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Digital economy can put citizens in control of finance

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Congolese refugee, Henriette Kiwele Kiyambi, develops Natural Beauty app at the App Factory in Dzeleka refugee camp in Malawi, part of the Connectivity for Refugee project, a UNHCR and Microsoft sponsored program. UNHCR/Tina Ghelli

A UN taskforce set up to look into the risks and benefits of the digital economy, has concluded that it could have a transformational impact on sustainable development, and empower citizens, both as taxpayers and investors.

The report, “People’s Money: Harnessing Digitalization to Finance a Sustainable Future”, was released by the UN Secretary-General’s Task Force on Digital Finance on Wednesday. 

The Task Force, led by UN development chief Achim Steiner, and made up of senior figures from the tech sector, financial institutions, governments, and UN bodies, was set up by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in 2018, to improve understanding of the benefits and risks of the fast-moving financial technology (fintech) and digital finance sectors.

The initiative is part of the UN chief’s strategy to support financing for the 2030 Agenda, the UN’s blueprint for a better future, for people and the planet. The financing needs for the Agenda, Mr. Guterres said in 2018, are in the order of between $5 and $7 trillion per year. The shift to digital, conclude the authors of the People’s Money report, could provide the means to meet those projected costs.

“Digital technologies, which are revolutionizing financial markets, can be a game-changer in meeting our shared objectives”, said Mr. Guterres in response to the launch of the report. “The Task Force on Digital Financing of the Sustainable Development Goals provides leadership to harness the digital revolution.”

The COVID-19 acceleration effect

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the popularity of digital tools has grown rapidly, and demonstrates the potential of digital finance to provide relief for millions around the world, support businesses and protect jobs and livelihoods. 

Speaking to UN News, Mr. Steiner outlined the acceleration effect of the pandemic. “Things that we anticipated would happen over the next few years, have happened in weeks. The pandemic has allowed governments to see the importance of overcoming traditional limitations, and identifying and reaching the most vulnerable.”

Examples include digital cash transfers, which have helped millions of people in Pakistan, the connection of schools to broadband, and governments and parliaments connecting remotely in ways that are now common practice, he added.

The widespread adoption of smartphones, continued Mr. Steiner, puts powerful digital tools in the hands of more than a billion people, allowing them to work, socialize, and manage their finances. He emphasized the importance of remodelling the financial system, to underscore the fact that the trillions of dollars’ worth of investment flowing around the world, ultimately come from ordinary people.

“Citizens are the owners of this wealth, which is made up of pensions, and savings. The Task Force was keen to bring back the notion that the citizen is at the centre of the economy. Citizens need greater transparency, and to have a say over where their pension contributions go. And, as well as returns for investors, we also need to see public purpose benefits. Digital finance is a significant opportunity for citizens to re-engage, because this is a way to address major challenges, such as climate change.”

Digitalization is a choice

The report identifies five ways for harnessing digitalization, which cover much of global finance. Firstly, the huge amounts of money flowing around the world needs to be invested in a way that supports the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. Public finances need to be more effective and accountable. Savings need to be invested for long-term development projects, using digital tools. And there needs to be more financing for small and medium-sized businesses, which are crucial for generating employment and income.

A key message of the report is that digitalization, and the way that it is used, is a choice, not an inevitability. There are considerable digital risks, such as increased exclusion, discrimination and inequalities. The five action areas point the way for governments to use digitalization for good.

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Finance

Boosting Equitable Development as Kenya Strives to Become an Upper Middle-Income Country

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The World Bank Group (WBG) Board of Executive Directors today voiced its support for the WBG’s latest six-year strategy to support Kenya in its ongoing efforts towards green, resilient, and inclusive development.

The Kenya Country Partnership Framework (CPF) is a joint strategy between the World Bank, the International Finance Cooperation (IFC), and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and the government to promote shared prosperity and reduce poverty for the people of Kenya. Informed by extensive stakeholder consultations, the CPF seeks to drive faster and more equitable labor productivity and income growth, greater equity in development outcomes across the country, and help sustain Kenya’s natural capital for greater climate resilience.

The people of Kenya are in a position to reap even greater dividends from the country’s robust economic growth in terms of more durable poverty reduction,” said Keith Hansen, World Bank Country Director for Kenya. “Tackling the drivers of inequality now will help to ensure that Kenya can achieve and maintain more equitable development in the long run.”

Over the past decade, Kenya’s economy has outperformed its Low- and Middle-Income Country (LMIC) peers with the growing number of better-educated and healthier Kenyans in the labor force contributing more than any other factor to rising gross domestic product (GDP). More recently, however, the pace of poverty reduction, and then the COVID-19 pandemic, revealed how vulnerable many households are when faced with shocks. Though Kenya’s economy is rebounding from the pandemic and projected to grow by an average 5.4% during 2022-24, the ongoing drought and global inflation are causing poverty to rise. The CPF finds that Kenya is still well positioned to secure more inclusive growth and the WBG is ready to provide support that targets lagging areas and communities with better services and infrastructure that build household and community resilience. In doing so, it aims to help Kenya avoid the inequality and productivity traps experienced by other Middle-Income Countries (MICs).

“Kenya’s private sector is poised to drive faster job creation and to seize new opportunities from global and regional integration,” noted Jumoke Jagun-Dokunmu, IFC Regional Director for Kenya.This will require a more level playing field for competition and innovation for large and small firms and between public and private enterprises.”

The CPF also aims to help raise the productivity of small firms, small producers, and women entrepreneurs, improve the investment climate across the country, and stimulate more private participation in public service delivery. To support Kenya’s response to climate change, the CPF has programmed investments to reduce water insecurity, and to mobilize more climate finance for both public and private investments.  

MIGA aims to unlock more private sector investment in climate responsive projects in Kenya through innovative financial solutions,” said Merli Baroudi, MIGA Director for Economics and Sustainability. “Kenya’s impressive progress in mobilizing private capital for renewable energy augurs well for other sectors.

The CPF draws on Kenya’s Vision 2030, the new government’s development agenda, a Systematic Country Diagnostic, a Country Private Sector Diagnostic, a Completion and Learning Review of the previous Country Partnership Strategy, and over 34 stakeholder consultations, including with Kenya’s diaspora. The World Bank Group is Kenya’s largest development financier. IFC’s portfolio of private sector investments in Kenya is its fourth largest and fastest growing in Sub-Saharan Africa and MIGA’s financial operations in Kenya are its third largest program in Africa.

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From mussels to meadows, the sea offers big lessons for all life

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Ocean Image Bank/Erik Lukas

By ALI JONES

In the Tuscan Archipelago, the seagrass meadows capture carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests. The underwater flowering plants have the potential to be an essential tool in the fight against climate change but are vulnerable to disturbance from human activities such as tourism and fishing. 

Coordinated from Cork, Ireland, the four-year Marine SABRES project is bringing people together to work on the conservation and restoration of the ancient beds of Tuscan seagrass as one of its focus areas.

Arctic and archipelagos

The effects of climate change are being felt in oceans all over the world. With 22 institutions from 11 Member States, the EU-funded project will strengthen marine biodiversity in the Tuscan Archipelago, the Arctic and Macaronesia (a group of four volcanic archipelagos in the North Atlantic Ocean).

For the seagrass growing in the Tuscan Archipelago, that means looking at the impact of tourism on its conservation. Numerous groups – from port authorities to tour operators – are involved in tourism. The project’s first job is to identify these key players, then to discuss feasible options with them and inspire local residents to get involved. 

‘We want to try to enable managers working in these areas to make sustainable decisions,’ said Dr Emma Verling, who is coordinating Marine SABRES at University College Cork. ‘And to empower citizens to engage more with marine biodiversity conservation.’

Life connections

One of the project’s main goals is to make it clear how economic, social and ecological systems are all interlinked.

‘We have to try to help people better understand that we really are being sustained by marine ecosystems,’ said Verling. ‘The Ocean is not just a beautiful thing – there is a real connection between it, our health and our livelihoods.’

Each of the three locations will assemble a group unique to its own activities and help stakeholders tackle social, economic and environmental factors they face in decisions that impact on biodiversity.

A second project in Ireland is driving community engagement with some of Europe’s youngest citizens. A high-tech mobile classroom – known as the Aquaculture Remote Classroom (ARC) – is bringing a new generation of marine resources to primary school children. It’s part of a push to restore and protect our oceans for future generations.

Devised by Ireland’s Seafood Development Agency (BIM) and funded by the EU, the experience features Virtual Reality (VR) headsets giving children a virtual dive into aquaculture to discover the processes of fish and shellfish production.

Children and aquaculture

The roving classroom brings to life the sights and sounds of the sea, explaining how salmon, oysters and mussels are farmed in Irish waters. In Ireland, no point is more than 100 kilometres from the sea. And while many of the youngsters live in coastal communities, they generally know very little about aquaculture.

Thirty thousand children have visited the classroom so far and it has been getting rave reviews.

‘The ARC was amazing – it was great fun,’ is how one school pupil from Shanagolden National School in County Limerick described the experience. ‘We learned all about seafood, the food pyramid and how humans affect the seas and coastal environments.’ Plus: ‘The VR headsets were cool.’

By reaching out to young minds, the project hopes to instil knowledge early and debunk the myths about disease and harm that can plague the aquaculture industry, according to Caroline Bocquel, interim chief executive officer of BIM.

‘ARC is an ideal opportunity to raise students’ awareness of the aquaculture sector and to the get the factual, positive story of Irish aquaculture out to communities,’ Bocquel said. ‘To explain that it’s a force for good that creates jobs, with good career progression.’

Adults too are often uninformed about how aquaculture works and what the dietary benefits of eating fish and seafood are. So when schools are on holiday, the ARC features at seafood festivals and science-outreach events.

On the move

Both ARC and Marine SABRES can be upscaled to other regions and countries.

‘We see the ARC as a template for other European nations for aquaculture education and ultimately being part of a connected, cohesive education network that will drive understanding and appreciation of the benefits of sustainable aquaculture,’ said Bocquel.

Meanwhile, another EU-funded project called Prep4Blue is also putting citizens, policymakers and businesses at the heart of research in the field. Guided by social and sustainable science, the three-year Prep4Blue will provide tools for researchers to engage people in the gathering of knowledge to protect the Ocean.

Coordinated by the French Institute for Ocean Science (IFREMER), it incorporates 17 partners in eight countries.

‘The knowledge is there,’ says Prep4Blue coordinator Dr Natalia Martin Palenzuela, ‘But somehow we don’t change our behaviour.”

All of these projects come up through the EU’s ambitious Mission Ocean and Waters, which is a clarion call to rise to the challenge of protecting and restoring these ecosystems by 2030.

It’s a broad basis for science-based ecological action. ‘The Mission approach intends to increase the uptake of scientific knowledge by citizens and stakeholders including policy makers, consumers, the economic sector and so on,’ said Dr Martin Palenzuela.

Research in this article was funded by the EU. This material was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.   

EU MISSION: RESTORE OUR OCEAN AND WATERS

The Mission Ocean & Waters will help achieve the marine and freshwater targets of the European Green Deal, such as protecting 30% of the EU’s sea area and restoring marine eco-systems and 25 000km of free-flowing rivers.

Within the Mission, four ‘lighthouses’ in major sea and river basins are test beds for innovative solutions. The Atlantic-Arctic lighthouse is focusing on shoring up coastal resilience by restoring marine and freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity.

It’s a formidable challenge. For the Mission to succeed it needs to mobilise and engage citizens, scientists, policy makers and all stakeholders.

On 24-25 November 2022, the European Commission, with the support of Ireland, will organise an event to mobilise a wide range of stakeholders to join the Mission “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030”, and particularly the Atlantic-Arctic lighthouse. Follow the link to learn more about the event

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Barcelona and Munich become zero waste candidate cities

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The European cities of Barcelona and Munich have signed an official commitment to become zero waste, becoming the biggest cities in Europe that will get the certification.

The Zero Waste Cities Certification is a robust European third-party assessed certification standard, developed by the non-governmental organisation Mission Zero Academy (MiZA) and powered by Zero Waste Europe (ZWE). 

With a population of approximately 1,6 million, Barcelona would become one of the biggest European municipalities implementing a zero waste strategy, with a wide range of waste prevention, reuse and recycling measures in place. The city  has created a dedicated strategy for improvements, engaging widely both with the local community and different stakeholders to facilitate the zero waste transition.

Following this commitment, Barcelona will start implementing their zero waste strategy. Some of the objectives for the coming years are: 

  • Working towards reducing municipal solid waste. The city is including zero waste philosophy around all the waste management;
  • A 67% separate waste collection rate by 2027, while the European average is about 48%;
  • 427 kg of waste generation per capita per year by 2027.

Mentors: Rezero has been the mentor organisation of Barcelona. The Spanish organisation provides knowledge and promotes ideas, regulations and innovative projects so that companies, public administrations and citizens have the opportunity to enjoy a model of production and consumption towards zero waste, without toxic materials or products that are left unused. The Barcelona City Council has been working for years on waste prevention: with the Zero Plastic Commitment, the Carbon Calculator and the Barcelona Zero Waste Plan 2021-2027.
 
Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona said: “Big cities are in debt with their territory, we produce a huge amount of waste and it’s about time we become responsible of it. Barcelona’s commitment with the Zero Waste strategy shows that we do care and that we do act: we aim to be a neutral city and to inspire many others”.

Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of ZWE stated: “I remember that when we brought the zero waste concept to Barcelona back in 2010 they called us fools. Today I’m proud that my hometown joins many others in the club of virtuous management of resources. Barcelona still has many challenges ahead, but the commitment to the zero waste certification is a step in the right direction!”

Rosa García, General Director of Rezero said: “At Rezero we are happy that a city like Barcelona is moving towards Zero Waste. It is an important challenge and we will help in everything necessary to achieve the European certification. We also encourage other towns and cities to apply, as Barcelona has done today”.  

Munich, the third most populous city in Germany by number of inhabitants, (1,6 million), is another important European municipality that has signed for the zero waste commitment. In July, its City Council a concept in which around 100 city-wide measures are defined to reduce Munich’s waste volume and conserve resources. This concept is now starting to be implemented by the waste management company Munich (AWM). To align with the required criteria of becoming a Zero Waste Candidate City, the City of Munich commits to the following:

  • Waste from households per capita per year in the state capital Munich will be reduced by 15 % to 310 kg / (E*a) by 2035.
  • The amount of residual waste will be reduced by 35 % to 127 kg / capita by 2035. In the long-term, the City of Munich will achieve an average residual waste volume of less than 100 kg per capita per year.
  • In the long-term, Munich is working towards the goal of reducing municipal solid waste (MSW) in landfills and waste incineration to a waste-management feasible minimum.

Dieter Reiter, Mayor of Munich said: “Munich is continuing on the path towards zero waste, which I initiated at the end of 2019. I believe it is very important that we, the City of Munich, benefit from others’ experiences as part of a European zero waste network, but also inspire other cities. By signing the Zero Waste Commitment today, we are underscoring our commitment to becoming a city that produces as little waste as possible and conserves resources. Munich is taking on a pioneering role – against wasting resources and for the environment.”
 
Kristina Frank, Municipal Officer in charge of city waste management added: “Today we are one more step towards the finish line. With our commitment, we are part of a European network that shares a common vision: As little waste as possible, no waste of resources. In the coming week, AWM will propose to the city council to establish a cross-departmental zero-waste office to run purposefully  in the direction of our ambitious goals. For this, we would like to thank all our employees, who have developed a great concept in record time.”
 
Kaisa Karjalainen, Mission Zero Academy Manager stated: “With big cities come big impacts and therefore, it is great to have Munich joining our Zero Waste Cities Certification system. We look forward to working with the city to help them optimise their already existing systems and achieve great results. I’m sure Munich will be a great inspiration to other large European cities and a role model that zero waste is also possible in big cities.”

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