The global economy grew at a “steady” 3.1 per cent last year and similar levels of growth are expected in 2019, but these headline figures mask growth that is uneven and often failing to reach where it is most needed, the UN’s chief economist warned on Monday
“We still have relatively strong growth, but we do see rising risks on the horizon and an increasing likelihood that some of these risks might actually materialize,” said Elliott Harris, United Nations Chief Economist, in comments coinciding with the launch of the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2019 (WESP) report.
Among these looming dangers, accelerating trade tensions are already “having an impact” on global trade and employment, Mr. Harris told UN News.
In addition, rising national debt is also crippling many countries’ ability to provide basic services, but this and other risks – such as those from climate change and waning support for international cooperation – could be avoided or minimized if countries worked together to do so, the UN’s top economist insisted.
With mounting pressures in the areas of international trade, international development finance and tackling climate change, the report underscores that strengthening global cooperation is central to advancing sustainable development.
Yet, these threats come at a time when international cooperation and governance are more important than ever – many of the challenges laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are global by nature and require collective and cooperative action. Waning support for multilateralism also raises questions around the capacity for collaborative policy action in the event of a widespread global shock.
UN report spotlights ‘uneven progress’
According to the WESP report, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, more than half the world’s economies saw growth accelerate in 2017 and 2018.
Developed economies grew at 2.2 per cent in both years, while unemployment rates dropped.
Among developing economies, East Asia and South Asia saw the strongest gains in 2018, at 5.8 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively, while commodity-exporting countries continued their “gradual recovery”.
This improvement was particularly true for fuel-rich emerging nations, despite high debt levels caused by a fall in commodity prices, in 2014-15.
Although the overall picture among developing economies is largely positive, many are nonetheless experiencing “uneven progress”, the UN report cautioned, amid falling individual (per capita) wealth in several nations.
“Further declines or weak per capita growth are anticipated in 2019 in Central, Southern and West Africa, Western Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean – homes to nearly a quarter of the global population living in extreme poverty,” it noted.
And even where growth is strong, it is “often driven by core industrial and urban regions”, the WESP 2019 report continued, such that rural areas are being left behind.
To overcome this, and for poverty to be eradicated by 2030, the UN report suggests that there will need to be “both double-digit growth in Africa” along with “steep reductions” in unequal pay levels.
US-China trade tensions
On the issue of trade tensions, it noted that these had led to a fall in global trade levels in 2018, from 5.3 per cent in 2017, to 3.8 per cent.
And as a result of the United States-China uncertainty, the expectation is that trade volumes in 2019 “will be lower” still, Mr. Harris suggested.
Government subsidies have to some extent softened the impact of the tariff hikes in the US and China – whose growth is expected to decrease from 6.6 per cent in 2018 to 6.3 per cent this year – but the risk is that developing economies may suffer the fallout too, unless the dispute is settled.
“If the trade dispute becomes more widespread, we will likely to see disruptions of global value change,” Mr. Harris explained. “Bear in mind that the participation of global trade has been one of the ways that developing countries have participated in the rising global prosperity and have accelerated their own developments. So, anything that disrupts that, of course, (will) have a negative impact on their abilities to increase their levels of prosperity and to develop sustainably.”
This cautionary assessment is telling because the US in 2018 contributed more to global trade than Japan or the European Union, according to UN economists at UNCTAD, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, which contributed to the WESP 2019 report.
Rising interest rates in the US – or a strengthening of the dollar – could also make matters worse for fragile emerging economies, the WESP report noted, adding that many low-income countries have already seen a “substantial rise” in interest repayments on their debt.
These include Lebanon and Sri Lanka, where over 40 per cent of Government revenue is spent servicing its debt, as well as Pakistan and Jamaica, where around a quarter of their budget is used to pay interest on national debt, representing a major constraint on public services.
Slow, steady growth in EU, but ‘Brexit’ looms
On the European Union’s prospects, the WESP report estimates growth of two per cent for the next two years, with much stronger performances, potentially, from States who became members since 2004.
The pack is led by Poland, which saw its economy grow by five per cent in 2018.
The bloc’s biggest economy, Germany, is set to see more moderate growth however, at 1.8 per cent, amid potential disruption to the domestic car industry from “new technologies, new competitors and significant legal and financial consequences from past sales practices related to the diesel technology”.
France is also set to see lower-than-average growth (1.8 per cent), linked to its weaker export outlook, while the UK (1.4 per cent) is projected to pay for trade uncertainty linked to its plans to exit the EU, or Brexit, with “companies moving assets or diverting investment from the UK to the EU”, WESP 2019 notes.
The ‘Brexit’ fallout may also be felt outside the EU, the UN report warns, with a possible “10-15 per cent decline in funding available to EU accession countries”.
Commonwealth States, Central Europe slso see ‘modest growth’
In most Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which includes Russia, most saw accelerating growth and slowing inflation last year, amid “supportive” commodity prices.
Despite this, overall growth is forecast to slow “modestly” this year to two per cent, and 2.5 per cent in 2020, WESP 2019 suggests, amid concerns that strong expansion in smaller economies may be unsustainable, while lower public spending is expected in others.
Focusing on Russia, the UN report notes that lifting the value-added tax (VAT) rate may encourage inflation and curb household spending, while ongoing sanctions could deter investment from abroad.
Other large commodity-exporting countries, such as Brazil and Nigeria, should see a “moderate pickup “in growth in 2019-2020, “albeit from a low base”.
Noting robust growth in Central Asia’s Tajikistan, thanks to increased aluminium and gold exports, WESP 2019 also suggests a much more positive future for the whole region, once China’s Belt and Road initiative becomes operational.
Frequently hailed as a 21st century version of the ancient Silk Road trade route, the region “should benefit from … upgrades to countries’ railway, road and energy infrastructure, improved connections with China and Europe, and better market access,” the report explains.
Elsewhere, South-Eastern Europe saw faster growth in 2018 and its overall gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to expand by 3.7 per cent in 2019 and 2020.
Serbia, the region’s largest economy, benefited from double-digit growth in investment amid strong performances in farming and construction, while Albania also saw “solid” economic performance, WESP 2019 noted, before cautioning that longer-term improvements risk being “constrained”, unless there are improvements in industrial infrastructure and dependence on foreign financing.
Reforms Building Momentum for Growth in Myanmar
Myanmar’s economy is slowly regaining stability and picking up speed after a volatile 2018, according to a new World Bank report.
The Myanmar Economic Monitor projects Myanmar’s economy to grow at 6.5 percent in 2018/19. Growth continues to be broad-based, supported by the industrial and service sectors. Industrial activities revived, supported by strong performance in the garment sector and construction activities. Services remain the key driver of growth with momentum building in the wholesale and retail sector supported by reforms. However, large disparities in welfare persist across the country.
“Acceleration of the reform agenda as envisioned in the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan, along with targeted public investments and private sector participation, will lead to a consolidation of macroeconomic stability and help Myanmar maintain its momentum and meet its long-term growth targets,” said Gevorg Sargsyan, Head of Office, World Bank Myanmar.
The report includes an analysis drawing on the Multidimensional Welfare Indicator (MDI), prepared with the government, which indicates that most of the population in Myanmar faces overlapping disadvantages, with large disparities in welfare apparent at the state, region and township level. Eighty-four percent of people faced disadvantages in one or more of the 14 indicators under the MDI, including education, employment, health, water and sanitation, housing, and assets. The MDI is being used to help target public resources and aid flows toward those who need it the most.
With growth expected to rise to 6.7 percent in 2020/21, the World Bank report projects a positive outlook for Myanmar’s economy despite a deteriorating global environment, due to accelerated implementation of reforms, infrastructure spending and investment in sectors such as wholesale and retail, insurance and banking that are undergoing liberalization. The external risks to the economic outlook include slowing global and regional growth and escalation of trade tensions and possible revocation of preferential EU market access.
Inflation is expected to stabilize at 6.6 percent in the medium term. The report notes that inflationary pressures could increase due to volatile global energy prices and the possibility that the government may increases electricity tariffs to bring them in line with the cost of power production.
“There are signs that market sentiment is rising due to the new laws being passed and starting to be implemented,” said Hans Anand Beck, Lead Economist, World Bank Myanmar. “Keeping these reforms going will be critical to continued economic momentum, for example through insurance liberalization, tax reform, and transparent investments in the power sector.”
In the power sector, the report argues that Myanmar needs to invest twice as much and implement projects three times faster to meet growing demand.
The Myanmar Economic Monitor is a biannual analysis of economic developments, economic prospects and policy priorities in Myanmar. The publication draws on available data reported by the Government of Myanmar and additional information collected as part of the World Bank Group’s regular economic monitoring and policy dialogue.
The World Bank’s engagement on Myanmar focuses on social inclusion, particularly in conflict-affected areas, in support of the country’s historic political and economic transition. With an emphasis on the importance of achieving peace and security as a foundation for inclusive and sustainable development for all communities in Myanmar, the Bank continues to provide technical and financial support, especially through high-impact projects. These focus on education, health services, access to electricity and other essential services, response to natural disasters, and inclusion of all ethnic groups and religions.
International action can scale up hydrogen to make it a key part of a clean and secure energy future
The world has an important opportunity to tap into hydrogen’s vast potential to become a critical part of a more sustainable and secure energy future, the International Energy Agency said in a major new report today.
The in-depth study, which analyses hydrogen’s current state of play and offers guidance on its future development, is being launched by Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, alongside Mr Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, on the occasion of the meeting of G20 energy and environment ministers in Karuizawa, Japan. The report – The Future of Hydrogen: Seizing Today’s Opportunities – finds that clean hydrogen is currently receiving strong support from governments and businesses around the world, with the number of policies and projects expanding rapidly.
Hydrogen can help to tackle various critical energy challenges, including helping to store the variable output from renewables like solar PV and wind to better match demand. It offers ways to decarbonise a range of sectors – including long-haul transport, chemicals, and iron and steel – where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce emissions. It can also help to improve air quality and strengthen energy security.
A wide variety of fuels are able to produce hydrogen, including renewables, nuclear, natural gas, coal and oil. Hydrogen can be transported as a gas by pipelines or in liquid form by ships, much like liquefied natural gas (LNG). It can also be transformed into electricity and methane to power homes and feed industry, and into fuels for cars, trucks, ships and planes.
“Hydrogen is today enjoying unprecedented momentum, driven by governments that both import and export energy, as well as the renewables industry, electricity and gas utilities, automakers, oil and gas companies, major technology firms and big cities,” Dr Birol said. “The world should not miss this unique chance to make hydrogen an important part of our clean and secure energy future.”
To build on this momentum, the IEA report offers seven key recommendations to help governments, companies and other stakeholders to scale up hydrogen projects around the world. These include four areas where actions today can help to lay the foundations for the growth of a global clean hydrogen industry in the years ahead:
- Making industrial ports the nerve centres for scaling up the use of clean hydrogen;
- Building on existing infrastructure, such as natural gas pipelines;
- Expanding the use of hydrogen in transport by using it to power cars, trucks and buses that run on key routes;
- Launching the hydrogen trade’s first international shipping routes.
The report notes that hydrogen still faces significant challenges. Producing hydrogen from low-carbon energy is costly at the moment, the development of hydrogen infrastructure is slow and holding back widespread adoption, and some regulations currently limit the development of a clean hydrogen industry.
Today, hydrogen is already being used on an industrial scale, but it is almost entirely supplied from natural gas and coal. Its production, mainly for the chemicals and refining industries, is responsible for 830 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. That’s the equivalent of the annual carbon emissions of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.
Reducing emissions from existing hydrogen production is a challenge but also represents an opportunity to increase the scale of clean hydrogen worldwide. One approach is to capture and store or utilise the CO2 from hydrogen production from fossil fuels. There are currently several industrial facilities around the world that use this process, and more are in the pipeline, but a much greater number is required to make a significant impact.
Another approach is for industries to secure greater supplies of hydrogen from clean electricity. In the past two decades, more than 200 projects have started operation to convert electricity and water into hydrogen to reduce emissions – from transport, natural gas use and industrial sectors – or to support the integration of renewables into the energy system.
Expanding the use of clean hydrogen in other sectors – such as cars, trucks, steel and heating buildings – is another important challenge. There are currently around 11,200 hydrogen-powered cars on the road worldwide. Existing government targets call for that number to increase dramatically to 2.5 million by 2030.
Policy makers need to make sure market conditions are well adapted for reaching such ambitious goals. The recent successes of solar PV, wind, batteries and electric vehicles have shown that policy and technology innovation have the power to build global clean energy industries.
As the world’s leading energy authority covering all fuels and all technologies, the IEA is ideally placed to help to shape global policy on hydrogen.
“We are very proud to have been able to use the breadth and depth of the IEA’s energy expertise to carry out the rigorous analysis for this study in collaboration with governments, industry and academic researchers,” said Dr Birol. “We are grateful to Japan, through its presidency of the G20, for requesting that we carry out this report, which recommends immediate, pragmatic steps to foster hydrogen’s development.”
Beyond this report, the IEA will remain focused on hydrogen, further expanding our expertise in order to monitor progress and provide guidance on technologies, policies and market design. The IEA will continue to work closely with governments and all other stakeholders to support efforts to make the most out of hydrogen’s great potential.
Oil Market Report: 2020 vision
In this Report, we publish our first outlook for 2020. As we do so, volatility has returned to oil markets with a dramatic sell-off in late May seeing Brent prices fall from $70/bbl to $60/bbl. Until recently, the focus has been on the supply side with the familiar list of uncertainties – Iran, Venezuela, Libya, and the Vienna Agreement – lifting Brent prices above $70/bbl in early April and keeping them there until late May. Not that supply concerns have gone away: yesterday oil prices initially increased by 4% on news of the attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, before easing back slightly.
Now, the main focus is on oil demand as economic sentiment weakens. In May, the OECD published an outlook for global GDP growth for 2019 of 3.2%, lower than our previous assumption. World trade growth has fallen back to its slowest pace since the financial crisis ten years ago, according to data from the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis and various purchasing managers’ indices.
The consequences for oil demand are becoming apparent. In 1Q19, growth was only 0.3 mb/d versus a very strong 1Q18, the lowest for any quarter since 4Q11. The main weakness was in OECD countries where demand fell by a significant 0.6 mb/d, spread across all regions. There were various factors: a warm winter in Japan, a slowdown in the petrochemicals industry in Europe, and tepid gasoline and diesel demand in the United States, with the worsening trade outlook a common theme across all regions. In contrast, the non-OECD world saw demand rise by 0.9 mb/d, although recent data for China suggest that growth in April was a lacklustre 0.2 mb/d. In 2Q19, we see global demand growth 0.1 mb/d lower than in last month’s Report. For now though, there is optimism that the latter part of this year and next year will see an improved economic picture. The OECD sees global GDP growth rebounding to 3.4% in 2020, assuming that trade disputes are resolved and confidence rebuilds. This suggests that global oil demand growth will have scope to recover from 1.2 mb/d in 2019 to 1.4 mb/d in 2020.
Meeting the expected demand growth is unlikely to be a problem. Plentiful supply will be available from non-OPEC countries. The US will contribute 90% of this year’s 1.9 mb/d increase in supply and in 2020 non-OPEC growth will be significantly higher at 2.3 mb/d with US gains supported by important contributions from Brazil, Canada, and Norway. Later this month, Vienna Agreement oil ministers, faced with short-term uncertainty over the strength of demand and relentless supply growth from their competitors, are due to discuss the fate of their output deal.
Ministers will note that OECD oil stocks remain at comfortable levels 16 mb above the five-year average. However, they will also note that although in 1Q19 weak demand helped create a surplus of 1.1 mb/d, in 2Q19 the market is in deficit by an estimated 0.4 mb/d, with the backwardated price structure reflecting tighter markets. This deficit is partly due to the fact that in May the Vienna Agreement countries cut output by 0.5 mb/d in excess of their committed 1.2 mb/d. In 3Q19, the market could receive further support from an expected pick-up in refining activity.
Recently, high levels of maintenance in the US and Europe, low runs in Japan and Korea, and fallout from the Druzhba pipeline contamination contributed to weak growth in global refining throughput. This could be about to change: according to our estimates, crude runs in August could be about 4 mb/d higher than in May. This might cause greater tightness in crude markets, particularly for sour barrels if the Vienna Agreement is extended and there is no change in the situations in Iran and Venezuela. Of course, much depends on the strength of oil demand later in the year.
A clear message from our first look at 2020 is that there is plenty of non-OPEC supply growth available to meet any likely level of demand, assuming no major geopolitical shock, and the OPEC countries are sitting on 3.2 mb/d of spare capacity. This is welcome news for consumers and the wider health of the currently vulnerable global economy, as it will limit significant upward pressure on oil prices. However, this must be viewed against the needs of producers particularly with regard to investment in the new capacity that will be needed in the medium term.
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