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Industrial policy and the road to recovery

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The COVID-19 pandemic is posing enormous challenges to economic development, yet it may also unveil new opportunities to ‘build back better’. Renewed industrial policies can play a significant role in shaping the road to overcome the crisis and set countries back on the path of economic development. 

Opening the second episode of the webinar series, “Future of Industrialization in a post-pandemic world”, LI Yong, Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) said, “Strengthening the industrial sector is the key to the recovery. To achieve this important goal, industrial policies must be at the centre of governments’ reactions.”

A similar view was shared by Mario Cimoli, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), who emphasized that the post-pandemic recovery must be transformative and countries should place a primary focus not only on economic growth, but also on the direction of growth. “We need growth, but the quality of growth is important. Equality is the pre-condition for industrial policy, growth and development,” said Cimoli.

Drawing on her experience as a policy advisor on innovation-led inclusive and sustainable growth, Mariana Mazzucato, Professor of Economics of Innovation and Public Value at the University College London (UCL) and Founding Director of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, discussed the role of public-private partnership in providing an effective response to the global challenges accelerated by the pandemic – from decarbonization to the digital divide, to any issue around the health system.

Using examples from developing economies, such as Viet Nam and the Indian state of Kerala, Mazzucato stressed the importance of investing in state capacity for a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery. “With COVID-19, we realized we need state capacity”, she said.

She also remarked on the need to place SDGs at the centre of industrial strategy by transforming them into missions to orientate governments’ actions. “SDGs are complex goals. We need to transform governments’ activities – even everyday ones, such as industrial procurement – to be SDG-focused”, said Mazzucato. Pursuing such outcome-focused industrial strategy requires a renewed collaboration across sectors and stakeholders to redesign policy instruments together. In this regard, Mazzucato highlighted the transformational purpose of attaching goal-focused conditions to recovery packages, and how this can lead to more sustainable solutions and social outcomes.

The crucial role of governments in supporting the recovery was also highlighted by Justin Lin, Professor and Dean of the National School of Development at Peking University. Building on his New Structural Economics approach, Lin discussed how industrial policies are necessary to sustain structural change and build more resilient and competitive economies. “To develop an industrial sector, we need a facilitating State,” he said. “If the government is not playing a facilitation role, a spontaneous structural transformation cannot occur.”

In discussing the main challenges to structural change posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lin emphasized that the pandemic recession will leave developing countries with less resources to allocate to industrial policies for structural change. For a fast, inclusive and sustainable recovery, “we need to aim for a quick-win,” he said. “This implies helping existing firms with trade credit, tax exemption and debt rescheduling to get back to production and to provide jobs, export and revenues.” Then, he concluded “the government can use industrial policy to identify priority industries and facilitate the investments to achieve sustainable industrialization”.

All panellists agreed that industrial policies will have a renewed role in shaping the road towards recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and in ‘building back better.’ Recovery packages should be shaped in a way to accelerate a transformative recovery towards a more inclusive and sustainable industrial development, acceleration that can be supported by the industrial application of advanced digital technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The importance of aligning efforts to achieve a resilient industrial development will be at the core of the next flagship report of UNIDO, the Industrial Development Report 2022, which will focus on the impact that the pandemic on the future of industrialization.

About 500 participants from diverse backgrounds followed the “Industrial policy and the road to recovery” webinar via Zoom and YouTube, and contributed to the discussion with a range of interesting questions.

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Lao PDR: New Project to Protect Landscapes and Enhance Livelihoods

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$57 million project to help Lao PDR promote sustainable forest management, improve protected area management, and enhance livelihoods opportunities in eight provinces across the country. Project funding comes from the World Bank’s International Development Association, with contributions from the Global Environment Facility and the Canada-World Bank Clean Energy and Forest Climate Facility.

The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods Project will support economic recovery in light of the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on preservation of natural capital such as forests, biodiversity, water resources, soil, and land. The Project will help communities in over 600 villages and 25 forest areas to secure livelihoods and jobs from sustainably managed forests, including opportunities in timber and non-timber products, and nature-based tourism.  

“This project will be crucial to helping Lao PDR recover from the global coronavirus shock by protecting and enhancing its natural capital, and supporting the creation of green jobs in vulnerable communities,” said the World Bank Lao PDR Country Manager Nicola Pontara.

Despite enjoying sustained periods of high economic growth in the last three decades, Lao PDR has experienced a gradual deterioration of its natural capital, making vulnerable rural people more susceptible to floods and droughts while jeopardizing their access to food, fiber, fresh water and income.

The Government of Lao PDR will implement the project through the Department of Forestry at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. To create jobs and livelihoods and secure environmental benefits, the project will develop environmentally and socially sustainable partnerships among communities, government, nature-based-tourism companies, and forest plantations.

The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods Project complements other partnerships between Laos and the World Bank on biodiversity protection, carbon emission reductions and nature-based tourism. It also supports the priorities of the government’s ninth National Socio-Economic Development Plan for 2021-25 and the 2030 National Green Growth Strategy.

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Two-Thirds of Poorer Countries Are Cutting Education Budgets Due to COVID-19

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Children in Côte d'Ivoire wear face masks as they return to school after temporary closures due to COVID-19. © UNICEF/Frank Dejongh

Education budgets are not adjusting proportionately to the challenges brought about by COVID-19, especially in poorer countries.  Despite additional funding needs, two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries have, in fact, cut their public education budgets since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the new joint World Bank – UNESCO Education Finance Watch (EFW)

In comparison, only one-third of upper-middle and high-income countries have reduced their budgets.  These budget cuts have been relatively small thus far, but there is a danger that future cuts will be larger, as the pandemic continues to take its economic toll, and fiscal positions worsen.  These differing trends imply a significant widening of the already large spending disparities seen between low- and high-income countries.

According to the new report, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2018-19, high-income countries were spending annually the equivalent of US$8,501 for every child or youth’s education compared to US$48 in low-income countries. COVID-19 is only widening this huge per-capita education spending gap between rich and poor countries.

EFW stresses that the education finance challenge is not only about mobilizing resources, but also about improving the effectiveness of funding. Unfortunately, recent increases in public education spending have been associated with relatively small improvements in education outcomes. Although access to education has improved, the learning poverty rate – the proportion of 10-year-olds unable to read a short, age-appropriate text – was 53 percent in low- and middle-income countries prior to COVID-19, compared to only 9 percent for high-income countries.  COVID-19 related school closures are likely to increase this 53 percent share to as much as 63 percent.

“This is a critical moment where countries need to recover the learning losses the pandemic is generating, invest in remedial education, and use this window of opportunity to build more effective, equitable, and resilient systems,” said Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development.  “The learning poverty crisis that existed before COVID-19 is becoming even more severe, and we are also concerned about how unequal the impact is.  Countries and the international development community must invest more and invest better in education systems and strengthen the link between spending and learning and other human capital outcomes.”

EFW notes that global spending on education has increased over the last 10 years, but the signs are that the pandemic may interrupt this upward trend. Funding for education has grown most rapidly in low- and lower-middle-income countries, where the gaps between the funding needed to achieve the SDGs and current allocations are the widest. The deterioration in government finances over the medium-term suggests that without concerted efforts to prioritize education, the outlook for mobilizing the domestic resources required for education will worsen.

Aid for education has increased by 21 percent over the last 10 years. Disbursements had increased rapidly in the 2000s and fell between 2010 and 2014 in the aftermath of the great financial crisis. However, since 2014, aid to education has increased by 30 percent, reaching its highest recorded level of US$ 15.9 billion in 2019. However, fiscal constraints, other sectoral needs, and changes in student mobility patterns, suggest that external aid for education might fall at a time when it is needed most.    

“External financing is key to support the education opportunities of the world’s poorest,” said Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General at UNESCO. “Yet donor countries are likely – and some have already begun – to shift their budget away from aid to domestic priorities. Health and other emergencies are also competing for funds.  We foresee a challenging environment for countries reliant on education aid. UNESCO estimates that it may fall by US$ 2 billion from its peak in 2020 and not return to 2018 levels for another six years.” 

The EFW is a collaborative effort between the World Bank and the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report team.  It will be produced annually following the main release of spending data by UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics.  The EFW aims to draw together the best data available on all sources of education funding and monitor efforts to improve information on the levels and use of education funding.  However, good quality and timely information on government, household, and aid spending in education is not readily available in all countries.  This hinders planning and monitoring at a time when countries cannot afford any missteps.

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Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency

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Bringing together governments and relevant networks and organizations, the Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency (GACERE) aims to provide a global impetus to initiatives related to the circular economy transition, resource efficiency, sustainable consumption and production patterns, and inclusive and sustainable industrialization.

GACERE is being established by the European Commission on behalf of the European Union (EU), and by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in coordination with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

GACERE will be launched on Monday 22 February 2021 from 12:00 until 13:15 CET on the margins of the first segment of the fifth meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly.

The event will be hosted by Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries; Inger Andersen, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNEP’s Executive Director; and LI Yong, UNIDO’s Director General.

Ministers of countries which have joined GACERE and other stakeholders will provide their perspectives on the Alliance’s intended role in supporting a global just transition to circular and resource-efficient economies and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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