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World’s Energy Transition in Doubt as Progress on Affordability, Sustainability Stalls

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The world’s energy systems have become less affordable and are no more environmentally sustainable than they were five years ago. While access to energy has substantially improved, with less than one billion people now living without access to electricity, concerns over affordability and equity of energy transition are increasing. These are the findings of latest edition of the World Economic Forum’s Fostering Effective Energy Transition report, which was published today.

The report’s Energy Transition Index (ETI) measures economies in two ways. Firstly, each economy is assessed for its energy “system performance”. This takes into account three criteria regarded as critical for transitioning to the future, namely: security and access, environmental sustainability and economic growth and development. The latter measures economic impact to households, industry and export revenues.

Over the past five years, the measurement that has seen the most improvement has been energy access and security, followed by economic growth and development and, lastly, environmental sustainability. The average system performance score had been improving since 2014, but it stalled last year as gains in energy security and access were offset by reductions in affordability and sustainability. Continued use of coal for power generation in Asia, increasing commodity prices and slower than needed improvements in energy intensity have contributed to this year’s stagnation in performance.

The second part of the ETI measures economies’ success in putting in place the necessary conditions for transition. This “transition readiness” looks at six individual indicators: capital and investment; regulation and political commitment; institutions and governance; institutions and innovative business environment; human capital and consumer participation; and energy system structure.

Transition readiness scores vs annual emissions per country

Small economies achieved higher scores on readiness, with the UK the only G7 economy in the top 10 of this subset. With the exception of Singapore, all are in Western Europe. The major challenge facing any attempt to future-proof global energy is the lack of readiness in the world’s largest economies. For example, the 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for just 2.6% of global annual emissions.

“We need a future where energy is affordable, sustainable and accessible to all. Solid progress in bringing energy within the reach of more and more people is not enough to mask wider failures, which are already having an impact on our climate and on our societies. Urgent action is needed now to accelerate transition that works for business, consumers and our environment,” said Roberto Bocca, Head of Future of Energy and Materials, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.

However, there is some ground for optimism. While the world’s two most populous economies, China and India, score low in terms of system performance (ranking 97 and 86 respectively) they rank considerably higher when it comes to readiness (45 and 61 respectively). This suggests that, while their current outdated energy systems are not ready for transition, an enabling environment is being built to support future transition. In this respect, China ranks seventh in the world for regulation and political commitment.

The Energy Transition Index 2019

Advanced economies continue to lead the rankings table, demonstrating the maturity of their energy systems. Sweden (1) retains the top spot from last year, followed by Switzerland (2) and Norway (3). Australia (43), Canada (35), and Republic of Korea (48) are the only advanced economies with scores below the top quartile on the ETI, due to the high carbon intensity of their fuel mix, and high per capita energy consumption and carbon emissions. Affordability is emerging as a growing concern in advanced economies, as the gap between household and wholesale electricity prices increases.

Results show that energy transition in the world’s largest emitters has stalled in the past year. While the United States (27) has made progress in reducing the use of coal in power generation, it slipped in the rankings by two places reflecting concerns about the affordability of energy to households, and regulatory uncertainty on environmental sustainability

Countries in emerging and developing Asia observed significant improvements towards universal access to electricity, led by India (76), Indonesia (63) and Bangladesh (90). Malaysia (31) is the highest-ranking emerging country from this region, Vietnam (56) showed the greatest improvement in the ETI rankings since last year, while Thailand (51) improved on all three dimensions of the energy triangle as well as transition readiness. This region remains important for the future of energy transition because urbanization, industrialization and rising living standards continue to drive increases in energy demand. The Forum will support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in its progress towards energy transition, leveraging the ETI and its platform to enhance public-private collaboration.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the report emphasizes the necessity of regulatory and policy stability, as well as strong institutional frameworks to leverage the abundant natural resources in a way that enables an effective energy transition. The progress on energy access for electricity and clean cooking fuels faces challenges from the rapidly growing population in countries throughout this region. Namibia (62) is the highest-ranking country in this group, Kenya (71) and Ethiopia (95) are showing improvements. South Africa (114) and Nigeria (109), the two largest consumers in this group, continue to face challenges in the form of over-reliance on coal and the lack of enabling infrastructure, respectively.

Latin America and the Caribbean region has the highest average scores on environmental sustainability of all regions, primarily due to its significant hydroelectric capacity. However, large economies like Brazil (46) and Mexico (37) did not show improvements on the previous index, while Colombia (34) and Dominican Republic (78) moved up the rankings. Regional integration of electricity markets and infrastructure, electrification of mobility, along with increasing operational efficiency of energy infrastructure can help unlock further improvements.

There is an urgent need for swift action on energy transition. Critical measures to accelerate energy transition include decoupling economic growth from energy consumption, particularly in emerging economies, mainstreaming breakthrough technological innovations to improve efficiency and sustainability, and developing addressing equity and justice in energy transition. Given the interconnectedness of the energy system throughout economic, social, and political systems, there is greater need than ever for different stakeholder groups to seek common understanding on the vision and priorities for energy transition.

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China needs further reforms to make growth sustainable, greener and more inclusive

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The Chinese economy continues to slow as it rebalances, with headwinds including trade frictions and the weakening global economy undermining exports and creating new uncertainties. Policy should focus on long-term strategies to move the economy towards greater domestic consumption and services, enhancing economic efficiency and ensuring that future growth is sustainable, greener and more inclusive, according to a new report from the OECD.

The latest OECD Economic Survey of China looks at the factors behind the economic slowdown as well as policies that can boost the quality of future growth and ensure that it is more equitably distributed. Despite the slowdown, the Survey projects growth above 6% this year and next, and sees continuing convergence with more advanced economies.  

The Survey, presented in Beijing by OECD Deputy Secretary-General Ludger Schuknecht, underlines the rising financial risks from high corporate debt and recommends that China prioritises the creation of a single product and labour market to boost productivity and inclusiveness.

“China continues to be the major driver of world economic growth and convergence with advanced economies continues, despite the slowdown,” Mr Schuknecht said. “Yet China is at a crossroads, facing serious domestic and external challenges to maintaining its strong position over the long-term. Policy should seek to ensure a better functioning economy that delivers stable and inclusive growth for all.”

The Survey underlines the need for more balanced trade and investment. Policy should aim to further lower import tariffs and dismantle non-tariff barriers and barriers on the entry and conduct of foreign firms, in particular requirements to form joint ventures or transfer technology.

While much has been done to address financial risks, China’s ongoing fiscal stimulus should avoid directing credit to state-owned enterprises and local governments, the Survey said. Debt ceilings should take into account sub-national government revenues.

Prudent fiscal policy should channel funds to areas where returns are highest, such as education, health and social security systems, while avoiding misallocation of capital by allowing banks to better price risks. Risk perception could be sharpened by orderly defaults. The quality, coverage and timeliness of fiscal reporting can be improved, the Survey said.

The Survey sees wide scope to improve efficiency across the economy, notably by reducing the internal barriers that hinder product market competition and labour mobility. Strengthening the rule of law, restricting the power of administrative departments and providing clear and detailed implementation rules limiting their discretionary powers would reduce protectionism at the local level. Anti-monopoly rules and enforcement can be strengthened and public procurement processes could be made more transparent, technology-neutral and open to all players.

Other measures to boost economic efficiency highlighted by the Survey include stronger protection of intellectual property rights; gradual removal of implicit guarantees to state-owned enterprises, allowing them to default; and reduction of state ownership in commercially-oriented, non-strategic sectors.

To ensure equal opportunities, the Survey recommends China to distribute more evenly high-quality education and health care in order to reduce incentives to move to mega-cities. Gradually easing restrictions on access to public services for city residents without the hukou (residency permit) and eventually delinking service provision from the hukou would also help improve equity. Centralised financing of key spending items, such as wage bills in education and health, reforms to the floor and ceiling for social security contributions and wider tax reform should be pursued.

To make growth greener, the Survey suggests China enforce environmental regulations more strictly, raise fines for polluters and boost environmental taxation, particularly on fossil fuels. Putting an end to the construction of coal-fired power plants and increasing investment in pollution treatment facilities, urban water treatment and rural sanitation is also necessary.

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Bhutan’s Economy to Moderately Grow in 2019 and 2020 on Strong Hydropower and Tourism Outlooks

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Economic growth in Bhutan is forecast to strengthen moderately, buoyed by the industry and services sectors, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report.

The Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2019, ADB’s flagship annual economic publication, forecasts the economy to grow at 5.7% this year and 6.0% in 2020. This is following the slipping of growth for a second year running to 5.5% in fiscal year (FY) 2018 on slower hydropower construction and temporary decline in electric power production.

“The expected commissioning of the Mangdechhu hydropower plant, strengthening of private spending, and increased government spending following the formation of a new government to implement the Twelfth Five-Year Plan will greatly contribute to growth,” said ADB Country Director for Bhutan Ms. Kanokpan Lao-Araya. “Inflationary pressure is anticipated following the recent announcement of expected pay rise of the public servants in Bhutan. A downside risk to growth forecasts would be any further delay in commissioning or lower-than-expected production capacity of the Mangdechhu hydropower plant.”

Inflation is expected to rise moderately from 3.6% in FY2018 to 3.8% in FY2019 before edging up to 4.0% in FY2020 as initial benefits from India’s goods and service tax (GST) taper and Indian inflation trends higher. Lower international oil price forecasts will help keep inflation at bay, but the planned revisions to civil service salaries and minimum wage might push up inflation, once implemented.

Current account deficit will continue to narrow further to a forecast of 16.9% of gross domestic product in FY2019, mainly on declining imports with the slowing of hydropower construction and a 6-month hiatus in capital expenditure as the country transitioned to a new administration. It is expected to shrink further in FY2020, as higher imports because of the picking up of government investment is offset by high export revenue from the full-year operation of the Mangdechhu hydropower plant.

Strengthening domestic resources toward better funding of development remains a challenge. With the expected graduation of Bhutan from the United Nations’ least developed country status in 2023, access to concessional official development assistance will increasingly be limited. Reforms have been undertaken to strengthen the mobilization of revenues to fund development. These include the creation of a stabilization fund to ensure even distribution of expenditure, a GST regime which is planned to be adopted in 2020, and reforms on provision of fiscal incentives. Fiscal incentives have been costly for the government with forgone revenue amounting to 17% of tax collected in 2017 only. Reduction of fiscal incentives, particularly tax reforms could be explored to raise government revenues, discourage the entry of footloose opportunists, while not deterring investors who see solid business opportunities in the country. Further, Bhutan needs to simplify the provision and administration of incentives without compromising the level of investment. As a complement to revenue reforms, public financial management needs further strengthening to ensure the proper collection and administration of revenue.

ADB has been supporting Bhutan since 1982, with strong emphasis on renewable energy production, transport connectivity, and key urban infrastructure projects. ADB has committed loans totaling $534.06 million, grants worth $269.22 million, and technical assistance amounting to $53.75 million for Bhutan. In 2018, it approved four projects, including two grant projects focusing on human resource development, particularly on skills and health development. Overall assistance aims to help generate revenue, support inclusive growth, and promote environmental sustainability.

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SMEs turning to alternative financing instruments as growth slows in bank lending

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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are turning to non-bank financing sources at a faster pace than in the past, as bank lending to them has risen less than expected given today’s favourable credit conditions and business environment.

Financing SMEs and Entrepreneurs 2019: An OECD Scoreboard finds that online peer-to-peer lending and equity crowdfunding increased significantly in 2017, especially in countries with small markets. China, the United Kingdom and the United States continued to have the biggest online alternative finance markets for businesses. Venture capital investments were up in most countries, and the number of SME listings expanded by more than 13% in 2017, with total SME market capitalisation up 16.7%.

SMEs and entrepreneurs constitute the backbone of OECD economies, accounting for 60% of total employment and 50-60% of value added. They are key to strengthening productivity, delivering inclusive growth and helping economies adapt to changes like the digital transition, ageing populations and the changing future of work. This eighth annual edition of the OECD’s SME financing Scoreboard provides data on debt, equity, asset-based finance and financing conditions in 46 countries and an overview of policy measures to ease SMEs’ access to finance.

“Uptake of alternative financing instruments by SMEs is growing like never before, while bank lending to SMEs is growing less strongly. We need to monitor these developments closely to ensure that SMEs are well-equipped to invest and contribute to productivity growth,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the Scoreboard in Washington alongside Chilean Central Bank Governor Mario Marcel on the margins of the IMF/World Bank Spring meetings.

“Policy makers around the world have a key role to play to increase SME access to a diverse set of financing instruments. We are glad that the policy initiatives of the government of Chile are successfully strengthening access to credit and equity for SMEs, and reducing payment delays,” said Governor Marcel.

The 2019 Scoreboard finds that asset-based financing also grew, with leasing and hire purchase activities up by a median rate of 6.2%.

SME loans grew at a median of close to 5% in a majority of middle income countries in 2017, while SME lending stagnated in the United States and the United Kingdom, and fell in European countries most affected by the financial crisis over the same period.

Credit conditions and interest rates remained favourable. The median value of the average interest rate charged to SMEs fell for the 7th year in a row, and SME bankruptcies dropped for the fourth consecutive year in 2017. On the other hand, some segments of SMEs continued to face difficulties in accessing finance. This is the case in particular for micro-enterprises, innovative ventures, start-ups and young firms.

Countries continued to do more to foster SME access to bank and alternative sources of finance by adapting regulations and introducing targeted policies to support Fintech. Credit guarantees, the most widespread instrument to ease SMEs’ access to finance, have been expanded in scale and volume, and better targeted to specific firms. The OECD is working to further expand the evidence base on SME access to finance and support governments in improving their policies in this area.

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