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China: A Watershed Moment for Water Governance

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Effective management of water resources is central to China’s economic prosperity. Despite significant investments in water management and infrastructure, more tangible innovative policies and incentives are required to strengthen and better integrate water management at both national and regional levels. Providing more water for environmental uses, expanding the use of market mechanisms to driver water efficiency and adopting transformational approaches to fight water pollutions are among the key tasks for the rapidly growing economy. In facing these challenges, the Chinese experience will make important contributions to the global discourse, says a new a report jointly launched by the World Bank and the Development Research Center (DRC) of China’s State Council today.

The joint study Watershed: A New Era of Water Governance in China closely examines the key water management issues in the context of China’s rapid development and recommends a new approach to the governance of water. This is aligned with the goals of the ecological civilization and its aims to balance economic growth against increasing water demand under conditions of water scarcity.

“China’s water governance faces a rapidly changing context with increasingly serious challenges, with more complicated problems and more ambitious goals,” said Wang Yiming, Vice Minister of the Development Research Center. “The study makes an important contribution to enhancing the framework for China’s water management and provides a practical set of tools and policy guidance. We believe these recommendations will be substantially helpful to further enhance the level and capacity of China’s water governance.”

 “Water is key to the realization of China’s sustainable development. This study leverages the Chinese experience to combine with the Bank’s global knowledge in providing a framework for enhancing water governance in support of sustainable social and economic development,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and the Pacific. “The Chinese experience in managing the development of water resources also has important lessons for other transitioning economies and informing efforts to address global risks to economic progress, poverty eradication, peace and security, and sustainable development.”

Despite being the world’s second-largest economy and being home to 21 percent of the global population, China has only 6 percent of the world’s freshwater resources. In the past 50 years, China has made significant investments in water management and infrastructure, which has led to significant achievements in water supply, irrigation, flood control and hydropower generation. However, the country is still facing acute challenges with respect to both water quantity and quality. Rapid urbanization is driving increasing demand for water from all sectors. Water pollution poses significant risks to human health. Ecosystem services are under severe pressure from urbanization and growing water demands. Drought and local water scarcity affects large parts of the country due to the uneven distribution of water resources and variable rainfall. Small and medium sized cities and rural areas remain unevenly served by water supply, sanitation, and flood protection infrastructure.

China has implemented a series of reforms and pilots in recent years. These have been designed to address the many water-related challenges, including water scarcity, water pollution, ecological degradation, and increased risks and impacts of floods and droughts. The Strictest Water Resources Management System established three major control objectives, known as the Three Red Lines Three Red Lines, and the construction of an “ecological civilization” has become one of the government’s highest policy priorities. The 19th Party Congress in October 2017 further highlighted the goal of building a “beautiful China” to meet increasing public demand for improved environmental quality.

As China pursues a new growth model within the context of an ecological civilization, the report recommends a new water governance strategy that built around five key water governance reform priorities:

Enhance the legislative foundation for water governance. The Water Law, which was last revised in 2002, should be updated to reflect the new principles and challenges. China has established many water quality standards but more work is needed for enforcement and addressing cross jurisdictional issues. The market has an important role to play. As one of the world’s most important and active arenas for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the water sector, China would benefit from further strengthening and codifying the existing regulations concerning PPPs.

Strengthen national and basin water governance. Reflecting the cross-sectoral nature of water, China could consider creating a high-level, inter-agency mechanism with representatives from the primary ministries concerned with different aspects of water governance. This would help contribute to coordinated policy efforts, reach consensus, identify national strategic priorities and provide guidance to river basin planning. The river basin agencies provide an integrated management for water resources, water ecological environment and the catchment landscape, and should be given enhanced authority and clarity in the key areas of planning, coordination, implementation, enforcement, and financing. Formally linking provincial River and Lake Chiefs with the river basin agencies will help to institutionalize the River and Lake Chief System.

Improve and optimize economic policy instruments. The further development and implementation of economic instruments, such as water pricing and water rights trading, will promote more sustainable and efficient water use. More empirical evidence is also needed to assess the effectiveness of these instruments and adapt. The report suggests four ways to improve target setting of the Three Red Lines to strengthen the effectiveness of China’s Most Stringent System for Water Resource Management. Innovative financing mechanisms can also be better aligned to help sub-national areas meet national targets.

Strengthen adaptive capacity to climate and environmental change. Already faced with scarce water resources, the prospects of global climate change increase the sense of urgency in implementation. China should expand the use of green infrastructure approaches for flood management and experiment with water pollutant discharge permit trading. The report highlights the need to sharpen policy focus on non-point source pollution and explore alternative financial mechanisms, and suggests to explore the development of the Red Line targets for ecological water flows.

Improve data collection and information sharing. The establishment of a national water information sharing platform will help to foster coordination and collaboration including water resources and water ecological environment across agencies and support entrepreneurship, innovation, and scientific discovery in the water sector. The report calls for a greater role of public awareness and participation, which will not only help ease the task of monitoring water quality but also contribute to the goal of a “water-saving society”.

The study was jointly produced by World Bank and the Development Research Center of the State Council, with active involvement of domestic and international research institutions and great support from the relevant government ministries.

Read the Policy Brief of Watershed: A New Era of Water Governance in China

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Post-COVID-19, regaining citizen’s trust should be a priority for governments

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coronavirus people

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated governments’ ability to respond to a major global crisis with extraordinary flexibility, innovation and determination. However, emerging evidence suggests that much more could have been done in advance to bolster resilience and many actions may have undermined trust and transparency between governments and their citizens, according to a new OECD report.

Government at a Glance 2021 says that one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that governments will need to respond to future crises at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency. “Looking forward, we must focus simultaneously on promoting the economic recovery and avoiding democratic decline” said OECD Director of Public Governance Elsa Pilichowski. “Reinforcing democracy should be one of our highest priorities.”

 Countries have introduced thousands of emergency regulations, often on a fast track. Some alleviation of standards is inevitable in an emergency, but must be limited in scope and time to avoid damaging citizen perceptions of the competence, openness, transparency, and fairness of government.

 Governments should step up their efforts in three areas to boost trust and transparency and reinforce democracy:

 Tackling misinformation is key. Even with a boost in trust in government sparked by the pandemic in 2020, on average only 51% of people in OECD countries for which data is available trusted their government. There is a risk that some people and groups may be dissociating themselves from traditional democratic processes.

 It is crucial to enhance representation and participation in a fair and transparent manner. Governments must seek to promote inclusion and diversity, support the representation of young people, women and other under-represented groups in public life and policy consultation. Fine-tuning consultation and engagement practices could improve transparency and trust in public institutions, says the report. Governments must also level the playing field in lobbying. Less than half of countries have transparency requirements covering most of the actors that regularly engage in lobbying.

 Strengthening governance must be prioritised to tackle global challenges while harnessing the potential of new technologies. In 2018, only half of OECD countries had a specific government institution tasked with identifying novel, unforeseen or complex crises. To be fit for the future, and secure the foundations of democracy, governments must be ready to act at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency.

 Governments must also learn to spend better, according to Government at a Glance 2021. OECD countries are providing large amounts of support to citizens and businesses during this crisis: measures ongoing or announced as of March 2021 represented, roughly, 16.4% of GDP in additional spending or foregone revenues, and up to 10.5% of GDP via other means. Governments will need to review public spending to increase efficiency, ensure that spending priorities match people’s needs, and improve the quality of public services.

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Sweden: Invest in skills and the digital economy to bolster the recovery from COVID-19

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Sweden’s economy is on the road to recovery from the shock of the COVID-19 crisis, yet risks remain. Moving ahead with a labour reform to facilitate adaptation in a fast-changing economic environment, and investing in digital skills and infrastructure, will be crucial to revive employment and build a sustainable recovery, according to the latest OECD Economic Survey of Sweden.

The pandemic triggered a severe recession in Sweden, despite mild distancing measures and swift government action to protect people and businesses. GDP fell by less than in many other European economies in 2020, thanks to reinforced short-time work, compensation to firms for lost revenue and measures to prop up the financial system, but unemployment still rose sharply. Solid public finances provided room for further stimulus in 2021 to buttress the recovery.

 The Survey recommends maintaining targeted support to people and firms until the pandemic subsides, then focusing on strengthening vocational training and skills and increasing investment in areas like high-speed internet and low-carbon transport. Addressing regional inequality, which is low but rising, should also be a priority as the recovery takes hold.

 The Survey shows that Sweden has been among the most resilient OECD countries in the face of a historic shock. Yet, like other economies, it faces challenges from demographic changes and the shift to green, digital economies. Investments in education and training, and labour reforms along the lines negotiated by the social partners, will support job creation and strengthen economic resilience. Building on Sweden’s leadership in digital innovation and diffusion will also be key for driving productivity.

 After a 3% contraction in 2020, interrupting several years of growth, the Survey projects a rebound in activity with 3.9% growth in 2021 and 3.4% in 2022 as industrial production resumes and exports recover. The recovery in world trade is bolstering the Swedish economy, however the country remains vulnerable to potential disruptions in global value chains.  

The pandemic has aggravated a mismatch in Sweden’s job market, with unfilled vacancies for highly qualified workers coinciding with high unemployment for low-skilled workers and immigrants. The public employment service needs strengthening to provide better support to jobseekers, including immigrants and women, and labour policies should strike the right balance between supporting businesses and workers and supporting transitions away from declining businesses towards growing sectors.

A rising share of youths and older people in the population, especially in remote areas, is affecting the finances of local governments, which provide the bulk of welfare services. Strengthening local government budgets and ensuring equal welfare provision across the country will require providing tax income to poorer regions more efficiently and raising the economic growth potential across regions through investments in innovation. Improving coordination between government entities and reinforcing the role of universities in local economic networks would help achieve that aim.

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Fewer women than men will regain work during COVID-19 recovery

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Generations of progress stands to be lost on women and girls' empowerment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: ILO

Fewer women will regain jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic during the recovery period, than men, according to a new study released on Monday by the UN’s labour agency.  

In Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights that between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment declined by 4.2 per cent globally, representing 54 million jobs, while men suffered a three per cent decline, or 60 million jobs. 

This means that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment this year compared to 2019, but the number of men in work will likely recover to levels seen two years ago. 

This means that only 43 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 69 per cent of their male counterparts. 

The ILO paper suggests that women have seen disproportionate job and income losses because they are over-represented in the sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, such as accommodation, food services and manufacturing. 

Regional differences 

Not all regions have been affected in the same way. For example, the study revealed that women’s employment was hit hardest in the Americas, falling by more than nine per cent.  

This was followed by the Arab States at just over four per cent, then Asia-Pacific at 3.8 per cent, Europe at 2.5 per cent and Central Asia at 1.9 per cent. 

In Africa, men’s employment dropped by just 0.1 per cent between 2019 and 2020, while women’s employment decreased by 1.9 per cent. 

Mitigation efforts 

Throughout the pandemic, women faired considerably better in countries that took measures to prevent them from losing their jobs and allowed them to get back into the workforce as early as possible. 

In Chile and Colombia, for example, wage subsidies were applied to new hires, with higher subsidy rates for women.  

And Colombia and Senegal were among those nations which created or strengthened support for women entrepreneurs.  

Meanwhile, in Mexico and Kenya quotas were established to guarantee that women benefited from public employment programmes. 

Building forward 

To address these imbalances, gender-responsive strategies must be at the core of recovery efforts, says the agency. 

It is essential to invest in the care economy because the health, social work and education sectors are important job generators, especially for women, according to ILO. 

Moreover, care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can also encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men. 

The current gender gap can also be tackled by working towards universal access to comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection. 

Promoting equal pay for work of equal value is also a potentially decisive and important step. 

Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment has worsened during the pandemic – further undermining women’s ability to be in the workforce – and the report highlights the need to eliminate the scourge immediately. 

Promoting women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and more effective social dialogue, would also make a major difference, said ILO. 

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