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Germany’s ambitious efforts to advance its clean energy transition

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The International Energy Agency released its latest in-depth review of German energy policies today, welcoming the country’s bold approach to its clean energy transition.

Since the last IEA review of German energy policies, the Energiewende, German for “energy transition,” has been the defining feature of the country’s energy landscape. It is an impressive plan for transforming the country’s energy system to a more efficient one supplied mainly by renewable energy. It aims to phase out electricity generation from nuclear power by the end of 2022. More recently, the government announced plans for a phase out of coal by the end of 2038.

Germany’s national climate change strategy is defined in the Climate Action Plan 2050, which sets out a longer-term pathway for sector-specific emissions reductions, as part of the Energiewende. Compared with the base year of 1990, the key goals are to achieve at least a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80-95% by 2050. Germany has made notable progress in cutting its emissions. In 2019, it had the largest decline in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions of any EU country, according to IEA data released last week.

“The Energiewende has been successful in electricity generation, where it has been effective at substantially increasing the share of renewable electricity supply. To further support the role of renewables, the government will need to ensure a transmission grid expansion and promote the development of hydrogen technology,” said the IEA’s Executive Director, Dr Fatih Birol, who launched the report in Berlin with Peter Altmaier, Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy.

However, given the requirement for additional renewable capacity, the IEA review highlights the need for Germany to ensure a continued strong investment environment for wind generation, including to address recent social acceptance and permitting issues impacting the onshore wind sector, as well as repowering ageing wind facilities. In addition, the review urges the government to facilitate the smooth system integration of renewables, in particular through a buildout of much-needed additional transmission capacity to carry wind resources from the north to the south.

Despite the extraordinary progress in renewable electricity, the report notes that the nuclear phase-out as well as higher electricity exports have offset some of the emissions benefits. Still, the government’s planned coal phase-out could help the country remain on track to achieving its longer-term emissions targets in the electricity sector.

To date, the electricity sector has been shouldering a sizeable share of the Energiewende’s costs and progress; other sectors need to follow suit. “Building on success in the electricity sector, now the government must focus its efforts on achieving stronger emissions reductions in the transport and heating sectors. The IEA welcomes the recently adopted Climate Action Programme 2030, which includes a carbon price in the transport and heating sectors, as an important step in the right direction,” Dr Birol noted.

Beyond that, the programme includes a focus on technology development to support the energy transition, such as the use of more electric vehicles and hydrogen-based energy systems. It is also mindful of the distributional impacts of climate policies and aims to ensure a level playing field across sectors and stakeholders.

Energy security remains a focus area for the IEA, and Germany has maintained a high degree of oil, natural gas, and electricity supply security. As the nuclear and coal phase-outs increase Germany’s reliance on natural gas, the review finds it will be increasingly important for the country to continue efforts to diversify its gas supply options, including through the import of liquefied natural gas.

“I would like to thank Minister Altmaier for his collaborative spirit and commitment to building a secure and sustainable energy future. It is my hope that this report will help Germany as it undertakes this very important energy transition,” said Dr Birol. 

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65% of Adults Think Race, Ethnicity or National Origin Affects Job Opportunities

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A recent Ipsos-World Economic Forum survey has found that 65% of all adults believe that, in their country, someone’s race, ethnicity, or national origin influences their employment opportunities. When considering their own race, ethnicity, or national origin, more than one-third say it has impacted their personal employment opportunities.

The online survey was conducted between 22 January and 5 February 2021, among more than 20,000 adults in 27 countries. It also reveals that 60% of adults think that someone’s race, ethnicity, or national origin plays a role in education opportunities, access to housing, and access to social services.

As Black History Month in the United States draws to a close, awareness of the impacts of race, ethnicity and national origin on opportunities in life is exceptionally high. It follows a tumultuous year when the pandemic put inequality into the spotlight, and events in the US sparked international protests as long-simmering, systemic racial inequities came to the forefront.

Of those surveyed, 46% say the events of the past year have increased differences in opportunities as well as access to housing, education, employment and/or social services in their country. In comparison, 43% say the events have had no impact on differences and 12% say they have decreased differences.

About 60% of respondents in Latin America, Spain and South Africa, and nearly half in France, Italy, Malaysia, Japan, Sweden, Belgium and the US say recent events have increased race, ethnicity, or national origin-based differences in opportunities in their country, compared to only about one in three in Germany, Poland and Saudi Arabia, one in four in China, and one in seven in Russia.

Perceptions versus the reported personal experience of inequality also vary significantly in countries. Compared with the 27-country average for all four types of opportunities measured, several countries stand out.

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‘Industry 4.0’ tech for post-COVID world, is driving inequality

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Developing countries must embrace ground-breaking technologies that have been a critical tool in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, or else face even greater inequalities than before, UN economic development  experts at UNCTAD said on Thursday.

“Very few countries create the technologies that drive this revolution – most of them are created in China and the US – but all countries will be affected by it”, said UNCTAD’s Shamika Sirimanne, head of Division on Technology and Logistics. “Almost none of the developing countries we studied is prepared for the consequences.”

The appeal, which is highlighted in a new UNCTAD report, relates to all things digital and connective, so-called “Industry 4.0” or “frontier technologies”, that include artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, nanotechnology and solar energy.

Gene editing, another fast-evolving sector, has demonstrated its worth in the last year, with the accelerated development of new coronavirus vaccines.

Drone aid

In developing countries, digital tools can be used to monitor ground water contamination, deliver medical supplies to remote communities via drones, or track diseases using big data, said UNCTAD’s Sirimanne.

But “most of these examples remain at pilot level, without ever being scaled-up to reach those most in need: the poor. To be successful, technology deployment must fulfil the five As: availability, affordability, awareness, accessibility, and the ability for effective use.”

Income gap widening

With an estimated market value of $350 billion today, the array of emerging digital solutions for life after COVID is likely to be worth over $3 trillion by 2025 – hence the need for developing countries to invest in training and infrastructure to be part of it, Sirimanne maintained.

“Most Industry 4.0 technologies that are being deployed in developed countries save labour in routine tasks affecting mid-level skill jobs. They reward digital skills and capital”, she said, pointing to the significant increase in the market value of the world’s leading digital platforms during the pandemic.

Innovation dividends

“The largest gains have been made by Amazon, Apple and Tencent,” Sirimanne continued. “This is not surprising given that a very small number of very large firms provided most of the digital solutions that we have used to cope with various lockdowns and travel restrictions.”

Expressing optimism about the potential for developing countries to be carried along with the new wave of digitalisation rather than be swamped by it, the UNCTAD economist downplayed concerns that increasing workforce automation risked putting people in poorer countries out of a job.

This is because “not all tasks in a job are automated, and, most importantly, that new products, tasks, professions, and economic activities are created throughout the economy”, Sirimanne said.

‘Job polarization’

“The low wages …for skills in developing countries plus the demographic trends will not create economic incentives to replace labour in manufacturing – not yet.”

According to UNCTAD, over the past two decades, the expansion in high and low-wage jobs – a phenomenon known as “job polarization” – has led to only a single-digit reduction in medium-skilled jobs in developed and developing countries (of four and six per cent respectively).

“So, it is expected that low and lower-middle income developing countries will be less exposed to potential negative effects of AI and robots on job polarization”, Sirimanne explained.

Nonetheless, the UN trade and development body cautioned that there appeared to be little sign of galloping inequality slowing down in the new digital age, pointing to data indicating that the income gap between developed and developing countries is $40,749 in real terms today, up from $17,000 in 1970.

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Greater Innovation Critical to Driving Sustained Economic Recovery in East Asia

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Innovation is critical to productivity growth and economic progress in developing East Asia in a rapidly changing world, according to a new World Bank report launched today.

Countries in developing East Asia have an impressive record of sustained growth and poverty reduction.  But slowing productivity growth, uncertainties in global trade, and technological advances are increasing the need to transition to new and better modes of production to sustain economic performance.

To support policy makers in meeting this challenge, The Innovation Imperative for Developing East Asia examines the state of innovation in the region, analyzes the key constraints firms face in innovating, and lays out an agenda for action to spur innovation-led growth.

A large body of evidence links innovation to higher productivity,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific. “The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, along with the fast-evolving global environment, have raised urgency for governments in the region to promote greater innovation through better policies.

While developing East Asia is home to several high-profile innovators, data presented in the report show that most countries in the region (except China) innovate less than would be expected given their per capita income levels. Most firms operate far from the technological frontier. And the region is falling behind the advanced economies in the breadth and intensity of new technology use.

“Aside from some noteworthy examples, the vast majority of firms in developing East Asia are currently not innovating,” said Xavier Cirera, a lead author of the report. “A broad-based model of innovation is thus needed – that supports a large mass of firms in adopting new technologies, while also enabling more-sophisticated firms to undertake projects at the cutting edge.”

The report identifies several factors that impede innovation in the region, including inadequate information on new technologies, uncertainty about returns to innovation projects, weak firm capabilities, insufficient staff skills, and limited financing options. Moreover, countries’ innovation policies and institutions are often not aligned with firms’ capabilities and needs.

To spur innovation, the report argues that countries need to reorient policy to promote diffusion of existing technologies, not just invention; support innovation in the services sectors, not just manufacturing; and strengthen firms’ innovation capabilities. Taking this broader view of innovation policy will be critical to enabling productivity gains among a broader swath of firms in the region.

“It is important for governments in the region to support innovation in services, given their rising importance in these economies – not only for better service quality but increasingly as key inputs for manufacturing,” said Andrew Mason, also a lead author of the report.

Countries also need to strengthen key complementary factors for innovation, including workers’ skills and instruments to finance innovation projects. Building stronger links between national research institutions and firms will also be critical to fostering innovation-led growth in the region.

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