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The importance of digital resilience in times of crisis

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EU Commission released the results of the 2020 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which monitors Europe’s overall digital performance and tracks the progress of EU countries with respect to their digital competitiveness. This year’s DESI shows that there is progress in all Member States and all key areas measured in the index. This becomes all the more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which has demonstrated how essential digital technologies have become, by allowing work to continue, monitoring the spread of the virus, or accelerating the search for cures and vaccines. Furthermore, the DESI indicators relevant for the recovery show that EU Member States should step up their efforts to improve the coverage of Very High Capacity Networks, assign 5G spectrum to enable the commercial launch of 5G services, improve citizens’ digital skills and further digitise businesses and the public sector.

Executive Vice-President, Margrethe Vestager, said: “The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated how crucial it is for citizens and businesses to be connected and to be able to interact with each other online. We will continue to work with Member States to identify areas where more investment is needed so that all Europeans can benefit from digital services and innovations.

Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, added: “The data we publish today shows that industry is using digital solutions now more than ever. We need to ensure this is also the case for small and medium businesses and that the most advanced digital technologies are deployed throughout the economy.

In the context of the recovery plan for Europe, adopted on 27 May 2020, DESI will inform country-specific analysis to support the digital recommendations of the European Semester. This will assist Member States to target and prioritise their reform and investment needs, thereby facilitating access to the Recovery and Resilience Facility worth €560 billion. The Facility will provide Member States with the funds to make their economies more resilient and ensure that investments and reforms will support the green and digital transitions.

Main findings of the 2020 DESI

Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands are the leaders in overall digital performance in the EU. Malta, Ireland and Estonia are following right after. The International Digital Economy and Society Index (I-DESI) shows that the best performing EU countries are also worldwide leaders. The largest EU economies are not digital frontrunners, which indicates that the speed of digital transformation must accelerate for the EU to successfully deliver on the twin digital and green transformations. Over the last 5 years, Ireland has made the most significant progress, followed by the Netherlands, Malta and Spain. These countries also perform well above the EU average as measured by the DESI score.

As the pandemic has had a significant impact on each of the five dimensions tracked by DESI, the 2020 findings should be read in conjunction with the numerous measures taken by the Commission and Member States to manage the crisis and support the recovery. Member States took action to minimise contagion and to support healthcare systems, such as by introducing applications and platforms to facilitate telemedicine and coordinate healthcare resources. The Commission also took action, such as issuing a Recommendation on a common Union toolbox for the use of technology and data to combat and enable the exit from the crisis, in particular on mobile applications and the use of anonymised data in tracing apps. The Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC), upon request of the Commission, started to monitor internet traffic to avoid congestion.

Main findings in 5 digital areas

The Digital Economy and Society Index tracks the progress made in Member States in 5 principal policy areas, namely connectivity, digital skills, internet usage by individuals, integration of digital technologies by businesses and digital public services.

Connectivity has improved but more needs to be done to address fast-growing needs. Member States are working on the transposition of new EU rules adopted in 2018 into national legislation, with a view to fostering investment in Very High Capacity Networks, both fixed and mobile. 78% of households had a fixed broadband subscription in 2019, up from 70% 5 years ago, and 4G networks cover almost the entire European population. But only 17 Member States have already assigned spectrum in the 5G pioneer bands, (5 countries more than last year). Finland, Germany, Hungary and Italy are the most advanced on 5G readiness. Fixed Very High Capacity broadband networks are available to 44% of EU homes.

More progress in digital skills is needed, especially since the coronavirus crisis has shown that adequate digital skills are crucial for citizens to be able to access information and services. A large part of the EU population, 42%, still lacks at least basic digital skills. In 2018, some 9.1 million people worked as ICT specialists across the EU, 1.6 million more than 4 years ago. 64% of large enterprises and 56% of SMEs that recruited ICT specialists during 2018 reported that vacancies for ICT specialists were hard to fill.

Although the pandemic has seen a sharp increase in internet use, the trend was already present before the crisis, with 85% of people using the internetat least once a week(up from 75% in 2014). The use of video calls has grown the most, from 49% of internet users in 2018 to 60% in 2019. Internet banking and shopping are also more popular than in the past, being used by 66% and 71% of internet users respectively.

Enterprises are becoming more and more digitised, with large companies taking the lead. 38.5% of large companies already rely on advanced cloud services and 32.7% reported that they use big data analytics. However, the vast majority of SMEs do not yet use these digital technologies, as only 17% of them use cloud services and only 12% big data analytics. As for e-commerce, only 17.5% of SMEs sold products or services online in 2019, following a very slight increase of 1.4 percentage points compared to 2016. In contrast, 39% of large enterprises made use of online sales in 2019.

In order to boost e-commerce, the EU has agreed on a series of measures ranging from ending unjustified cross-border barriers and facilitating cheaper cross-border parcel deliveries to ensuring protection of online customer rights and promoting cross-border access to online content. Since December 2018, consumers and companies are entitled to find the best online deals throughout the EU without experiencing discrimination based on their nationality or place of residence.

Finally, there is an increasing trend towards the use of digital public services in the areas of eGovernment and eHealth, which allows for more efficiency and savings for governments and businesses, improved transparency, and the greater participation of citizens in political life. 67% of internet users who submitted forms to their public administration in 2019 now use online channels, up from 57% in 2014, showing the convenience of using ICT-enabled services over paper-based ones. The top performers in this area are Estonia, Spain, Denmark, Finland and Latvia.

Background

The annual Digital Economy and Society Index measures the progress of EU Member States in their steps towards a digital economy and society, on the basis of Eurostat data as well as specialised studies and collection methods. The DESI 2020 reports are based on 2019 data. To improve the methodology of the index and take account of the latest technological developments, a number of changes were made to the 2020 edition, which now includes fixed very high capacity network (VHCN) coverage. The DESI was re-calculated for all countries for previous years to reflect the changes in the choice of indicators and corrections made to the underlying data. Country scores and rankings may thus have changed compared with previous publications. As the figures refer to 2019, the United Kingdom is included in the 2020 DESI and in calculated EU averages.

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Are we on track to meet the SDG9 industry-related targets by 2030?

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A new report published by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Statistical Indicators of Inclusive and Sustainable Industrialization, looks at the progress made towards achieving the industry-related targets of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 9 of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The report is primarily based on the SDG9 indicators related to inclusive and sustainable industrialization, for which UNIDO is designated as a custodian agency, showing the patterns of the recent changes in different country groups.

Six years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 SDGs, there has been increasing demand for information on whether the SDG targets could be reached, and what actions should governments take to accelerate progress. The UNIDO report introduces two new tools developed by UNIDO to help countries measuring performance and progress towards SDG9 industry-related targets: the SDG9 Industry Index and SDG9 progress and outlook indicators. The SDG9 Industry Index benchmarks countries’ performance on SDG-9 targets over 2000-2018 for 131 economies. In addition, the report develops two measures to answer the main questions:

  • Progress: how much progress has been made since 2000?
  • Outlook: how likely is it that the target will be achieved by 2030?

The global COVID-19 pandemic has inevitably had a negative toll on the progress towards reaching the SDG9 indicators, but the extent of the long-term impact remains to be seen. Industrialized countries continue to dominate global manufacturing industry, but their relative share has gradually declined over the past decade. In 2010, industrialized economies made up 60.3% of global production, which has decreased to 50.5% in 2020. China has been the largest manufacturer, now accounting for 31.7% of global production. This is a trend that has been reinforced by the pandemic.

Progress for the least developed countries (LDCs), at the heart of the 2030 Agenda, is a different story. While economic theory and countries’ experiences across the world have established that industrialization is an engine of sustainable growth, progress among LDCs remains very diverse. Asian LDCs are poised to double their share of manufacturing in GDP and thus meet SDG target 9.2, but African LDCs have stagnated.

SDG9 Industry Index

The SDG-9 Industry Index, consisting of five dimensions, covers three targets and five indicators and assigns a final score to countries. In 2018, the top ten consisted of exclusively industrialized economies, with Taiwan, Province of China, Ireland, Switzerland, the Republic of Korea and Germany making up the top five. In general, industrialized economies perform best in all dimensions of the Index.

The countries at the bottom of the ranking are LDCs, in particular those located in sub-Saharan Africa. Although some African countries have been displaying impressive growth rates, growth has been driven by an extended commodity boom and foreign capital inflows, while industrialization and structural transformation have stagnated. Additionally, substantial data is lacking for a significant amount of the countries. In the SDG9 Industry Index, only 24 out of 54 African countries are included, from which only eight are LDCs. It is clear that national statistics offices need strengthening, as data availability helps countries formulate, review and evaluate their development plans and programmes.

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ASEAN Survey Calls for Joint Action for an Inclusive and Sustainable Digital Economy

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The World Economic Forum launches today the ASEAN Digital Generation Report 2021, a special edition of its annual ASEAN youth survey report series, which examines the impact of the pandemic on personal income, savings and the role of digitalization in the region’s economic recovery. The report’s survey, conducted with close to 90,000 participants from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam, also flags the gaps needed to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy, namely: access to technology, digital skills training for all generations, and measures to enhance online trust and security.

The survey’s findings confirm e-commerce’s role as the key driver of growth in the ASEAN region. Wholesale and retail trade sector had the highest proportion of people starting new businesses (50%), while the logistics sector had the highest share of people finding new jobs (36%).

Notably, respondents from these two sectors are among those who also reported a decline in income. This could be because when people experienced a fall in income, they started new businesses in the wholesale and retail trade sector to leverage e-commerce opportunities.

A majority of respondents have adapted to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic through significant digital adoption. Across ASEAN, 64% of respondents have digitalized 50% or more of their tasks, as have 84% of respondents who are owners of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Respondents who reported greater levels of digitalization of their work and business reported lower levels of income decline. Similarly, business owners with an online presence were more likely to report an increase in savings (24%) and income (28%) compared to those without one (18%).

However, the benefits of digitalization are unevenly spread across the region. Those who are less “digitalized” found further digital adoption less appealing. As in 2020, respondents continued to point to expensive or poor internet quality or digital devices as the top barriers to digital adoption. While less digitalized respondents pointed to lack of digital skills as a key additional obstacle, more digitalized respondents pointed to trust and security concerns instead.

The identified obstacles were consistent across all six countries surveyed. As such, multistakeholder and regional joint actions are needed to unlock the full potential of ASEAN nations in the digital age and narrow these gaps.

“Through this annual survey, we wanted to understand the views, priorities and concerns of the digital users in ASEAN and gain statistical insights that will help inform and shape relevant regional policy,” said Joo-Ok Lee, Head of the Regional Agenda, Asia-Pacific, World Economic Forum. “The survey showed improving the quality and affordability of ASEAN digital infrastructure, equipping the ASEAN workforce with appropriate skills and enhancing people’s trust in the digital environment are crucial to bring ASEAN over the tipping point for inclusive and sustainable digital transformation.”

“One of the key findings was that digitalization has a ‘flywheel’ effect wherein users who had first experienced the benefits of technology were more eager to deepen their levels of digitalization,” added Santitarn Sathirathai, Group Chief Economist at Sea, a Singapore-based global consumer internet company.“It is critical for the public and private sector to work even more closely to lower any friction and barriers, which may prevent the positive digitalization momentum from taking place. Through this, digitalization can enable post- pandemic recovery in an inclusive and sustainable way.”

Between July and August 2021, the survey polled participants from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. Some 77% of respondents are youths aged between 16 and 35, 56% female and 10% business owners.

This year’s edition continues tomonitor the impact of the pandemic on respondents, explores how the ongoing digitalization has benefited their life and society in the real economy, what stands in their way of further digitalization and maximization of such benefits, and how to tackle the identified obstacles.

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Trade can play a pivotal role in addressing climate change

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Economies in the Asia-Pacific region need to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including to maintain their trade competitiveness as carbon taxes at borders threaten to rise, according to a new United Nations report.  

Around 16 million new jobs could be created in clean energy, energy efficiency, engineering, manufacturing and construction industries in the Asia-Pacific region, more than compensating for the estimated loss of five million jobs by downscaling industries. 

The Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report 2021 was jointly launched on Monday by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). 

Climate-smart policies have a significant cost, particularly for carbon-intensive sectors and economies, but the cost of inaction is far greater. Some estimates are as high as $792 trillion by 2100, if the Paris Agreement targets are not met. 

Risks and competitiveness 

Launching the report, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of ESCAP, remembered that key trade partners are considering border taxes on carbon. 

Ms. Alisjahbana said this causes “strong concerns on the effects on the developing countries since many economies in the region are at risk of being pushed out of key markets”. 

For her, the roll-out of COVID-19 recovery packages could provide opportunities to invest in low-carbon technologies and sectors.  

Room for improvement 

The Asia-Pacific region is currently the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but the new report reveals significant room to make these economies greener. 

For example, there are still more barriers to trade in environmental goods than in carbon-intensive fossil fuels and fuel subsidies continue to exist.  

According to the report, the “timely abolishment” of these two policies, and replacement with more targeted measures, could provide much-needed finance and reduce emissions. 

Other proposals are trade liberalization in climate smart and other environmental goods, transition to climate friendly transportation, incorporation of climate issues in trade agreements, carbon pricing and carbon border adjustment taxes. 

For the Bangladesh Commerce Minister, Tipu Munshi, Honourable, these measures “are very much befitting given the crises” the world is facing. 

Positive and negative effects 

In a joint message, New Zealand’s Minister for Trade and Export Growth, Hon Damien O’Connor, and the Minister of Climate Change, Hon James Shaw, said that “one of the most substantial roadblocks in the way of cutting emissions is fusil fuel subsides”. 

UNCTAD chief Rebeca Grynspan, highlighted “the links between trade, investment and climate change are complex”.  

She explained that “the key is to ensure that the positive effects of trade and investment are maximized, such as by promoting trade and investment in renewable energy and low-carbon technologies, while minimizing the adverse effects, like by digitalizing trade and transport systems”.  

According to the report, regional trade agreements can also help, and this change has started to happen. The report points to a general trend towards more environmental provisions in these agreements. 

The Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report 2021is the first to examine the impact of upcoming border carbon adjustment in the region.  

It is also the first time an index evaluates climate-smart trade and investment policies. 

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