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David Malpass: Development in a Time of Upheaval

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World Bank Group President David Malpass today called our current era of high inequality and reversals in global development progress a “time of upheaval,” and he outlined steps to help boost economic growth, shorten the crisis, resume development, and lay a strong foundation for a future that is more prosperous and better prepared for global disasters like COVID19.

Reversals in development threaten people’s lives, jobs, livelihoods, and sustenance. In many places around the world, poverty is rising, living standards and literacy rates are falling, and past gains on gender equality, nutrition and health are sliding backwards. For some countries, the debt burden was unsustainable before the crisis and is getting worse. Rather than gaining ground, the poor are being left behind in a global tragedy of inequality. This drastic narrowing of economic and social progress is creating a time of upheaval in economics, politics and geopolitical relationships.”

Speaking in Khartoum as the first Bank Group President to visit Sudan in nearly 40 years, Malpass noted recent progress the country has achieved. “Over the past few years, you have made a tremendous effort to put people on a forward path, amid very adverse conditions. Two years ago, Sudan’s transitional government inherited a deeply damaged economy and society that had suffered decades of conflict and isolation. Even as the people resolved to break with the past, Sudan faced extraordinary headwinds: from the COVID-19 pandemic, from a locust plague, from unprecedented floods, and an inflow of refugees escaping conflict from across the border.”

“Yet the country pressed forward with bold reforms, re-engaging with the international community, clearing World Bank arrears with the help of a U.S. bridge loan, and in June reaching the decision point for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries – or HIPC – initiative…While there is much work ahead, I commend the Sudanese authorities, civil and military, for their efforts and achievements in working together toward a better future. It’s critical to avoid political slippages because there is no development without peace and stability. I would also like to acknowledge the remarkable resilience of the Sudanese people – your drive to build a better Sudan despite the challenges is truly inspiring.”

Malpass noted the global pandemic has taken massive toll on poverty: “The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in increased poverty rates again after decades of steady decline. It has pushed nearly 100 million people into extreme poverty, with several hundred million more becoming poor, many of them in middle-income countries.”

He noted that while a turnaround is possible, risks remain. He recalled how  the deadly Spanish Flu of 1918-20 was followed by extremely rapid economic growth – but also by wider inequality, and dangerous financial vulnerabilities that culminated in the prolonged Great Depression.

Malpass posed a question for the international community: What should we do to boost growth that is inclusive, broad-based, and sustainable and avoid a lost decade for development? “First, we need a stronger focus on the key priorities, with clarity on how we approach and measure them…And second, we need much bigger scale to achieve impact.”

Malpass noted four areas in which determined action should make a difference: achieving economic stability; leveraging the digital revolution; making development greener and more sustainable; and investing in people.

Achieve economic stability

Malpass noted that many developing countries made extraordinary efforts to support their people and keep economic activity going during the pandemic. “Many have gone beyond what they could afford, especially as debt in developing economies was at record highs when the pandemic hit.”

When the debt service suspension initiative – or DSSI – expires at the end of this year, low-income countries that resume debt service payments will see their fiscal space shrink to purchase vaccines and finance other priority expenditures, Malpass said. “It’s time to pursue a gradual and people-oriented fiscal consolidation and restructure unsustainable debt.  Enhanced and accelerated implementation of the G20’s Common Framework will be critical on this front.”

Malpass called for greater global cooperation, including private sector participation, to provide debt relief to the world’s poorest countries and fund growth-enhancing investments. “In Sudan, for example, global cooperation that included the U.S., France and the UK helped the country clear its arrears with the World Bank, IMF and other IFIs, making possible more than $50 billion in debt relief in what will be the largest HIPC initiative ever.”

In addition to better debt management, Malpass said countries have to eliminate wasteful public expenditures, make service delivery more efficient, and reallocate public resources to their most productive uses. “This is also a time for proactive debt management to reprofile payments while international interest rates remain low. There need to be concrete steps to improve the transparency of debt contracts, increase accountability and ensure decisions draw on comprehensive information. Lower-income countries need to prioritize concessional financing and avoid the high interest rate financing that has become increasingly problematic. Focusing this agenda for each country and measuring the progress will be critical.”

Leverage the digital revolution

The faster adoption of digital solutions can radically expand access to finance and create new economic opportunities, Malpass said, noting that digital solutions can increase competition in product markets and enable people to sell services online, connecting them to national and global markets. “Supporting this transformation requires many actions at scale: investing in digital infrastructure, eliminating monopolies in the telecom sector, providing national IDs, and creating an enabling regulatory environment.”

“The digital revolution can also transform the public sector. For example, it allows a radical rethink of safety nets systems. Across the world we are seeing programs move from in-kind and cash delivery to digital delivery, direct to people’s bank accounts or visible on their phones. Similarly, in both the formal and informal sectors, new payment systems enable daily purchases through phones, using QR codes and other technologies. Kenya and many other African countries have extensive experience on this,” said Malpass.

Make development greener and more sustainable

Malpass noted that the international community is strongly committed to slowing the increase in atmospheric carbon and to reducing climate impacts on the most vulnerable. “A key step is to stop the creation of new coal-fired plants, decommission existing ones, and substitute them with cleaner sources of electricity. We should support countries in a “just” transition, which includes taking care of the workers affected.”

“This is also the time to reinvigorate often-stalled power sector reforms. Energy subsidies are expensive and distortive, while removing them needs to be done in ways that solve underlying inefficiencies and increase access. Aiming for clean, affordable energy requires competition in electricity generation and distribution, as well as a truly independent regulator…Transportation is another major source of emissions. With more urbanization expected in developing countries, infrastructure and design of cities can make an enormous difference. Instead of sprawling metropoles where commuters spend hours on the road, governments can aim for more compact cities with efficient and clean public transportation systems.

In the climate change efforts, both mitigation and adaptation, and the development effort more broadly, we need to prioritize and focus efforts for the largest impact per dollar spent and look for solutions that are rapidly scalable.”

Invest in people

Malpass highlighted the importance of investing in people’s long-term health and education – the human capital agenda. “Strengthening education and health systems takes more than just providing budgetary resources in an efficient and prioritized way. For example, aligning incentives for teachers and health care providers – public or private – with the needs of the people they serve is important. And finding scalable solutions to enhance health care and improve the quality of education, including through distance learning, is also critical. 

“Nowhere is human capital accumulation more important than in conflict-affected countries, where most poor people live today. Assisting refugees and host communities is a key priority. Security is essential, but soldiers can’t win the battle of development. Change is more likely to come from small victories won across millions of households over time.”

Malpass noted the role the World Bank Group can play. “The World Bank Group is uniquely endowed and positioned to support countries with the four priorities I have outlined — through finance and know-how for governments, while mobilizing the private sector. We have unmatched experience working with countries, using technical experts across all the key sectors.”

Combat reversals in development

“This unprecedented crisis has set in motion a time of upheaval. The many choices in coming years will determine whether developing countries suffer a lost decade or can usher in rapid growth and economic transformation,” said Malpass.

To succeed requires the active participation of the public and private sectors across countries, civil societies and foundations, indeed the whole international community working together. These efforts require leaders to be ambitious for the prosperity of people. And they require focus and scale throughout our development work.”

Development

Guterres Calls on Private Sector to Help Developing Countries with Post-Pandemic Recovery

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In a special address at the virtual World Economic Forum Davos Agenda 2022 on Monday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres outlined three urgent areas that need to be addressed for the world to emerge from the ongoing global economic and health crisis and to ensure the UN Sustainable Development Goals are achieved.

“Recovery remains fragile and uneven amid the lingering pandemic, persistent labour market challenges, ongoing supply chain disruptions, rising inflation and looming debt traps,” he said. “To chart a new course, we need all hands on deck, especially the global business community.”

The first area that needs immediate attention is confronting the COVID-19 pandemic with equity and fairness. Citing the World Health Organization’s global target to vaccinate 40% of people in all countries by the end of 2021 and 70% by the middle of 2022, Guterres said the world is nowhere near these targets. “If we fail to vaccinate every person, we give rise to new variants that spread across borders and bring daily life and economies to a grinding halt,” he said.

To ensure vaccine equity, he called on countries and manufacturers to prioritize vaccine supply to the global programme COVAX and to support the local production of tests, vaccines and treatments around the world. He also asked pharmaceutical companies to stand in solidarity with developing countries by sharing licences, know-how and technology to find a way out of the pandemic.

The second challenge is the need to reform the global financial system, especially as low-income countries are at a huge disadvantage and are experiencing their slowest growth in a generation. “The burdens of record inflation, shrinking fiscal space, high interest rates and soaring energy and food prices are hitting every corner of the world and blocking recovery, especially in these low- and middle-income countries,” Guterres said. This is stifling any hope of growth by making it even more difficult for governments to invest in the sustainable and resilient systems.

He urged business leaders to help shape a global financial system that works for all countries. This includes working to restructure the long-term debt architecture, addressing corruption and illicit financial flows, ensuring that tax systems are fair and designed in a way that reduce inequalities, and bringing together governments, businesses, the financial sector and international financial institutions to build up private investment in developing countries.

Supporting climate action in developing countries is the third area that needs immediate attention, especially as global emissions are set to increase by 14% by 2030.

“Even if all developed countries kept their promises to drastically reduce emissions by 2030, global emissions would still be too high to keep the 1.5 degree Celsius goal within reach. We need a 45% reduction in global emissions this decade,” Guterres stressed.

Climate shocks, including extreme weather events, forced 30 million people to flee their homes in 2020 alone – three times more than those displaced by war and violence. And 1 billion children are at an extremely high risk of the impacts of climate change. “Turning this ship around will take immense willpower and ingenuity from governments and businesses alike, in every major-emitting nation,” he said. “We see a clear role for businesses and investors in supporting our net-zero goal.”

This, he said, calls for the creation of coalitions of government, public and private financial institutions, investment funds and companies with the technological know-how to provide targeted financial and technical support for every country that needs assistance.

The World Economic Forum’s Climate Action Platform is helping businesses, governments and NGOs accelerate and scale ambition and partnerships needed to drive a sustainable and inclusive future, and its Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders is engaging policy-makers to help deliver the transition to a net-zero economy.

Guterres concluded by saying that many countries need the support, ideas, financing and voice of the global business community.

“If we fail to provide debt relief and financing to developing countries, we create a lopsided recovery that can send an interconnected global economy into a tailspin,” he said. “If we fail to reduce inequalities, we weigh down economic progress for all people in all countries.”

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Modi Urges All Countries to Embrace Sustainable Lifestyles

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India used his address to the Davos Agenda 2022 to call on all countries to shift from a throwaway culture towards more sustainable lifestyles. Modi emphasized that while India is home to 17% of the world’s population, it contributes only 5% of global emissions.

“It is very essential that we move away from today’s take-make-use-dispose economy and towards a circular economy,” he said. India, which co-launched the International Solar Alliance at COP26 to ensure universal access to affordable solar energy, today generates 40% of its energy from non-fossil sources. Modi underlined that the next phase of India’s growth will be “green, clean, sustainable and reliable”.

The prime minister questioned the ability of the world’s multilateral organizations to meet challenges that did not exist when they were created. He said that reforming these institutions is “the responsibility of every democratic country”. In a clear call for greater global cooperation, he said: “Today, more than ever before, countries need each other’s help – this is the only path to a better future.” He offered India’s vision of One Earth One Health as a means of responding to global challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change.

India is an entrepreneurial powerhouse that has created 10,000 new start-ups in the past six months and over 40 unicorns in 2021, Modi said, propelling the country into the top three in the world for billion-dollar new ventures. Its digital infrastructure is developing rapidly, with over 4.4 billion transactions taking place on its United Payments interface in the past month alone. Over the period 2020-2021, India attracted $82 billion in foreign direct investment – a new record. Modi said India is committed to becoming a trusted partner for global supply chains.

In a bid to improve the ease of doing business, Modi outlined the measures his government is taking to reduce government intervention to the minimum. He has done away with over 25,000 tax compliances in the past year and deregulated most sectors for investment, except for defence, aerospace and telecoms. His government is investing $1.3 trillion on connectivity-related infrastructure through its GatiShakti National Master Plan, which includes connecting over 6,000 villages through optical fibre. The plan’s aim, he said, is to “give new impetus to seamless connectivity for movement of goods, people and services”. India is also investing $26 billion to boost manufacturing and resilient supply chains.

The Prime Minister also spoke to the importance of collective and synchronized action to face global challenges. He highlighted new technology as an important area for countries to act together, “Another example is cryptocurrency. Given the kind of technology it is associated with, the decisions taken by a single country will be insufficient to deal with its challenges.”

Modi said India enters 2022 “infused with self-confidence”. Its economic growth is projected to hit 8.5%. It has already administered 1.6 billion COVID-19 vaccines. And, he added: “Our multilingual, multicultural environment is a great strength [that] teaches us not just to think of ourselves in times of crisis but to work in the best interests of the world.”

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Xi Jinping Calls for Greater Global Cooperation to Tackle Common Challenges

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President Xi Jinping of China called for stronger international cooperation in overcoming shared global challenges including defeating COVID-19, revitalizing the economy and addressing climate change, in the opening session of the World Economic Forum’s virtual event, the Davos Agenda 2022.

Xi outlined that the international community is still locked in a tenacious battle against what he called “a once-in-a-century pandemic”. Calling for greater global cooperation, he said: “The fight against the pandemic is proving to be a protracted one. COVID-19 is resurging with different variants and spreading faster than before. He added that shifting blame will only cause delays in response.”

Speaking in a special address to business, government and civil society leaders taking part in the week-long virtual event, he laid out a three-pronged approach to safeguard people’s health. First, countries need to strengthen active cooperation on research and development of medicines. Second, leaders need to build multiple lines of defence against the coronavirus. Third, countries need to fully leverage vaccines by ensuring equitable distribution, boosting vaccination rates and closing the global immunization gap.

Xi said that China is doing its part, having already sent more than 2 billion doses of vaccines to more than 120 countries and international organizations, to be closely followed by at least another 1 billion doses.

As the world emerges from the depths of pandemic gloom, Xi cautioned that several risks threaten to derail economic recovery, including disruptions in global supply chains, tight energy supply and rising commodity prices. He said: “If major economies take a U-turn in their monetary policies, there would be serious negative spillovers which will challenge global economic and financial stability.”

To fully unleash the vitality of the world economy, he also called for less protectionism, especially on trade. Economic globalization is an unstoppable trend which will not veer off course, he said, despite counter-currents along the way: “We should remove barriers, not erect walls. We should open up, not close off. We should seek integration, not de-couple.”

Xi highlighted China’s reform path. He pointed out that China’s domestic growth in 2021 hovered around a healthy 8% annually, with the country achieving its dual target of high growth with low inflation. Nevertheless, he also said Chinese leaders are aware of the further work necessary to achieve prosperity that benefits all people. “We remain committed to reform and opening up,” he said. “A rising tide indeed lifts all boats.”

On climate change, the Chinese president said that China stands ready to help the international community realize the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development and to achieve carbon neutrality in the long term. He outlined that China would honour its word to achieve carbon peaking by 2030 followed by specific industry plans towards carbon neutrality. Xi pointed out that China has the world’s biggest carbon market and clean energy capability.

Xi also cautioned that “weaponizing economic, scientific and technological issues will gravely undercut international efforts to tackle common challenges”. He said: “Developed countries should take the lead in honouring their emission reductions, deliver on their commitment to financial and technological support and create conditions for developing countries to address climate change,” he added.

Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum’s Founder and Executive Chairman, thanked China for taking an active part in collaborative global efforts to combat shared challenges. “The year 2022 will provide a unique opportunity for global leaders to work jointly towards a more inclusive, more sustainable and more prosperous world,” Schwab said. “We must unite despite the different views we hold; ultimately we belong to a single global humanity whose fate is increasingly interconnected.”

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