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Railways could provide much greater benefits for energy and the environment

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India’s Minister of Railways, Mr Shri Piyush Goyal (center left) and IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol (center right) at the launch of the Future of Rail in New Delhi on 30 January 2019 (Photograph: IEA)

Rail is among the most energy efficient modes of transport for freight and passengers, yet is often neglected in public debate, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency prepared in cooperation with the International Union of Railways (UIC).

The Future of Rail is the latest in the IEA series shining a light on “blind spots” in the energy system, which are issues that deserve more attention from policymakers. It was released today in New Delhi by IEA Executive Director, Dr Fatih Birol, at an event opened by India’s Minister of Railways, Shri Piyush Goyal.

The transport sector is responsible for almost one-third of final energy demand, nearly two-thirds of oil demand and nearly one-quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fuel combustion. Therefore changes in transportation are fundamental to achieving energy transitions globally. While the rail sector carries 8% of the world’s passengers and 7% of global freight transport, it represents only 2% of total transport energy demand, highlighting its efficiency.

“The rail sector can provide substantial benefits for the energy sector as well as for the environment,” said Dr Fatih Birol. “By diversifying energy sources and providing more efficient mobility, rail can lower transport energy use and reduce carbon dioxide and local pollutant emissions.”

The Future of Rail includes a Base Scenario that projects the evolution of the railways sector to 2050 on the basis of announced policies, regulations and projects. It also includes a High Rail Scenario to demonstrate the energy and environmental benefits of a more significant shift of passengers and goods to rail transport. While the High Rail Scenario requires about 60% more investment than in the Base Scenario, global CO2 emissions from transport peak in the late 2030s, air pollution is reduced and oil demand is lowered.

The report includes a specific focus on India. “Rail serves as a vital lifeline of India, playing a unique social and economic role,” said Dr Birol. Rail remains the primary transport mode in the country, providing vital connections within and between cities and regions, and guaranteeing affordable passenger mobility that has long been a government priority. Rail passenger traffic in India has increased by almost 200% since 2000 yet prospects for future growth remain bright. Construction has started on India’s first high-speed rail line, the total length of metro lines is set to more than triple in the next few years, and two dedicated freight corridors are on track to enter operation by 2020.

In all countries, including India, the future of the rail sector will be determined by how it responds to both rising transport demand and rising pressure from competing transport modes.Rising incomes and populations in developing and emerging economies, where cities are growing exponentially, are set to lead to strong demand for more efficient, faster and cleaner transportation, but the need for speed and flexibility tend to favour car ownership and air travel. Rising incomes also drive demand growth in freight, where higher incomes, have sharply increased demand for rapid delivery of higher value and lighter goods.

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New Skills Development Key to Further Improving Students’ Learning Outcomes

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Learning outcomes in Russia would benefit significantly from a focus on teaching new skills that are tailored to the modern labor market, says a new World Bank report, New Skills for a New Century: Informing Regional Policy.

Russia’s education system has traditionally been well-performing and efficient, with Russian students appearing among the top performers globally. However, today’s labor market requires “21st century skills” – a combination of skills, knowledge, and expertise that students need to succeed in the modern world.

“Russia’s education system could achieve better teaching and learning outcomes if it focused more on developing 21st-century skills,” says Tigran Shmis, World Bank Senior Education Specialist. “There is a strong relationship between the quality of the school environment, innovative teaching practices, students’ perception of school, and students’ learning outcomes.”

According to the report, 38 percent of Russian schools today are not equipped with workshops and 46 percent do not have scientific laboratories. And, 77 percent of educational institutions do not have dedicated places for integrated lessons that stimulate the development of new skills and team interaction.

The way teaching is delivered, the physical characteristics of the learning environment, and the school’s psychological climate all affect students’ learning results. The study provides an insight into how these factors impact the development of students’ skills, including 21st century and digital skills. Along with data analytics, the study includes a qualitative perspective of modern teaching and learning in Russia, as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on teaching and learning.

“Developing the ability of students to master 21st century skills is critical to ensuring their future employment and career success,” says Renaud Seligmann, World Bank Country Director for Russia. “Studies in Russia have shown that businesses having access to workers with these skills will also be critical for growth and productivity. In turn, high-quality human capital is a cornerstone of the resilience and sustainability of the national economy.”

The report provides recommendations for how schools in Russia can better help students excel. For example, teachers who practice innovative teaching are more likely to drive higher achievement. Modern teaching practices can be supported by expanding the use of technology and enhancing the learning environment in classrooms. Technology should be made available in schools on an equitable basis to improve student learning and enhance teachers’ professional development. Education policymakers should prioritize the prevention of bullying and the development of supporting measures to ensure a positive school climate.

Despite the physical return of students to schools, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing continued learning losses. Therefore, new equipment, ICT, and innovative teaching methods are needed to enable teachers to improve their practices and compensate such learning losses.

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

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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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