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Regional Outlooks for 2020 Show Signs of Promise for Trade, Stronger Economies

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On the first day of the World Economic Annual Forum Meeting 2020, leaders reported on their regions’ respective strategic outlooks, highlighting cooperation to improve trade and economic growth.

Middle East and North Africa

Potential solutions to sluggish growth were raised in a session on the Strategic Outlook for the Middle East and North Africa. Standardizing norms among nations in the region could facilitate trade, and selectively reducing borders – physical and digital – could enable people to work together and invest in each other’s countries. It could also help increase the movement of goods, services and data. said Abdullah AlSwaha, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, was optimistic, saying: “Growth is no longer a question of if, but when.”

In December 2019, Saudi Arabia assumed the rotating presidency of the G20 and said it is committed to finding an agenda that focuses on improving the status of women and the youth to “leave no one behind”. Saudi Arabia is also trying to “steer consensus” on the digital divide, AlSwaha said, finding a middle ground between those who are more pro-consumer and pro-privacy, and those who are more pro-corporation.

Latin America

In Latin America, new governments are facing domestic pressures that cut across borders, but leaders in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are taking steps to strengthen their economies.

“Our national challenge is to detach from the lost decade (the last decade) and make Argentina a contributor to a stronger Latin America,” said Guillermo Nielsen, Special Envoy of the Government of Argentina and Chairman of YPF. The two main challenges of President Alberto Fernández of Argentina are to restructure the debt and launch the country on a growth path. The plans for getting to growth centre on raising exports in the agriculture, mining and energy sectors, Nielsen said.

Brazil is looking to “reindustrialize the economy” by developing infrastructure that would bring natural gas to the country from Bolivia and, according to Paulo Guedes, Brazil’s Minister of Economy, legal reforms will create greater flexibility for the economy by removing regulations. After President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil took office a year ago, the government began attacking longstanding policies that had contributed to weakening the economy, said Guedes. A social security reform has passed the congress and will ease the future burden on government that threatened public finances. “We are now tight on fiscal and easier on money,” he added.

In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is committed to maintaining macroeconomic stability, said Graciela Márquez Colín, Mexico’s Secretary of the Economy. The country is betting on foreign and domestic investment to stimulate growth, which was near zero last year

Africa

In Africa, leaders said they are committed to tackling corruption in their countries but more needs to be done to eradicate it, including strengthening democracy and making governance more transparent. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe, President of Botswana, said there are many things governments in Africa “need to do better”. One is to improve revenue management and tax collection to give citizens more faith in the system of governance and see the benefits of bringing their businesses into the formal sector.

Improving trade is another area where Africa can do better. In 2018, the African Continental Free Trade Area, which brings together a market with a GDP estimated at $2.3 trillion and 1.2 billion people, was launched. “Africa hardly trades with itself and yet so many goods and services are required,” Keabetswe added.

Indian Ocean

A session on the Strategic Outlook for the Indian Ocean Rim revealed that most countries there have regional free-trade agreements among themselves, except for China and India, and most have huge trade deficits with China, with terms of trade that are not equitable or transparent. Without credible assurances and a robust framework, however, India has decided not to commit.

“For the first time India has demonstrated that trade will not be determined by diplomacy,” said Piyush Goyal, Minister of Railways and Minister of Commerce and Industry. Nevertheless, India plays an important role in the Indian Ocean region, is one of its largest economies and cares for fellow countries, he noted. “We are committed to support other countries in their efforts to fight climate change, particularly smaller island nations.”

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Development

Saint Lucia Builds Investment Reference Guide to Boost Sustainable Development

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In partnership with the Government of Saint Lucia, the World Economic Forum is launching the Country Financing Roadmap for the SDGs. It aims to help Saint Lucia unlock sources of funding, remove investment bottlenecks and develop a more coordinated approach for financing projects that are environmentally friendly or can help people develop new skills.

The Country Financing Roadmap for Saint Lucia provides an overview of priority initiatives for leaders to assess and action project work – potentially saving money and helping to identify synergies across funding areas.

For example, the initiative brought together reskilling programmes with $12 million in total budget that can support the country’s economic recovery efforts – potentially supercharging efforts. These include a collaboration between the European Commission and Forte, to help 500–600 people develop skills related to hospitality, digital skills and green or blue economy by the end of 2022, at no upfront cost to the government.

Another project, the Caribbean Climate-Smart Fund initiative by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Lion’s Head Global Partners (LHGP), is working towards mobilising both private and below market rate capital to finance a $80 million project pipeline dedicated to renewable energy in Saint Lucia.

“Finding viable solutions in the short, medium and long term to the myriad challenges that plague small island developing states (SIDS) like Saint Lucia is critical to safeguarding and putting the needs of our people first while achieving meaningful post-COVID socioeconomic recovery and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Wayne Girard, Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Economic Development and the Youth Economy, Government of Saint Lucia. “The CFR not only presents Saint Lucia with actionable options to unlock some of the financing and investment bottlenecks that limit sustainable development, it also presents a useful mechanism for replication across other SIDS in the Caribbean region. Saint Lucia is committed to continuing its work with the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership (SDIP), to advance a regional approach to driving our collective capacities to build back better.”

“Saint Lucia has demonstrated its commitment to meeting the SDGs by embarking on several important initiatives, with some of the most important focusing on financing targets,” said Sean de Cleene, Member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum. “We hope that this CFR initiative will create opportunities for Saint Lucia and other countries to fast track similar impact projects.”

The CFR is a country-led initiative in collaboration with the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership (SDIP) and a joint initiative of the World Economic Forum and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Its goal is drive economic recovery and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by presenting viable solutions that address barriers to investment and attract greater sources of capital.

As a small island nation, Saint Lucia is vulnerable to economic shifts and continues to expand recovery efforts due to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed the country to an 86.5% debt-to-GDP ratio for 2020. In 2019, tourism accounted for 80% of the nation’s labour market which faced a reduction in jobs from 63,400 in 2019 to 41,600 in 2020 as a result of the crisis, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Barriers to sustainable growth also hinge on the population’s dependence on fossil fuels which, through a successful transition to renewable energy, could increase self-sufficiency, equity, and environmental sustainability.

Alongside the CFR, the government in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the University of Oxford launched the Saint Lucia National Infrastructure Financing Strategy developed using the Sustainable Infrastructure Financing Tool (SIFT), which complements the CFR and further explores the opportunities for sustainable infrastructure financing in the country.

The Sustainable Development Investment Partnership plans to continue its support to the Government of Saint Lucia and regional organisations in hosting a series of discussions on reskilling and renewable energy solutions with over the next six months.

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Energy News

Energy Efficiency Hub launched to boost cooperation on world’s ‘first fuel’

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The Energy Efficiency Hub – a global platform for collaboration aimed at delivering the social, economic and environmental benefits of more efficient use of energy – was launched on 1 December at an event hosted at the International Energy Agency in Paris.  

The Hub’s initial 16 members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, the European Commission, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Hub aims to facilitate government-to-government exchanges on efficiency policy, regulation and implementation, focusing on topics relevant to real-world challenges faced by its members. The launch event showcased digitalisation, efficient equipment and appliance deployment, best energy efficiency technologies, and energy management best practices as areas of collaboration. 

“Hub Members span the globe, from East to West and from North to South, together accounting for over 60% of energy use and carbon dioxide emissions,” said Ulrich Benterbusch, Deputy Director General of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, who will serve as Chair of the Hub’s Steering Committee.

“In fact, each Member has significant accomplishments in energy efficiency and understands how urgent it is to work together on it,” he added. “Meeting global challenges requires all countries to do better, and – working in concert with other international organisations – the Hub will strive to share its work more broadly and to learn from others.”

The Hub’s launch follows the previous week’s release of Energy Efficiency 2021, the IEA’s annual market report on the subject, which showed that while global energy efficiency improvements are recovering to their pre-pandemic pace, they are still far short of what is needed to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

“I consider energy efficiency to be the very ‘first fuel’ because it is crucial to address climate change and make our energy supplies more secure while also leaving money in our pockets,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “I am very pleased to see countries coming together as part of the Energy Efficiency Hub to accelerate efforts in this critical area.”

“Being based at the IEA will enable the Hub to cooperate effectively with IEA experts and the other key initiatives and activities we host, including the Clean Energy Ministerial,” said Dr Birol. “The launch of the Hub is a clear and encouraging signal that momentum is building behind greater energy efficiency action worldwide.”

Brian Motherway, Head of Energy Efficiency at the IEA, said: “Governments need to work much harder if they are to deliver the full potential of energy efficiency and get their energy systems onto a pathway towards net zero. The Hub is an important instrument for countries to learn from each other and work together to strengthen their efficiency policies.”

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Africa Today

Violence in Cameroon, impacting over 700,000 children shut out of school

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Kidnappings and harassment of students and teachers are forcing schools to close in Cameroon. © Education Cannot Wait/Daniel Beloumou

Over 700,000 children have been impacted by school closures due to often brutal violence in Cameroon, according to an analysis released by the UN humanitarian arm, OCHA, on Thursday. 

Two out of three schools are closed in the North-West and South-West regions of the country. On 24 November, four children and one teacher were killed in an attack in Ekondo Titi, in the South-West. 

Lockdown 

A recent lockdown imposed by a non-State armed group, from 15 September to 2 October, limited access to basic services including health and education. 

During the period, OCHA reported a series of attacks in the North-West. 

Eight students were kidnapped, and a girl’s fingers were chopped off after she tried to attend school. Five public school principals were also kidnapped, including one who was then killed. 

All schools and community learning spaces were closed, except for some schools in a few urban areas which operated at less than 60 per cent capacity. 

The lockdown and insecurity also forced UN agencies and aid organisations to temporarily suspend the delivery of aid. During that time, about 200,000 people did not receive food.  

Multiple crisis 

Nine out of ten regions of the country continue to be impacted by one of three humanitarian crises: the crisis in the North-West and South-West, conflict in the Far North, and a refugee crisis, with people fleeing the Central African Republic.  

Because of these combined crises, over one million children need urgent education support.  

To answer some of these needs, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the UN global fund for education in emergencies and crises, is working closely with UN agencies, the Norwegian Refugee Council and other civil society partners. 

ECW is contributing $25 million over three years and calling for other donors to fill the gap, which is estimated at $50 million. 

When fully funded, the programme will provide approximately 250,000 children and adolescents with access to safe and protective learning environments in the most-affected areas. 

Visit 

Just this week, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, and the Director of Education Cannot Wait, Yasmine Sherif, had a joint visit to the country. 

In a statement, Ms. Sherif said the situation “is among the most complex humanitarian crises in the world today.” 

“Children and youth are having to flee their homes and schools, are threatened with violence and kidnapping, and being forced into early childhood marriage and recruited into armed groups,” Ms. Sherif recalled. 

Jan Egeland argued that “putting a schoolbag on your back shouldn’t make you a target”, but unfortunately children in Cameroon “risk their lives every day just showing up for school.” 

“Cameroon’s education mega-emergency needs international attention, not deadly silence by the outside world,” Mr. Egeland declared.  

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