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South Asia Must Ramp Up COVID-19 Action to Protect People, Revive Economies

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Amid the mounting human toll and global economic fallout triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, South Asian governments must ramp up action to curb the health emergency, protect their people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, and set the stage now for fast economic recovery, says the World Bank in its twice-a-year-regional update.

Released today, the latest South Asia Economic Focus anticipates a sharp economic slump in each of the region’s eight countries, caused by halting economic activity, collapsing trade, and greater stress in the financial and banking sectors.  

In this fast-changing and uncertain context, the report presents a range forecast, estimating that regional growth will fall to a range between 1.8 and 2.8 percent in 2020, down from 6.3 percent projected six months ago. That would be the region’s worst performance in the last 40 years, with temporary contractions in all South Asian countries. In case of prolonged and broad national lockdowns, the report warns of a worst-case scenario in which the entire region would experience a negative growth rate this year.

This deteriorated forecast will linger in 2021, with growth projected to hover between 3.1 and 4.0 percent, down from the previous 6.7 percent estimate.

“The priority for all South Asian governments is to contain the virus spread and protect their people, especially the poorest who face considerably worse health and economic outcomes,” said Hartwig Schafer, World Bank Vice President for the South Asia Region. “The COVID-19 crisis is also an urgent call-to-action moment to pursue innovative policies and jumpstart South Asian economies once the crisis is over. Failure to do so can lead to long-term growth disruptions and reverse hard-won progress in reducing poverty.”

The impact of the pandemic will hit hard low-income people, especially informal workers in the hospitality, retail trade, and transport sectors who have limited or no access to healthcare or social safety nets. The report notes that the COVID-19 shock will likely reinforce inequality in South Asia. As played out across the region, the sudden and large-scale loss of low paid work has driven a mass exodus of migrant workers from cities to rural areas, spiking fear that many of them will fall back into poverty. While there are no signs yet of widespread food shortages, the report warns that a protracted COVID-19 crisis may threaten food security, especially for the most vulnerable.

In the short term, the report recommends preparing weak healthcare systems for greater COVID-19 impacts, as well as providing safety nets and securing access to food, medical supplies, and necessities for the most vulnerable. To minimize short-term economic pain, the report calls for establishing temporary work programs for unemployed migrant workers, enacting debt relief measures for businesses and individuals, and easing inter-regional customs clearance to speed up import and export of essential goods.

Once lockdown restrictions are loosened, South Asian governments should adopt expansionary fiscal policies combined with monetary stimulus to keep credit flowing in their economies. Since many South Asian countries have limited fiscal space, these policies should target people worst hit by the freeze on economic activity. The report urges governments to adopt temporary spending measures and coordinate with international financial partners to avoid unsustainable long-term debt levels and fiscal deficits.

“After tackling the immediate COVID-19 threat, South Asian countries must keep their sovereign debt sustainable through fiscal prudence and debt relief initiatives,” said Hans Timmer, World Bank Chief Economist for the South Asia Region. “And looking beyond the present crisis, lie great opportunities to expand digital technologies for payment systems and distant learning to unlock remote areas in South Asia.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, economic circumstances within countries and regions are fluid and change on a day-by-day basis. The analysis in the report is based on the latest country-level data available as of April 7, 2020.

The World Bank Group is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response, increase disease surveillance, improve public health interventions, and help the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. It is deploying up to $160 billion in financial support over the next 15 months to help countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery.  

REAL GDP AT MARKET PRICES IN PERCENT
CountryFiscal year2019(e)2020(f)2021(f)2022(f)
AfghanistanDecember to December2.9-5.9 to -3.83.3 to 3.95.2 to 6.2
BangladeshJuly to June8.22.0 to 3.01.2 to 2.92.8 to 3.9
BhutanJuly to June3.92.2 to 2.92.0 to 2.53.1 to 3.5
IndiaApril to March6.14.8 to 5.01.5 to 2.84.0 to 5.0
MaldivesJanuary to December5.2-13.0 to -8.56.3 to 7.35.0 to 5.5
Nepalmid-July to mid-July7.11.5 to 2.81.4 to 2.92.7 to 3.6
PakistanJuly to June3.3-2.2 to -1.30.3 to 0.93.2 to 3.3
Sri LankaJanuary to December2.6-3.0 to -0.50.2 to 1.22.0 to 2.5
  REVISION TO FORECASTS FROM OCTOBER 2019
CountryFiscal year2019(e)2020(f)
AfghanistanDecember to December-8.9 to -6.8-0.2 to 0.4
BangladeshJuly to June-5.2 to -4.2-6.1 to -4.4
BhutanJuly to June-5.2 to -4.5-3.9 to -3.4
IndiaApril to March-1.2 to -1.0-5.4 to -4.1
MaldivesJanuary to December-18.5 to -14.00.7 to 1.7
Nepalmid-July to mid-July-4.9 to -3.6-5.1 to -3.6
PakistanJuly to June-4.6 to -3.7-2.7 to -2.1
Sri LankaJanuary to December-6.3 to -3.8-3.5 to -2.5

Notes: The 2020 and 2021 numbers represent the lower and upper bound of the forecast range. For India, 2020 refers to FY19/20. e: Estimate f: Forecast. Source: World Bank

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Development

Driving Growth Using ‘Practical Wisdom’: Japan’s Perspectives

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In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the World Economic Forum has taken an initiative to create a more sustainable and resilient world. Further to the regular dialogues held on managing the crisis and shaping a positive post-COVID world, the Regional Action Group for Japan (RAGJ), a community of leaders engaged with the World Economic Forum, published a report “Driving Growth Using ‘Practical Wisdom’: Japan’s Perspectives”

The report suggests that the country should create a well-structured, forward-thinking society based on sustainability, inclusivity and resiliency through four pillars: attitude, business culture, economy, and the global collaboration framework. The report also suggests that Japanese leaders can implement the concept by drawing on the country’s “practical wisdom,” or its long tradition of practicing stakeholder-based capitalism, sustainable business models, disaster resilience, and the championing of environmental values.

“There is an urgent need for global stakeholders to cooperate in simultaneously managing the direct consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. It is of great significance for the World Economic Forum that Japanese leaders came together to propose what it takes for the country, as well as for the international community, to improve the state of the world. Japan’s perspectives, laid out in the report, are one of the first responses to our call to present a vision of that guides us through the post-COVID future,” said Makiko Eda, Chief Representative Officer, World Economic Forum, Japan.

“The current crisis requires us to revisit the status quo of every aspect of society. At the same time, it presents us with a unique opportunity to accelerate necessary reforms to shape a better future,” said Nobuhiro Hemmi, Partner and Chief Strategist, Deloitte Japan, who supported the organization of the discussion of the RAGJ. “Capitalizing on this momentum, Japanese leaders are committed to making long-lasting impacts to society while fostering engagement with the public and communities around the world. I hope that the report serves as a catalyst in implementing ‘great resets’ that help shape the post-COVID future,” he added.

The report proposes that Japan draws on its “practical wisdom” in its effort to resetting four areas:

Attitudes: To address systemic challenges such as sustainability and climate change, leaders must abandon wishful thinking that such a task will be easy. Three approaches should help this shift: sharing a greater sense of urgency among officials, businesses, and the public; accelerating necessary reforms for a long-lasting impact on public trust; and addressing unresolved issues to usher in a new era for Japan.

Business Culture: Leaders should transform their own businesses’ behavior, moving the focus away from their own successes in favor of contributing to the common good. Three steps are proposed: growing truly purpose-driven businesses for long-term value generation; upgrading community and environmental solutions via digital leapfrogging; and promoting diversity and inclusion to revitalize the leadership.

Economy: Japanese leaders must transform the economy system, shifting the emphasis away from shareholders to stakeholders. Three measures should support the shift: redefining economic success; striking a shareholder-stakeholder balance to reframe economic focus; and shifting investor focus from short-term returns to long-term value creation.

Global collaboration framework: Japan must rebuild the bonds of global cooperation by growing out of its traditional role as a rule-follower and becoming a rule-shaper. This is made possible by three approaches: adjusting or adopting rules to create a new era of cooperation; renewing global trade systems; and serving as a great mediator for transnational cooperation.

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IEA: take urgent action to cut methane emissions from oil and gas sector

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Methane emissions from the global oil and gas industry fell by an estimated 10% in 2020 as producers slashed output in response to the historic shock of the Covid-19 crisis, the International Energy Agency said today, warning that these emissions could rebound strongly without greater action by companies, policy makers and regulators.

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) and makes a major contribution to global warming. According to the IEA’s 2021 update of its Methane Tracker, oil and gas operations worldwide emitted more than 70 million tonnes of methane into the atmosphere last year. This is broadly equivalent to the total energy-related CO2 emissions from the entire European Union.

The new IEA analysis indicates that a large part of the drop in methane emissions in 2020 occurred not because companies were taking more care to avoid methane leaks from their operations, but simply because they were producing less oil and gas. As such, there is clearly a risk that this downward trend will be reversed by an increase in production to fuel a rebound in global economic activity.

“The immediate task now for the oil and gas industry is to make sure that there is no resurgence in methane emissions, even as the world economy recovers, and that 2019 becomes their historical peak. There is no good reason to allow these harmful leaks to continue, and there is every reason for responsible operators to ensure that they are addressed,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.

“Alongside ambitious efforts to decarbonise our economies, early action on methane emissions will be critical for avoiding the worst effects of climate change. There has never been a greater sense of urgency about this issue than there is today, said Dr Birol. “To help accelerate these efforts, the IEA is today releasing a ‘how-to’ guide that governments and regulators can use to bring down methane emissions from oil and gas operations.”

IEA analysis highlights that reducing methane emissions is very cost-effective for oil and gas companies. Unlike CO2, there is already a price for methane everywhere in the world – the price of natural gas. This means the costs of improving operations or making repairs to prevent leaks can often be paid for by the value of the additional gas that is brought to market.

“We believe that industry must act, visibly and quickly,” Dr Birol said. “But there is also a strong role for government policies; to incentivise early action by companies, push for transparency and improvements in performance, and support innovation in getting results.”

The new IEA report, Driving Down Methane Leaks from the Oil and Gas Industry: A Regulatory Roadmap and Toolkit, offers a step-by-step guide for anyone trying develop or to update regulation on methane. Its advice draws on analysis of how more than 50 countries, states or provinces – from the United States to Nigeria, from Iraq to China and Russia – have tackled methane emissions from a regulatory perspective.

“In this crucial year for climate action leading up to COP26 in Glasgow in November, this is the moment for governments to raise ambitions not only on CO2 but also on methane,” Dr Birol said. “One important avenue, especially for countries with large oil and gas sectors, will be to include commitments on methane in their new or updated pledges in advance of the COP meeting. This is also the moment for companies to put all their weight behind this effort.”

The case for action is not just environmental or reputational. There are increasing signs that consumers are starting to look carefully at the emissions profile of different sources of gas when making decisions on what to buy. A gas producer without a credible story on methane abatement is also one that is taking commercial risks.

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EU Politics

Commission sets out key actions for a united front to beat COVID-19

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Two days ahead of the meeting of European leaders on a coordinated response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Commission set out a number of actions needed to step up the fight against the pandemic. In a Communication adopted today, it calls on Member States to accelerate the roll-out of vaccination across the EU: by March 2021, at least 80% of people over the age of 80, and 80% of health and social care professionals in every Member State should be vaccinated. And by summer 2021, Member States should have vaccinated a minimum of 70% of the adult population.

The Commission also calls on Member States to continue to apply physical distancing, limit social contacts, fight disinformation, coordinate travel restrictions, ramp up testing, and increase contact tracing and genome sequencing to face up to the risk from new variants of the virus. As recent weeks have seen an upward trend in case numbers, more needs to be done to support healthcare systems and to address “COVID-fatigue” in the coming months, from accelerating vaccination across the board, helping our partners in the Western Balkans, the Southern and Eastern neighbourhood and in Africa.

Today’s Communication sets out key actions for Member States, the Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which will help reduce risks and keep the virus under control:

Speeding up the roll-out of vaccination across the EU

By March 2021, at least 80% of people over the age of 80, and 80% of health and social care professionals in every Member State, should be vaccinated.

By summer 2021, Member States should have vaccinated 70% of the entire adult population.

The Commission, Member States and the EMA will work with companies to use the EU’s potential for increased vaccine manufacturing capacity to the fullest.

The Commission is working with Member States on vaccination certificates, in full compliance with EU data protection law, which can support the continuity of care. A common approach is to be agreed by the end of January 2021 to allow Member States’ certificates to be rapidly useable in health systems across the EU and beyond.

Testing and genome sequencing

Member States should update their testing strategies to account for new variants and expand the use of rapid antigen tests.

Member States should urgently increase genome sequencing to at least 5% and preferably 10% of positive test results. At present, many Member States are testing under 1% of samples, which is not enough to identify the progression of the variants or detect any new ones.

Preserving the Single Market and free movement while stepping up mitigation measures

Measures should be applied to further reduce the risk of transmission linked to the means of travel, such as hygiene and distancing measures in vehicles and terminuses.

All non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged until the epidemiological situation has considerably improved.

Proportionate travel restrictions, including testing of travellers, should be maintained for those travelling from areas with a higher incidence of variants of concern.

Ensuring European leadership and international solidarity

To ensure early access to vaccines, the Commission is to set up a Team Europe mechanism to structure the provision of vaccines shared by Member States with partner countries. This should allow for sharing with partner countries access to some of the 2.3 billion doses secured through the EU’s Vaccines Strategy, paying special attention to the Western Balkans, our Eastern and Southern neighbourhood and Africa.

The European Commission and Member States should continue supporting COVAX, including through early access to vaccines. Team Europe has already mobilised €853 million in support of COVAX, making the EU one of COVAX’s biggest donors.

Members of the College said:

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Vaccination is essential to get out of this crisis. We have already secured enough vaccines for the entire population of the European Union. Now we need to accelerate the delivery and speed up vaccination. Our aim is to have 70% of our adult population vaccinated by summer. That could be a turning point in our fight against this virus. However, we will only end this pandemic when everyone in the world has access to vaccines. We will step up our efforts to help secure vaccines for our neighbours and partners worldwide.”

Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, responsible for Promoting our European Way of Life, said: “The emergence of new variants of the virus and substantial rises in cases leave us no room for complacency. Now more than ever must come a renewed determination for Europe to act together with unity, coordination and vigilance. Our proposals today aim to protect more lives and livelihoods later and relieve the burden on already stretched health care systems and workers. This is how the EU will come out of the crisis. The end of the pandemic is in sight though not yet in reach.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Working together with unity, solidary and determination, we can soon start to see the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Now in particular, we need swift and coordinated action against the new variants of the virus. Vaccinations will still take time until they reach all Europeans and until then we must take immediate, coordinated and proactive steps together. Vaccinations must accelerate across the EU and testing and sequencing must be increased – this is show we can ensure that we leave this crisis behind us as soon as possible.”

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