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CEO pessimism over global growth reaches record high

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As we enter a new decade, CEOs are showing record levels of pessimism in the global economy, with 53% predicting a decline in the rate of economic growth in 2020. This is up from 29% in 2019 and just 5% in 2018 – the highest level of pessimism since we started asking this question in 2012. By contrast, the number of CEOs projecting a rise in the rate of economic growth dropped from 42% in 2019 to only 22% in 2020.  These are some of the key findings of PwC’s 23rd survey of almost 1,600 CEOs from 83 countries across the world, launched today at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

CEO pessimism over global economic growth is particularly significant in North America, Western Europe and the Middle East, with 63%, 59% and 57% of CEOs from those regions predicting lower global growth in the year ahead.

“Given the lingering uncertainty over trade tensions, geopolitical issues and the lack of agreement on how to deal with climate change, the drop in confidence in economic growth is not surprising – even if the scale of the change in mood is,” said Bob Moritz, Chairman, of the PwC Network. “These challenges facing the global economy are not new – however the scale of them and the speed at which some of them are escalating is new, the key issue for leaders gathering in Davos is: how are we going to come together to tackle them.”

“On a brighter note, while there is record pessimism amongst business leaders, there are still real opportunities out there. With an agile strategy, a sharp focus on the changing expectations of stakeholders, and the experience many have built up over the last ten years in a challenging environment, business leaders can weather an economic downturn and continue to thrive.”

CEO confidence in own revenue growth declines

CEOs are also not so positive about their own companies’ prospects for the year ahead, with only 27% of CEOs saying they are  “very confident” in their own organisation’s growth over the next 12 months – the lowest level we have seen since 2009 and down from 35% last year.  

While confidence levels are generally down across the world, there is a wide variation from country to country, with China and India showing the highest levels of confidence among major economies at 45% and 40% respectively, the US at 36%, Canada at 27%, the UK at 26%, Germany at 20%, France 18%, and Japan having the least optimistic CEOs with only 11% of  CEOs very confident of growing revenues in 2020.

When asked about their own revenue growth prospects, the change in CEO sentiment has proven to be an excellent predictor of global economic growth. Analysing CEO forecasts since 2008, the correlation between CEO confidence in their 12-month revenue growth and the actual growth achieved by the global economy has been very close (see exhibit4 in notes). If the analysis continues to hold, global growth could slow to 2.4% in 2020 below many estimates including the 3.4% October growth prediction from the IMF.

China looks beyond the US for growth

Overall the US just retains its lead as the top market CEOs look to for growth over the next 12 months at 30%, one percentage point ahead of China at 29%.  However, ongoing trade conflicts and political tensions have seriously dented the attractiveness of the US for China CEOs.  In 2018, 59% of China CEOs selected the US as one of their top three growth markets, in 2020 this has dropped dramatically to just 11%. The US loss has been Australia’s gain, with 45% of China CEOs now looking to Australia as a top three key growth market compared with only 9% two years ago.

The other countries making the top five for growth are unchanged from last year – Germany (13%), India (9%) and the UK (9%). A strong result for the UK given the uncertainty created by Brexit. Australia is just outside the top five boosted by its increased attractiveness for China CEOs.

Worries about uncertain economic growth on the rise

In 2019 when asked about the top threats to their organisation’s growth prospects, uncertain economic growth ranked outside the top ten concerns for CEOs at number twelve. This year it has leapt to third place, just behind trade conflicts – another risk that has risen up the CEOs agenda – and the perennial over-regulation, which has again topped the table as the number one threat for CEOs.

CEOs are also increasingly concerned about cyber threats and climate change and environmental damage, however despite the increasing number of extreme weather events and the intensity of debate on the issue, the magnitude of other threats continues to overshadow climate change which still does not make it into the CEOs’ top ten threats to growth.

Policing cyberspace

While CEOs around the world express clear concerns about the threat of over-regulation, they are also predicting significant regulatory changes in the technology sector. Globally over two-thirds of CEOs believe that governments will introduce new legislation to regulate the content on both the internet and social media and to break up dominant tech companies. A majority of CEOs (51%) also predict that governments will increasingly compel the private sector to financially compensate individuals for the personal data that they collect.

However, CEOs are in two minds as to whether governments are striking the right balance in designing privacy regulation between increasing consumer trust and maintaining business competitiveness, with 41% saying it does strike the right balance and 43% saying it doesn’t.

The upskilling challenge

While the shortage of key skills remains a top threat to growth for CEOs and they agree that retraining/upskilling is the best way to close the skills gap, they are not making much headway in tackling the problem with only 18% of CEOs saying they have made “significant progress” in establishing an upskilling programme.  This sentiment is echoed by workers. In a separate survey by PwC, 77% of 22,000 workers around the world say they would like to learn new skills or retrain but only 33% feel they have been given the opportunity to develop digital skills outside their normal duties.

“Upskilling will be one of the key issues discussed this week at Davos and business leaders, educators, government and civil society must work together to ensure that people around the world stay productively engaged in meaningful and rewarding work. Leaders have a key role to play; although people may have fears about the future, they want to learn and develop and they are looking to leaders to provide a trusted path forward,” added Bob Moritz.

Climate change – challenge or chance?

Although climate change does not appear in the top ten threats to CEOs’ growth prospects, CEOs are expressing a growing appreciation of the upside of taking action to reduce their carbon footprint. Compared to a decade ago, when we last asked this question, CEOs are now twice as likely to “strongly agree” that investing in climate change initiatives will boost reputational advantage (30% in 2020 compared with 16% in 2010) and 25% of CEOs today compared with 13% in 2010 see climate change initiatives leading to new product and service opportunities for their organisation.

While views of climate change driven product and service opportunities have remained relatively stable in the US and the UK, there has been a dramatic shift in views in China over the last ten years. In 2010, only 2% of China CEOs saw climate change leading to opportunities whereas in 2020 this has risen to 47%, by far the largest increase of CEOs in any country included in the survey.  However, for these opportunities to turn into long term success stories the principles of climate change need to be embedded right across a businesses’ supply chain and customer experience.

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Free Trade Pact Could Help Lift Up to 50 Million Africans from Extreme Poverty

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The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has the potential to bring significant economic and social gains for the region, leading to higher incomes, lower poverty, and faster economic growth, according to a new World Bank report done in partnership with the AfCFTA Secretariat.

If fully implemented to harmonize investment and competition rules, the trade pact could boost regional incomes by as much as 9 percent—to $571 billion. It could create almost 18 million more jobs, many of them higher-paying and better-quality jobs, with women workers seeing the biggest gains. By 2035, the resulting jobs and income growth could help up to 50 million people exit extreme poverty.

The implementation of the trade agreement would also lead to larger wage gains for women and skilled workers. Wages of female workers are expected to be 11.2 percent higher in 2035 as compared to the wage level without the agreement, outpacing 9.8 percent growth of male workers’ wages.

The report, Making the Most of the African Continental Free Trade Area, extends the work done in 2020 (www.worldbank.org/afcfta2020report), when the World Bank initially assessed the economic potential of AfCFTA. As part of its first phase, which took effect in January 2021, the AfCFTA will gradually eliminate tariffs on 90 percent of goods and reduce barriers to trade in services. The new report, released today, examines the effects of the larger trade market on the continent’s ability to attract investment – both from within Africa and outside—and the resulting economic impact.

“The AfCFTA comes at a critical time when regional cooperation is needed to navigate compounded risks and enhance the resilience of supply chains, to support green, resilient and inclusive growth in Africa,” said Mari Pangestu, Managing Director for Development Policy and Partnerships, World Bank. “Countries must work together to make the AfCFTA a reality and reap its many benefits – including reducing barriers to trade and investment, enhancing competition, and ensuring markets function fairly and efficiently through clear and predictable rules.”

The report discusses two scenarios to assess the benefits for a market of more than 1.3 billion people with a combined GDP of US$3.4 trillion.   

The key findings indicate that the AfCFTA has the potential to encourage greater foreign direct investment (FDI) required for Africa to diversify into new industries, such as agribusiness, manufacturing, and services, and reduce the region’s vulnerability to commodity boom-bust cycles. A deeper integration beyond trade and trade facilitation measures, that harmonizes policies on investment, competition, e-commerce, and intellectual property rights could boost market efficiency and competitiveness, reduce regulatory risks, and attract even more foreign direct investment. By 2035, this integration would increase incomes by 9 percent, or $571 billion, and create 18 million new jobs, with 2.5 percent of the continent’s workers moving to new industries. This would expand the number of people leaving extreme poverty to 50 million.

The report finds that greater FDI could raise Africa’s exports up to 32 percent by 2035, with intra-African exports growing by 109 percent, especially in the manufactured goods sectors.  All countries in Africa will see their intra-African exports increase, that includes Tunisia (165%), Cameroon (144%), Ghana (132%), Tanzania (126%), and South Africa (61%).

As barriers to trade and investment are reduced, export sectors likely to grow the most are textiles and apparel; chemical, rubber and plastic products; and processed foods. Deeper integration would lower trade costs and boost capital inflows boosting exports from services sectors such as transport; communications and hospitality. 

“Today Africa is one of the least integrated regions globally. African countries trade more with the outside world than with each other. The pact can help countries to simplify and harmonize trade and transit procedures, improve infrastructure, transport and logistics and spur the flows of goods, services, capital, and people that are so vital for development,” said Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat.

To unlock these potential gains in trade, investment, and jobs, countries must first successfully conclude the negotiations and the treaty’s most ambitious goals must be carried out by each country. The report highlights several other areas countries could reform to amplify economic gains from trade.

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Education Cannot Wait: 222 Million Crisis-Impacted Children in Urgent Need of Educational Support

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Image source: educationcannotwait.org

The United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), released a shocking new report today that indicates the number of crisis-impacted school-aged children requiring educational support has grown from an estimated 75 million in 2016 to 222 million today.

Of the 222 million crisis-affected children and adolescents in need of urgent support, the study indicates that as many as 78.2 million are out of school, and close to 120 million are in school, but not achieving minimum proficiency in math or reading. In fact, just one in ten crisis-impacted children attending primary or secondary education are actually achieving these proficiency standards.  

The analysis indicates that 84% of the out-of-school crisis-impacted children are living in areas with protracted crises. The vast majority of these are in countries specifically targeted through ECW’s ground-breaking multi-year investments, including Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen. The war in Ukraine is pushing even more children out of school, with recent estimates indicating the conflict has impacted 5.7 million school-aged children.

These alarming new figures are released against the backdrop of a recent ECW study showing that the response to education in emergencies and protracted crises remains chronically underfunded, and that the funding gap appears to have gotten even worse since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To respond to this pressing global education crisis, ECW and strategic partners launched the #222MillionDreams resource mobilization campaign in Geneva today. The campaign calls on donors, the private sector, philanthropic foundations and high-net-worth individuals to urgently mobilize more resources to scale up ECW’s investments, which are already delivering quality education to over 5 million children across more than 40 crisis-affected countries.

The campaign rallies together donors and other strategic partners in the lead up to the Education Cannot Wait High-Level Financing Conference ­- co-hosted by ECW and Switzerland, and co-convened by Germany, Niger, Norway, and South Sudan – taking place 16-17 February 2023 in Geneva.

“The financial resources to ensure that every child and young person can receive a quality education exist in the world. Now, we need to take responsible action for the 222 million children and youth in emergencies and protracted crisis. Governments, private sector and foundations can and must unlock these resources. Only then can we empower them to reach their potentials and realize their dreams,” said Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of the ECW High-Level Steering Group.

“This is a global call to action: we speak of the 222 million dreams representing each of the 222 million children and adolescents sustaining the extreme hardship of emergencies and protracted crises. Their dreams are profoundly driven by their experience of wars and forced displacement. This is our moment to empower them to turn their dreams into reality. While the world struggles with the devastating impacts of armed conflicts, COVID-19 and climate change, 222 million children and adolescents live through these horrific experiences. They dream to become their potential rather than a victim. Do not let them down. It is our duty to empower them through an education and to make their dreams come true,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait.

“In times of crisis, children experience uncertainty with regard to their future and are faced with a total disruption of their routines. Going to school provides children with protection, a sense of normalcy and hope and is a means to provide longer-term perspectives. We know that after school disruption and closures, many children will not continue their education. Switzerland is committed to contribute to reducing the risk of lost generations through its support to education in emergencies. We are thus partnering with Education Cannot Wait and look forward to co-hosting the High-Level Financing Conference in Geneva,” said Patricia Danzi, Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Global leaders have committed to “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all” through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDG4). The new estimates indicate that COVID-19 and other factors have derailed two decades of education gains. According to UN reports, basic school infrastructure is lacking in many Least Developed Countries. Only 54% of schools have access to safe drinking water, 33% have reliable electricity and 40% have handwashing facilities.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is convening the “Transforming Education Summit” in September 2022. The Summit seeks to “mobilize political ambition, action, solutions and solidarity to transform education: to take stock of efforts to recover pandemic-related learning losses; to reimagine education systems for the world of today and tomorrow; and to revitalize national and global efforts to achieve SDG4.”

On the heels of the Summit, the Education Cannot Wait High-Level Financing Conference is the opportunity for leaders to turn commitments into action, by making substantive funding contributions to ECW that will help turn dreams into reality for the children left furthest behind in crises.    

Read UN Secretary-General António Guterres Statement.

#222Million Dreams

The #222MillionDreams campaign encourages people everywhere to call on world leaders and world-leading businesses to address the concerning rise in the number of crisis-impacted children requiring educational support. Join the campaign by making a $222 individual donation to Education Cannot Wait, and by sharing your support on social media with videos, posts and calls to action to support #222MillionDreams.

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Targeted Financing Crucial for Ocean Health and Achieving SDGs

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A new white paper, published on World Ocean Day by the World Economic Forum, outlines critical steps to channel funding to support the health of the ocean and those who depend on it.

SDG14 Financing Landscape Scan: Tracking funds to realize sustainable outcomes for the ocean highlights the fragmented nature of current data on ocean financing and points to the need for innovative tools to track commitments towards and investment in the Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean, SDG14, with better traceability and granularity of information on financial commitments for the ocean.

SDG14 remains the least funded of all 17 global goals, yet achieving it will have significant exponential benefits for people and the planet. Key targets in SDG14 include ending overfishing and harmful fisheries subsidies, tackling marine pollution and minimizing ocean acidification, protecting and restoring ocean ecosystems, and supporting artisanal fishers and Small Island Developing States.

“When accomplished, SDG14 will have impacts that extend far beyond the ocean itself, by boosting food and job security, bolstering our ability to tackle the climate crisis, strengthening coastal defences, and enhancing health and wellbeing for people everywhere,” said Kristian Teleki, Director of Friends of Ocean Action at the World Economic Forum. “We cannot afford to waste precious time or money, and need to direct financing to the areas that need it most. This landscape report is intended to help us do just this.”

Emerging from this new landscape scan is the need to improve the resolution and integration of current data systems and in parallel move towards outcome-based financing. Doing so will require a substantial shift across multiple institutions that track and report on funding. It is also essential to improve SDG14 data capacity at the national and trans-national level. Existing funding streams for SDG14 must be optimized, and critical resources for ocean health must be directed to promote gender equity, target least developed areas, and efficiently leverage funding across sectors to support a sustainable blue economy.

“Our research shows that we must shift to tracking output rather than boosting input in order to overcome the challenges of transparency, traceability, optimization and personalization of financing data,” said Jillian Conrad, Lead Author of the report and Student Fellow at the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center at UW EarthLab. “The ocean needs ambitious funding and results if we are to promote equitable development of marine systems to benefit coastal communities and stop the decline in ocean health, which has knock-on detrimental effects on us all.

“With a dynamic tool tracking how financing ties to impact, the global community can better direct SDG14 funding with greatest possible positive impact for people and the ocean alike,” she added.

A Friends of Ocean Action statement released earlier this year – No Healthy Planet without a Healthy Ocean – also calls for global action around critical opportunities in 2022 to advance progress for a thriving ocean and stop the decline in its health.

The global community is convening for the UN Ocean Conference from 27 June to 1 July 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal, co-hosted by the governments of Portugal and Kenya. This is a critical opportunity to advance ocean financing and progress towards achieving SDG14.

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