achieve the alignment of the financial system with sustainable development.”

Although the Inquiry’s mandate is fulfilled, its work to catalyze change will continue through UN Environment, Sustainable Finance at the G20, coalitions for actions such as the Network of Financial Centres for Sustainability, the Sustainable Digital Finance Alliance and the Sustainable Insurance Forum.

UN Environment

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Economy

Belarus: Strengthening Foundations for Sustainable Recovery

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The speed of economic recovery has accelerated in early 2018, but the foundations for solid growth need to be strengthened, says the latest World Bank Economic Update on Belarus.

The economic outlook remains challenging due to external financing needs and unaddressed domestic structural bottlenecks. Improved household consumption and investment activity, along with a gradual increase in exports, will help the economy to grow, but unlikely above three percent per annum over the medium term.

“The only way for ordinary Belarusians to have better incomes in the long run is to increase productivity, which requires structural change. While macroeconomic adjustment has brought stability, only structural change will bring solid growth to the country,” said Alex Kremer, World Bank Country Manager for Belarus. “Inflation has hit a record low in Belarus, driving the costs of domestic borrowing down. However, real wages are now again outpacing productivity, with the risks of worsening cost competitiveness and generating cost-push inflation.”

A Special Topic Note of the World Bank Economic Update follows the findings of the latest World Bank report, The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018, which measures national wealth, composed of produced, natural, and human capital, and net foreign assets. Economic development comes from a country’s wealth, especially from human capital – skills and knowledge.

“Belarus has a good composition of wealth for an upper middle-income country. The per capita level of human capital exceeds both Moldova and Ukraine. However, the accumulation of physical capital has coincided with a deterioration in the country’s net foreign asset position,” noted Kiryl Haiduk, World Bank Economist. “Belarus needs to rely less on foreign borrowing and strengthen the domestic financial system, export more, and strengthen economic institutions that improve the efficiency of available physical and human capital.”

Since the Republic of Belarus joined the World Bank in 1992, lending commitments to the country have totaled US$1.7 billion. In addition, grant financing totaling US$31 million has been provided, including to programs involving civil society partners. The active investment lending portfolio financed by the World Bank in Belarus includes eight operations totaling US$790 million.

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Economic Growth in Africa Rebounds, But Not Fast Enough

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Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth is projected to reach 3.1 percent in 2018, and to average 3.6 percent in 2019–20, says Africa’s Pulse, a bi-annual analysis of the state of African economies conducted by the World Bank, released today.

The growth forecasts are premised on expectations that oil and metals prices will remain stable, and that governments in the region will implement reforms to address macroeconomic imbalances and boost investment.

“Growth has rebounded in Sub-Saharan Africa, but not fast enough. We are still far from pre-crisis growth levels,” said Albert G. Zeufack, World Bank Chief Economist for the Africa Region. “African Governments must speed up and deepen macroeconomic and structural reforms to achieve high and sustained levels of growth.”

The moderate pace of economic expansion reflects the gradual pick-up in growth in the region’s three largest economies, Nigeria, Angola and South Africa. Elsewhere, economic activity will pick up in some metals exporters, as mining production and investment rise. Among non-resource intensive countries, solid growth, supported by infrastructure investment, will continue in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), led by Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. Growth prospects have strengthened in most of East Africa, owing to improving agriculture sector growth following droughts and a rebound in private sector credit growth; in Ethiopia, growth will remain high, as government-led infrastructure investment continues.

For many African countries, the economic recovery is vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices and production,” said Punam Chuhan-Pole, World Bank Lead Economist and the author of the report.  “This underscores the need for countries to build resilience by pushing diversification strategies to the top of the policy agenda.”

Public debt relative to GDP is rising in the region, and the composition of debt has changed, as countries have shifted away from traditional concessional sources of financing toward more market-based ones. Higher debt burdens and the increasing exposure to market risks raise concerns about debt sustainability: 18 countries were classified at high-risk of debt distress in March 2018, compared with eight in 2013.

“By fully embracing technology and leveraging innovation, Africa can boost productivity across and within sectors, and accelerate growth,” said Zeufack.

This issue of Africa’s Pulse has a special focus on the role of innovation in accelerating electrification in Sub-Saharan Africa, and its implications of achieving inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction. The report finds that achieving universal electrification in Sub-Saharan Africa will require a combination of solutions involving the national grid, as well as “mini-grids” and “micro-grids” serving small concentrations of electricity users, and off-grid home-scale systems. Improving regulation of the electricity sector and better management of utilities remain key to success.

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Multilateral Development Banks Present Study on Technology’s Impact on Jobs

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Rapid technological progress provides a golden opportunity for emerging and developing economies to grow faster and attain higher levels of prosperity. However, some disruptive technologies could displace human labor, widen income inequality, and contribute to greater informality in the workforce. Tapping new technologies in a way that maximizes benefits, mitigates adverse effects, and shares benefits among all citizens will require public-private cooperation and smart public policy.

That is one of the main conclusions of a new study, The Future of Work: Regional Perspectives, released today by four regional multilateral development institutions: the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The study, which was presented at a seminar hosted 19 April at the IDB in Washington, D.C., explores the potential impact of technology in global labor markets and identifies concrete actions countries can take to prepare for the changing nature of jobs and leverage the benefits of emerging technologies.

The Future of Work: Regional Perspectives analyzes the challenges and opportunities presented by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics in what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Potential challenges include increased inequality and the elimination of jobs, as well as the high degree of uncertainty brought about by technological change and automation. The greatest opportunities come from gains in economic growth that can result from increased productivity, efficiency, and lower operating costs.

The study includes chapters focusing on how new technological developments already are affecting labor markets in each region.

In the case of Asia and the Pacific, ADB research shows that even in the face of advances in areas such as robotics and artificial intelligence, there are compelling reasons to be optimistic about the region’s job prospects. New technologies often automate only some tasks of a job, not the whole. Moreover, job automation goes ahead only where it is both technically and economically feasible. Perhaps most importantly, rising demand—itself the result of the productivity benefits that new technologies bring—offsets job displacement driven by automation and contributes to the creation of new professions.

“ADB’s research shows that countries in Asia will fare well as new technology is introduced into the workplace, improving productivity, lowering production costs, and raising demand,” said Yasuyuki Sawada, ADB’s Chief Economist. “To ensure that everyone can benefit from new technologies, policymakers will need to pursue education reforms that promote lifelong learning, maintain labor market flexibility, strengthen social protection systems, and reduce income inequality.”

The publication was launched with a panel discussion featuring senior officials of the four regional development banks leading the study: Luis Alberto Moreno (IDB President), Charles O. Boamah (AfDB Senior Vice-President), Takehiko Nakao (ADB President), and Suma Chakrabarti (EBRD President). They were joined by Susan Lund (Lead of the McKinsey Global Institute) and Pagés, one of the co-authors.

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