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Time to Sound Alarm Bells on Climate Change: An Economic Perspective

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The year 2020 marks the beginning of a new decade. The world as we see today has risen from the ashes of Global Financial Crisis of late 2000s and the hegemony of a few developed countries. The global economic and political landscape has endured a number of changes over the past decade- Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the Arab Spring of 2011, the rise and fall of ISIS, Refugee crisis sparked by people fleeing war persecution and poverty, the Ebola pandemic, European Sovereign Debt Crisis of 2012, BREXIT, discovery and commercialization of Shale in the USA, trade rivalry between the two behemoths- USA and China, China’s debt diplomacy through One Belt One Road (OBOR), Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 and the American fall out. 

Of all the themes that gripped the world in the recent memory, none deserves more attention than the spectre of a world ravaged by excesses of human greed and neglect of environment. The burning of Amazon rainforests and vast swathes of forests turning to ashes in Australia once again reminded the world of the pertinent need to focus on the challenge of climate change. More recently, the threat of a giant locust storm from the Horn of Africa to the farmlands in India is gripping the Eastern hemisphere. Studies have linked higher temperatures and higher than usual rainfall with more damaging locust swarms. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation, a square km sized swarm contains about 40 million locusts which eat as much food in one day as about 35,000 people. This threat to food security due to climate effect should send the alarm bells ringing in the high and mighty corridors of world powers. This article is an attempt to trace out the contribution and preparedness of comity of nations to deal with the challenges of climate change in terms of policy and the economic cost of not acting while we still have a chance at saving the humanity from the ferocity of nature.

The Earth’s temperature is maintained by an envelope of gases that traps the heat from the sun. However, when the concentration of these greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, the heat budget goes hay-wire and the temperature starts to rise. The heightened temperatures can lead to melting of ice caps, rise in sea levels, flooding of coastal cities (some of the world’s dense metropolitan areas are located on coasts), decline in soil productivity, fall in food production, increased pest attacks, increase in pathogen-related diseases, extreme weather events, desertification, famines, epidemics and the list goes on.  As the world is under the biggest ever lockdown due to COVID-19, the global community is struggling with crippling economies, and the writing on the wall is clear- the world is not prepared for such pandemics. An apposite question to ask here is, are we ready for the forthcoming challenges posed by climate change? Do we really have a feasible action plan in place to address the current and future challenges awaiting us?

In the 20th century, climate was neither the priority of developed nor the developing nations. Focus was on turning the wheels of economic growth as fast as possible. Climate change first made its entry in the global parlance as late as the 1970s. The UN Conference on Human Environment 1972, popularly known as the First Earth Summit, laid out the principles concerning environment and development and raised the issue of climate change for the first time. The First Scientific World Climate Conference was held in 1979 which eventually led to the creation of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. The Second Scientific World Climate Conference 1990 considered the IPCC first assessment report highlighting the risk of climate change which paved the way for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Second Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Enforcement of UNFCCC in 1994 formalised the climate change negotiations at the world level and from here began the string of Conference of Parties meetings with the latest being held in Madrid, Spain in 2019. Alongside the climate change negotiations, need for sustainable development has also caught the attention of the world leaders with the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002, Rio+20 summit in 2012. The Brundtland Commission’s conception of sustainable development in 1987 marked a comprehensive shift in viewing development and environment as complements to one another. 

Though the scientific community highlighted the challenge of climate change late with the passage of more than a century since the industrial revolution, the world economies and leaders haven’t yet woken up from their slumber, notwithstanding an entire gamut of conferences and meetings mentioned above. The world has been pumping in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere ignoring the climate cost of growth.

The Kyoto Protocol was considered to be the ‘star’ agreement of the negotiations imposing binding emission reduction target of 5 percent below the 1990 levels over the 5-year period of 2008-12 on three-six industralised countries and the European Union. The Doha amendment of 2012 extended the commitment period to 2020. However, the year 2020 is here and only 137 parties have ratified against the requirement of 144 for the amendment to come into existence. This highlights the lax attitude of the world leaders to the challenge of climate change.

The climate scientists heaved a sigh of relief with the signing of Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, with both the North and the South coming together to contribute towards emissions reduction according to their ability laid out in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). However, the NDCs fall way short of achieving the target of limiting the global temperature rise to below 2 degree Celsius (preferably below 1.5 degree Celsius) above the pre-industrial levels by 2100. With the withdrawal of USA, the second largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world, the resolve of Paris Agreement has come under serious doubt.

The Earth is already 1.1 degree Celsius warmer compared to preindustrial times. As per the data of World Meteorological Organisation, 2019 was the second hottest year after 2016, and every decade since 1980s has become warmer than the previous one. Average temperatures for 2014-19 were the highest on record. According to WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, we are well on our path to a 3-5 degree Celsius rise in temperatures by end of century with the current rate of emissions.

The economic cost of climate change has been hard to grasp for the world at large. According to a Working paper published by National Bureau of Economic Research in 2019, a continued increase in average global temperatures by 0.04 degree Celsius per year under “business as usual” approach can reduce global GDP per capita by as much as 7.22% by 2100. The hardest hit would be the least developed countries of tropics and no country would gain economically from global warming. As per World Bank, an additional 100 million people worldwide are at the risk of being pushed into poverty by 2030 due to climate change. Climate disasters also extract a cost in terms of damage to infrastructure such as road transportation and power generation to the tune of $18 billion annually in low and middle-income countries, with wider disruptions to households and firms costing atleast $390 billion a year. According to a WHO Report on Health in 2018, health complications due to air pollution in 15 countries that emit the most greenhouse gases are estimated to cost more than 4% of their GDP. Air pollution causes 7 million deaths globally annually, costing $5.1 trillion in welfare losses.

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown at us first-of-many challenges of this century, wherein it has become pertinent for us to introspect the question “growth at the cost of what?”. As we continue to expand and encroach into fragile ecological regions of the planet in quest for growth, we are increasingly putting the health of our ecosystem in jeopardy. While Covid-19 has caught the world unawares and severely crippled its health infrastructure with more than 2 lakh deaths and counting, climate change is a hidden enemy lurking behind these ever often pandemics- earlier it was Ebola and now Covid-19. Failure to address climate change will threaten human lives, livelihood, and ecosystem in an unprecedented manner.

As countries plan to restart their economies post the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s time to channelize our resources to ‘building back better’. While rebuilding lives and creating livelihoods, the economic stimulus needs to focus on supporting sustainable business and personal practices. Air pollution levels have fallen across the major industrial cities of the world in the wake of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, there is a need to sustain this in the post-pandemic world. The nature is rebounding when the humans have retreated from the streets. Therefore, there is a need to devise sustainable strategies- be it work-from-home for the majority or giving up plastics or commuting on public transport. Every individual effort counts.

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The Upcoming Recession and its Ramifications on the World Economies

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The recent decision of the new head of Twitter, Elon Musk, to sack approximately 50 percent of the workforce is only indicative of the recession that is glooming over the world. The story of Twitter is just one example among many visible ones. Almost all the major firms around the globe have or are planning to lay off employees, including Microsoft, Meta, Tencent, Xiaomi, Unacademy, etc. 

According to a comprehensive study titled ‘Risk of Global Recession in 2023 Rises Amid Simultaneous Rate Hikes’ by the World Bank, all the nation-states are tilting towards a cascade of economic crises in global financial markets and emerging economies, leading to long-term damages. The report blames central banks around the globe for raising interest rates to tackle inflation caused due to the Coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s aggression on Ukraine in the European arena. The report states that even raising the interest rates to an unprecedented high not seen over the past five decades will be insufficient to pull global inflation down to the pre-pandemic levels. It further instils the need to focus on supply disruptions and subside labour-market pressures. The President of the World Bank Group, David Malpass urged policymakers to focus on boosting production instead of cutting consumption and make policies that generate auxiliary investments, improving productivity and capital allocation, which are crucial for growth.  

Economics 101: Recession

Amidst the pandemic, many states released relief and stimulus packages that heavily leaned on measures to expand liquidity, such as loosening lending restrictions or reducing repo rates (the rate at which commercial banks borrow money from the central bank) as well as reverse repo rates (the rate at which commercial banks lend money to the central bank). China was the first state to act upon these stimulus measures to counteract the disruptions caused by the covid, followed by Japan, the EU, Germany, India and so on. Though the measures helped economies absorb the pandemic’s impact, one major drawback was increased demand due to induced money flow in the market, leading to inflation.

Inflation, defined as the rate of increase in prices of general goods and commodities in a given period of time, can be caused by multiple factors. A shortfall in aggregate supply, one of the most common factors, can lead to excessive demand pressures in the market. To curb inflation, central banks often tweak or change the fiscal and monetary policies of the nation. Increasing the interest rates is one such measure, as it tightens the economy’s banking system and thus contracts the flow of money, reducing already high demands. However, suppose only the rates are increased without substantial reforms in line with resetting the supply chains, increasing production and overall growth to meet the demand; in that case, a country may move towards a recessionary period. Therefore, alongside rising rates, a nation must diversify its suppliers, invest in technology (without increasing the debt burden), and focus on self-reliance while sustaining employment.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) defines recession practically as the fall in a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), i.e. a decline in the value of all the produced goods and services in a country for two consecutive quarters. Simply, a recession is a period of massive economic slowdown. Pointing at a specific moment when a recession occurs is almost impossible and futile. However, a few indicators, like the downfall of GDP and public spending, increased unemployment, and a decline in sales and a country’s output, generally point towards an upcoming recession. To sum up, there are various ways for a recession to start, from sudden shocks to the economy and excessive debt to uncontrolled inflation (or deflation) and non-performing asset bubbles.

The Stumbling Economies

According to IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, “First, Covid, then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and climate disasters on all continents have inflicted immeasurable harm on people’s lives.” One-third of the world economies, including the United States, Europe and China, are expected to contract in the subsequent quarters. 

For US economists and forecasters, the recession is no longer about ‘if’ but ‘when’. The decision of the Fed (US Central Bank) to increase rates to cool inflation without inducing higher unemployment and an economic downturn has only shrunk the possibility of a ‘soft landing,’ which occurs when the tightened monetary policies of the Fed reduce inflation without causing a recession. Nouriel Roubini, one of the few economists who rightly predicted the financial crisis of 2008, also claims a prolonged and inevitable recession in 2022 that will last till 2023. Economists expect a growth rate of 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2023 as opposed to the fourth quarter of the previous year, and in 2024, they expect the economy to grow at 1.8 percent. The rate of unemployment is expected to rise to 3.7 percent in December this year and to 4.3 percent in June 2023, compared to 3.5 percent in September.

Like the US, Europe was also under the impression that the economic situation would improve without a recession. Assumptions of subsiding or transitory inflation due to solid businesses, enough public savings and adequate fiscal adjustments turned out wrong for the European economies. The Euro area (5.1 percent), and the UK (6.8 percent), are among the countries with the most expected output loss. Europe has mainly been affected by the Russian war on Ukraine and the resulting oil and gas disruptions leading to an ‘Energy War’ against the former. Similarly, China doesn’t lie far from them, with an expected output loss of 5.7 percent in 2023. Zero Covid Policy, coupled with the mortgage crisis and exodus in the manufacturing sector, has led to the economic slowdown of the Asian giant.

Impact on the Indian Economy

India reported a growth of 13.5 percent in the April to June quarter and became the world’s fifth-biggest economy, taking the spot of Great Britain. However, this growth results from the nation’s shutdown amid Delta-driven covid lockdowns during previous quarters and not because of the significant improvements in the economic activities. India needs to focus on skill-based human development projects to unleash its economic potential and effectively utilise its demographic dividend. However, India is not immune to the global slowdown. It is expected to face an output loss of 7.8 percent in 2023. 

Indian CEOs are also expecting a decline in the growth of companies, but the economy is expected to bounce back in the short term, according to KPMG 2022 report. Moreover, 86 percent of CEOs in India expect an impact of up to 10 percent on earnings in the next 12 months. Reducing profit margins, boosting productivity, diversifying supply chains, and implementing a hiring freeze (worst case, layoff policies) are a few steps firms can take to weather such challenges.

India, thus, needs to tap the potential of start-ups and small enterprises, as opposed to just established firms, by expanding and enhancing the private sector’s access to capital investments and curbing environment-related risks. Reforms in dispute resolution mechanisms are also long overdue, evident through the Ease of Doing Business report, where India ranked 63rd out of 190 countries worldwide. India needs to prove its worth by showing investors that not only can their money achieve decent returns, but it is safe in Indian soil as well. 

The stand on India’s future remains split. The global rating agency S&P claims that India will not face the true and horrifying brunt of the global recession thanks to its decoupled economy with huge domestic demand, healthy balance sheets and enough foreign exchange reserves. On the contrary, according to the Japanese brokerage firm- Nomura, policymakers are misplaced in their optimism about India’s growth trajectory. Its economists assert India’s estimated growth at 7 percent in FY23, which is at par with the RBI’s revised forecasts, but it also predicts a sharp decline to 5.2 percent in FY24. This estimated growth doesn’t align with India’s commitment to becoming a 5 Trillion USD economy.

Way Forward

UNCLAD’s Trade and Development Report 2022 projects global economic growth will plunge down to 2.5 percent in 2022, followed by a drop to 2.2 percent in 2023, costing the world a loss of more than 17 trillion USD in productivity. It further warns that the developing nations will be most vulnerable to the slowdown resulting in a cascade of health, debt and climate crises. Regarding the proportion of revenue to public debt, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Angola, Gabon, and Laos are the worst-hit countries, evident through the excessive inflation these states face.

Similarly, Indian fuel and food commodities prices have increased, but India’s sturdy performance when other countries are struggling can be attributed to its efficient policies. India does not have a perpetual external debt burden to hamper its growth. In addition, the government has focussed on developing the industrial and service sector to promote jobs and increase savings, especially after the Pandemic, to revitalise the Indian economy. Domestically, the government has provided effective social safety nets to ensure healthy livelihood for the population. 

Despite these factors, India must realize and accept the harsh reality of the upcoming turbulent times. India may have a decoupled economy, but the world is one interlinked system. Global slowdowns will lead to a recession in India as well, whose effects are becoming more and more visible with each passing day. Major tech firms in India like Wipro, Tech Mahindra and Infosys have revoked their offer letters to young freshers, while others have started laying off employees amidst the fear of global recession. Irrespective of whether India becomes the “fastest growing economy” in the end, even a modest growth rate of about 5 percent will push millions into poverty in a country like India. It’s only imperative to realise that a depreciating currency and elevated inflation will hit the poorest the hardest, and India must be prepared to deal with this challenge.

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The Revival of China’s Supply and Marketing Co-op: A Countermove to Asia Pivot 2.0?

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The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) was launched in the wake of President Joe Biden’s Asia trip this May, signaling the commencement of “Pivot to Asia 2.0” on the economic dimension. In the following months, China has accelerated to revive, despite being dubbed as “re-emergence”, its decades-old supply and marketing cooperatives—a Mao-era institution that once served as the engine of Chinese planned economy in the 1950s. The rebooting of the co-op system was actually initiated as early as 2016, but its recent sudden expansion across the country has provoked suspicion that China is reversing its market-reform efforts, and more importantly, it could be used as a pre-mobilization training by China to counter the increasing pressure from America or even to prepare for military operations targeting Taiwan.

China’s Co-op System in the 1950s: An Outgrowth of Geopolitical Threats

The first few years after the 1949 Chinese revolution is often portrayed by Beijing as a period fraught with internal and external threats—internally, a dearth of qualified infrastructure and urban workforce for industrialization; externally, the Korean War and intermittent border conflicts with Cambodia, Vietnam, and India. Consequently, China was forced to prioritize the development of heavy industry with the help of Soviet Union. The result of the rapid industrialization led by state-owned enterprises was the food shortage in cities due to the huge influx of farmers into urban areas. In order to efficiently balance the circulation of food and industrial products between urban and rural areas, the supply and marketing co-op system was born.

A year after the termination of Soviet aids to China in 1957, Beijing transformed its supply and marketing co-op system to a more centralized Commune System in the name of improving the “self-reliance” of poor communities to solve the issues of impoverishment. Later that same year, China triggered the second Taiwan Strait Crisis by initiating an artillery bombardment of Taiwan’s front-line islands, Quemoy and Matsu. Even though there was no direct evidence showing that the nearly decade-long collectivization movement in the 1950s was designed in the first place to target Taiwan, it was still an outgrowth of a grim geopolitical circumstance China believed it was in. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand China’s motivation to revive the Co-op system today.

Co-op 2.0: Decoupling from the U.S. and Targeting Taiwan?

The recent Biden-Xi meeting during the G20 summit may have sent a positive signal to the world that a period of détentebetween the U.S. and China could be expected in the near future, but a real breakthrough in their systematic competition may take a much longer time. With the successful implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this year, China’s economic influence could be further projected in the region, which would largely bolster China’s confidence that building a regional trade bloc to exclude U.S. influence is feasible. China’s plan of becoming economic autarky, as having been framed as “internal circulation” , may be a workable cause so that a self-reliant China would no longer needs external demand to be a major driver of its economic growth.

Following the recent revival of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) and the establishment of AUKUS, the announcement of IPEF by the United States undoubtedly reaffirm China’s conviction that it is again caught between a rock and a hard place the way it was in the early 1950s—external challenges with intensifying geopolitical tensions and internal downward economy compounded by its unwavering “zero Covid” policy. Consequently, the rebooting of the supply and marketing cooperatives was initiated with the hope to pave the way for a grand duel strategy in the future: externally, further decoupling from global economic system dominated by the U.S. and its western democratic allies; internally, tightening the government’s grip on the economy to weather international sanctions that could be imposed by western countries.

It is without doubt that Taiwan Strait is the most probable battlefield should any hot wars initiated by China in the years to come. In spite of speculations that Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine may thwart China’s potential aggression against the self-governing island, Xi Jinping’s Taiwan ambition did not seem to take a hit. Instead, his historic third term as the top leader of China appeared to inject a shot of adrenaline to his “wolf-warrior” warmongering proclivity. Not only did the 20th Party Congress deliver a work report that manifested “the most authoritative” evaluation of China’s Taiwan policy, but Xi’ recent portrayal of China’s geopolitical situation as “unstable and uncertain” was a message sent to the United States and Taiwan that any provocative initiatives from them could be greeted with China’s forceful responses.

However, that type of forceful responses would come at a cost as having been seen in Russia’s case. Having learned from from Russia’ lack of economic preparation for international sanctions, Beijing realizes the importance of planning ahead. Thus, the supply and marketing cooperative system would function as a practical drill for China’s need to transform its socialist market economy to wartime economy for possible military confrontations with the U.S. and Taiwan.

Implications for Counterstrategies of the U.S. and Taiwan

The legislation of America’s new export controls of semiconductor chips may have landed a huge blow to the China’s hope to save its economy via high-tech industry, but it is not likely that the U.S. would directly respond to the intentions behind China’s Co-op 2.0 other than continuing to proceed the advancement of IPEF. Apropos to certain bilateral trade issues, the Biden administration may even favor a temporary ceasefire with Beijing, not only for the urgency to tackle the ongoing inflation, but also for the 2024 presidential election.

On the other hand, Taiwan can actually make the most of America’s “Pivot to Asia 2.0” to win itself more bargaining chips. First, despite being denied membership, Taiwan can still take advantage of the support from its allies inside of American congress to seek active participation in IPEF under the name of the “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu”, the same title it uses as a member of the WTO. Second, it should put more efforts to promote the “Chip 4 Alliance” which is comprised of the United States, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, and strengthen technological ties with more European democracies. Last, it can seek more strategic dialogues with the new Republican-dominated congress. Compared to his predecessor, the would-be House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, holds a tougher stance toward China and has already set to form a special committee to contain Beijing. Taiwan’s active interactions with the new American congress would be helpful to increase its strategic value to both U.S. China policy and U.S. partisan politics in the following two years.

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Who can live in England with less than £3 a week?

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A homeless woman begs for money in the centre of London, United Kingdom. Unsplash/Tom Parsons

A study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 7 million families in England have gone without things like heating, toiletries or showers this year. Gheorghe, for her part, sometimes eats just one meal a day. And this Elena Gheorghe had never eaten at a food bank until this year. But like millions of people in the UK, she has watched her daily expenses eat up more and more of her income, and she ran out of corners to cut. That’s a story from Bloomberg.

As they’ve watched double-digit inflation degrade their paychecks, millions of  people in the UK have for the first time found themselves in a similar position. Over the last nine months, the share of UK households with little or no discretionary income has doubled from 20% to 40%, according to Asda Income Tracker data.

Many have gone into debt paying for things other than food and housing. Others are cutting back on essentials. “It’s hard to feel anything but despair,” said Abigail Davis, a social policy researcher at Loughborough University who has studied poverty and inequality for 22 years.

This is but a slice of the cost-of-living crisis that the UK’s new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, will have to contend with as he takes office.

Britons across income levels face a foreboding combination of energy, mortgage, and pension crises. More than half of UK adults were finding keeping up with their bills a heavy burden this spring, according to the Financial Conduct Authority. Mortgage payments are already rising and the number of people either behind or struggling to pay rent has spiked by 45% since April, according to housing charity Shelter.

But the economic pain hasn’t hit all equally. Poorer people have disproportionately seen their spending power evaporate. That’s partly because those groups tend to lay out a bigger share of their income for essentials, such as food, whose prices have sky-rocketed.

The current political turmoil has only created more uncertainty over if and how the government will address skyrocketing prices.

Half of independent food banks in the UK say they either won’t be able to help everyone who reaches out to them, or they’ll have to cut the amount of food they’re giving out this winter, according to a survey by the Independent Food Aid Network.

…Britain lived ‘well and richly’ as long as the Crown plundered in India, Africa while  stolen funds came to London from everywhere. Nowadays the country gradually sinks into its normal state – an island without resources and wealth. They once  said –  an island of Royal Pirates. Salute to captain Morgan and captain Drake!

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