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Canada has high levels of well-being but trade tensions and housing market pose risks

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Canada is one of the OECD economies delivering the best outcomes for its citizens, according to a new OECD report presented in Ottawa today by OECD Chief of Staff and G20/G7 Sherpa Gabriela Ramos. Canada scores highly in all dimensions of the OECD’s Better Life Index, especially in regards to self-reported well-being, personal security and health status. Canada is also undertaking several programmes to foster inclusive growth – with respect to childcare benefits, gender equality and social housing – in line with the OECD Framework for Policy Action for Inclusive Growth.

The 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Canada finds the macroeconomic situation to be broadly favorable, with low unemployment, inflation on target and growth expected to remain solid over 2018-19.

The greatest uncertainty weighing on the growth outlook stems from the possibility of new trade restrictions, principally in relation to the ongoing renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement. The Survey points out that outcomes will depend on political decisions, notably in the United States, while showing that business investment is already being negatively affected. A second risk underlined in the Survey concerns the combination of elevated household debt and high housing prices, which could lead to a disorderly market correction, potentially reducing residential investment and household wealth and dampening consumption.

The Survey emphasises that the rapid growth of Canadian housing prices in recent years not only represents a macroeconomic risk but has also created affordability challenges that are most acute in fast-growing major cities. Since 2016, both the national and provincial governments have responded to housing market pressures with policies that have helped to cut the national average growth rate of real estate prices to 2.9% in the year to June 2018 from 14.2% in the previous twelve-month period. The government should monitor the effects of recent targeted regulations, paying close attention to high-debt, low-income borrowers most vulnerable to high debt-service loads as interest rates rise, the Survey says. It also recommends increasing the supply of affordable housing and better maintaining the existing social housing stock.

Much of the Economic Survey is devoted to improving inclusiveness for women, youth and older people. The report welcomes many of the efforts of the federal government to achieve more inclusive growth, including through the 2017 National Housing Strategy, the increase in parental leave benefits in the 2018 Budget and the establishment in 2017 of the Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework. “Canada should continue leading by example and walk the extra mile to ensure inclusive labour outcomes for underrepresented groups such as women, youth and seniors. This will not only contribute to a more inclusive society, but also to a more productive economy, in the context of low productivity growth and the ageing of the population”, Ms Ramos said.

The gender employment gap remains virtually unchanged since 2009, and women, particularly mothers, continue to earn significantly less than men, in part due to a large disparity in unpaid childcare responsibilities. Outside the province of Quebec, low (but increasing) rates of government support for childcare should be expanded considerably, as should incentives for fathers to take parental leave. Skills development among youth should be prioritised to arrest declining skills and weak wage growth among young males with low educational attainment. Improving labour market inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in Canada is another way to boost labour force participation and well-being, and the Survey argues that better alignment between federal and provincial Indigenous labour market programmes, targeted work experience, expanded access to higher education and rigorous monitoring and evaluation are all important.

Growth in old-age poverty is linked to the indexing of minimum public pensions to the consumer price index, which has meant that they have grown more slowly than earnings. This should be tackled through further increases in basic pension payments over time. Increasing the age of eligibility for public pensions, in line with life expectancy, would boost growth by increasing the employment rate of older Canadians still willing and able to work. This should be accompanied by greater flexibility in working arrangements for older workers.

The Survey also devotes special attention to Canada’s immigration system, which has been highly successful, welcoming large numbers of immigrants from diverse backgrounds who contribute to the economic dynamism and cultural diversity of the country while maintaining high levels of social cohesion. With the introduction in 2015 of the Express Entry system, the focus has been on the selection of immigrants with higher levels of human capital and earnings prospects. Canada has also developed a range of successful settlement programmes and initiatives to facilitate immigrant integration.

To further enhance the benefits immigration generates for the Canadian economy, the Survey suggests increasing the weight given to skilled Canadian work experience in selection processes and prioritising applications from candidates with skilled work experience and relevant job offers before others. Canada should also expand bridge and mentoring programmes, which help immigrants with post-secondary credentials gain recognition and develop professional networks, and redirect resources for settlement programmes so that utilisation patterns better reflect needs. Immigration policy will also need to continue to strike a balance between maximising ease of integration through selection of highly skilled immigrants and maximising the welfare gains for migrants by supporting migration of less-skilled migrants.

On the key challenge of climate change – an area where Canada has scope to do better- the Survey welcomes the launch of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and recommends further steps by governments to progressively increase the carbon price, which would make it possible to reduce overlap between other measures and allow Canada’s greenhouse gas abatement objectives to be met in the most efficient way.

The Survey also notes Canada’s disappointing productivity growth, and reiterates past recommendations to close the gap with the OECD economies having the highest productivity levels. These include reducing barriers to entry in network industries and services as well as restrictions on internal trade.

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Financing Options Key to Africa’s Transition to Sustainable Energy

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A new whitepaper outlining the key considerations in setting the course for Africa’s energy future was released today at the 2021 Sustainable Development Impact Summit. The report, “Financing the Future of Energy,” outlines Africa’s electricity landscape and financing options in context with the global drive to reduce carbon emissions.

Africa’s power sector will play a central role in the transition from fossil fuel-driven power generation to a renewable-strong energy mix. According to the whitepaper written in collaboration with Deloitte, the migration to a multi-stakeholder-oriented net-zero power grid is being driven by “the 3Ds:”

  • Decarbonization: moving from fossil fuel sources to renewables
  • Decentralization: Shifting from centrally managed generation, transmission, and distribution to decentralized systems
  • Digitalization: Leveraging digital technology to advance the transition

The report contends that new coalitions and investments with developed nations and NGOs including the World Economic Forum must coordinate and enable countries to leapfrog existing technologies and infrastructure.

“The need for digitally smarter utility platforms and sustainable development programs will guide global leaders in helping to shape equitable and inclusive recovery programs,” said Chido Munyati, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum. “The entire continent remains vulnerable, but this whitepaper offers a view on what are viable financing options that exist today for clean energy sustainability and equitable recovery for all of Africa.

Funding will be the biggest hurdle to ensuring Africa’s sustainable transition to Renewables at scale; there are many financing solutions available,” said Mario Fernandes, Director, Africa Power Utilities and Renewables, Deloitte. “Africa’s winners will be the ones that are able to leverage what exists while creating an enabling environment for the private sector through a Renewables Energy Investment facility.”

Case studies in China and India showed that financing solutions for a clean energy transition often involve long cycles. Economic booms in these countries resulted in a significant shift in carbon emissions. Since similar economic booms are expected across Africa, the report highlights how crucial it is to anchor growth in technologies that can enable lower emissions.

While Africa’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel significantly lags behind those of other continents, it still carries a huge potential to accelerate the transition to a net-zero future. Currently, half of the continent lives without adequate access to electricity. As energy demands increase, the energy gap could be bridged through clean energy alternatives, if the financing solutions are employed now.

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Action on Trade is Necessary for Businesses to Unlock Net Zero Targets

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For businesses to reach their emission targets, the global trading system needs to adapt, and businesses are calling for the change.

These are the main findings of the Delivering a Climate Trade Agenda: Industry Insights Report released today by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Clifford Chance.

The six-month study is based on research and interviews with global companies, across sectors including transport, energy, manufacturing, and consumer goods. The objective of the research process was to identify necessary changes to the current global trade system and how to better incentivize and accelerate decarbonization. The resulting study outlines eight key actions that, if taken by governments and businesses, could make global trade a better enabler of climate action.

Sean Doherty, Head of International Trade and Investment said: “Traditionally, trade and climate policy-making has happened in separate silos. The urgency of the climate crisis calls for us to break down these silos through public-private cooperation in order to accelerate emissions reductions while achieving prosperity for all. The good news for policy makers is businesses are ready and willing to support this change.”

Jessica Gladstone, Partner at Clifford Chance said: “International trade will play a key role in achieving a just transition to a low-carbon sustainable global economy. Businesses stand ready to lead in this transition, but governments can support by ensuring the right legislative and regulatory structures are in place. Our report explores global and domestic policy actions that can create climate-friendly trade that is fair, transparent, and has technology and innovation at its core.”

Interviews revealed the following ways for trade to support businesses to decarbonize and grow sustainably:

  • Tariff reductions on key goods
  • Addressing non-tariff distortions in parallel
  • Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies
  • Building coherence around carbon-based trade policies
  • Supporting trade in digital and climate-related services
  • Encouraging climate-smart agriculture
  • Aligning trade agreements with climate commitments
  • Facilitating green investment

The chart below provides examples of how the global trading system can through continued dialogue between governments and the private sector put trade to the service of climate action.

The report includes a jointly-authored foreword by the World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary welcoming the insights from business. Major intergovernmental meetings will be held under both organisations in the last quarter of this year.

Business can take steps to encourage alignment of trade rules with climate action. The Forum is today launching a two-year work programme – titled Climate Trade Zero – to support public and private exchange on these issues as part of building a more sustainable trading system.

Many companies also recognized that the transition is taking place at different speeds and levels of intensity across countries and sectors. Interviewees highlighted the importance of providing support and incentives to developing countries, and to supply chain partners in developing countries, to undertake the investments necessary to reduce their emissions.

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Appliance standards and labelling is highly effective at reducing energy use

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Policies that introduce minimum efficiency performance standards and energy-consumption labelling on appliances and equipment have led to reduced power consumption, lower carbon emissions, and cost savings for consumers, according to analysis published today by the IEA and the 4E Technology Collaboration Programme (4E TCP).

The report’s findings are drawn from nearly 400 evaluation studies covering 100 countries, including those with the longest running and strongest appliance policies, such as China, European Union, Japan and the United States.

“The findings from the study are important as they provide evidence that standards and labelling are highly effective policy instruments that bring benefits to consumers as well as lower emissions and lower energy demand,” said Brian Motherway, the Head of Energy Efficiency at the IEA.

The study shows the policies have had significant positive impacts:

  • In countries with long-running policies, appliances are now typically consuming 30% less energy than they would have done otherwise.
  • In the nine countries/regions for which data were available, such programmes reduced annual electricity consumption by a total of around 1 580 terawatt-hours in 2018 – similar to the total electricity generation of wind and solar energy in those countries.
  • The programmes that have been operating the longest, such as those in the United States and the European Union, are estimated to deliver annual reductions of around 15% of their current total national electricity consumption. This percentage increases each year as more of the older, less-efficient stock is replaced with equipment that meets new higher efficiency standards.
  • These energy savings represent a significant financial boon for businesses and householders. In the United States alone, utility customers are now economising USD 60 billion each year, or USD 320 per customer.
  • Also, the United States, European Union and China together are avoiding annual CO2 emissions of more than 700 million tonnes, equivalent to the total energy-related emissions of Germany.
  • Well-designed policies encourage product innovation and lead to economies of scale, which reduces the cost of appliances even without accounting for the efficiency gains. For example, in Australia the sticker price of appliances has typically fallen 40% over the last 20 years, while average energy consumption has fallen by a third.

“The message is simple: expanding standards and energy efficiency labelling programmes makes the energy transition challenge easier, more affordable and become a reality,” said Jamie Hulan, the Chair of the 4E TCP.

The IEA will continue to collaborate with 4E TCP to enhance and promote the use of such policies. 4E TCP is an international platform for fourteen countries and the European Union to exchange technical and policy information focused on increasing the production and trade in efficient end-use equipment.

Ahead of this November’s COP26 Climate Change Conference, the IEA is working with the UK Government via the Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) initiative to coordinate and improve international action on product energy efficiency. The United Kingdom is leading the COP26 Product Efficiency Call to Action, which aims to double the efficiency of key global products by 2030, initially focusing on four key energy-consuming products: air conditioners, refrigerators, lighting and industrial motors systems. The IEA is supporting the implementation of this work and helping expand the number of countries ready to make this commitment.

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