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.
Resilience Needed to Jump Start Final Stages of Energy Transition
As countries continue their progress in transitioning to clean energy, it is critical to root the transition in economic, political and social practices to ensure progress is irreversible, according to the latest edition of World Economic Forum’s Fostering Effective Energy Transition 2021 report published today.
In its 10th edition, the report, published in collaboration with Accenture, draws on insights from the Energy Transition Index (ETI) 2021. The index benchmarks 115 countries on the current performance of their energy systems across the three dimensions of the energy triangle: economic development and growth, environmental sustainability, and energy security and access indicators – and their readiness to transition to secure, sustainable, affordable, and inclusive energy systems. This year’s report uses a revised ETI methodology, which takes into account recent changes in the global energy landscape and the increasing urgency of climate change action.
“As we enter into the decade of action and delivery on climate change, the focus must also encompass speed and resilience of the transition. With the energy transition moving beyond the low hanging fruit, sustained incremental progress will be more challenging due to the evolving landscape of risks to the energy transition,” said Roberto Bocca, Head of Energy and Materials at the World Economic Forum.
The results for 2021 show that 92 out of 115 countries tracked on the ETI increased their aggregate score over the past 10 years, which affirms the positive direction and steady momentum of the global energy transition.
Strong improvements were made on the Environmental Sustainability and Energy Access and Security dimensions. Eight out of the 10 largest economies have pledged net-zero goals by mid-century. The annual global investment in the energy transition surpassed $500 billion for the first time in 2020, despite the pandemic. The number of people without access to electricity has declined to less than 800 million, compared to 1.2 billion people 10 years ago (2010). Increasing renewable energy capacity has in particular helped energy importing countries achieve simultaneous gains on environmental sustainability and energy security.
However, the results also show that only 10% of the countries were able to make steady and consistent gains in their aggregate ETI score over the past decade. This highlights the inherent complexity of the energy transition challenge, as evidenced by thelack of measurable progress in the economic development and growth dimension – primarily through fiscal implications, labour market dislocations, and affordability challenges resulting from the energy transition. Moreover, the carbon intensity of the energy mix has been rising in many emerging economies in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
“A resilient and just energy transition that delivers sustainable, timely results will require systemwide transformation, including reimagining how we live and work, power our economies and produce and consume materials,” said Muqsit Ashraf, a senior managing director who leads Accenture’s energy practice. “This in turn will require strong collaboration between policy makers, business leaders, energy consumers, and innovators. The journey to achieving such a balanced transition has been slow and daunting, but it is picking up momentum and offering countries and companies many opportunities for long-term growth and prosperity.”
The social, economic, and geopolitical interlinkages of the energy transition have exposed vulnerability to systemic risks and disruptions, which may threaten progress on the energy transition. This report makes 3 recommendations to enhance the resilience of the energy transition process: (1) pursue a just transition by prioritizing measures to support the economy, workforces and society; (2) amplify electrification while exploring other options for decarbonizing industries; (3) attract diversified, resilient sources of capital from the public and private sectors to fund multi-year and multi-decade investments.
Stephanie Jamison, a senior managing director who leads Accenture’s utilities practice, said resilience is a very important concept for the journey to clean energy. “The role of electricity in the energy system will increase significantly by 2050, which is a big transformation,” she said. “While it is great to see renewable energy sources stronger coming out of COVID, there is still a lot more work to do to further progress the shift to net-zero -carbon energy and ensure buy-in from a broad set of stakeholders.”
Country highlights from ETI 2021
This year’s report tracks progress over the last decade. The list of top performers in the ETI has stayed broadly consistent over this period, sharing common attributes such as low levels of fossil fuel subsidies, enhanced energy security and a strong regulatory environment to drive the energy transition. The top 10 countries on the ETI 2021 are Western and Northern European countries. Sweden
(1) leads the ETI for the fourth consecutive year, followed by Norway (2) and Denmark (3). All top 10 economies have made strong improvements in environmental sustainability, specifically in decreasing the carbon intensity of their energy mix, supported by strong political commitment and investments in the energy transition.
The United Kingdom (7), France (9) and Germany (18) are the only G20 countries in the top 20. Their progress is supported by strong performance on the environmental sustainability dimension, though their scores on economic growth and development have regressed over the past decade due to affordability challenges.
The United States (24) and Italy (27) have improved on all three dimensions of the energy triangle, while also strengthening their enabling environment. Japan (37) registered moderate improvements in its overall aggregate ETI score, primarily due to strong declines in per capita energy consumption as a result of energy-efficiency improvements, though it continues to face energy security challenges due to rising energy imports.
China (68) and India (87), which collectively account for a third of global energy demand, have both made strong improvements over the past decade, despite coal continuing to play a significant role in their energy mix. China’s improvements primarily result from reducing the energy intensity of the economy, gains in decarbonizing the energy mix through the expansion of renewables and strengthening the enabling environment through investments and infrastructure. India has targeted improvements through subsidy reforms and rapidly scaling energy access, with a strong political commitment and regulatory environment for the energy transition.
Among commodity exporting countries, Canada (22), Australia (35), Russia (73) and Saudi Arabia (81) lead globally on energy access and security dimensions, due to abundant domestic reserves. However, they have displayed divergent trajectories over the past decade. Australia has improved its scores through sustained increases in investment and renewable energy capacity, and the gradual phasing out of coal. Russia improved its scores due to the strengthening of the enabling environment for the energy transition, though the uptake of renewable energy remains low and fossil fuel exports remain high. Scores for Canada and Saudi Arabia declined marginally.
Commodity Prices to Stabilize after Early 2021 Gains
Commodity prices continued their recovery in the first quarter of 2021 and are expected to remain close to current levels throughout the year, lifted by the global economic rebound and improved growth prospects, according to the World Bank’s semi-annual Commodity Markets Outlook.
However, the outlook is heavily dependent on progress in containing the COVID-19 pandemic as well as policy support measures in advanced economies and production decisions in major commodity producers.
Energy prices are expected to average more than one-third higher this year than in 2020, with oil averaging $56 a barrel. Metal prices are expected to climb 30 percent; and agricultural prices are forecast to rise almost 14 percent. Almost all commodity prices are now above pre-pandemic levels, driven by the upsurge in economic activity, as well as some specific supply factors, particularly for oil, copper, and some food commodities.
“Global growth has been stronger than expected so far and vaccination campaigns are underway, and these trends have buoyed commodity prices. However, the durability of the recovery is highly uncertain,” said Ayhan Kose, World Bank Group Acting Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance & Institutions and Director of the Prospects Group. “Emerging market and developing economies, both commodity exporters and importers, should strengthen their short-term resilience and prepare for the possibility of growth losing momentum.”
Crude oil prices rebounded from record lows reached during the pandemic, supported by a rapid global economic recovery and continued production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its partners. Demand is expected to firm over 2021 as vaccines become widely available, especially in advanced economies, pandemic restrictions are eased, and the global recovery is sustained. Prices are expected to average $60 a barrel in 2022. However, if pandemic containment falters, a further deterioration in demand could put pressure on prices.
Metal prices are expected to give back some of this year’s gains as stimulus-driven growth fades in 2022. A faster-than expected withdrawal of stimulus by some major emerging market economies could pose a downside risk to prices; however, a major infrastructure program in the United States could support prices for metals, including aluminum, copper, and iron ore. An intensification of the global energy transition to decarbonization could further strengthen demand for metals.
Agricultural prices have risen substantially this year, particularly for food commodities, driven by supply shortfalls in South America and strong demand from China. However, most global food commodity markets remain adequately supplied by historical standards, and prices are expected to stabilize in 2022.
While global food commodity prices have remained stable recently, emerging evidence continues to confirm the effects of COVID-19 on food insecurity that are expected to continue through 2021 and 2022. An increasing number of countries are facing growing levels of acute food insecurity, reversing years of development gains.
“Although food commodity markets are well supplied globally, COVID-19 has severely impacted local labor and food markets around the world, reducing incomes, disrupting supply chains and intensifying food and nutrition security issues that were present even before the pandemic struck,” Kose said. “It is high time for policymakers to address the underlying sources of food insecurity.”
A Special Focus section investigates the impact of sharp changes in metal prices on metal-exporting countries. Metals, especially copper and aluminum are a major source of export revenue for 35 percent of emerging market and developing economies, with important implications for economic growth, macroeconomic stability, and, hence, poverty reduction. As metal prices are primarily driven by global demand, these countries can be particularly hard-hit by global recessions, which can trigger both a drop in metal prices and export revenue. Windfall revenues from high metal prices, which tend to be short-lived, should therefore be set aside in anticipation of the longer-lasting negative effects of price collapses that would warrant policy support.
“Metal price shocks are primarily driven by external demand factors, such as global recessions and recoveries,” said World Bank Senior Economist John Baffes. “During a recession, metal exporters may be hurt by both the broader downturn as well as a collapse in prices. Output losses associated with price drops are greater than the gains from price increases, and policymakers should prepare accordingly.”
Major Opportunities in Decarbonizing Maritime Transport
The World Bank today published new research on decarbonizing the maritime transport sector with findings that indicate significant business and development opportunities for countries, including for developing and emerging economies.
To lower and ultimately eliminate its climate impact, maritime transport needs to abandon the use of fossil-based bunker fuels and turn toward ‘zero-carbon bunker fuels’, namely shipping fuels which emit zero or at most very low greenhouse (GHG) emissions across their lifecycles. The first report being launched today, “The Potential of Zero-Carbon Bunker Fuels in Developing Countries”, identifies two alternative fuels – ammonia and hydrogen – as the most promising zero-carbon bunker fuels for shipping at present, more scalable and cost-competitive than other biofuel or synthetic carbon-based options.
The second report, “The Role of LNG in the Transition Toward Low- and Zero-Carbon Shipping”, finds that liquefied natural gas (LNG) is likely to play a limited role in the decarbonization of the shipping sector, noting its specific niche applications on pre-existing routes or in specific vessel types. The research further recommends that countries should avoid new public policy that supports LNG as a bunker fuel, reconsider existing policy support, and continue to regulate methane emissions.
By transitioning toward zero-carbon shipping, many countries, especially those with large renewable energy resources, can break into a future zero-carbon fuel market, while modernizing their own domestic energy and industrial infrastructure. The reports evaluate which developing and developed countries may be well positioned to take advantage of this emerging investment opportunity, and present initial case studies for Brazil, India, Mauritius and Malaysia.
“The maritime community, particularly in developing countries, has a unique opportunity in the context of these emerging zero-carbon bunker fuels.” said Bernice Van Bronkhorst, Global Director for Climate Change at the World Bank. “Not only will they help decarbonize shipping, but they can also be used to boost domestic infrastructure needs and chart a course for low-carbon development more generally.”
The global maritime transport sector produces around three percent of global GHG emissions and an estimated 15 percent of the world’s air pollution annually. The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Initial Strategy on the Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships mandates that shipping’s GHG emissions be reduced by at least 50% below 2008 levels by 2050, and to be fully phased out as quickly as possible within this century.
“Zero-carbon fuels will need to represent at least five percent of the bunker fuel mix by 2030 to put shipping on a GHG trajectory consistent with the Initial IMO GHG Strategy, as well as the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals, ” said Binyam Reja, World Bank Acting Global Director for Transport. “This means they need to be scaled up rapidly. These reports will be critical to help accelerate their targeted development and deployment.”
“It is vital that we address the impacts of maritime transport on ocean health, which is at the heart of the Bank’s transition to a Blue Economy. These reports offer policymakers useful tools to achieve a triple win – a healthier ocean, improved air quality and reduced GHG emissions,” said Karin Kemper, Global Director for Environment, Natural Resources and the Blue Economy.
The research makes the case that strategic policy interventions are needed to hasten the sector’s energy transition and seize opportunities for wider economic, energy, and industrial development in developing countries. For instance, the introduction of a meaningful carbon price would create a level playing field for the development and utilization of zero-carbon bunker fuels. Revenue generated by such a market-based measure can help support developing countries in their energy transitions and accelerate crucial research, development, and deployment of these fuels. Business should also focus on “no-regret” options, such as increased energy efficiency and maximum fuel flexibility. Constructive collaboration between industry stakeholders and policymakers, both at the IMO and on a national/regional level, can also create greater certainty on the availability, pricing, and timing of zero-carbon bunker fuels which can further boost their rapid uptake from 2030.
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