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Greenwashing Is Out, Let’s ‘Out’ the Greenwashers

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Business leaders are shifting their priorities, embracing the idea of the “double bottom line”, supplanting shareholder primacy with stakeholder primacy, and committing – at least notionally – to environmental sustainability.

That’s good news, said Caroline Anstey, Senior Advisor to Sustainable Markets at the World Economic Forum. But not all of this environmental commitment is genuine. “A lot of companies are still thinking about corporate social responsibility. They’re not running it through the business and through the strategy. They’re not really putting it into their plans and my worry is that without any durable metrics, consumers and investors and others really don’t know who is sustainable and who’s doing greenwashing. My worry is that over time there will be a big scandal over this and people will become disillusioned.”

In a panel session on transforming markets, Anstey called for product labelling to give consumers a clear sense of a product’s environmental impact. “Consumers control about 60% of global GDP. They make choices every day, using their pocketbooks, their wallets,” she said. “If there’s proper labelling and disclosure – the same as food labelling, but for product production, supply chains – consumers can make that choice. But it’s very important that consumers don’t have to pay more for doing the right thing.”

Governments have a critical role to play in ensuring that green choices aren’t more expensive choices. “We have to change our system of taxation and subsidies and incentives to align with a sustainable future,” Anstey said.

The grim realities of climate change and the urgency of the situation were driven home by Allen Chastenet, Prime Minister of the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia. “We’re facing two things:” said Chastenet, “extinction and the environment. Unfortunately, the extinction part comes first,” he said, noting that 2018’s Hurricane Maria – the second of two hurricanes to hit the island in a month – did damage equivalent to 200% of the island nation’s GDP. Of those who survived the disaster, he said, it was self-employed farmers who tended to remain, while “teachers, doctors, nurses leave and never come back.”

“The final nail in the coffin for us is that we become now uninsurable,” he added.

Melati Wijsen, who with her sister launched a successful initiative called Bye Bye Plastic Bags six years ago, at age 12, to ban plastic bags on her native island of Bali in Indonesia, made an impassioned case during the panel for including and taking seriously the views of youth in all conversations about sustainability.

“Involve the young people. Take our ideas, as crazy as they might be. We have something to offer. We’re smart, we’re passionate and we’re motivated, and we’re ready to be part of these opening markets,” she said. “We not only expect to be heard, but we expect to be part of the decisions that are being made today.”

Feike Sijbesma, Chief Executive Officer of the Dutch company Royal DSM, echoed Anstey’s dismissal of corporate social responsibility. “CSR is out,” he said. “You do this in the mainstream of your business,” noting that this is what distinguishes a genuine commitment to sustainability from mere “greenwashing”.

Anstey noted that the classical economic theory and its assumption that people will act only in their own self-interest has fallen away as behavioural economists present data to the contrary. “They will act in the interest of their community – even if it’s not in their own self-interest,” she said.

Scepticism over motivations dies hard, however. A Twitter poll put out on Monday from the World Economic Forum asking whether respondents believed business leaders when they say they want to be more sustainable found that 55% of respondents said no, with only 23% answering in the affirmative and 22% saying they weren’t sure.

“This is a devastating score,” Sijbesma said. Noting that people working for social good are now termed “social entrepreneurs”, he added: “I think all entrepreneurs, all business leaders, should be social entrepreneurs. You should go to jail if you are not a social entrepreneur.”

In a video message delivered at the end of the panel, His Royal Highness Prince Charles announced the creation of the Sustainable Markets Council in partnership with the World Economic Forum. The council will explore creative solutions, model sustainable leadership and champion sustainable markets at a global scale.

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Pandemic disruption to learning is an opportunity to reimagine, revitalize education

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Students at a primary school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on the second day after their school reopened. The students, teachers and school administrators wear masks while at the school and maintain physical distancing. UNICEF/Seyha Lychheang

To mark the third International Day of Education on Sunday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres paid tribute to the resilience of students, teachers and families in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic that, at its peak, forced almost every school, institute and university to close its doors.

“When education is interrupted, it affects everyone”, he said, and “all of us pay the price”, stressing that education is the foundation for expanding opportunities, transforming economies, fighting intolerance, protecting our planet and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Although this disruption has led to learning innovations, he said, it has also dashed hopes of a brighter future among vulnerable populations.

Avert generational catastrophe

With that in mind, the UN chief said that as the world continues to battle the pandemic, education – as a fundamental right and a global public good – must be protected to avert a generational catastrophe.

Even before the pandemic, some 258 million children and adolescents were out of school, the majority of them girls. Indeed, more than half of 10-year-olds in low and middle income countries were not learning to read a simple text.

“In 2021, we must seize all opportunities to turn this situation around. We must ensure the full replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education fund, and strengthen global education cooperation”, the Secretary-General explained.

“We must also step up our efforts to reimagine education – training teachers, bridging the digital divide and rethinking curricula to equip learners with the skills and knowledge to flourish in our rapidly changing world”, he said, adding: “Let us commit to promote education for all — today and every day.”

Struggling at home

Volkan Bozkir, the President of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, commended all teachers, who have adapted their classrooms and undertaken remote lessons in order to ensure continuity in education. He also applauded parents, who have done their utmost to facilitate learning at home.

“Above all, I am thinking of all students around the world who are struggling to learn at home, perhaps missing their friends, feeling frustrated or despondent about the future. Do not despair. You will get through this difficult period and you will pursue your dreams”, the Assembly President said in a video message.

He said that it is up to UN Member States to ensure this becomes a reality.

“We need to take urgent action in this Decade of Action and Delivery to invest in our education systems, including improving access to technology so that we can recover from this tumultuous period”, Assembly President Bozkir said.

He explained that if the UN and wider international community are to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, “we need to build resilient, inclusive education systems that allow all students to return to school.”

“To do so, we must meet the needs of those at risk of being left behind. Including children with disabilities and those living in conflict-affected areas, as well as the 11 million girls who are at risk of not re-entering the classroom.”

‘Recover and Revitalize Education’

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will co-host an event on Monday, 25 January, planned around three main segments: learning heroes, innovations, and financing.

The agency says that as a new year begins, now is the time to step up collaboration and international solidarity to place education and lifelong learning at the centre of the recovery and the transformation towards more inclusive, safe and sustainable societies.

In a concept note on the event, UNESCO says it is the time to invest in better gearing education systems everywhere to the reality of interdependence that the pandemic has made necessary, and to making education a vehicle to foster social justice, peace, respect for diversity, human rights and democratic values.

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Xi Jinping’s Speech at Davos Agenda is Historic Opportunity for Collaboration

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Chinese President Xi Jinping called for both greater global efforts in the fight against an unprecedented public health crisis and a renewed commitment to multilateral cooperation, in a special address on Monday to business, government and civil society leaders taking part in the World Economic Forum’s virtual event, The Davos Agenda.

“The pandemic is far from over and the recent resurgence in COVID cases reminds us that we must carry on the fight,” Xi said. “There is no doubt that humanity will prevail over the virus and emerge even stronger from this disaster.”

“We should stay committed to keeping up with the times instead of rejecting change. Now is the time for major development and major transformation.”

Xi outlined several objectives required for a better future. They include the need to work together to achieve strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth, to close the gap between developing and developed countries as a prerequisite for global prosperity, and to strengthen global cooperation in addressing the big common challenges, namely COVID-19 and climate change.

On cooperation

“We hope these efforts will bring more cooperation opportunities to other countries and give further impetus to global economic recovery and growth,” he said.

“We have been shown time and again that to beggar thy neighbor, to go it alone, and to
slip into arrogant isolation will always fail. Let us all join hands and let multilateralism light our way toward a community with a shared future for mankind.”

“Zero sum game or winner takes all is not the philosophy of the Chinese people.”

“We should stay committed to international law and international rules, instead of seeking one’s own supremacy”

On climate

“We need to deliver on the Paris Agreement on climate change and promote green development,” he said. “We need to give continued priority to development, implement the Sustainable Development Goals, and make sure that all countries, especially developing ones, share in the fruits of global development.”

Xi reiterated China’s commitment to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and promoting a green, low-carbon way of life and production, and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060.

“The earth is our one and only home. To scale up efforts to address climate change and promote sustainable development, bears on the future of humanity.”

On the economy

“Despite the trillions of dollars in relief packages worldwide, global recovery is rather shaky and the outlook remains uncertain. We need to focus on current priorities, and balance COVID response and economic development. Macroeconomic policy support should be stepped up to bring the world economy out of the woods as early as possible.”

On COVID-19

Containing the coronavirus is another pressing task for the international community, he said, stressing that closer solidarity and cooperation, more information sharing and a stronger response are what is needed to defeat COVID-19. He said China is committed to sharing its experience with other countries and assisting those less prepared for the pandemic and work for greater accessibility to COVID vaccines in developing countries.

On globalization

He also said China will continue to promote economic globalization and advance technology and innovation, and is committed to following through on its policy of opening up and continuing to promote trade and investment liberalization.

On technology

“Science, technology and innovation is a key engine for human progress… China will create an open, fair, equitable and non-discriminatory scientific environment that is beneficial to all.”

Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum’s Founder and Executive Chairman, thanked China for taking an active part in global efforts to combat COVID-19 and to implement the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.

“2021 will be the critical year to re-establish trust in our ability to shape our common future in collective and constructive ways,” Schwab said. “We must win the fight against the virus, we must reinvigorate global economic growth and make it more robust, resilient, inclusive and sustainable, and at the same time, we must accelerate the transition to a net zero economy.”

He added: “We must come together to ensure that we capture the moment and move into the age of collaboration to build a better world.”

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World Bank and EU to Help Iraq Strengthen Public Financial Management Oversight

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The Government of Iraq, the World Bank Group, and the European Union signed today a grant agreement aimed at strengthening the Government of Iraq’s institutions and mechanisms of fiscal accountability and oversight at federal and sub-national levels. 

The project titled “Strengthening Public Financial Management (PFM) Oversight and Accountability Institutions” will benefit from jointly implemented US$12.5 million and is part of a technical assistance grant program signed back in September 2018 with the European Union to strengthen public financial management (PFM) oversight and increase the efficiency of public service delivery.

The program aims at improving PFM systems by strengthening payroll management through an IT platform. It will support transparency and accountability in the oil sector through the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. It will foster the anti-corruption agency which can help retrieve stolen assets and the auditor general as well as support the reform of State-Owned Enterprises. Other features will be strengthening procurement systems through e-procurement and supporting integrity in reconstruction programs. The project will also assist in further tackling revenue mobilization and fiscal federalism and can be revisited in one year to align further with government priorities.

This project compliments the ongoing World Bank-financed project titled “Modernization of Public Financial Management Systems” of US$41.5 million, which aims to improve financial information management and transparency, cash management, public investment management and public procurement modernization at selected federal and governorate agencies.

Now, more than ever, the importance of a strong public financial management system is critical”, said Ramzi Afif Neman, Head of World Bank Iraq Office. “The World Bank is committed to helping equip the Government of Iraq with mechanisms of fiscal accountability that are essential for sustainable reform, creation of a positive economic impact, and the restoration of public trust in the country’s financial institutions.

The efficient management of public finances and the delivery of services is critical in the achievement of public policy objectives, as well as for restoring the trust and social contract between Iraqi citizens and the country’s institutions”, said Martin Huth, European Union Ambassador to Iraq.

The project will support economic governance reforms at the federal level and in the Kurdistan region through technical assistance to many fiscal agencies, under the guidance of the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Prime Minister’s office. The project is in line with the economic reform “White Paper” recently published by the Government of Iraq which supports the overall World Bank Group’s development objectives and portfolio in Iraq. The project is also in line with the SDGs and European Union’s development objectives. 

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