Global Austerity Alert: Looming Budget Cuts in 2021-25 and Alternatives

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Opinion

Map of countries with projected austerity cuts in 2021-2022, in terms of GDP, based on IMF fiscal projections. Credit: I. Ortiz and M. Cummins, 2021

NEW YORK and NAIROBI, Apr 15 2021 (IPS) – Last week Ministers of Finance met virtually at the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to discuss policies to tackle the pandemic and socio-economic recovery.


But a global study just published by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University, international trade unions and civil society organizations, sounds an alert of an emerging austerity shock: Most governments are imposing budget cuts, precisely at a time when their citizens and economies are in greater need of public support.

Analysis of IMF fiscal projections shows that budget cuts are expected in 154 countries this year, and as many as 159 countries in 2022. This means that 6.6 billion people or 85% of the global population will be living under austerity conditions by next year, a trend likely to continue at least until 2025.

The high levels of expenditures needed to cope with the pandemic have left governments with growing fiscal deficit and debt. However, rather than exploring financing options to provide direly-needed support for socio-economic recovery, governments—advised by the IMF, the G20 and others—are opting for austerity.

The post-pandemic fiscal shock appears to be far more intense than the one that followed the global financial and economic crisis a decade ago. The average expenditure contraction in 2021 is estimated at 3.3% of GDP, which is nearly double the size of the previous crisis. More than 40 governments are forecasted to spend less than the (already low) pre-pandemic levels, with budgets 12% smaller on average in 2021-22 than those in 2018-19 before COVID-19, including countries with high developmental needs like Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Kiribati, Liberia, Libya, Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The dangers of early and overly aggressive austerity are clear from the past decade of adjustment. From 2010 to 2019, billions of people were affected by reduced pensions and social security benefits; by lower subsidies, including for food, agricultural inputs and fuel; by wage bill cuts and caps, which hampered the delivery of public services like education, health, social work, water and public transport; by the rationalization and narrow-targeting of social protection programs so that only the poorest populations received smaller and smaller benefits, while most people were excluded; and by less employment security for workers, as labor regulations were dismantled. Many governments also introduced regressive taxes, like consumption taxes, which further lowered disposable household income. In many countries, public services were downsized or privatized, including health. Austerity proved to be a deadly policy. The weak state of public health systems—overburdened, underfunded and understaffed from a decade of austerity—aggravated health inequalities and made populations more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Today, it is imperative to watch out for austerity measures with negative social outcomes. After COVID-19’s devastating impacts, austerity will only cause more unnecessary suffering and hardship.

Austerity is bad policy. There are, in fact, alternatives even in the poorest countries. Instead of slashing spending, governments can and must explore financing options to increase public budgets.

First, governments can increase tax revenues on wealth, property, and corporate income, including on the financial sector that remains generally untaxed. For example, Bolivia, Mongolia and Zambia are financing universal pensions, child benefits and other schemes from mining and gas taxes; Brazil introduced a tax on financial transactions to expand social protection coverage.

Second, more than sixty governments have successfully restructured/reduced their debt obligations to free up resources for development. Third, addressing illicit financial flows such as tax evasion and money laundering is a huge opportunity to generate revenue. Fourth, governments can simply decide to reprioritize their spending, away from low social impact investments areas like defense and bank/corporate bailouts; for example, Costa Rica and Thailand redirected military expenditures to public health.

Fifth, another financing option is to use accumulated fiscal and foreign reserves in Central Banks. Sixth, attract greater transfers/development assistance or concessional loans. A seventh option is to adopt more accommodative macroeconomic frameworks. And eighth, governments can formalize workers in the informal economy with good contracts and wages, which increases the contribution pool and expands social protection coverage.

Expenditure and financing decisions that affect the lives of millions of people cannot be taken behind closed doors at the Ministry of Finance. All options should be carefully examined in an inclusive national social dialogue with representatives from trade unions, employers, civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders.

#EndAusterity is a global campaign to stop austerity measures that have negative social impacts. Since 2020, more than 500 organizations and academics from 87 countries have called on the IMF and Ministries of Finance to immediately stop austerity, and instead prioritize policies that advance gender justice, reduce inequality, and put people and planet first.

Isabel Ortiz is Director of the Global Social Justice Program at Joseph Stiglitz’s Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University, former Director at the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF
Matthew Cummins is senior economist who has worked at UNDP, UNICEF and the World Bank.

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Recipes with a Taste of Sustainable Development on the Coast of El Salvador

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Global Governance, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Projects, Regional Categories, Special Report, TerraViva United Nations

Environment

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

SAN LUIS LA HERRADURA, El Salvador, Mar 31 2021 (IPS) – Salvadoran villager Maria Luz Rodriguez placed the cheese on top of the lasagna she was cooking outdoors, put the pan in her solar oven and glanced at the midday sun to be sure there was enough energy for cooking.


“Hopefully it won’t get too cloudy later,” Maria Luz, 78, told IPS. She then checked the thermometer inside the oven to see if it had reached 150 degrees Celsius, the ideal temperature to start baking.

She lives in El Salamar, a coastal village of 95 families located in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality in the central department of La Paz which is home to some 30,000 people on the edge of an impressive ecosystem: the mangroves and bodies of water that make up the Estero de Jaltepeque, a natural reserve whose watershed covers 934 square kilometres.

After several minutes the cheese began to melt, a clear sign that things were going well inside the solar oven, which is simply a box with a lid that functions as a mirror, directing sunlight into the interior, which is covered with metal sheets.

“I like to cook lasagna on special occasions,” Maria Luz said with a smile.

After Tropical Storm Stan hit Central America in 2005, a small emergency fund reached El Salamar two years later, which eventually became the start of a much more ambitious sustainable development project that ended up including more than 600 families.

Solar ovens and energy-efficient cookstoves emerged as an important component of the programme.

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The project was financed by the Global Environment Facility‘s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, and El Salamar was later joined by other villages, bringing the total number to 18. The overall investment was more than 400,000 dollars.

In addition to solar ovens and high-energy rocket stoves, work was done on mangrove reforestation and sustainable management of fishing and agriculture, among other measures. Agriculture and fishing are the main activities in these villages, in addition to seasonal work during the sugarcane harvest.

While María Luz made the lasagna, her daughter, María del Carmen Rodríguez, 49, was cooking two other dishes: bean soup with vegetables and beef, and rice – not in a solar oven but on one of the rocket stoves.

This stove is a circular structure 25 centimetres high and about 30 centimetres in diameter, whose base has an opening in which a small metal grill is inserted to hold twigs no more than 15 centimetres long, which come from the gliridicia (Gliricidia sepium) tree. This promotes the use of living fences that provide firewood, to avoid damaging the mangroves.

The stove maintains a good flame with very little wood, due to its high energy efficiency, unlike traditional cookstoves, which require several logs to prepare each meal and produce smoke that is harmful to health.

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The rocket stove can cook anything, but it is designed to work with another complementary mechanism for maximum energy efficiency.

Once the stews or soups have reached boiling point, they are placed inside the “magic” stove: a circular box about 36 centimetres in diameter made of polystyrene or durapax, as it is known locally, a material that retains heat.

The food is left there, covered, to finish cooking with the steam from the hot pot, like a kind of steamer.

“The nice thing about this is that you can do other things while the soup is cooking by itself in the magic stove,” explained María del Carmen, a homemaker who has five children.

The technology for both stoves was brought to these coastal villages by a team of Chileans financed by the Chile Fund against Hunger and Poverty, established in 2006 by the government of that South American country and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote South-South cooperation.

The Chileans taught a group of young people from several of these communities how to make the components of the rocket stoves, which are made from clay, cement and a commercial sealant or glue.

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The use of these stoves “has reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 50 percent compared to traditional stoves,” Juan René Guzmán, coordinator of the GEF’s Small Grants Programme in El Salvador, told IPS.

Some 150 families use rocket stoves and magic stoves in 10 of the villages that were part of the project, which ended in 2017.

“People were given their cooking kits, and in return they had to help plant mangroves, or collect plastic, not burn garbage, etc. But not everyone was willing to work for the environment,” Claudia Trinidad, 26, a native of El Salamar and a senior studying business administration – online due to the COVID pandemic – at the Lutheran University of El Salvador, told IPS.

Those who worked on the mangrove reforestation generated hours of labour, which were counted as more than 800,000 dollars in matching funds provided by the communities.

In the project area, 500 hectares of mangroves have been preserved or restored, and sustainable practices have been implemented on 300 hectares of marine and land ecosystems.

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador's southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador’s southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez, from the town of San Sebastián El Chingo, was among the people who participated in the work. She was also cooking bean soup for lunch on her rocket stove when IPS visited her home during a tour of the area.

“I like the stove because you feel less heat when you are preparing food, plus it’s very economical, just a few twigs and that’s it,” said Petrona, 59.

The bean soup, a staple dish in El Salvador, would be ready in an hour, she said. She used just under one kilo of beans, and the soup would feed her and her four children for about five days.

However, she used only the rocket stove, without the magic stove, more out of habit than anything else. “We always have gliridicia twigs on hand,” she said, which make it easy to use the stove.

Although the solar oven offers the cleanest solution, few people still have theirs, IPS found.

This is due to the fact that the wood they were built with was not of the best quality and the coastal weather conditions and moths soon took their toll.

Maria Luz is one of the few people who still uses hers, not only to cook lasagna, but for a wide variety of recipes, such as orange bread.

However, the project is not only about stoves and ovens.

 Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The beneficiary families also received cayucos (flat-bottomed boats smaller than canoes) and fishing nets, plus support for setting up nurseries for blue crabs and mollusks native to the area, as part of the fishing component with a focus on sustainability in this region on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Several families have dug ponds that fill up with water from the estuary at high tide, where they raise fish that provide them with food in times of scarcity, such as during the lockdown declared in the country in March 2020 to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The project also promoted the planting of corn and beans with native seeds, as well as other crops – tomatoes, cucumbers, cushaw squash and radishes – using organic fertiliser and herbicides.

The president of the Local Development Committee of San Luis La Herradura, Daniel Mercado, told IPS that during the COVID-19 health emergency people in the area resorted to bartering to stock up on the food they needed.

“If one community had tomatoes and another had fish, we traded, we learned to survive, to coexist,” Daniel said. “It was like the communism of the early Christians.”

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International Women’s Day, 2021Gender Equality is The Roadmap We Need to Overcome Our Most Pressing Global Challenges

Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change

Opinion

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day March 8.

NEW YORK, Mar 4 2021 (IPS) – In 2020, progress on gender equality stalled or regressed in many countries in large part because of the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent analysis, by 2021, around 435 million girls and women will be living on less than $1.90 a day, including 47 million pushed into poverty as a result of the pandemic. Global lockdowns contributed to a surge of gender-based violence worldwide, and estimates show that sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), the bedrock of gender equality, have been severely disrupted, resulting in an additional 49 million women at risk of experiencing an unmet need for modern contraception. Our most pressing global issues have seldom been so daunting, and fault lines in existing social, political, and economic systems have never been so deep.


Kathleen Sherwin

Fortunately, the evidence-based solutions we need to lay the groundwork for a future that delivers for all, including for girls, women, and underrepresented populations1 , are in plain sight. As a global community, by using gender equality as our shared North Star, we can set in motion actions that help us not only recover, but come out on the other side of our most pressing global challenges stronger. Achieving gender equality, with a focus on girls’ and women’s health and rights, must be central to the actions we take in response to COVID-19, and other deeply entrenched barriers to progress, such as climate change.

On this International Women’s Day, we’re calling on governments, the private sector, and civil society leaders to firmly position gender equality as our collective roadmap for coordinated action on COVID-19 and sustainable development. As essential first steps, together, we must prioritize collecting and using disaggregated data, securing the full and effective participation of girls and women in all aspects of decision-making, and investing more in gender equality. Sustainable progress toward a world that works for everyone depends on it.

Decision-makers must collect and use disaggregated data to set equitable action in motion.

Girls and women are too often invisible to decision-makers because data and knowledge about them is either incomplete or missing. To create policies that advance gender equality by addressing the disproportionate impacts of global challenges on girls, women, and underrepresented populations, we first need to invest in disaggregated data to get a full, intersectional picture of the uneven impacts of global issues.

In August 2020, in partnership with Focus 2030, we set out to do just that, conducting a first-of-its-kind multi-national survey — in 17 countries, representing half of the world’s population — to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on girls and women, and global public opinion and expectations for policymaking on gender equality. We learned that girls and women are shouldering the worst of the pandemic’s impact: across 13 of 17 countries surveyed, women report experiencing greater emotional stress and mental health challenges than men, and taking on an even greater share of household tasks.

Girls and women must be fully and effectively engaged in charting our shared path forward.

Building a sustainable future for all requires the full participation — and potential — of girls and women in all aspects of our international and domestic response to global issues, and the realization of that potential depends on their health and rights. In fact, we now know that 82% of citizens globally believe women must be involved in all aspects of COVID-19 global health response and recovery efforts.

Crucially, we must engage today’s youth, who will ultimately bear the consequences of our action — or inaction — and who have the highest expectations for more government funding for gender equality. 75% of female respondents aged 18-24 expect their government to spend more on gender equality, and over 94% of young men and women are ready to take personal action to make sure that they do.

Gender equality is what citizens want, and it’s what the world needs to build a healthier future for all.

The resounding call for action on gender equality, matched by robust funding and accountability mechanisms, holds across countries surveyed for men and women, young and old alike. Over 80% of citizens globally want their government to invest more to promote gender equality, and are ready to act — from the way they vote, to the products they buy — to make sure that this happens. The resounding majority of citizens also believe that increasing access to SRHR is a top priority for immediate government action.

As governments, the private sector, and civil society leaders come together on International Women’s Day, and during upcoming global fora including the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Generation Equality Forum to discuss how to transform words into action that improves the health of all people and the planet, ensuring that gender equality is our shared roadmap for responding to global challenges is crucial to sustainable progress now and in years to come. It’s what citizens want, and it’s what the world needs to build a healthier, more gender-equal future.

1 People of underrepresented sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or expressions, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC), and those who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and oppression.

The author is Interim President & CEO, Women Deliver

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International Women’s Day, 2021To Lead is to Serve — A Pacific Woman’s Perspective

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women & Economy, Women in Politics, Women’s Health

Opinion

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark International Women’s Day March 8.

SUVA, Fiji, Mar 1 2021 (IPS) – An often quoted indigenous reference in the Samoan language is, O le ala i le pule o le tautua, literally translated, “the pathway to leadership is through service” because to be able to lead is to be willing to serve.


Since world leaders endorsed the blueprint for gender equality in Beijing 1995, women in leadership has dominated in numerous conversations and forums in terms of the need to increase women in leadership as a critical factor to achieve gender equality. Many of the perspectives shared, are about facilitating opportunities for women, advancing women in fields dominated by men, particularly in the sciences, and achieving equality in decision-making. Women in leadership has become a popular discourse from development, to academia, to politics, to science and innovation; and organisations across all sectors are recognizing the importance of inclusivity and equity for achieving sustainable development.

The 2020 Pacific review of the Beijing Platform for Action, 25 years after Beijing, highlighted that Pacific states still have a long way to go in achieving balanced representation of women in national parliaments. With the exception of the French Territories where equitable representation of women in their legislative assemblies is ensured by the French ‘parity law’, women’s representation in national parliaments across the region is shockingly low and temporary special measures (TSMs) are only used in a few states. At all levels, and across all nations, gender power dynamics disadvantage women as decision makers; and socio-cultural norms in the Pacific see men as the ‘natural’ spokespeople for families, communities and governments. That said, the report also noted an increase in women’s participation in all levels of decision-making at community levels, in public service and in civil society organisations. This raises a number of challenging questions.

Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara

Where does this lead us in a pandemic environment? COVID-19 has exacerbated existing and ongoing inequalities in the Pacific, hindering what is already very slow progress for achieving gender equality. The evidence is quite clear as to where these inequalities are found and policy dialogues and talanoa sessions held within the region over the last two and a half decades, have generated a multitude of recommendations on what can be done by governments and as a region. What then is the problem, we ask ourselves? It’s the resourcing, the response, the lack of political will and commitment, and the list goes on, that women leaders and women engaging in the gender space, know all too well.

So, what can we do and what does this mean for Women in Leadership? The answer lies in our ongoing concerted efforts to have women at the table with an equal voice to speak for the 50% of our population. We will keep pushing to have women leaders at the table who understand women’s lived experiences and needs, and that these are translated into decision-making on resource allocation and prioritisation. We need women who lead, knowing that they have families and communities to attend to after work, and appreciate the value of unpaid care work. More importantly, we need the same women leaders at the table to share those perspectives with their men counterparts, to affect change that will transform societies and enable positive and inclusive change for gender equality at all levels in society and across all locations – urban, rural and remote.

Our unprecedented experience with COVID-19 has changed the way we live, the way we work and certainly the way we exercise leadership and deliver service. It has reminded us that with border closures and travel restrictions, we need to be searching within our own borders and within our own societies for solutions. One of these solutions is for us to utilize and capitalize on the often-untapped skills, knowledge and expertise of women, to generate solutions for our development challenges. The role of women, as we are seeing in recovery efforts across the Pacific, is a testament to the service they continue to provide for our families and our communities. It is evidenced in women’s resilience and their significant capabilities in managing our communities and societies through multiple disasters and climatic events over the years, and through the multitude of cultural and customary obligations that we have all lived through, and will continue to live through. It is a reflection of women’s knowledge of our Pacific ways of knowing and ways of being, gathered and passed down from generation to generation.

The impacts of COVID-19 are huge and as a region and as a people, it will take some time to navigate our way through these impacts towards full recovery. However, if there is one learning that I take away from this crisis, it is our ability to remain resilient and to continue to serve each other and our people, with our women holding the fort in all our societies and communities across the Pacific Ocean, through their ongoing service. It is a manifestation and a living example of leadership through service, because to be able to lead is to be willing to serve, and being able to serve is being able to lead, and such is the spirit of Pacific women in leadership.

Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara is Acting Regional Director, Polynesia Regional Office Pacific Community (SPC)

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The Boon and Bane of LDC Graduation: The Bangladesh Experience

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Education, Food & Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Health, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

SINGAPORE, Feb 22 2021 (IPS) – Bangladeshis at the present time share a modicum of justifiable pride in the fact that the world merits this country worth watching in terms of its economic potentials. To my mind , we have reached this stage for the following reasons: First, effective utilization of early foreign assistance; second a steady ,albeit sustained, move away from a near -socialistic to an open and liberal economy; third , a shift from agriculture to manufacturing as land-space shrank to accommodate urbanization; fourth , an unleashing of remarkable entrepreneurial spirit among private sector captains of industry, as evidenced in the Ready Made Garments industry: fifth, the prevalence of a vibrant civil society intellectually aiding the social transformation with its focus on health, education, and gender issues: and finally ,a long period of political stability notwithstanding the traditional predilections of Bengali socio-political activism.


Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

The philosophical underpinning behind the concept of ‘Least Developed Countries’ (LDCs) devised at the UN in the 1960s was to identify a set of States whose impediment to development was structural, and not due to their own faults. Hence the idea that the global trading system needed to be adjusted by providing these nations ‘special and differential treatment’, such as entailed in non-reciprocal preferential market access. This would, hopefully, create for them a level playing field. Bangladesh joined the Group in 1975, immediately following its UN membership. The conditions for joining the list of LDCs or graduating from it , are determined by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) based on certain criteria. Out of original 48 six countries have already graduated: Botswana, Cape Verde, Maldives, Samoa, Equatorial Guinea, and Vanuatu. Nepal and Bangladesh are in the cusp of graduation.

Graduation is for Bangladesh a mix of boon and bane. It is a boon because it is an acknowledgment of progress, a major milestone in the nation’s development journey. It would improve the country’s global image which should give it better credit ratings. This would allow it to borrow more cheaply on the world market. It is a bane because it would ultimately lose all the preferences accorded to LDCs in global trade such as under the European Union’s Everything but Arms (EBA) initiative. However, Bangladesh has not quite optimized on those advantages.

Incidentally, as chair of the WTO Committee of Trade and Development, as also of the LDC Group in Geneva in the late 1990s and early 2000, and also as Special Advisor to Secretary General Rubens Ricupero of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), I was involved with the related deliberations with the European Union. Bangladesh has always played a leadership role on behalf of the LDCs in all multilateral negotiations, both at the WTO in Geneva and at the United Nations in New York. Sometimes these involved not only tough deliberations with developed countries and ‘economies in transition’ (former socialist countries) , but also with developing member-States of the Group of 77 (because it entailed the sharing of the cake).Bangladesh’s graduation will in many ways deprive the LDCs of this capacity. Across the diplomatic scene, Bangladesh could also depend on the support of fellow-LDCs on a broad range of issues. I would gratefully recall the contribution in this regard of the so-called “Utstein Sisters” of Europe (named after a venue in Northern Europe where they met), five women Development Cooperation Ministers, including Evelyn Herfkens of the Netherlands and Claire Short of the UK. They were ardent advocates of LDC aspirations, and were instrumental, among other things, in the WTO’s acceptance, unlike in the case its predecessor, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT), of the broad principle that trade is a key tool of development.

Following graduation, Bangladesh will need to negotiate a continuation of international support measures to render the graduation process smooth and sustainable. If needs be, even after the grace period of quota-free duty- free market access vis-à-vis Europe till 2029. Though in Brussels the EU could cut Bangladesh some slack because of its performance, at the WTO, Bangladesh, will be well advised to attempt a norm setting exercise with regard to graduating countries with the new Director General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is empathetic, as well as with the membership. This will take some skillful diplomacy. But I would like to strongly underscore that negotiations are but the tip of the ice- berg. The main challenge would lie in tackling the fundamentals beneath. For instance, in addressing domestically the 27 requirements, including corruption, non-compliances, and other inadequacies, across the governance spectrum to achieve GSP -plus status. Also, to derive other global market benefits.

Comparative advantages would have to be transformed into competitive advantage. Low-wages will tend to perpetuate poverty. So wage-rise, an essential tool for poverty mitigation, would need to be carefully calibrated with the increase in productivity. Economy should diversify, particularly into services, which do not face goods tariff and hence less affected by loss of preferences. The Internet sector, on which the government is prudently laser-focused, can help Bangladesh leapfrog into economic modernity. The pharmaceutical industry should seriously reflect on how to navigate WTO regulations on Trade in Intellectual Property, or TRIPS. Mutually rewarding arrangements with other Asian economic powerhouses are called for. For instance, Free Trade Agreement with a country like Singapore could, and I use the word ‘could’ advisedly, unlock potentials, but that would require further serious study and examination.

Throughout my negotiating career I had felt that preferences tend only to prolong pain. There are no such things as friends in the marketplace. The sooner we start to confront the real world of competition the better off we are. Indeed, if we can play our cards right, the graduation could be our ‘’break-out” moment to reflect on reforms, on raising productivity and on boosting growth. Efforts must be directed towards moving up the value chain by attracting quality FDI. From my current perch in the corporate sector in Singapore, I see Vietnam as an example worthy of emulation.

So, to conclude, graduation is inevitable if progress is the goal, as it must be, and indeed desirable, just as, in our individual lives, coming of age, that is of turning 21, is. Readiness is key. From what I see, there is nothing like the last minute in speeding up requisite preparations. Doubtless, there is much work to be done. But we must bear in mind that if there is a hill to climb, waiting will not make it any smaller!

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is the Honorary Fellow at the Institute of South Asia Studies, NUS. He is a former Foreign Advisor (Foreign Minister) of Bangladesh and President & Distinguished Fellow of Cosmos Foundation. The views addressed in the article are his own. He can be reached at: isasiac@nus.edu.sg

This story was originally published by Dhaka Courier.

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Climate Change & Policy Making in Nepal

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Environment, Farming Crisis: Filling An Empty Plate, Food & Agriculture, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Simone Galimberti is Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.

Rural woman farmer Chandra Kala Thapa works in the fields near Chatiune Village, Nepal. Over $39 million has been earmarked by a UN-backed fund to combat effects of climate change in Nepal. Credit: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha

KATHMANDU, Nepal, Feb 16 2021 (IPS) – Raju Pandit Chhetri is one of the most acclaimed climate change policy experts in Nepal and South Asia. As Director of the Prakiriti Resource Centre, an action focused think tank based in Kathmandu, Pandit Cheetri shares his opinion on the latest climate focused policies being undertaken by the Government of Nepal, especially the 2nd Nationally Determined Contribution NDC that was recently submitted by the Government.


Q: Before discussing the second Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) released by the Government in December, what is your assessment of the first one published in October 2016?

Raju: The first NDC was much more inclusive as it tried to balance between the adaptation, mitigations and means of implementation. It was done it a short period of time and no proper format existed then. It was prepared to demonstrate Nepal’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Q: Coming now to the second NDC, it states that “Nepal is formulating a long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy by 2021 with the aim to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050”. Given the fact that Nepal’s emissions are minimal, were you expected such goal?

Raju: Given the emission scenario and context of Nepal, achieving net-zero GHG by 2050 is doable, if there is political commitment and actions, we can achieve this even earlier. It’s great that Nepal has this vision and wants to implement it via a strategy. Given Nepal’s forest coverage, potential for renewable energy and low per capita emission this is a realistic target. Nationally we need to do more.

Q: Shouldn’t the NDC be already providing a roadmap to achieve this goal? Do we need another strategy just because the NDC document is fairly a generic one?

Raju: I guess for now, the NDC is more of a visioning paper for next five to 10 years. It would have been good if the details were presented but, in any case, for a least developed country (LDC) country with insignificant amount of carbon emission, it isn’t a bad thing. The current version does give the vision if not every detail of the targets. However, it is true that Nepal just loves preparing policies, plans and strategies rather than focusing on implementation. We have great policies not actions, unfortunately.

Q: There has been skepticism about net-zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050, especially in relation to the financial contributions that Nepal is committing itself (we are talking only of mitigation measures here) through what are called the unconditional commitment that will amount to $ 3.4 billion, resources that Nepal is pledging to mobilize on its own. Is it feasible?

Raju: The total cost gives at US$ 25 billion for mitigation and Nepal’s own share is arbitrary (don’t know where this is coming from). There is no basis for accounting and detail analysis. Principally, it would have been better if the numbers with commitments from Nepal were not there, after all Nepal’s emission is very low and with no historical responsibility.

However, there is no harm in submitting the second NDCs, it’s great to demonstrate that even a country like Nepal is serious on climate actions and would pressurize the rich responsible countries to come forward. But I do agree that this rush did not help in making the NDC preparation process inclusive and participatory. This is a fundamental drawback. This process would have avoided many of the shortcomings such as finance targets and making it mitigation centric.

Q: Do you think that Nepal’s proposed graduation from the group of LDCs (to the status of a middle income country) in 2024 can have a negative impact for the country’s efforts to find the needed external resources to implement the 2nd NDC?

Raju: When Nepal graduates, it will lose some of the privileges which it enjoyed as a LDC country. However, this may not matter in the short term because there is also transitional period, which it can enjoy for a few more years. Having said that if development process advances to making it a developing country from LDC then it also comes with responsibility and enhanced ability, which it must embrace. It must find other avenues and create opportunities for itself. The good thing is Nepal is often one of the favorites to donors hence, the politics must work on this favorable condition in the short and long run.

Q: Between adaptation and mitigation, how to strike the right balance? In a recent interview, you highlighted that this second NDC should have been more focused on adaptation. Why not being ambitious developing a greener economy as well?

Raju: I am always for developing a greener economy, I would even go further to say that we need much more concrete actions to reduce air pollution, import less fossil fuel and adopt a green development pathway. However, given the global scenario, Nepal is one of the lowest carbon emitting countries but highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This is being clearly seen in the areas of climate induced disasters like landslide and floods. Nepal suffers from food insecurity, poverty, water issues and many other development issues hence in this context- adaptation should not be less prioritize. Nepal’s NDC fails to realize this current reality. NDC is an international document that we submit to international organization (UNFCCC) hence in that context adaptation is always Nepal’s priority. My comment was not that we should not do mitigation but rather give due weightage to adaptation actions reflecting the reality of the county.

Q: What should we expect from the upcoming National Adaptation Plan, NAP?

Raju: There is also a huge adaptation gap in Nepal and we are way behind in fulfilling this gap. NAP should clearly state the current situation of country’s adaptation need and areas of vulnerability. In this context, provide adequate information and focus areas where adaptation is a dire need. It should help prioritize the areas of intervention, partners, identify issues, and ways to address them. Currently, NAP is in the process of making in Nepal, hope this is soon completed and this can be a basis for adaptation actions in the country.

Q: In terms of mitigation in the NDC, there are ambitious forestry targets like maintaining 45% of total area of the country under forest cover in addition to bold announcements on reducing pollution in the transportation sector. Do you remain hopeful the targets will be met?

Raju: It is good that Nepal is having some bold targets but this is not easy for Nepal to meet with the current priorities and enabling environment. There are lots of conflicting aspects when it comes to what is in the policy and what is done in practice. For sure, there is need to maintain our forest cover, address pollution in the cities, manage growing waste and significantly replace the imported fossil fuel by renewable energy. However, this is not possible merely putting it in NDC without actions. Political commitment should ensure partnership between the government, private sectors, financers and other partners to achieve these targets.

Q: Prakriti Resources Centre was one of the leading forces behind the Climate and Development Dialogue in 2019. How useful are such stakeholders ‘meetings?

Raju: We do regular meetings and gathering to share ideas and experiences from the policy to the implementation level. There are about 12 members in the dialogue who regularly exchange information on climate and development issues. We also make policy suggestions and inputs to the government. Many of our inputs have been incorporated into the policy documents. We continue to advocate for the affective implementation of these plans and policies.

Q: With the 2nd NDC being published, what should the government do now? What is the civil society planning to do? Are you going to play a role in shaping the formation of the numerous new “climate” institutions, including the Inter-Ministerial Climate Change Coordination Committee (IMCCCC) and the Climate Change Resource Center? In addition, the NDC says that by 2030, all 753 local governments will prepare and implement climate-resilient and gender-responsive adaptation plans. Is this realistic?

Raju: We will continue to be vigilant on what government does on climate actions – both in terms of policy implementation and raising new issues. We will support where needed but also push on what needs to be done.

There are a lot of things that the government needs to do both in terms of climate adaptation and mitigation. We have not even entered into the debate of loss and damage. A few months back ICIMOD and UNDP produced a report that 25 glacial lake in the Himalayas are at the risk of out-bursting. This is a huge issue for a country like, imagine one lake out bursting and it causing harm in the downstream. This is a case of loss and damage.

Government cannot just make policies and promise, it needs to acts through appropriate institutions, allocating finance and ensuring that the actions are taking place at the local level. Government has promised to make adaptation plans in all the 753 local governments and this cannot merely be an empty promise. It needs to fulfil the promise to meet the expectation of the climate vulnerable communities. But for this high degree of political commitment is a must. It needs to start from awareness building of the local governments and supporting them with technical inputs.

Q: What do you hope Glasgow 2021 will achieve? The Prakriti Resources Centre together with its peers within the Climate Finance Advisory Service, extensively analyzed the disbursement pledge of USD 100 billion goal in annual commitments from the developed countries. Where are we?

Raju: COP26 should help raise the climate ambitions so that the world is in track to achieve 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Currently, we are heading to 3 degree world or beyond. By COP26 every country should submit an ambitious NDCs. In order to achieve this, climate finance will play a major role. Developed countries are falling short in fulfilling their promise of meeting the climate finance targets of US$100 billion per year by 2020. This gap should be filled in only then the developing countries will be able to take climate actions. The money should be balance both for mitigation and adaptation, while also prioritizing loss and damage. Developed countries have been double counting their ODA as climate finance, this should not be the case but sincere effort must be made to support climate vulnerable countries like Nepal.

Q: Last but not the least, what are your suggestions to a young graduate in Nepal that would embrace the work you are doing?

Raju: Working in the area of climate change looks appealing but without perseverance it does not last long. This is a wide open and multisectoral area hence focus is imperative. It is not easy as it sounds otherwise, we would have long back solved the problem, in fact we are nowhere near it. No doubt, more young people should join the movement and work on climate change because this is the issue about their future. However, the work must be backed by keen interest to build one’s knowledge, motivation and dedication.

To have more information about Prakiriti Resource Centre, please visit www.prc.org.np
To have more information about Climate Finance Advisory Service, please visit https://www.cfas.info/en
E-mail: simone_engage@yahoo.com
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/simone-galimberti-4b899a3/

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