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$4.2 Trillion Can Be Saved by Investing in More Resilient Infrastructure

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The net benefit on average of investing in more resilient infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries would be $4.2 trillion with $4 in benefit for each $1 invested, according to a new report from the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).

The report, Lifelines: The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity, lays out a framework for understanding infrastructure resilience, that is the ability of infrastructure systems to function and meet users’ needs during and after a natural hazard. It examines four essential infrastructure systems: power, water and sanitation, transport, and telecommunications. Making them more resilient is critical, the report finds, not only to avoid costly repairs but also to minimize the wide-ranging consequences of natural disasters for the livelihoods and well-being of people. Outages or disruptions to power, water, communication and transport affect the productivity of firms, the incomes and jobs they provide, as well as directly impacting people’s quality of life, making it impossible for children to go to school or study, and contributing to the spread of water-borne diseases like cholera.  

“Resilient infrastructure is not about roads or bridges or powerplants alone. It is about the people, the households and the communities for whom this quality infrastructure is a lifeline to better health, better education and better livelihoods,” said World Bank Group President, David Malpass. “Investing in resilient infrastructure is about unlocking economic opportunities for people. This report offers a pathway for countries to follow for a safer, more secure, inclusive and prosperous future for all.”

The report also finds that the lack of resilient infrastructure harms people and firms more than previously understood. Natural disasters, for instance, cause direct damages to power generation and transport infrastructure, costing about $18 billion a year in low- and middle-income countries. But the wider disruptions that they trigger on households and firms is an even bigger problem. Altogether, disruptions caused by natural hazards, as well as poor maintenance and mismanagement of infrastructure, costs households and firms at least $390 billion a year in low- and middle-income countries.

“For infrastructure investors – whether governments, development banks or the private sector – it is clear that investing in resilient infrastructure is both sound and profitable,” said John Roome, Senior Director, Climate Change, World Bank. “It is not about spending more, but about spending better.’

‘It is cheaper and easier to build resilience if we look beyond individual assets, like bridges or electric poles, and understand the vulnerabilities of systems and users,” said Stephane Hallegatte, lead author of the report. “By doing so, entire systems can be better designed and with greater flexibility so that damages are localized and do not spread through entire networks, crippling economies at large.”

Drawing from a wide range of case studies, global empirical analyses, and modeling exercises, the report also finds major region and country-specific implications of investing in resilient infrastructure. For instance, today Africa and South Asia bear the highest losses from unreliable infrastructure:

  • In Kampala, Uganda, even just moderate floods block enough streets to make it impossible for over a third of Kampalans to reach a hospital during the critical window of time following a medical emergency.
  • Tanzanian firms are incurring losses of $668 million a year (or 1.8 percent of GDP) from power and water outages and transport disruptions, regardless of their origin. Almost half of transport disruptions in the country are also due to floods, and flood-related transport disruptions cost more than $100 million per year.
  • Reliable access to electricity has more favorable effects on income and social outcomes than access alone in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan: boosting per capita income, study time for girls and women’s participation in the labor force. In India, access to electricity increases women’s employment by 12 percent. But access is usually unreliable. Where access is reliable – that is, available 24/7 – the increase reaches 31 percent.
  • East Asia is a hotspot of infrastructure asset vulnerability to natural hazards and climate change: there are four East Asia countries among the top 5 countries globally in terms of risk to transport assets, and three out of five for the risk to power generation.
  • In China, 64 million people are dependent on waste water treatment plants that are exposed to earthquake and soil liquefaction risks, and almost 200 million people are dependent on treatment plants that will be exposed to increasing flood risks due to climate change.
  • In Peru, landslides often interrupt road traffic, causing large losses for users. Increasing the redundancy of the road network can be more efficient than trying to make roads resistant to landslides. This is especially the case around Carretera Central, a strategic export route for agricultural products.

The report offers five recommendations to ensure that infrastructure systems and users become more resilient:

  1. Get basics right. Tackling poor management and governance of infrastructure systems is key. For instance, a poorly-maintained infrastructure asset cannot be resilient.
  2. Build institutions for resilience. Wider political economy challenges also need to be addressed, and critical infrastructure assets and systems need to be identified so that resources can be directed toward them.
  3. Include resilience in regulations and incentives. Financial incentives can be used to ensure that the full social cost of infrastructure disruptions are accounted for, encouraging service providers to go beyond just meeting mandatory standards.
  4. Improve decision making. Access to better data, tools, and skills could be a gamechanger in building resilience: for instance, digital elevation models for urban areas are not expensive and are critical to inform hundreds of billions of dollars in investments per year.
  5. Provide financing. The right kind of financing at the right time is key. For instance, small amounts of resources can support regulators and be used at the early stages of infrastructure design compared to the billions needed to repair and recover in the aftermath of a disaster.

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Call for Closer Policy Collaboration on Artificial Intelligence

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A recent APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) report revealed that artificial intelligence (AI) has a role to play in mitigating both the short and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on APEC economies.

From automated health diagnostics in hospitals to smart recruitment processes in organizations, the report, titled Artificial Intelligence in APEC, finds that this technology is creating new, previously unforeseen jobs, products and services that will contribute to the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

“As we release this report, APEC economies are facing the twin threats of a global pandemic and an economic crisis that will leave its mark on our communities for years to come,” said Dato’ Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood, Chair of the 2020 APEC Business Advisory Council.

“How APEC economies address the accelerated rise of the digital economy and leverage new technologies like AI is one of the most pressing issues of our time,” she added.

The report also examines how AI is being adopted and applied across the region and makes key recommendations calling for closer policy collaboration between business and governments.

Of the surveyed APEC economies, the report found that most already have plans, policies or programs devoted to driving or supporting AI ecosystems. In fact, the report highlights some of the AI-related innovation already underway across the region, including finding ways to help patients suffering from locked-in syndrome to communicate with the world by a team of engineers at a university in the Philippines.

Another notable innovation will benefit the farming industry. A Japanese corporation is trying to improve the efficiency of farming by automatically aggregating and analyzing sensor data and satellite images to provide farmers with farm management recommendations. In addition, a group from New Zealand developed AI-powered crocodile-spotting drones to keep swimmers safe in Australian rivers, among others.

“AI technologies have the potential to significantly impact businesses and communities across our economies,” Dato’ Rohana explained. “We believe that APEC can serve as an effective forum for member economies to collaborate on ways to maximize the benefits of AI and promote inclusive growth while ensuring its use in a responsible and ethical manner,” she added.

According to the report, recognizing this technology and all its capabilities is a central component of an economy’s forward-looking policy for growth, productivity and job creation, highlighting that the potential of AI extends beyond economic benefits and includes tools to address complex issues such as poverty, inequality, climate change, healthcare and ways to cope with effects of the pandemic.

As AI becomes more widely accepted, adopted and used for innovation, the report suggests that APEC policymakers will need to draft new policies, revise existing ones, confront new questions, address new needs and reassess its impact.

“With the cooperation of the public and private sector, a coordinated future of AI will increase the Asia-Pacific region’s competitiveness and further facilitate regional integration,” the report notes.

Artificial intelligence, already well on its way to transforming the Asia-Pacific, drives social and economic growth across all key sectors. However, the pandemic, and the ensuing focus on economic recovery, brings a renewed sense of urgency to discussions around AI usage. 

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Global Economic Outlook 2021: Rebound will drive growth at record speed

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The global economy is projected to grow in 2021 by around 5% in market exchange rates – the fastest rate recorded in the 21st century – returning the global economy in aggregate to pre- pandemic levels of output by the end of 2021 or early 2022.

The predictions published today in PwC’s Global Economy Watch for 2021 – From the Great Lockdown to the Great Rebound – highlight key themes for 2021 linked to a wider reset for economies, skills and society. 

Growth will return, but be uneven and be contingent on a successful and speedy deployment of vaccines and continued accommodative fiscal, monetary and financial conditions in the larger economies of the world.  Another key theme will be how the push for recovery and growth could synchronize green infrastructure investment, creating a turning point in the fight against climate change. 

Growth will return but be uneven 

Despite projected expansion of 5% in market exchange rates this year, the predictions caution that the next three-to-six months will continue to be challenging, particularly for the Northern Hemisphere countries going through the winter months as they could be forced to further localised or full economy-wide lockdowns (as recently displayed in the UK). 

Output in some advanced economies, for example, could contract in Q1 and growth overall is more likely to pick up in the second half of the year, when it is expected that large advanced economies will  have vaccinated at least two thirds of their population.

Barret Kupelian, senior economist at PwC, said:“While it’s good news that the global economy in aggregate is likely to be back to its pre-crisis levels of output by the end of 2021 or early 2022, a distinguishing feature of the Great Rebound is that it will be uneven across different countries, sectors and income levels. For example, the Chinese economy is already bigger than its pre-pandemic size, but other advanced economies ‒‒ particularly heavily service based economies like the UK, France and Spain or those focused on exporting capital goods, such as Germany and Japan ‒‒ are unlikely to recover to their pre-crisis levels by the end of 2021.”

In economies such as the UK, France, Spain and Germany, growing but lower levels of output are projected to push up unemployment rates, with most of the jobs affected likely to be those at the bottom end of the earnings distribution, thus exacerbating income inequalities. 

Barret Kupelian, senior economist at PwC, added: “Once the virus is under control, policymakers’ attention will need to focus on laying the foundations for sustainable and inclusive growth with particular focus on creating jobs and pushing the green economy agenda. Business leaders need to plan now both in terms of growth and investment, including upskilling of their existing workforce as a key aspect.”

A synchronised push for green infrastructure 

The environment will be an important focus for 2021 and is already being positioned as an opportunity for accelerating the business and policy transition to net zero. Significant investment and policy shifts related to the Paris Climate Agreement are expected in 2021 in the major trading blocks including the US, China and the EU. 

Green bonds, which are used to directly finance environmental projects, currently make up less than 5% of the global fixed income market. In 2021, total green bond issuance will increase by over 40% to top half a trillion US dollars for the first time. In addition, investor appetite for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) funds will continue to increase and could account for up to 57% of total European mutual funds by 2025. 

Globally, the analysis points to electricity production from renewables continuing to gather momentum, with solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity likely to grow at rapid rates on the back of growing capacity in the EU, India and China. If current trends continue, solar PV capacity is on course to surpass natural gas in 2023 and coal in 2024 in the global electricity sector.

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Global Economy to Expand by 4% in 2021

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The global economy is expected to expand 4% in 2021, assuming an initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout becomes widespread throughout the year. A recovery, however, will likely be subdued, unless policy makers move decisively to tame the pandemic and implement investment-enhancing reforms, the World Bank says in its January 2021 Global Economic Prospects.

Although the global economy is growing again after a 4.3% contraction in 2020, the pandemic has caused a heavy toll of deaths and illness, plunged millions into poverty, and may depress economic activity and incomes for a prolonged period. Top near-term policy priorities are controlling the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring rapid and widespread vaccine deployment. To support economic recovery, authorities also need to facilitate a re-investment cycle aimed at sustainable growth that is less dependent on government debt.

“While the global economy appears to have entered a subdued recovery, policymakers face formidable challenges—in public health, debt management, budget policies, central banking and structural reforms—as they try to ensure that this still fragile global recovery gains traction and sets a foundation for robust growth,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass. “To overcome the impacts of the pandemic and counter the investment headwind, there needs to be a major push to improve business environments, increase labor and product market flexibility, and strengthen transparency and governance.”

The collapse in global economic activity in 2020 is estimated to have been slightly less severe than previously projected, mainly due to shallower contractions in advanced economies and a more robust recovery in China. In contrast, disruptions to activity in the majority of other emerging market and developing economies were more acute than expected.

“Financial fragilities in many of these countries, as the growth shock impacts vulnerable household and business balance sheets, will also need to be addressed,” Vice President and World Bank Group Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart said.

The near-term outlook remains highly uncertain, and different growth outcomes are still possible, as a section of the report details. A downside scenario in which infections continue to rise and the rollout of a vaccine is delayed could limit the global expansion to 1.6% in 2021. Meanwhile, in an upside scenario with successful pandemic control and a faster vaccination process, global growth could accelerate to nearly 5 percent.

In advanced economies, a nascent rebound stalled in the third quarter following a resurgence of infections, pointing to a slow and challenging recovery. U.S. GDP is forecast to expand 3.5% in 2021, after an estimated 3.6% contraction in 2020. In the euro area, output is anticipated to grow 3.6% this year, following a 7.4% decline in 2020. Activity in Japan, which shrank by 5.3% in the year just ended, is forecast to grow by 2.5% in 2021.

Aggregate GDP in emerging market and developing economies, including China, is expected to grow 5% in 2021, after a contraction of 2.6% in 2020. China’s economy is expected to expand by 7.9% this year following 2% growth last year. Excluding China, emerging market and developing economies are forecast to expand 3.4% in 2021 after a contraction of 5% in 2020. Among low-income economies, activity is projected to increase 3.3% in 2021, after a contraction of 0.9% in 2020.

Analytical sections of the latest Global Economic Prospects report examine how the pandemic has amplified risks around debt accumulation; how it could hold back growth over the long term absent concerted reform efforts; and what risks are associated with the use of asset purchase programs as a monetary policy tool in emerging market and developing economies.

“The pandemic has greatly exacerbated debt risks in emerging market and developing economies; weak growth prospects will likely further increase debt burdens and erode borrowers’ ability to service debt,” World Bank Acting Vice President for Equitable Growth and Financial Institutions Ayhan Kose said. “The global community needs to act rapidly and forcefully to make sure the recent debt accumulation does not end with a string of debt crises. The developing world cannot afford another lost decade.”

As severe crises did in the past, the pandemic is expected to leave long lasting adverse effects on global activity. It is likely to worsen the slowdown in global growth projected over the next decade due to underinvestment, underemployment, and labor force declines in many advanced economies. If history is any guide, the global economy is heading for a decade of growth disappointments unless policy makers put in place comprehensive reforms to improve the fundamental drivers of equitable and sustainable economic growth.  

Policymakers need to continue to sustain the recovery, gradually shifting from income support to growth-enhancing policies. In the longer run, in emerging market and developing economies, policies to improve health and education services, digital infrastructure, climate resilience, and business and governance practices will help mitigate the economic damage caused by the pandemic, reduce poverty and advance shared prosperity. In the context of weak fiscal positions and elevated debt, institutional reforms to spur organic growth are particularly important. In the past, the growth dividends from reform efforts were recognized by investors in upgrades to their long-term growth expectations and increased investment flows.

Central banks in some emerging market and developing economies have employed asset purchase programs in response to pandemic-induced financial market pressures, in many cases for the first time. When targeted to market failures, these programs appear to have helped stabilize financial markets during the initial stages of the crisis. However, in economies where asset purchases continue to expand and are perceived to finance fiscal deficits, these programs may erode central bank operational independence, risk currency weakness that de-anchors inflation expectations, and increase worries about debt sustainability.

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