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Asia and Pacific on course to miss all Sustainable Development Goals

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Unless progress is accelerated, Asia and the Pacific are on course to miss all of the 17 Goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Executive Secretary of the UN regional commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), told UN News at the Organization’s Headquarters on Wednesday.

Under-Secretary-General Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana was in New York to take part in the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the main UN platform for monitoring the progress that countries are making towards the Agenda, which is the UN’s blueprint for ending poverty and preserving the planet.

ESCAP’s latest Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report shows that, when it comes to some of the Goals, the region is actually going backwards. These are the goals related to access to clean water and sanitation (Goal 6), decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), and responsible consumption and production (Goal 11).

There are, said Ms. Alisjahbana, several reasons for this: “There is water scarcity, because of the pressure of urbanization, and the management of natural resources and the environment are making the situation worse. As for moving towards sustainable consumption, that has to do with behaviour and lifestyle. With increasing wealth you consume more, but what you consume is something that is actually not sustainable.

Governments, said the head of ESCAP, must ultimately be responsible for investments in sustainable development. Investing in basic infrastructure costs money, but there is a considerable multiplier effect, that has a positive effect on the economy. Countries with smaller financial resources should look at raising money through fiscal reforms rather than looking for aid, and risking becoming dependent, she added.

The Progress Report complains about a lack of data, an important point because, says Ms. Alisjahbana, without the correct data you can’t track progress, or evaluate the best actions to take going forward. Improved data must go hand in hand with improved capacity for analysing data, which means national statistical offices, and SDG monitoring.

Despite the many challenges facing the region’s efforts to achieve the Goals, Ms. Alisjahbana remains optimistic. The situation, she believes, can be turned around, through better cooperation, as well as the abundant talent and expertise found in the region.

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COVID-19 Crisis Deepens Contraction in the APEC Region

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A new updated report from the APEC Policy Support Unit finds that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a deeper contraction to the region’s economy. The APEC region’s economic growth is now expected to decline by 3.7 percent in 2020, down from its initial forecast of a 2.7 percent contraction in April, bringing the total output loss to a staggering USD 2.9 trillion.

These new projections are in line with the revisions by the International Monetary Fund in its recently updated  World Economic Outlook. Global growth is projected to fall to – 4.9 percent, compared to a decline of -3 percent estimated earlier by the IMF.

“The protracted duration of the pandemic has caused worse than anticipated impacts on the global economy, with some economies recently reporting a second wave of infection cases” said Dr Denis Hew, Director of the APEC Policy Support Unit.

Dr Hew added that economic recovery is in the horizon but it is “highly dependent on the availability of vaccines and treatments as well as the effectiveness of economic policies that are being implemented by economies to address the pandemic”.

The updated report projects an economic recovery for the region of 5.7 percent in 2021, compared to the earlier estimate of 6.3 percent. This economic rebound hinges on whether the pandemic can be contained over the second half of this year.

The APEC region’s growth declined by 2.2 percent in the first quarter of this year due to travel restrictions and widespread lockdown measures that depressed domestic consumption, trade and investment activities.

Merchandise trade recorded a bigger contraction in the first quarter from the combined impact of trade tensions and supply chain disruptions. “In overall terms, merchandise trade in APEC has significantly decreased in both value and volume this year,” explained Rhea C. Hernando, APEC Policy Unit’s researcher who wrote the updated report. “The temporary restrictions imposed on food and medical supplies weakened trade even further in the first quarter of the year.”

The region’s value of trade in goods dropped by 5.8 percent for exports and 4.1 percent for imports.

Foreign direct investment shares similar sentiment with inflows to the APEC region going down by 3.1 percent, while greenfield investments dropped sharply by 20.4 percent in 2019.

In the midst of uncertainties, the report recommends APEC economies to take decisive actions including intensifying efforts towards containment measures to avoid further waves of the pandemic, while at the same time maintaining fiscal and monetary stimulus measures to help alleviate the risk of people falling into poverty and businesses going bankrupt.

The report also urged member economies to invest in digital technology, including building or boosting technological infrastructure, equipping workers with digital skills and modernizing business and governance processes. This investment could contribute to making economies more innovative and dynamic while expanding access and opportunities to everyone.

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U.S: Extending support and lowering regulatory barriers could energize the recovery from Covid-19

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Swift action by the U.S. government has helped shield households and businesses from the immediate economic shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, even as efforts continue to bring the spread of the virus under control. Continuing this exceptional support to unemployed workers and struggling firms – while taking steps to lower barriers to labor mobility and competition – would help to strengthen the recovery, share the benefits across society, and reduce the risk of long-lasting scars, according to a new OECD report.

The latest OECD Economic Survey of the United States says that even as some businesses reopen with the lifting of coronavirus confinement measures, hard-hit sectors like hospitality and leisure will continue to need support, as will newly unemployed or displaced workers who may need to look for jobs in different sectors. The recent extension of the US Paycheck Protection Program by five weeks to August 8 is a welcome move to help small businesses struggling with the crisis. Extending exceptional unemployment benefits beyond the end-July cut-off date would offer a similar lifeline to the millions of households at risk of falling into poverty, as would assistance for job search (such as employment placement services) and support for geographic mobility.

“The U.S. economy is battling a health and economic shock that threatens to set back the significant economic achievements of the past decade and leave permanent scars,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “Exceptional support to people and businesses should be continued as long as it is needed. And helping people to return to work by removing unnecessary regulatory hurdles to employment and mobility would energize the recovery and help ward off a drop in living standards and equality.”

The Survey projects only a gradual recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic brought a decade-long expansion to an abrupt halt and knocked the employment-to-population ratio to its lowest level on record. The best-case scenario sees GDP growth recovering to 4.1% in 2021 after a drop of 7.3% in 2020, whereas a second wave of outbreak scenario would see GDP growth at just 1.9% in 2021 after an 8.5% drop in 2020.

Improving health policy co-ordination across levels of government, ensuring health insurance systems do not let large population groups fall through the gaps that exist between different programs, and reducing regulatory barriers, would all help to tackle the ongoing health crisis from Covid-19. To minimize the risk of a second wave prompting another large-scale lockdown of the economy, developing testing, tracking, tracing and isolating procedures will be key. Augmenting the capacity of health systems and identifying people who have acquired antibodies will help mitigate the economic impact of a second wave.

On the economic front, all efforts should focus on reviving growth and jobs for the long-term, with concrete policy measures to remove barriers hindering access to employment and future opportunities.

Addressing occupational licensing and non-competition covenants in job contracts that impose barriers to job mobility on roughly one in five workers, particularly those from low-skilled or disadvantaged groups, is a top priority. While regulation is important to ensure the safety and quality of services for workers and consumers, state-level labor market regulation has contributed to a decline in labor market fluidity since the late 1990s, alongside a period of sluggish productivity growth. (See Survey Chapter 3 for an analysis of variations in licensing stringency by state.)

States should be encouraged to delicense occupations where there are limited concerns for public health or safety and act against anticompetitive behavior. Federal law can be used to impose recognition of out-of-State licensures, allowing States to set stricter requirements only if they can prove it is necessary to protect the public. People who face difficulties finding work, for example those without a college education, should be supported through more flexible rules on job qualifications and access to adult training.

Restrictive building policies have also created a barrier to labor mobility just as a shift from industry to high-tech and services is changing the country’s economic geography and creating a need for more elastic housing supply. In the current climate, it is all the more important that people can move easily to take up new jobs. Tax incentives can be a way to loosen over-restrictive building laws, the Survey says.

The Survey also notes that vulnerabilities in the highly leveraged corporate sector will need to be monitored. Over time, given the pre-existing pressures of an ageing population, reforms to pension and healthcare spending to reduce cost pressures and inefficiencies and measures to broaden the tax base will be needed to ensure long-run sustainability of public debt.

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Evaluating and learning from the pandemic response

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The COVID-19 pandemic is testing the strengths and exposing the weaknesses of governments, defence, security forces and the private sector in their crisis preparedness and response. In order for future responses to be more robust and resilient, governments will need to understand how these actors collaborate and map leadership priorities.

PwC’s new report, “Evaluating and learning from the pandemic response,” identifies the connections and chains of command that government institutions and private entities need to implement to work effectively against the complex threats of the 21st century. It offers a structured approach to mapping these links between institutions to determine any weaknesses. Contributors to the report include Malcolm Brown, former Deputy Minister of Public Safety in Canada; Sir Craig Mackey, former Deputy Commission of the Metropolitan Police Service in London; and Peter Van Uhm, retired general and former Chief of Defence of the Netherlands.  

Using PwC’s Security Ecosystem Assessment Map (SEAM) framework, developed by experts in the defence and security fields, leaders can examine the ways in which their organisations must adapt to changing situations and connect with other entities to improve future responses to crises. 

George Alders, of PwC’s Global Government Security Sector, says:

“The world of police work and the crimes they must tackle is changing and evolving as technology drives new types of crimes and societal behaviours. Amid this transformation, during the COVID-19 pandemic, police are being asked to do even more – enforcing social distancing, restrictions on movement between countries, even the wearing of face masks. In order to meet the challenges of a pandemic and whatever the next new threats may require, police and security services will need to develop more collaborative ways of working to keep citizens safe.”

Terry Weber, of PwC’s Global Government Defence Sector, says:

“The response to the COVID-19 pandemic was uncharted territory in many respects and was the ultimate test of trusted institutions to be agile and flexible in the face of immense pressure. Applying a structured approach to evaluating where these institutions succeeded and where they fell short will help all players in the ecosystem continue to respond appropriately to the ongoing crisis and prepare for the next threat, whatever it may be.”

Malcolm Brown, Senior Strategic Advisor, PwC Canada, says:

“This pandemic is far from over. Governments will be challenged to meet the needs of citizens as economies re-open, employees return to work, international travel resumes, and health and social care systems reassess their capacities in the face of fluctuating COVID-19 infection rates.The mapping process we’ve developed for identifying what is working well and what is not can help leaders make the right decisions and investments to keep their citizens safe now and be better prepared for the next phase of the pandemic or the next crisis that awaits us.”

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