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Tackling obesity would boost economic and social well-being

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Obesity-related diseases will claim more than 90 million lives in OECD countries in the next 30 years, with life expectancy reduced by nearly 3 years. Obesity and its related conditions also reduce GDP by 3.3% in OECD countries and exact a heavy toll on personal budgets, amounting to USD 360 per capita per year, according to a new OECD report.

The OECD’s The Heavy Burden of Obesity – The Economics of Prevention says that more than half the population is now overweight in 34 out of 36 OECD countries and almost one in four people is obese. Average rates of adult obesity in OECD countries have increased from 21% in 2010 to 24% in 2016, meaning an additional 50 million people are now obese.


Children in particular are paying a high price for obesity. Children who are overweight do less well at school, are more likely to miss school, and, when they grow up, are less likely to complete higher education. They also show lower life satisfaction and are up to three times more likely to be bullied, which in turn may contribute to lower school performance.

Obese adults are at greater risk of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, and reduced life expectancy. In the EU28, women and men in the lowest income group are, respectively, 90% and 50% more likely to be obese, compared to those on the highest incomes, entrenching inequality. Individuals with at least one chronic disease associated with being overweight are 8% less likely to be employed the following year. When they have a job, they are up to 3.4% more likely to be absent or less productive.

“There is an urgent economic and social case to scale up investments to tackle obesity and promote healthy lifestyles,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “These findings clearly illustrate the need for better social, health and education policies that lead to better lives. By investing in prevention, policymakers can halt the rise in obesity for future generations, and benefit economies. There is no more excuse for inaction.”

OECD countries already spend 8.4% of their total health budget on treating obesity-related diseases. This is equivalent to about USD 311 billion or USD 209 per capita per year. Obesity is responsible for 70% of all treatment costs for diabetes, 23% for cardiovascular diseases and 9% for cancers.

New OECD analysis in the report finds that investing in initiatives like better labelling of food in shops or regulating the advertising of unhealthy foods to children can generate major savings. Every dollar invested in preventing obesity would generate an economic return of up to six dollars, according to the report.

Reducing by 20% the calorie content in energy-dense food, such as crisps and confectionery, could avoid more than 1 million cases of chronic disease per year, particularly heart disease. Initiatives targeting the whole population, such as food and menus displaying nutritional information and mass media campaigns, could lead to gains of  between 51,000 to 115,000 life years per year up to 2050 in the 36 countries included in the analysis. This would be equivalent to preventing all road deaths in EU28 and OECD countries respectively. Economic savings would also be significant, with menu labelling alone saving up to USD 13 billion between 2020 and 2050. The report, together with country notes for Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom, are available at http://www.oecd.org/health/the-heavy-burden-of-obesity-67450d67-en.htm.

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IRENA’s Collaborative Framework on Hydropower Takes Shape

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Advancing the discussion from June 2020, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) held its second meeting of the Collaborative Framework on Hydropower. With more than 100 attendees from 49 Members and States in Accession, the virtual meeting witnessed a high level of engagement to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise that exists within the Agency and its global Membership. The two-hour session was moderated by H.E. Mr. Jean-Christophe Fueeg, Head of International Energy Affairs at the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications of Switzerland.

Today, hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy worldwide, and its development is considered essential in driving the energy transition forward. IRENA Members have, over the years and as recently as the last Assembly, requested IRENA to expand its work on hydropower and facilitate targeted collaboration for the continued deployment of hydropower technologies.

Providing the opening remarks, IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera said: “As an enabler for integrating higher shares of renewable energy into power systems, hydropower is set to play an important role in the energy transition and will be critical to the decarbonisation of economies. Promoting the continued deployment of hydropower has been, and remains, an important part of IRENA’s work.”

IRENA launched the Collaborative Framework on Hydropower to address pressing challenges and seize potential opportunities. During its kick-off meeting in June, Members agreed on the thematic scope of the Collaborative Framework, including the need to ensure the continued development of hydropower in a sustainable manner, the relevance of hydropower as flexibility provider and enabler for the integration of high shares of variable renewables (VRE), the need for adequate remuneration of services through business models and market structures and the role of hydropower in climate resilience. Other topics of interest included innovative solutions and operation and maintenance practices.

Member countries also decided to bring in hydropower stakeholders from the public and private sector as well as intergovernmental and non-governmental actors. In response, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) and the World Bank were invited to the second meeting to discuss their future engagement in the Collaborative Framework with the IRENA membership.

On the basis of proposals by IRENA, Members agreed on the modalities for future meetings, enabling the Collaborative Framework on Hydropower to take further shape.

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Renewable Energy Jobs Continue Growth to 11.5 Million Worldwide

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Renewable energy continues to bring socio-economic benefits by creating numerous jobs worldwide, according to the latest figures released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) today. The seventh edition of Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review shows that jobs in the sector reached 11.5 million globally last year, led by solar PV with some 3.8 million jobs, or a third of the total.

“Adopting renewables creates jobs and boosts local income in both developed and developing energy markets,” said IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera. “While today we see a handful of countries in the lead, each country can harness its renewable potential, take steps to leverage local capabilities for industrial development, and train its workers.”

Last year, sixty-three per cent of all renewables jobs were recorded in Asia, confirming the region’s status as a market leader, the new report reveals. Biofuels jobs followed closely behind solar PV, reaching 2.5 million. Many of these jobs are in the agricultural supply chain, particularly in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, with labour-intensive operations. Other large employers in the renewables sector are the hydropower and wind industries, with close to 2 million and 1.2 million jobs, respectively.

Renewables jobs have shown more inclusion and a better gender balance than fossil fuels. The report highlights that women held 32 per cent of total renewables jobs, as opposed to 21 per cent in fossil fuels sectors.

Although precise estimates remain scarce and absolute numbers are small for now, off-grid renewables are creating growing employment, led by solar technology. Decentralised renewable energy can also propel productive uses in rural areas. This job multiplier effect can be seen in farming and food processing, healthcare, communications, and local commerce.

Comprehensive policies, led by education and training measures, labour market interventions, and industrial policies that support the leveraging of local capacities, are essential for sustaining the renewables jobs expansion.

The 2020 edition of the Annual Review highlights promising initiatives to support the education and training of workers. Such efforts revolve around vocational training, curricula-building, teacher training, the use of information and communications technology, promotion of innovative public-private partnerships, and recruitment of under-represented groups such as women.

Policymakers must also prioritise reskilling for fossil fuel sector workers who have lost or are at risk of losing their livelihoods. Many have considerable skills and expertise to contribute to a reoriented, clean energy industry.

The world has seen encouraging growth in renewables jobs. But it can bring about much larger employment by adopting a comprehensive policy framework that drives the energy transition. Never has the importance of such a push been clearer than at this momentous juncture. Even as the world is still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, humanity receives near-daily reminders of what lies in store if we fail to address the gathering climate disruptions.

The need to chart a different course is undeniable, as are the benefits to be reaped. IRENA’s recently-released Post-COVID Recovery Agenda found that an ambitious stimulus programme could create up to 5.5 million more jobs over the next three years than a business-as-usual approach. Such an initiative would also allow the world to stay on track for creating the 42 million renewables jobs that the agency’s Global Renewables Outlook projects for 2050.

Read the full report

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Pakistan Making Shift to Clean Power Production and Lower Energy Costs

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Today, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved $450 million in financing to support Pakistan’s transition to renewable energy resources that reduce its reliance on fossil fuel imports and lower costs of electricity production.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Hydropower and Renewable Energy Development Project will help shift the national energy mix to domestic clean resources by investing in renewable energy generation, including hydropower and solar, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It will also help strengthen energy sector institutions to better manage a growing portfolio of renewable energy projects across the province.

“This project supports Pakistan’s goal to become a low-carbon, renewable energy-reliant economy by 2030 and contributes to its national target in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change,” said Najy Benhassine, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan. “It will facilitate the expansion of renewable energy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by identifying and preparing solar and hydropower projects that are technically sound, environmentally and socially sustainable, and investment ready.”

The project will provide low-cost and low-carbon electricity to consumers and will support the economic development of those communities near the hydropower and solar projects by revitalizing infrastructure, creating jobs, and supporting the development of tourism activities.

“To scale up renewable energy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the project includes a comprehensive skills training program to build technical capacity in identifying investment opportunities, preparing projects, and mobilizing commercial financing,” said Mohammad Saqib, Task Team Leader for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Hydropower and Renewable Energy Development project. “In addition, by installing solar photovoltaic systems onto hydropower assets, production capacity is expected to rise and generate greater return on investments.” 

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