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Amid fears of worst recession in decades, urgent calls for solidarity, a united economic front

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With multilateral cooperation under strain, senior UN officials, Nobel laureates and eminent academic experts, gathered virtually on Wednesday for the launch of a new report recommending “an adjusted approach” to economic development, and a policy dialogue exploring how countries can recover from COVID-19, in ways that lead to real structural transformation.

‘Parallel threats’

“Parallel threats linked to health, economic and social crises have crippled countries and left us at a standstill”, said Liu Zhenmin, Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), as he presented a new report by the High-level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs.

Titled Recover Better: Economic and Social Challenges and Opportunities, it analyses economic trends critical to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and recovery from COVID-19.

Among its recommendations is a greater focus on the environment, he said, as well as promotion of research and development, investment in infrastructure and education, and improvement in economic equality.

“Overcoming the crisis and getting back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals will require a strengthened multilateralism”, he said. COVID-19 has laid bare how much leadership, foresight and collaboration among all Governments and stakeholders, matter.

First global poverty rise since 1998

In a video message, UN deputy chief Amina Mohammed, said as many as 100 million people are expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020 – the first rise in global poverty since 1998.

“We need all hands on deck if we are to rebuild our economies sustainably and inclusively”, she assured. Noting that the report calls for better international tax cooperation and more equitable access to digital technologies, she said the sustainable management of natural resources, and value-added approaches to trading goods, will also be critical.

The 2030 Agenda remains the agreed framework for recovering in ways that accelerate progress on climate change, poverty and gender inequality, and address the fragilities exposed or exacerbated by the pandemic. “We must all do more,” she said.

Equality, structural reform

During two policy dialogues, 12 experts wrestled with whether the world is currently in a recession and if so, what it will take to recover in ways that can thoroughly reform underlying vulnerabilities.

“There is no trade-off between economic efficiency and equality”, said Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), who contributed a chapter on the topic.

45 million at risk

During a panel on the theme, “Ensuring a sustainable recovery through more inclusive and strengthened multilateralism”, she underscored the urgent need for structural change. Between 2000 and 2010, 60 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean moved out of poverty. Now, 45 million risk being pulled back in.

“The market is not going to equalize society. We need a new social and political compact altogether”, she said, pointing out that Costa Rica, Uruguay and Cuba – societies that have high trust in government – have fared better during the pandemic than others.

She also called for a progressive tax system, as countries in the region have a 23 per cent tax burden, lower than those in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as more regional integration. “The post-pandemic world is going to be a world of regions, a world of blocs.”

Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile, suggested the creation of an internationally binding agreement on pandemics, forged under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Europe’s social contract

Along similar lines, Marcel Fratzscher of research institute DIW Berlin, said that on 21 July, European countries agreed to establish a €750 billion ($850 billion) recovery fund, transferring resources from stronger to weaker countries with the goal of rebuilding Europe.

“There is an institutional framework being put into place that could ultimately lead to fiscal union help strengthen capital market union”, he said.

Trade Woes

Others drew attention to the significant drop in global trade, which Merit Janow, Dean of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, said was occurring in the context of growing nationalism, geopolitical tensions and strain around multilateral institutions – all of which underscores the vulnerability of global supply chains.

The first priority should be to keep the global trading system open, she said. Practical, problem-solving approaches will be needed, which countries might undertake regionally or through “coalitions of the willing”. She pointed out that when the World Trade Organization appellate body disbanded, a cluster of countries agreed on arbitration for some purposes.

Africa needs 4 million teachers

In a second discussion on “Assessing the state of the global economy and recovery pathways”, Cristina Duarte, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Africa, who is the former Minister of Finance, Planning and Public Administration of Cabo Verde, said that for Africa, recovering better requires a look at why, after 25 years of uninterrupted growth, systems are still lacking.

She said Africa must mobilize itself – beyond emergency solutions – to understand the nature and quality of economic growth. The continent was not socially inclusive before the pandemic hit, lacking jobs for 60 per cent of its young people.

She said Africa needs 4 million more teachers and a further 1 to 2 million health professionals – and importantly – to break away from ideas that equate poverty management with development management. Income redistribution, rather than economic growth, must be at the centre of all recovery strategies.

Heizo Takenaka of Toyo University, said Japan’s experience with COVID-19 revealed the need to carefully consider the governance systems in place during an emergency. “We should be very careful about the possibility of asset inflation from here on, considering that monetary authorities are applying a huge amount of money in many countries.”

Historical lens

Broadly speaking, Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz said that at a moment when more global cooperation is badly needed, strong forces are fraying the global economy.

While the “Trump-kind of protectionism” will go by the wayside, he argued, the deeper problem is that supply chains have not been resilient and instead made countries more vulnerable.

He described the disappearance of optimism prevailing after the US-Soviet Cold War era, that countries were converging around liberal democratic models and free-market economies.

Under the turmoil of COVID-19, authoritarianism is now flourishing in some parts of the world, which has led to a split among nations.

“Post-COVID-19, the world is going to have a very different architecture, no matter who is in the White House, no matter what is going on around the world”, he explained.

Worse than the Great Depression?

He said the global economic downturn will be the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s – and in many dimensions, worse than that seismic failure of the global system. “We should use the massive amount of Government intervention in countries…to create a new world that is more in accordance with our views of what our societies should be”.

Countries that have done well, he said, have high trust in Government, high social solidarity, an understanding of the externalities associated with disease spread, and trust in science.

“Forty years of denigrating the role of the State means that in some countries, the State was not able perform a role that was essential,” he added.

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MDBs’ Annual Climate Finance Passes $61 Billion

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Climate financing by seven of the world’s largest multilateral development banks (MDBs) totaled $61.6 billion in 2019, with $41.5 billion (67%) in low- and middle-income economies, according to the 2019 Joint Report on Multilateral Development Banks’ Climate Finance.

In addition to its traditional focus on low- and middle-income countries, the 2019 report expands the scope of reporting for the first time to all countries of operations.

Some $46.6 billion, or 76% of total financing for the year, was devoted to climate change mitigation investments that aim to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and slow down global warming.

The remaining $15 billion, or 24%, was invested in adaptation efforts to help countries build resilience to the mounting impacts of climate change, including worsening droughts and more extreme weather events from extreme flooding to rising sea levels.

The report combines data from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the African Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank Group, the World Bank Group and—for the first time—the Islamic Development Bank, which joined the working group in October 2017. In 2019, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank also joined MDB working groups, and its data is presented separately in the report.

Additional climate funds channeled through MDBs—such as from the Climate Investment Funds, the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund, the Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund, the European Union’s Funds for Climate Action, and the Green Climate Fund—also play an important role in boosting MDB climate financing. In 2019, the MDBs reported a further $102.7 billion in net climate cofinancing from public and private sources. This raised the total climate activity financed by MDBs in 2019 to $164.3 billion.

“The growing flow of MDB climate finance shows our joint resolve to take on climate change and, in the face of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, it is more important than ever to ‘build back better’ in a low carbon and climate resilient way,” said the Director General of ADB’s Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department Woochong Um. “The report shows that climate finance provided by and through the MDBs is providing increasing support for these needed transitions.”

In 2019, ADB committed almost $7.1 billion in climate finance (more than $5.5 billion for mitigation and $1.5 billion for adaptation). This included $705 million from external resources, including multilateral climate funds. Further, ADB mobilized $8.8 billion of climate cofinancing.

The report shows that the MDBs are on track to deliver on their increased climate finance commitments. In 2019, the MDBs committed their global annual climate financing to reach $65 billion by 2025—with $50 billion for low- and middle-income countries—and that MDB adaptation finance would double to $18 billion by 2025. The MDBs have reported on climate finance since 2011, based on a jointly developed methodology for climate finance tracking.

The 2019 Joint Report on Multilateral Development Banks’ Climate Finance is published in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused significant social and economic disruption, temporarily reducing global carbon emissions to 2006 levels.

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Public Transport Can Bounce Back from COVID-19 with New and Green Technology

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Public transport must adapt to a “new normal” in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and adopt technologies that will render it more green and resilient to future disasters, according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The report, Guidance Note on COVID-19 and Transport in Asia and the Pacific, details the profound impact of the pandemic on transport, as swift lockdowns forced millions this year to work from home overnight, schools to shift to e-learning, and consumers to flock to online shopping and food delivery.

While public transit may have been previously perceived as a mostly green, efficient, and affordable mode of travel, initial trends in cities that have re-opened have indicated that public transit is still considered to be relatively unsafe and is not bouncing back as quickly as the use of private vehicles, cycling, and walking.

“The two key challenges ahead are addressing capacity on public transport to maintain safe distancing requirements, and how best to regain public confidence to return to public transport,” said Bambang Susantono, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development. “In the short term, more effort is needed to reassure public transport users of safety and demonstrate clean and safe public transport. In the longer term, technological advances, big data, artificial intelligence, digitalization, automation, renewables and electric power can potentially offer fresh innovations to tackle changing needs, giving rise to smarter cities.”

While drastic lockdown measures around the world have brought world economies to their knees, satellites have recorded data on how the concentrations of CO2 and air pollutants have fallen drastically, bringing clear blue skies to many cities.

But as cities have reopened, traffic levels have increased. For example, Beijing traffic levels, by early April 2020, exceeded the same period in 2019. If this trend is seen on a wide scale, it could set back decades of effort in promoting sustainable development and more efficient means of urban mobility.

The report says there is a short window of opportunity for cities to promote the adoption of low-carbon alternatives to lock-in the improved air quality conditions gained during the peak of the pandemic lockdown. Public transport can play an important role through more active promotion of clean vehicles, provision of quality travel alternatives in public transport, and a better environment for non-motorized modes such as walking and cycling to enhance overall health and wellbeing.

The confidence of passengers on public transport should be restored through protective measures such as cleaning, thermal scanning, tracking and face covering, the report says. Further study to explore how protective and preventive measures can be stepped up to allow relaxation of safe distancing requirements would help mitigate capacity challenges. A possible future trend may be consolidation of services and rationalization of routes to better serve the emerging travel demand patterns and practices.

As countries enter the “recovery” phase, further preventive and precautionary operating measures and advanced technology should be implemented to enable contactless processes and facilitate an agile response. Demand management measures can facilitate crowd control in public transport systems and airports. As a complementary measure, non-motorized transport capacity could be expanded to absorb spillover demand from public transport.

Since mass public transport is the lifeblood of most economies, government policies and financial support are essential during this period, to enable public transport operators to stay viable and continue to support the movement of passengers and goods in a sustainable way.

For ADB, which committed last year $7 billion to the transport sector, behavioral trends linked to COVID-19 may require a review of the short-term viability of passenger transport and operational performance to meet changing demand for public transit systems. “Regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic it is clear that developing Asia will continue to have a large need for additional transport infrastructure and services,” the report concludes. “It would take several years before the projects currently in the pipeline would be operational and much can happen during these years.”

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Zero emission economy will lead to 15 million new jobs by 2030 in Latin America and Caribbean

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In a new groundbreaking study , the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) show that the transition to a net-zero emission economy could create 15 million net new jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2030. To support a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic , the region urgently needs to create decent jobs and build a more sustainable and inclusive future.

The report finds that the transition to a net-zero carbon economy would end 7.5 million jobs in fossil fuel electricity, fossil fuel extraction, and animal-based food production. However, these lost jobs are more than compensated for new employment opportunities: 22.5 million jobs are created in agriculture and plant-based food production, renewable electricity, forestry, construction, and manufacturing.

The report is also the first of its kind to highlight how shifting to healthier and more sustainable diets, which reduce meat and dairy consumption while increasing plant-based foods, would create jobs and reduce pressure on the region’s unique biodiversity. With this shift, LAC’s agri-food sector could expand the creation of 19 million full-time equivalent jobs despite 4.3 million fewer jobs in livestock, poultry, dairy and fishing.

Moreover, the report offers a blueprint on how countries can create decent jobs and transition to net-zero emissions. This includes policies facilitating the reallocation of workers, advance decent work in rural areas, offer new business models, enhance social protection and support to displaced, enterprises, communities and workers.

Social dialogue between the private sector, trade unions, and governments is essential to design long-term strategies to achieve net-zero emissions, which creates jobs, helps to reduce inequality and delivers on the Sustainable Development Goals .

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