While the Pacific and Papua New Guinea (PNG) have avoided some of the worst health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the closure of international travel and lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 have had serious impacts on employment, international labour mobility, and livelihoods across the region.
A new World Bank report, Pacific Island Countries in the era of COVID 19: Macroeconomic impacts and job prospects details the potential extent of job losses and labour market impacts in the region, while also suggesting how the Pacific may benefit from changing employment trends and other opportunities.
Fewer local jobs and sluggishness in new international opportunities are all taking their toll on labour markets in the seven Pacific countries examined in the report (Fiji, Kiribati, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu). Of these, countries that are more reliant on international tourism such as Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa have borne the brunt of these effects, with tourism-related employment dropping by an estimated 64 percent in Vanuatu and unemployment claims in June 2020 nearly tripling the 2019 total in Fiji. Employment figures in countries where tourism plays a smaller role are also sobering, with job advertisements in PNG dropping by 76 percent between February and May 2020 as a result of lockdowns and travel restrictions. Flow-on effects to other industries, including retail and food services, together with reductions in commodity prices and remittance inflows, have added to this significant economic hardship across the region.
“The changes that we have seen in labour markets and employment across the Pacific are profound and are hitting the most vulnerable hardest – but importantly they are also leading families who would have been previously secure into vulnerable positions, especially workers in the tourism sector,” said Yasser El-Gammal, Practice Manager, Social Protection and Jobs, the World Bank
The report also highlights opportunities to mitigate the economic and employment shocks presented by the pandemic. These include prioritizing retraining and skill development of workers in affected industries, such as tourism, so they can move into sectors that require similar skill sets; promoting digital literacy skills to help Pacific islanders participate in remote working opportunities; and exploring new employment opportunities for low- and semi-skilled Pacific workers in Australia and New Zealand in the long term.
“Ultimately, workers from the Pacific will remain in demand in Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere for a long time to come,” said report author Matthew Dornan, Senior Economist at the World Bank. “The various Pacific labour mobility schemes that are focused on employment in rural and regional areas are not only crucial to livelihoods and employment in the Pacific, but beneficial for employers and businesses in Australia and New Zealand.”
Of particular focus in the report is the need to support skills development and employment services in response to the crisis and as part of the economic recovery. This could include subsidizing the reskilling of workers, support for work-study and apprenticeship schemes, the provision of temporary wage subsidies for the unemployed, and an expansion of international labour mobility opportunities for Pacific Islanders. The latter can be facilitated by efforts to improve the employability of Pacific workers (e.g., through upskilling), reducing the costs associated with cross-border labour migration, and by improved marketing and relationship management with international employers. Recipient countries can also play a role through labour policies.
“Labour mobility requires close cooperation between countries,” said co-author Soonhwa Yi, Senior Economist at the World Bank. “While policy improvements from Pacific governments could help expand the overseas employment opportunities available to Pacific Islanders, receiving countries also need to ensure their migration and working visa policies support future demand for increased labour mobility.”
The report stresses that moderating the employment and livelihoods impacts of COVID-19 across the region requires supportive policy responses from governments. While support to affected populations is a priority, governments could also consider support to businesses, as has been provided in Tonga and PNG; safeguarding cash-flow through tax and import duty relief, as has been undertaken in PNG, Samoa and Solomon Islands; and exploring opportunities for direct cash transfers and social assistance to vulnerable populations.
“The COVID-19 pandemic also crisis highlights the urgency for Pacific countries to expand IT-related infrastructure and increase their engagement in the digital economy,” said Soonhwa Yi. “This would provide opportunities for workers in the digital economy and better position Pacific countries to export digital services across borders.”
Ten years of Afghan economic growth, reversed in just 12 months
A year on from the Taliban takeover in Kabul, Afghanistan is gripped by “cascading crises”, including a crippled economy that humanitarian aid alone cannot address, according to a new report from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on Wednesday.It says that the already-declining regular economy, as opposed to the black market, lost nearly $5 billion after August 2021 and is reversing “in 12 months what had taken 10 years to accumulate.”
The cost of a basket of essentials needed to avoid food poverty has meanwhile risen 35 percent, forcing poorer households to go deeper into debt or sell off assets, just to survive.
Nearly 700,000 jobs have vanished, said UNDP, further threatening a population reeling from impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict, drought, and war in Ukraine.
“The Afghan people have been relentlessly subjected to extremely difficult circumstances. They have survived numerous challenges in the last 40 years and shown enormous resilience”, the report states, officially entitled, One Year in Review: Afghanistan Since August 2021.
“Yet the last 12 months have brought cascading crises: a humanitarian emergency; massive economic contraction; and the crippling of its banking and financial systems in addition to denying access to secondary education to girls and the restrictions on women’s mobility and participation in the economy”.
‘Strong response’ by UN
The head of UNDP, Achim Steiner, praised the UN’s “strong, coordinated response to the crisis” saying it proved critical in averting a catastrophe last winter.
“Building upon what worked last year including tailored efforts across multiple sectors to improve the livelihoods of more than half a million people, there is a pressing need to support further measures to prevent a deeper crisis.”
“We need to help Afghans cope with the coming winter including through our ABADEI programme which aims to support two million people with livelihood and job opportunities over the next two years – with a focus on particularly vulnerable groups such as women entrepreneurs and young people.”
The report paints a bleak fiscal picture of the country, dating back more than a decade before the Taliban ascendency.
With GDP in steady decline since 2008, Afghanistan had come to rely on international aid to sustain its economy, which accounted for a staggering 75 percent of total Government spending and nearly 40 percent of GDP at the time of transition. But foreign donors largely suspended aid after the transition, UNDP notes.
Without support from outside, Afghanistan must now rely on limited domestic revenue from agriculture and coal exports.
Authorities have sought to address revenue shortfalls by cracking down on corruption in key revenue streams, such as customs, and by reaching out to the private sector and foreign investors.
“Two decades of heavy dependence on international aid and imports, a lack of industrialization and competitiveness, and limited mobility and connectivity among regions, among other factors, have hindered Afghanistan’s forward momentum,” the report says.
Cost of excluding women
UNDP analysis forecasts that restricting women from working can result in an economic loss of up to $1 billion – or up to five percent of the country’s GDP.
“The rights of women and girls are critical for the future of Afghanistan,” said UNDP Asia-Pacific Director Kanni Wignaraja. “It starts with education and continues with equal opportunity when it comes to employment and pay.
“UNDP made the support to women-owned businesses front and center of its aid activities: we provided support to 34,000 women-owned small businesses. Our goal is to reach 50,000 women-owned business by the end of this year.”
UNDP Resident Representative Abdallah Al Dardari said they was grateful for the $300 million in funding provided for the programme’s work on livelihoods as part of the overall crisis response, “but much more is needed for economic recovery”.
“Afghans are running out of time and resources. Afghanistan needs support from the international community to bring back to life local markets and small businesses which are the backbone of Afghanistan’s economy.”
Commitment to ESG Reporting is Driving Change within Global Corporations
New case studies from the World Economic Forum show how comprehensive environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) reporting has started to drive corporate transformation around the world, particularly in sustainability efforts and company culture.
Based on case studies from companies reporting on the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics, the white paper found examples of specific strategy and operations changes as a result. These include initiatives such as new approaches to water management in real estate and implementing biodiversity strategies and targets.
The case studies also indicate that despite some progress, companies are still struggling with competing and disparate ESG frameworks around the world. As regulators begin to roll out mandatory ESG reporting across regions, alignment will be key to ensuring that the clarity and efficacy of ESG reporting continues to improve globally.
We’re happy that support continues to grow for this set of metrics even in the face of geopolitical challenges, the lingering global pandemic and economic disruptions of the past two years,” said Emily Bayley, Head of Private Sector Engagement, ESG, World Economic Forum. “As this growth continues and jurisdictions transition from voluntary to mandatory sustainability reporting standards, we hope these learnings can provide valuable insights for companies that are just getting started on sustainability reporting and those that have been doing it for years.”
ESG-Driven Corporate Impacts
The Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics Initiative case studies engaged a global set of companies to gather how, and if, their ESG reporting has informed corporate transformation both internally and externally.
Examples of these transformations include:
Stakeholders told Ecopetrol their report was too long – the Forum’s core metrics helped the company focus on reporting topics that are most material and will generate value.
The metrics go beyond ESG to capture commercial metrics on employment, economic contribution, investment and tax. This delivers “an annual dashboard of comparable data on both sustainability and prosperity that will provide us with a snapshot of how healthy our company is”.
The core metric on water consumption and withdrawal in water-stressed areas led the company to encourage its teams and clients to agree water management plans and targets. It may even influence where the company rents office space in the future.
Accurate reporting on the environmental and social impacts of its operations. For example, the metric on resource circularity points customers towards the most impactful products on the market and drives the company’s innovation agenda to design more sustainable solutions.
Reporting on the Forum’s metrics has increased the value of transparency within the company, leading to conversations and progress on difficult issues.
The metric on land use and ecological sensitivity contributed to Schneider’s new approach to biodiversity, as it adapted its reporting and asked all sites to set specific biodiversity action plans.
ESG Regulatory Landscape
While progress has been made on the creation and implementation of meaningful and effective ESG disclosures globally, concerns remain about the disparate nature of the competing and complex ESG reporting mechanisms that exist today.
There are also concerns that as reporting becomes mandated there could be less transparency because people will not want to disclose more than they have to. As mandated ESG reporting becomes more widespread, both regulators and internal advocates should ensure corporations understand the full value of transparency on sustainability and other ESG issues.
Addressing this issue is particularly important as regulators in different regions begin to roll out their mandatory reporting requirements. Focus on a common set of comprehensive and material metrics will be important for both the efficacy and feasibility of ESG reporting in the coming months. As much as possible, the European Union, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Foundation should align their metrics to ensure companies are able to implement effective ESG reporting globally.
Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics Initiative
The World Economic Forum and the coalition of companies adopting the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics, engaged with the preparatory working group and are continuing the dialogue with the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) technical teams under the IFRS Foundation as they go through the standard-setting process. The metrics are expected to form part of the ISSB “exposure draft” next year on cross-thematic disclosures and metrics.
Announced at the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Meetings 2022, these case studies build on the earlier report to showcase progress on the commitment made by companies at the Annual Meeting in 2020. Since then, 186 global companies, with a combined market capitalization of over $6.5 trillion, have adopted the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics. Of these, 126 companies have disclosed against the metrics in their mainstream reports for either one or two years.
Trade in 25 Technologies Can Help Climate Action
Based on 30 interviews with industry and academia, the Accelerating Decarbonization through Trade in Climate Goods and Services report highlights technologies with high, immediate emissions-cutting potential, in five categories – refrigerants, energy supply, buildings, transport and carbon capture and storage (CCS). The list of technologies can guide trade ministers looking to support climate action.
“Climate change is a global concern,” says Sean Doherty, Head of International Trade at the World Economic Forum. “Our response must draw upon the innovation and capacities of the whole world, not be held back by protectionism.”
Trade collaboration on climate has been limited to date with trade and climate practitioners working in separate silos. New efforts are emerging now, however, to address the linkages between these two areas.
“There is no time to waste to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” adds Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Schneider Electric. “We need to decarbonize three times more, three times faster. The good news is that we have the technologies to do it. Solutions are not limited to renewable energy. It actually starts with energy efficiency, electrification and digitization. If deployed at full potential, we can eliminate 70% of what we’re emitting today.”
The report also highlights non-tariff barriers that affect trade in climate technologies. Regulatory cooperation around product testing or labelling requirements, for example, could reduce friction in getting emissions-cutting goods to market. Interviewees also noted that climate action is held back by trade barriers to the services needed to operate climate technologies. The report suggests a way to identify these climate services for priority trade cooperation.
“Our transition to a low-carbon economy will hinge on the deployment of a number of key technologies that are both mature and widely available, as detailed in this important report on the nexus of decarbonization and international trade, including energy efficiency, electric vehicles, green hydrogen, smart buildings and more,” says Björn Rosengren, Chief Executive Officer of ABB. “ABB’s contributions to this new report from the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders underscore our support for removing and reducing barriers to trade in climate goods and services to speed the drawdown of global emissions.”
More efforts are needed to engage developing countries in trade efforts on climate. Over 750 million people worldwide lack reliable electricity access, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. Developing economy industries must decarbonize and leapfrog the latest technologies to remain competitive in global value chains moving towards net zero. Some developing economies will need support in creating a climate-friendly trade and technology strategy. Global and local industries can help policymakers understand the criss-crossing of value chains that drive economic activity and how to align these flows to the climate agenda.
“Climate change knows no borders and encouraging better trade between countries can ensure the transfer of valuable knowledge, new technologies and skills to improve energy efficiency in homes around the world,” says Hakan Bulgurlu, Chief Executive Officer of Arcelik. “It is critical to our ultimate goal of achieving net-zero targets.”
To support an increased understanding of trade, value chains and climate action, the Climate Trade Zero community will host dialogues and support countries with actionable analysis.
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