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Economic Reforms Can Make Bangladesh Grow Faster

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Driven by strong domestic demand, Bangladesh’s economy remains among the fastest growing economies in the developing world and it would grow at an even faster pace if it implemented economic reforms, says a new World Bank report launched today.

The latest Bangladesh Development Update: Powering the Economy Efficiently, says that growth will remain resilient, underpinned by strong domestic demand and structural transformation, but there is no room for complacency. To achieve its growth aspirations, Bangladesh needs to create more and better jobs by boosting private investment, diversifying exports and building human capital. The country also needs to make doing business easier, complete its mega-projects on a fast track, improve financial sector governance and ensure a reliable supply of electricity. Further, sustaining its export and remittance growth will be important. It also needs to focus on improving infrastructure, urban management, and environment conservation.

Bangladesh is known for its remarkable progress in reducing poverty and creating opportunities for its citizens. It is among the 10 fastest growing economies in the world and has made commendable progress on human development,” said Qimiao Fan, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal. “To maintain the current growth trajectory, it needs to promote entrepreneurship, innovation and structural transformation. Bangladesh should also focus on improving education, skills, nutrition and adaptability to enable its workforce to thrive in an environment of rapidly changing technology and global demands.” 

The report stresses the importance of increasing resilience to a possible slowdown in major export markets or a decline in donor support to address the influx of Rohingya refugees. The country also needs to improve financial sector governance, including banking sector performance, especially the high share of non-performing loans (NPLs), which reached 10.4 percent of all loans in fiscal year (FY) 2018.  These are concentrated disproportionately in the six state-owned commercial banks that accounted for 48 percent of total NPLs, while the 40 private commercial banks accounted for 44 percent of NPLs.

To realize its goals of achieving upper-middle income status, Bangladesh must make sure its economic fundamentals are sound,” said Zahid Hussain, World Bank Lead Economist and author of the report. “As immediate measures, the country needs policies to contain inflation, correct the exchange rate, and remove interest rate distortions.”

For the first time since FY2011, Bangladesh faces a deficit in the overall balance of payments, putting pressure on the exchange rate and international reserves.  This has resulted from a substantial widening of deficits on the trade, services and income accounts.

The report recommends expanding reliable electricity supply to meet the needs of a growing economy. Much progress has been made in recent years, with access to electricity increasing from 47 percent of the population in 2009 to 80 percent in 2017. But by 2030, electricity demand is expected to grow to 34 gigawatts, more than double the country’s current installed capacity.

This requires comprehensive reforms in the power sector, including addressing inefficiencies at different stages of power supply and distribution, and reducing dependency on imported fossil fuels. The report urges more efficient pricing and use of gas. By prioritizing more efficient plants, Bangladesh can reduce idled gas capacity by 8 percent and electricity shortages by 15 percent a year. Further, the government needs to focus on smarter pricing of electricity through a cost-based pricing mechanism, better load management, and increased efficiency in electricity generation. Better load management alone could save $1.65 billion annually in fuel cost. Bangladesh can also benefit from boosting regional trade and strengthening the cross-border electricity transmission network.

The World Bank was among the first development partners to support Bangladesh following its independence. Since then, the World Bank has committed more than $29 billion in grants and interest-free credits to the country.

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Finland shows how bioenergy and nuclear can drive the energy transition

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Thanks to the strong role of nuclear, hydro and bioenergy – which alone accounts for 29% of energy supply – Finland has one of the lowest share of fossil fuels in total energy supply among IEA member countries. Yet in its latest review of energy policies in Finland, the IEA finds that the government will nonetheless need to focus on cost-effective measures to achieve its ambitious climate goals of halving oil demand and phasing out coal use by 2030, among others.

For instance, Finland targets 30% of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2030. As a leader in advanced biofuels, Finland needs to ensure that its new biofuels obligation can be met with sustainable feedstocks, encourage investments in novel biofuels production, and ensure the use of biofuels in long-distance transport, such as freight, shipping and aviation.

Finland also aims to reduce car ownership by fostering a shift from personal transport towards transport services. The report notes that while this is commendable, it should not come at the expense of an increase of total transport emissions. “Taking a holistic approach to the decarbonisation of the transport sector will require higher efficiency both in terms of vehicles and the transport system as a whole,” said IEA Deputy Executive Director Paul Simons as he presented the report at the Energy Fair in Tampere today.

In terms of heating, industrial heat demand is largely met by biofuels and electricity. At the same time,  Finland’s energy sector is investing in new nuclear, based on long-term industry contracts. However, coal and peat still play a large role in combined generation of heat and power (CHP) and related district heating and cooling (DHC), placing Finland 7th in terms of IEA carbon intensity of electricity supply.

As the government aims to phase out coal under the Powering Past Coal Alliance, the heat sector needs to shift to biomass-based CHP with technologies to support heat flexibility, including heat storage and smart meters, while fostering energy efficiency in buildings. By aligning energy taxation to a fuel’s carbon content, Finland can encourage the shift to low-carbon fuels in district heating and cooling.

Looking at energy security, Finland is strengthening its integration in the Nordic and Baltic electricity market with new interconnections and is also working on a common gas market with the Baltic States. In this context, regional alignment of policies is vital, as Nordic countries embark on ambitious national decarbonisation paths, all relying on electrification and biofuels. As a net electricity importer, regular adequacy assessments are critical for Finland in order to maintain electricity, as the Nordic market is set to see a rise in variable wind energy and retirements of existing capacity.

Finally, while Finland’s leadership in energy research and development is notable, public funding has declined in recent years. Maintaining strong R&D performance is a critical factor for reaching clean energy goals. For businesses to take investment decisions in innovative transport, energy and climate solutions, a low carbon strategy for 2050 is needed, as well as robust private and public funding to boost clean energy technology innovation.

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Fast-tracking a Zero Waste Economy: Business Leaders Commit to Circular Economy Action

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Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates have committed to joining a major global initiative to redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy into a more circular one. They join over 50 government and business leaders who are part of the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), which was launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018 in Davos.

PACE includes the heads of some of the world’s largest companies such as Royal Philips and Unilever; senior representatives from the governments of Indonesia, Nigeria, the People’s Republic of China and Rwanda; and heads of organizations, including the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, World Resources Institute, Global Environment Facility, UN Environment and World Bank.

All are committed to efforts that cut waste and pollution and fast-tracking circular economy solutions in which products and materials are redesigned, recovered and reused to reduce environmental impacts. Extending the life of products creates new business opportunities and revenue streams, while minimizing the environmental impact of mining, resource extraction, refining and manufacture.

Japan’s commitment comes as the second World Circular Economy Forum – hosted by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan and Finnish innovation fund Sitra – gets underway in Yokohama, Japan.

Japan is one of the most resource-efficient economies globally, and has recently launched its 4th Fundamental Plan for Establishing a Sound Material-Cycle Society a new public-private Plastics Smart campaign. The Netherlands government aims to achieve circularity by 2050 and halve the use of primary resources by 2030 and Denmark launched its Circular Economy Strategy and a related National Action Plan on Plastics. The UAE is committed to shaping strategic action to advance the circular economy.

To date, PACE, which is hosted and facilitated by the World Economic Forum, has catalysed major projects and collaborations to advance the circular economy, including the Global Plastics Action Partnership, which was launched in collaboration with the Friends of Ocean Action at the Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York. PACE is also focused on waste from electronics. In 2016, 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated, equivalent to the weight of 4,500 Eiffel Towers. E-waste contains a number of toxic substances that can cause great harm to health. At the same time, the UN estimates that some 55 Billion Euro worth of secondary raw materials lays idle in e-waste.

Antonia Gawel, Head of the Circular Economy Initiative, World Economic Forum, said: “We have the knowledge, power and technologies to drive circular economy action. We just need to act more quickly and build partnerships to scale solutions. The Fourth Industrial Revolution offers great opportunities in this area – which is why PACE is excited to explore its potential with an expanding group of partners.”

Frans van Houten, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Philips, and PACE Co-Chair, said: “A circular economy is essential if we are to achieve global economic growth whilst stopping unsustainable resource consumption. Large corporations, SMEs and governments must collaborate to transform supply chains and the modern consumption economy. Philips is pleased to partner with private and public sector organizations through PACE enabling large-scale projects with firm commitments and decisive action.”

Naoko Ishii, Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson, Global Environment Facility (GEF), and PACE Co-Chair, said: “It is a real pleasure for me to welcome a growing network of governments to PACE.  The world urgently needs to move to a more Circular Economy, and PACE is a strong platform that brings together a broad coalition of stakeholders to accelerate action.”

Yoshiaki Harada, Minster of Environment, Japan, said: “We all have a common view on realizing a circular economy on a global scale by networking and accumulating knowledge and experience of public and private entities around the world. The Ministry of the Environment of Japan has decided to participate in PACE, and share our knowledge and experience globally. As part of our contribution to PACE, we would like to provide information on excellent actions, experiences and technologies of Japan’s public and private entities registered in our “Plastics Smart” Campaign.”

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ADB Invests $25 Million in Private Equity Fund to Help Small Businesses in Southeast Asia

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) signed an agreement to provide a $25 million equity investment to Exacta Asia Investment II, L. P. (Exacta II), a private equity fund, to provide much-needed investments for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Southeast Asia.

“ADB’s investment will help well-managed and middle-market SMEs in Southeast Asia to realize their growth plans, thereby driving employment, tax generation, skills transfer, and regional trade,” said ADB Director for Private Sector Investment Funds and Special Initiatives Division Ms. Janette Hall. “Investing in Exacta II allows ADB to participate in Southeast Asia’s continued economic growth while providing development benefits for people in the subregion.”

ADB’s support will allow Exacta II to invest growth equity into smaller firms—particularly those from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam—whose growth is driven by domestic consumption and export. This will help address the issue of low private equity penetration in Southeast Asia, which is crucial to create new jobs, drive economic growth, and encourage further investments in related sectors.

Exacta II, a private equity fund with a target capitalization of $250 million, intends to invest about $10 million to $40 million per transaction in some of Southeast Asia’s SMEs and lower middle-market companies, particularly in the manufacturing, technology, and service sectors.

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