the latest on Internet trends from analyst mary meeker

1 June 2017: Mary Meeker, a partner in the firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has just delivered her annual pithy, incisive report on Internet trends to the Code Conference at the Terranea Resort in California. According to Recode her presentation included 355 slides and the following bullet points:

  • Global smartphone shipments grew 3 percent last year, versus 10 percent the year before.
  • Twenty percent of mobile queries were made by voice in 2016 as  accuracy in recognition continued to improve (to about 95 percent).
  • While overall TV viewership is declining, Netflix has gone from 0 to more than 30 percent of US home entertainment revenue in a decade.
  • Global interactive gaming has 2.6 billion players in 2017 versus 100 million in 1995. Revenues from gaming are estimated to be around $100 billion in 2016, and China is now the top market for interactive gaming. Entrepreneurs tend to be gamers: Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman and Mark Zuckerberg are all players. 
  • China has seen huge growth in mobile services and payments and services like on-demand bike sharing. More details on China
  • While internet growth is slowing globally, that’s not the case in India, where the number of internet users grew more than 28 percent in 2016, with still only 27 percent online penetration. Mobile internet usage is growing as the cost of bandwidth declines.  More details on India.
  • In the United States, 60 percent of the most highly valued tech companies in 2016 were founded by first- or second-generation Americans. They have 1.5 million employees and include Apple, Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook. 


10 Messages from Vienna energy forum 2017 on sustainable development 

24 May 2017: The fifth Vienna Energy Forum brought together over 1,650 participants from 128 countries. It was co-organized by UNIDO, the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Austrian Government, and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL). At its conclusion on 15 May participants agreed on  10 "key messages" highlighting the catalytic role of energy in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030 and the Paris climate agreement. A fuller Outcome document is expected in a few weeks. The 10 Points (with our comments in red) are:

ONE  Many of the capital investments we make today have a very long replacement time, therefore the energy choices we make today will lock us into a development path for decades to come. Long-term integrated strategies are imperative to cover all SDGs. The deadline set for the SDGs highlights the urgency of moving forward now if we are to these goals by 2030, show substantial progress by 2020 and gather momentum for the future 2050 development targets. The vision for 2050 for sustainable development must shape the decisions made today. Every effort to set "long-term integrated strategies"  at national or international levels has resulted in gross inefficiencies and malformed development. It would be far wiser to set broad targets and leave the rest to entrepreneurs, scientists and markets. 

TWO  Energy is the key enabler for food security, health, land and water. From food refrigeration to wastewater treatment, energy is a basic requirement for rapid and healthy development. The urgency of the implementation phase of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement highlights the need for a holistic approach which mitigates the trade-offs while positively enhancing the numerous interlinkages between these sectors. Again, attempts at a "holistic" approach based on some masterplan invite disaster. In envisaging the future it is necessary to look to the implications of three major trends today. These are

(1) Global connectivity;

(2) Rapid development of solar/wind energy

(3) 3D Printing.

Global connectivity enables small and medium enterprises to find and cater to niche markets. That will disaggregate the mass markets essential for the survival of mega-corporations. Cheap renewable off-grid energy and 3D printing (which makes the highest quality of industrial production possible on the smallest scale) accelerate the demise of mass manufacturing. 

We are looking at a future in which small and medium enterprises, and even individual artisans, will compete with mega-corporations and make it impossible for them to survive. The effects will be felt in every sphere of economic life, for commodity trade will be transformed, as will transportation networks and all energy infrastructure.   

THREE  With the global megatrend of rapid urbanization, its proportionally growing energy demand and corresponding greenhouse gas emissions, cities are calling for innovative approaches to urban design and transformative change. One of the solutions could be innovative infrastructure that uses renewable energy in an efficient way to cope with the rising demand of energy without detrimental impact on the climate and the environment.  The trend described above will put a stop to rapid urbanization. Without mass manufacturing, the single greatest driver of urbanization will cease. Decentralized small scale production will mean that "industrial cities" and even trade-dependent cities will become relics of the past.

FOUR   Affordable and clean energy is the biggest opportunity to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The majority of the Nationally Determined Contributions see the energy sector as a vital component to achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Technology transfer, investment, capacity building and institutions will help energy play its role in fighting climate change. The changes described above will bring about most of the major changes necessary to end global warming. Global connectivity will allow all projects to be crowd-funded, so the role of finance as we now know it will become irrelevant. 

FIVE   Technological innovations are central for sustainable energy development. New concepts and game-changing technologies are being introduced, but the level of readiness remains uncertain. This is the first generation that has the technology to solve climate change and related problems of sustainability. Current development strategies need to be continuously updated to reflect newly available technological innovations. To make such adjustment possible, it is necessary for international organizations to become networks embedded as nodes in global networks.

SIX   Sustainable solutions depend on innovative and inclusive business models that can be scaled up, replicated, and are self-sustaining. These business models exist already and are ripe for financing by financial institutions, development banks, as well as private investors. The financial resources necessary to accomplish SDG 7 and the Paris Agreement also exist, yet the appropriate instruments are not being applied in a way that enables new businesses to blossom and large-scale projects to move forward. This represents a collective opportunity for collaboration and partnerships between the public and private sector to provide such solutions. The reality foreseen in this paragraph will not exist. The future lies with networks of small, medium and artisanal scale producers, crowd-funded by the communities they benefit. World trade will resemble a giant e-Bay. Governments and international agencies will have strategic roles in directing the world economy but the action will lie largely with the private sector.

SEVEN   Governments are able to stimulate innovation by demonstrating political commitment and setting ambitious targets and plans to provide the incentives to realize those goals; supporting research and development in cross-sectoral innovation and providing platforms to deliver technologies and integrated solutions that respond to the differentiated needs of users; and by developing the energy system based on an integrated network rather than a top down approach.  There will be no need for governments to stimulate innovation. The system driven by small-scale entrepreneurs will maximize innovation at the only meaningful level, that of the individual. 

EIGHT   Recognizing that innovation works at multiple levels, and that it can trigger fast and transformative change, target-setting and regional cooperation can further ensure that results of innovation trickle down through all levels. Additionally, women are the best placed agents to absorb innovation and successfully turn it into higher income and better lives. Private sector players can also help drive down the cost and increase the efficiency and speed of mainstreaming of innovation.  As noted above, transformative changes will depend heavily on networks. There will be no need for "trickle down" in a networked world.

NINE    Energy is a crucial component for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, but also for meeting the energy security needs of various countries. The elements of trust, confidence and transparency are essential enablers for the means of implementation. Additionally, tailored sustainable solutions for specific national needs are vital for ensuring the success in meeting these global agreements. The whole concept of national security will be transformed by the emergence of a world economy with decentralized production and energy sources.

TEN   The role of the private sector in implementing the SDGs and the Paris Agreement is growing, and the public sector should embrace it as the driver of innovation. The design of policy should incorporate the needs of small and medium enterprises in developing countries. This can be done alongside the creation of frameworks which enable new entrepreneurs to create quality and cost effective solutions which can address energy and sustainability demands simultaneously.  There will be only the private sector.

 world bank, un set framework for action to help countries in conflict

24 April 2017: UN Secretary-General António Guterres and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim have agreed on a joint framework to help countries caught in conflict. They signed a partnership agreement in Washington on 22 April to:

  • identify and reduce critical multi-dimensional risks of crisis, and prevent violent conflict in relevant countries or regions within the mandate of both institutions;
  • coordinate support for situations of protracted crisis, including aligning strategies, objectives and collective outcomes, in particular for populations affected by forced displacement, and based on joint analyses and assessments;
  • develop joint analyses and tools where the complementarity of mandates may enable more effective solutions;
  • scale up impact, by leveraging existing financing and comparative advantages, and ensuring that operational policies, frameworks, and tools used by both organizations facilitate cooperation and improve efficiency and complementarity. 

Joint Statement

In a joint statement the two officials said the framework would seek to build resilience and sustain peace in conflict areas by reducing  poverty, promoting shared prosperity, enhancing food security, and sustaining peace in crisis-affected situations.
They said the initiative was "in response to global calls for our institutions to work more closely together on prevention and reducing needs, risks, and vulnerability as the world faces a spike in violent conflict." The human and economic costs of conflict "are massive, affecting long-term stability and prospects for economic development and poverty reduction," they said. "Violent conflict drives 80 percent of humanitarian needs costs, with the UN estimating that $22.1 billion is required in 2017 for humanitarian assistance—a sharp increase from the $9 billion needed just 5 years ago."
Recognizing that the UN and World Bank have "different comparative advantages and mandates," the framework outlines guiding principles to ensure that collective efforts encompass developmental, humanitarian, political, security, peacebuilding, human rights, economic, and social dimensions, with the goal of advancing integrated solutions based on the needs of each country."
The framework also notes the importance of aligning and leveraging financial resources, doing more through innovative, data-driven operational responses. "To advance this work, our two institutions will focus on building resilience in a variety of situations. These include situations where there is a risk of violent conflict or ongoing conflict; situations with high levels of forced displacement; protracted and post-crisis situations; and when climate change and natural disasters affect these situations."

 Achim Steiner of Germany to replace  helen clark as undp administrator  

15 April 2017: The Secretary-General has named Achim Steiner of Germany as UNDP Administrator on 13 April, a UN holiday because of Good Friday. The announcement came as a surprise because it had been widely expected that the post vacated by Helen Clark of New Zealand would go to another woman, specifically,   French Environment Minister Segolene Royal.

The AFP story reporting the appointment said Ms. Royale was surprised because Guterres had promised a woman would take the job. "She intimated that Germany used its weight as a major UNDP donor to have Steiner chosen," the story said.

Perhaps the appointment of a French Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping two weeks ago had something to with the change of plans. It would have been extraordinary if another French national was appointed to a post that is on par with that of Deputy Secretary-General.

Mr. Steiner can be expected to hit the ground running because he has spent a decade at the head of the UN Environment Program headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. At the end of his term at UNEP he was a leading candidate to replace Antonio Guterres as High Commissioner for Human Rights. Guterres also spent a decade at UNHCR before becoming Secretary-General. Both men will probably rack up another decade in their new jobs; if that happens they will be the longest serving agency heads in UN history.

 NO HOPE OF MEANINGFUL action from  ECOSOC Focused on Tax collection  

7 April 2017: The expectation of developing countries that the work of ECOSOC's Committee of Experts on Tax Matters will help end the illicit drain of wealth from their economies is headed for disappointment. That was made clear at the 7 April special meeting of ECOSOC on international cooperation on tax matters at which members of the Committee of Experts engaged in an interactive dialogue with Member States.

The presentations by the experts did not focus on "tax havens" or "shell companies," the two institutions central to the illicit financial drain from developing countries. They dealt mainly with ways in which developing coutries could improve their tax collection systems.

Such measures cannot make a meaningful contribution to meeting the multi-trillion dollar cost of implementing Agenda 2030 and will almost certainly contribute to greater corruption. It is axiomatic that  the first response to more stringent tax collection will  be avoidance, and that means paying the collector to look the other way.  

The sensible approach to the problem of illicit financial flows from developing countries would be to target the conduits, but that would affect the interests of the wealthy, so the UN looks the other way.    


 ECOSOC humanitarian Segment Theme

7 April 2017: The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has decided that the theme of the humanitarian affairs segment of its 2017 summer session  will be “Restoring humanity and leaving no one behind: working together to reduce people’s humanitarian need, risk and vulnerability." It combines concern at the acute crisis of forced migration with a key theme of Agenda 2030. In taking the decision on 4 April, ECOSOC also set three expert panel discussions during the segment.

 Social Development Commission notes  obstacles to poverty eradication

25 March 2017: The 55th session of the Commission for Social Development (1 to 10 February 2017), reviewed “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all,” the social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the emerging issue of youth development in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Poverty Eradication: In a high-level panel discussion and in its general debate, the Commission "noted with concern that efforts to eradicate poverty continue to face significant challenges. Those include global economic growth that continues to disappoint, world financial markets that remain volatile, persistent high levels of unemployment and ongoing humanitarian crises. Further, the effects of ongoing climate change continue to worsen. The Commission expressed further concern that the international community has seen a rise of new threats to the ideals of a more inclusive world. Ma jor threats include calls from some countries to strengthen exclusionary national economies and the scapegoating of refugees, migrants and religious and ethnic minorities. Concern was also expressed regarding the impact of conflicts, the influx of refugees and economic sanctions on social development in some countries."

Africa Social Development  On the social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (E/CN.5/2017/L.5), the Commission welcomed progress in deepening democracy, observance of human rights, improved governance and sound economic management. It also emphasized the “increasingly unacceptable” levels of poverty, inequality and social exclusion in most African countries and said they required comprehensive social and economic policies. It encouraged African countries to prioritize structural transformation, modernize smallholder agriculture, add value to primary commodities and improve public and private governance institutions. The Commission's resolution will be affirmed by its parent body, the Economic and Social Council, at its summer 2017 session.

Panel Discussions  In addition to its general discussions, the Commission convenedthree panel discussions. The report of the Commission provides a web link to the Chair's summary of the panel discussions -- html) -- but it brings up a 404 "page not found" message. A search on the DESA web site brings up the cryptic message "You do not have access to this page." 

Civil Society and Youth Forums  The Commission heard the views of nearly 20 civil society organizations on these issues. In addition, the Chair of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee on Social Development presented the outcome of a Civil Society Forum on poverty eradication. The forum emphasized social protection as the "preeminent strategy to eradicate poverty and achieve social development for all." A "youth representative" highlighted the outcomes of the ECOSOC Youth Forum, and noted its recommendations pertinent to the goals being reviewed by the 2017 high -level political forum on sustainable development.  

Inclusive Policies  The Commission "recognized the enormous role it could play in providing guidance on inclusive social policies" and "strongly underscored that no development could be sustained if millions of people were left behind. Stressing that "the international community must bolster current commitments to eradicate poverty in all its forms and must fully implement the 2030 Agenda in its entirety" the Commission noted that the 2030 Agenda was inextricably linked to the rights of women, young people, older persons, indigenous people, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. Those groups continued to disproportionately face major obstacles to their development, while people living in extreme poverty lacked the political power and equal opportunities to take charge of their destiny. Hence, human dignity must be at the centre of any sustainable development process. In the panel discussion."

 New un code of conduct to tighten  noose on International tax  evasion

18 March 2017: A new United Nations code of Conduct on cooperation to combat international tax evasion is set for adoption at the summer session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Under a resolution recommended by  an expert committee ECOSOC would invite all member States to share tax information automatically 

The Code would recognize that “tax evasion, including tax fraud, is a global problem affecting developed and developing countries and that legal provisions related to the phenomenon need to be updated. To that end, the Code would set minimum standards of conduct required of Member States regarding the automatic exchange of information.

The code of conduct seeks ensure that all States can protect themselves from non-compliance with their tax laws and provide high levels of transparency and automatic exchange of information in tax matters. It will support the development of international norms, practical steps and capacity-building programs to prevent and combat international tax evasion.

States will exchange information in both criminal and civil tax matters. Through technical meetings, seminars and other measures they will seek to build capacity in developing countries for the automatic and confidential exchange of information. That could include unilateral, bilateral and multilateral means, including regional approaches. 

 New ldc technology Bank will be  General Assembly subsidiary

23 December 2016: The General Assembly is creating a new subsidiary body, a “Technology Bank” for the Least Developed Countries to be based in Gebze, Turkey. It will be entirely funded from voluntary contributions, led off by a pledge from Turkey.

The Technology Bank is meant to strengthen the science, technology and innovation capacity of least developed countries. Specifically, it will seek to improve their capacity to identify, absorb, develop, integrate and scale up the deployment of technologies and innovations, including indigenous ones, with a view to fostering national and regional capacity of LDCs use technology to bring about transformative change.

A 13-member expert Council appointed by the UN Secretary-General will be the governing body of the Technology Bank. It will meet once a year and may hold special sessions. The institution will be headed by a Managing Director appointed by the UN Secretary-General in consultation with the Council and serving two-year renewable terms. S/he will be charged with preparing and leading the implementation of a multi-year strategic operational plan as well as fund-raising. He and those appointed to work for the Technology Bank will be covered by UN Staff rules.

The Technology Bank’s operational units will be a “Supporting and Enabling Mechanism” for technology transfer and an “Intellectual Property Bank.” A Management Support, Partnerships and Coordination Unit will support that work. Regional centers in Africa and Asia may be established if resources permit.

Among the members of the Council will be one appointed with the concurrence of the host country and another representing the Secretary-General. All members will be appointed for three-year renewable terms. The Managing Director of the Technology Bank will participate in the work of the Council. Representatives of the heads of UNCTAD, UNDP, UNESCO, the World Bank and WIPO will have standing invitations to participate in the work of the Council. In addition, the Council may invite representatives of other UN organs and agencies and other relevant international and regional organizations, including from the academic, research and private sectors, to attend as observers.

Source: Charter of the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries (A/71/363)

Migrant populations grow in Rich countries, stable in most others 

13 November 2016: The number of international migrants — persons living in a country other than where they were born — reached 244 million in 2015, up 71 million from 2000. Between 1990 and 2015, the number of international migrants worldwide increased by 60 per cent, or over 91 million. They now constitute over 3 per cent of the world population.

Economic, social and environmental factors, have been long-term drivers of international migration. Currently, there are 40 million people forcibly displaced internationally and the number of refugees and asylum seekers has surpassed 24 million.

Developed countries host 58 per cent of all international migrants, and of those 61 per cent originated from a developing country. Of international migrants in developing countries, 87 per cent are from the global South.  

In 2015 Europe hosted 76 million international migrants, Asia 75 million, Northern America 54 million, Africa 21 million, Latin America and the Caribbean 9 million and Oceania 8 million.

From 1950 to 2015, the developed regions gained population from positive net migration, while the developing regions lost population. Between 1950 and 2010, positive net migration to the developed regions continued to increase, reaching 3.2 million persons per year during the decade from 2000 to 2010, up from less than 0.3 million per annum in the period from 1950 to 1970. After 2010, the size of the net inflow of persons to the developed region declined for the first time in five decades, averaging 2.3 million per year between 2010 and 2015.

Percentage of Local Populations: In developed countries international migrants were 11.2 per cent of their population in 2015; in developing regions they were 1.7 per cent. Foreign migrants in Oceania were 21 per cent of the population in 2015, in Northern America it was 15 per cent and in Europe 10 per cent. Latin America and the Caribbean had the lowest proportion of international migrants, just 1.5 per cent, followed by Africa and Asia with 1.7 per cent each. 

Women: In 2015, women comprised 48 per cent of all international migrants. In developed countries women constituted 52 per cent of international migrants, up from 51 per cent in 1990; in developing countries their share declined in the same period from 47 to 43 per cent. That fall reflected a strong demand for male construction workers in the oil-producing countries of Western Asia.

Among international migrants in Europe 52 per cent were women; in Northern America it was 51 per cent; in contrast, men constituted 58 per cent of international migrants and 54 per cent in Africa. 

Age Breakdown: In 2015, 72 per cent of all international migrants were between the ages of 20 and 64, reflecting the preponderant role of employment as a driver of international migration. Of the 177 million international migrants in this age range, the majority (59 per cent) lived in developed countries. Globally, 15 per cent of all international migrants were under the age of 20. That proportion was significantly higher in the developing regions (22 per cent) than in the developed regions (around 10 per cent). There were 30 million international migrants aged 65 or over in 2015.

9. Although the total number of international migrants living in Europe has continued to increase, the decline over the past decade in the net inflow of persons to the developed regions was due to a reduction in the level of net migration to Europe as a whole. Annual net inflows to Europe declined by more than half, from around 1.7 million between 2000 and 2010 to 0.8 million between 2010 and 2015. Meanwhile, annual net migration was stable for both Northern America (around 1.2 million) and Oceania (0.2 million). For Asia, the estimated net outflow fell from 1.9 million persons per annum between 2000 and 2010 to 1.3 million between 2010 and 2015; for Latin America and the Caribbean, negative net migration dropped by half between the same two time periods, from 0.8 to 0.4 million persons per year. Conversely, annual net outflows from Africa increased from around 0.3 million in the decade from 2000 and 2010 to 0.7 million between 2010 and 2015.

Projections Vary Significantly: In the developed regions, net immigration is expected to be the main driver of population growth between 2000 and 2020, and the sole driver of growth in later decades. From 2000 to 2030, population growth in the developing regions is expected to slow down owing to a decline in natural increase caused by a drop in the birth rate, with net migration continuing to play a minor role in overall population change.

By the decade from 2040 to 2050, population growth in the developed regions is projected to be negative, with positive net migration no longer compensating for the excess of deaths over births. For the developing regions, population growth is projected to continue as a result of natural increase, albeit at declining rates

Source UN: Migration and Development A/71/296

Assembly committee hears Regional perspectives on 2030 agenda

28 October 2016: The Economic (2nd) Committee of the General Assembly heard today from the heads of Regional Commissions on “One year of Sustainable Development Goals: Where the regions are.” Presentations were made by:

  • Ms. Shamshad Akhtar, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
  • Ms. Rima Khalaf, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
  • Mr. Christian Friis Bach, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe, and Coordinator of the Regional Commissions (Moderator)
  • Mr. Abdalla Hamdok, Deputy Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa
  • Mr. Antonio Prado, Deputy Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

​Three of the presentations (Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America-Caribbean) were almost entirely technical, dwelling on data, policy, coordination, capacity-building etc. The West Asian presentation was a cri de coeur about the terrible conflicts tearing the region apart (48:50 minutes into the video below). The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) presentation noted the impressive economic growth over the past decade but underlined that it had not reduced poverty. Africa was determined to proceed with industrialization and maintain its internal cooperative mechanisms. In speaking of financing development the ECA speaker noted (1:12 into the video), that Africa is losing $80 billion annually through illicit transfers. Strangely, speakers for Asia-Pacific and Latin America-Caribbean made no mention of this problem which occurs on an even larger scale in their regions. None of the featured speakers mentioned terrorism; Egypt noted it as a major problem during the discussion that followed. Egypt also drew attention to the ground-breaking resolution the Group of 77 has introduced this year on illicit financial flows. 

The meeting contributed only the bare minimum of support to the General Assembly's deliberative and policy guidance processes. The presentations made clear the importance of the Regional Commissions without providing any clear guidance on strategy. Most of the meeting was devoted to reporting basic information at a level of generality of little use to policy makers. Those trying to revitalize the General Assembly need to push that level of discussion into informal-informals and bring to the committee plenary only a distillation of key policy points.

​Go to Video coverage of the meeting

Renewable Energy Use is Decoupling World Growth from Co2 Emissions 

12 September 2016: Booming use of renewable energy is decoupling world economic growth from carbon emissions, says a new report submitted to the General Assembly. As the global economy grew by around 2.4 per cent for the second successive year in 2015, CO2 emissions from the energy sector stayed flat. The International Energy Agency (IEA) pointed to the surge in renewables as a key factor, noting that they accounted for 90 per cent of new electricity generation in 2015; and that is with modern renewable sources of energy accounting for just 10.3 per cent of global consumption. [The report, prepared under the aegis of UNEP, IEA and UNCCD, does not mention what role low economic growth in coal dependent China might have in the decoupling.] 

Use of renewable energy from all sources and for all sectors, including transport, heating, cooling, cooking and power generation, reached 19.2 per cent in 2014, up from 18 per cent in 2010. Traditional biomass accounts for 8.9 per cent of current renewable energy consumption. The statistics are from a new World Bank-led UN Global Tracking Framework that has established baseline data and issues bi-annual reports on global trends. 

Booming Growth in Renewable Energy

The overall global renewable electric power capacity increased to 1,849 gigawatts (GW) in 2015, from 1,701 GW in 2014, the largest annual increase ever. Solar photovoltaic and wind energy generation is experiencing very rapid growth The solar photovoltaic market was up 25 per cent over 2014 to a record 50 GW, lifting the global total to 227 GW, whereas globally, a record of 63 GW of wind power was added for a total of about 433 GW. More power capacity is now being added from renewable energy annually than from all fossil fuels combined, and for the first time ever, renewable energy, excluding large hydro, accounted for most of the new generating capacity installed in 2015.

The competitiveness of renewable energy technologies continues to increase, with significant fall in the cost of onshore wind power, solar photovoltaic and concentrated solar power. The cost of electricity from onshore wind, without subsidies, is now in the same range or even lower than that of fossil fuels. However, the picture has changed because of the sharp fall of fossil fuel prices since 2014. The price of oil fell from over $100 a barrel to $27.10, the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp coal contract dropped from $84 per ton to $36.30, and the natural gas price fell from $4.50 per MMBtu to $1.91.

Subsidies for Fossil Fuels

Subsidies for fossil fuel consumption are four times the support governments give to the non-renewable sector. They amounted to $493 billion in 2014, down from $548 billion in 2013. Factoring in externalities, subsidies were projected to reach $5.3 trillion or 6.5 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015. Much of that is for coal consumption in emerging Asia and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, where subsidies were projected to reach $2.5 trillion in 2015.

Leading Countries
For the first time in history, total investment in renewable power and fuels in developing countries in 2015 exceeded that in developed economies. The developing world committed a total of $156 billion, up 19 per cent compared to 2014. China played a dominant role, increasing its investment by 17 per cent to $102.9 billion, accounting for 36 per cent of the global total. Renewable energy investment also increased significantly in India, South Africa, Mexico and Chile. Other developing countries investing more than $500 million in renewables in 2015 included Morocco, Uruguay, the Philippines, Pakistan and Honduras.

A number of developing countries around the world have set high targets for the use of renewable energy. Costa Rica is aiming for 100 per cent renewable power by 2030, Uruguay 95 per cent by 2017, Belize 85 per cent by 2027, Guatemala 80 per cent by 2030, and Bolivia 79 per cent by 2030. Paraguay aims to achieve a 60 per cent increase by 2030.

China led the world in total renewable energy capacity at the end of 2015, followed by the United States of America, Brazil and Germany. In per capita terms, excluding hydro-power, the world leader is Denmark, followed by Germany, Sweden and Spain.

China was the largest investor in renewables (excluding large hydro) in 2015, with $102.9, well over a third of the global total. The United States was second with $44.1 billion, Japan third with $36.2 billion, followed by Britain and India with $22.2 billion and $10.2 billion, respectively

Excluding large hydro-power, the renewable energy sector employed 8.1 million people globally in 2015. For the second year in a row, four Asian countries — China, India, Japan and Bangladesh — are on the global top-10 in job creation with a share of global renewable energy employment reaching 60 per cent in 2015, up from 51 per cent in 2013. African countries also witnessed an increase, with a conservative estimate of 61,000 jobs in 2015 as new projects came online. China continued to lead employment with 3.5 million jobs, followed by Brazil, the United States and India. The European Union employed 1.17 million in the sector, of which 355,000 were in Germany and 170,000 in France.

Source: Report of the Secretary-General (A/71/220)  


Funds for south-south cooperation

9 September 2016: As a result of the 2015 United Nations Pledging Conference for Development Activities, the following amounts (US$) were paid or pledged to the Fund for South-South Cooperation as of 30 June 2016. The Fund supports the work of the UN Office of South-South Cooperation that operates autonomously within the framework of the UN Development Program (UNDP).

                Algeria                                            $40 000.00

                Bangladesh                                 $1 000.00

                Brazil                                              $30 000.00

                Chile                                               $5 000.00

                China                                              $1 200 000.00

                Colombia                                      $150 150.00

                Philippines                                   $5 000.00

                Republic of Korea                      $1 300 979.85

                Turkey                                             $20 000.00

                United Arab Emirates               $40 000.00 

                Islamic Development Bank   $38 500.00

                United Nations                            $280 000.00

​Source: A/CONF.208/2016/2  (The document also contains information on contributions to the following: Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund for South-South Cooperation, UN Capital Development Fund, UNICEF, UNDP, UN Women, UN Population Fund and the UN Volunteers Program. It does not contain information on funds that make their way into the UN Development system outside the framework of the annual pledging conference. For example, the annual contribution from the IBSA countries-- India, Brazil, South Africa.)


Very Peculiar UNCTad 14 in Nairobi

10 August 2016: As UNCTAD conferences go, the 14th quadrennial session was a very peculiar one. It was meant to be held in Peru but then, nine months before the event (or six, depending on whether you believe the Secretary-General of UNCTAD or the president of the conference), it was shifted to Kenya. The reasons are not clear; some say it was because of El Nino flooding, others that it was for political reasons.  

Whatever the cause, it seems to have discombobulated UNCTAD's usually well honed political sensibilities and even its basic competence: the main report to the July 2016 Conference was evidently written in September 2015; in its signed foreword UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi refers to "the expected call for action [emphasis added] at the Conference of the Parties on climate change in Paris."

Amateurish Report

The report itself, entitled "From Decisions to Actions" is amateurishly written. Reading its Introductory pages one almost feels embarrassed for UNCTAD staff, who must surely be squirming.  Paragraph 6 says "Some technologies also go far beyond improving traditional economic activity, by more directly empowering people. The Internet of things is a case in point." Paragraph 7 has this: "Growing interdependence, interconnectedness and globalization has (sic) gone hand in hand with a transformation of many countries in the 'developing world' at an unprecedented speed. A number of developing countries have become important engines of growth not only for their own regions, but also for the global economy at large. The South now includes countries that are major drivers of global trade and investment and even of the supply of credit to both developed and other developing countries."  

Paragraph 10, concluding the section says: "The last 25 years have been important in terms of achievements, but also in terms of lessons. They have taught us that we can expand the boundaries of what we think is possible. They have taught us that significant improvements can be made with the right policy mix and conducive national, regional and global environments. Change is possible and it is within our grasp to make it happen. Those 25 years have set the stage for the final push in the eradication of extreme poverty within a generation. They have also set in motion the conditions and wealth, including from the South, needed to build a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable world."

G-77 View a Stark Contrast

That is a far cry from the reality of the world UNCTAD reports have analyzed over the last quarter century. It is in stark contrast to the relevant paragraphs (10 and 12) of the Group of 77 Declaration to UNCTAD 14: 

"We reiterate that the global economic, financial and trading system, including the multilateral trading system, remains unbalanced; that global inequality remains with many still in the abyss of poverty; that the high volatility of food and commodity prices is a persistent challenge and that, furthermore, the impact of the global economic and financial crisis has revealed new vulnerabilities, affecting, in particular, developing countries.

"We stress the importance of multilateral efforts to tackle increasingly complex cross-border challenges that have serious effects on development, such as financial market volatility and spillovers to developing countries, illicit capital and financial flows, tax evasion and tax avoidance, sovereign debt crisis prevention and resolution, cyber security, the influx of refugees, foreign terrorist fighters and bribery, as well as the need for technology transfer, absorption and its financing."

None of those issues figures in the report from UNCTAD's Secretary-General. This is what he thinks UNCTAD should be doing (para 27): "The specific action lines where UNCTAD can and should make maximum contributions for the post-2015 era are fourfold: (a) Building productive capacity to transform economies; (b) More effective States and more efficient markets; (c) Tackling vulnerabilities, building resilience; (d) Strengthening multilateralism, finding common solutions."

The Outcome of UNCTAD 14

At this writing, three weeks after UNCTAD 14, its final negotiated outcome document is not yet out. The Press release issued by UNCTAD announcing agreement on the text deserves to be in a museum of UN oddities. It was headlined:


And this is how it began:
"Nairobi, Kenya, 22 July 2016 - Negotiators applauded on Friday after reaching agreement on the Nairobi consensus, the Maa kiano, setting UNCTAD's work program for the next four years after long discussions including two sleepless nights. Final agreement came at 10:20 following long days of negotiations in which negotiators had used caffeine pills, candies, and soft drinks to keep themselves alert while scrutinizing the draft documents being projected onto screens in an underground room.

 "I'm delighted that our 194 member states have been able to reach this consensus, giving a central role to UNCTAD in delivering the sustainable development goals," UNCTAD Secretary-General, Mukhisa Kituyi, said. "With this document, we can get on with the business of cutting edge analysis, building political consensus, and providing the necessary technical assistance that will make globalization and trade work for billions of people in the global south," he said.

 "UNCTAD14 President, Amina Mohamed, expressed delight while negotiators laughed when the agreement was finally reached. "As the President of this conference, I cannot begin to tell you how I feel right now," she told negotiators sitting in the tightly packed room at rows of tables, littered with empty water bottles and cups of takeaway coffee. "It's a good day for Kenya, a good day for UNCTAD, and a big win for multilateralism," she said."

This is how the Press release ended:

"The conference also saw a fashion show, highlighting the creative and commercial potential of Kenya's fashion industry, the launch of this year's Economic Development in Africa Report, and the highlighting of issues around non-tariff measures, debt, and illicit financial flows."

That single tail-end reference to a the theft of trillions of dollars from the world's poorest people, tucked away under the fashion show, is yet another peculiarity. Especially because the Civil Society statement on UNCTAD 14 mourned the failure of the conference to deal with the issue. (Developing countries had wanted to mandate UNCTAD to report on the need for a global body to study tax avoidance; Developed countries would not allow it, asserting that the work of OECD on the matter was enough.) 

Most Opaque UNCTAD Ever 

From the journalistic perspective UNCTAD 14 was the most opaque conference of the last five decades. Its main negotiating document was not available on the media page, there was no meetings coverage, and the video available online was not a continuous stream but a speaker by speaker atomization. If there was a G-77 speaker, I could not find who it was; perhaps there was none, for the Jamaican chair of the Group in Geneva did not attend the conference -- yet another peculiarity.   


African Think Tanks Meet at Marrakesh

May 2016:  More than 100 participants from 40 countries attended the third African Think Tank Conference at Marrakesh, Morocco (2-4 May) to discuss "Building a Sustainable and Secure Future for the People and Institutions of Africa." The primary focus was how to implement sustainable development goals while combating climate change and progressing towards the target of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA).
The meeting was hosted by the OCP Policy Center of the Economic Commission for Africa in collaboration with the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program of the University of Pennsylvania (TTCSP) in the United States. The hosting arrangement was itself significant in building intra-African ties because of Morocco’s longstanding boycott of the African Union. See video explaining how that happened.
The meeting had twin aims. Karim El Aynaoui, Managing Director of OCP Policy Center stressed the importance of building partnerships and sharing experiences among the African think tanks and forging strong South-South Cooperation links among individual experts, think tanks and policy makers. James Mc Gann, Director of the TTCSP underlined the importance of developing “specific strategies and partnerships” between “think tanks and governments throughout Africa to design strategies for sustainable institutions that will serve civil society and governments in the continent."
A cross-cutting theme throughout the discussions was how to integrate international and global initiatives into national development plans, support their implementation as well as their follow up and review, according to ECA's Head of Planning and Renewal, Bartholomew Armah. More information at


No “Developing Countries” for World Bank

2 May 2016: The World Bank has stopped distinguishing between developed and developing countries in its most widely used dataset, World Development Indicators (WDI). An official blog on the 2016 edition (released on 15 April) offers the rather lame explanation that “with the focus of the Sustainable Development Goals on... the whole world, we should start phasing out the term developing world.”

In previous editions of WDI low- and middle-income countries were categorized as developing and high income as developed countries. The blog notes that as a result of the change a new aggregate for North America has been included in tables, and aggregates for Europe and Central Asia include countries of the European Union.

The rationale for ending the distinction makes no sense when we consider that the World Bank says meeting the “Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating extreme poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030 is very ambitious” and probably cannot be met. It says if "national growth rates for the past 10 years prevail for the next 15 years, the global extreme poverty rate will fall to 4 percent by 2030, with variations across regions. If national growth rates for the past 20 years prevail, it will be around 6 percent. Eliminating extreme poverty will require a steep change from historical growth rates."

In terms of the reduction in the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day there has been major progress globally. In 1990, 37 per cent of the world population lived below the international poverty line of $1/90 a day. In 2015 it was calculated at 13 percent and is estimated to have continued falling to below 10 percent. However, different regions advanced at varying rates. In East Asia and Pacific the extreme poverty rate fell from 61 percent in 1990 to 7 percent in 2012, and in South Asia it fell from 51 percent to 19 percent. In sub-Saharan Africa the extreme poverty rate did not fall below its 1990 level until 2002.

Since the formation of the Group of 77 in 1964, the division between developed and developing countries has been one of the firmest political lines at the United Nations. Over the decades there have been many maneuvers to break that division but developing countries have hung fast to it because of the collective bargaining power it provides in negotiations. Although there is a great variety within the G-77, the Group has been ingenious in melding different sub-group positions. In fact, in the context of South-South Cooperation, the variety has proved to be a strength, with providers emerging even from the Least Developed Countries sub-group. The latest sub-group to emerge is at the other end of the spectrum, the Middle Income Countries. 


Confused UNCTAD Report on Offshore Flows

May 2016: UNCTAD’s latest Investment Trends Monitor is one of the most confusing reports I’ve read in that usually lucid series. Its policy message is clear – that the persistence of offshore financial flows highlights the pressing need for greater coherence of global tax and investment policies; but it is difficult to make sense of the supporting evidence. The opening Highlights section reads:

In 2015, the volatility of investment flows to offshore financial hubs – including those to offshore financial centers and special purpose entities (SPEs) – rose significantly. These flows, which are excluded from UNCTAD’s FDI statistics, declined but remain sizable.
Financial flows through SPEs surged in volume during 2015. The magnitude of quarterly flows through SPEs, in terms of absolute value, rose sharply compared with 2014, reaching the levels registered in 2012-2013. Pronounced volatility, with flows swinging from large-scale net investment in the first three quarters to drastic net divestment in the last quarter, tempered the annual result, which dipped to US$221 billion.

Investment flows to offshore financial centres continued to retreat from its recent high of US$132 billion in 2013, but remained roughly in line with the flows of previous years. Investment to these jurisdictions, which hit an estimated US$72 billion in 2015, had risen in recent years by the growing flows from multinational enterprises (MNEs) located in developing and transition economies, sometimes in the form of investment round-tripping.

The proportion of investment income booked in low tax, often offshore, jurisdictions is high – and possibly growing. The disconnect between the locations of income generation and productive investment results in substantial fiscal losses, and is therefore a key concern for policy makers.”

A footnote on page 2 says “While there is no specific definition of an SPE, they are characterized by little or no real connection to the economy in which they are resident, but serve an important role within an MNE’s web of affiliates by holding assets or liabilities, or by raising capital.” 

In contrast to the May Investment Trends Monitor the January issue was a paragon of clarity. Its Highlights section read:

Global FDI flows jumped 36% in 2015 to an estimated US$1.7 trillion, their highest level since the global economic and financial crisis of 2008-2009.

A surge in FDI targeting developed economies (+90%) was the principal factor behind the global rebound. Strong growth in flows was reported in the European Union (EU) as well as in the United States where FDI quadrupled, although from a historically low level in 2014. As a result, the pattern of FDI by economic grouping tilted in favor of developed countries which now account for 55% of global FDI inflows in 2015.

However, the growth was largely due to cross-border merger and acquisitions (M&As), with only a limited contribution from greenfield investment projects in productive assets. Moreover, a part of FDI flows was related to corporate reconfigurations involving large values in the financial account of the balance of payments but little movement in actual resources.

Developing economies saw their FDI reaching a new high of US$741 billion, 5% higher than in 2014. Developing Asia, with its FDI flows surpassing half a trillion US dollars, remained the largest FDI recipient region in the world, accounting for one third of global FDI flows. Flows faltered in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean (excluding offshore financial centers) reflecting the plummeting prices of their principal commodities exports

Flows to transition economies continued to fall (-54%) as tumbling international commodities prices and regional conflicts undercut FDI. Investment in the region’s two largest host economies, the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan, fell sharply.

Cross-border M&As increased by 61% in 2015, while the overall value of announced greenfield investment projects registered little change from the previous year. There was a decline in announced greenfield investments in developing economies, pointing to a growing weakness in MNEs’ capital expenditures.

Barring another wave of M&A deals and corporate reconfigurations, FDI flows are expected to decline in 2016, reflecting the fragility of the global economy, volatility of global financial markets, weak aggregate demand and a significant deceleration in some large emerging market economies. Elevated geopolitical risks and regional tensions could further amplify these economic challenges.


IMF in Major Power Shift  

In December 2015 the United States Congress approved a major power shift within the International Monetary Fund by agreeing to the 2010 "Quota and Governance Reforms." The reforms had been adopted by the IMF Board of Governors in December 2010 and by the great majority of other States. They include increases in the "Quotas" (shares in the IMF), held by all member countries and an amendment to the Articles of Agreement doing away with members appointed by the five largest members of the Executive Board.   The main changes are:

  • All 188 IMF members will benefit from the increase in Quotas to 477 billion Special Drawing Rights (SDR), the specially denominated basket of currencies unit in which the Fund values itself. The pre-reform value was about SDR 238.5 billion, equivalent in American currency to about $329.83 billion; it has been increased to $659.67 billion. 

  • More than 6 percent of Quotas will shift from European countries to Brazil, China, India, and Russia, which will join the ten largest members of the IMF. Other top 10 members are the United States, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The  shares and voting power of the IMF’s poorest member countries will be protected.

  • With the IMF’s Board consisting entirely of elected Executive Directors, the representation of advanced European countries will be reduced by two


The United Nations now is in the same situation as the League of Nations in the period before World War II. It needs radical reform. Download our proposal



​​​Illicit financial flows: some figures

According to figures from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime cited by the 37-member Financial Action Task Force (FATF), some $1.9 trillion is laundered annually into the world economy. 

According to Washington based non-profit Global Financial Integrity (GFI) the total illicit transfers out of developing countries between 2004 and 2013 amounted to $7.8 trillion. China lost $1.3 trillion, Mexico $528.44 billion, India $510.29 billion and Brazil $226.67 billion. In all, developing countries lost an estimated $1.1 trillion in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available. It was roughly 1.3 times the $858 billion in total FDI that year, and 11.1 times the $99.3 billion in ODA. 

According to ECLAC, illicit transfers cost Latin America $154 billion in 2012, exceeding foreign direct investment of $129 billion; it was more than twice the $63 billion in remittances and 10 times the $10 billion ODA. 

Illicit transfers have made Africa a net creditor to the rest of the world every year since 1983. This enormous theft from the poorest people in the world occurs mainly through mispriced trade, tax evasion and organized crime operations. The theft is made possible by "shell companies" that have fictitious owners. If the true owners were known, the victims could seek legal recompense. 


world bank reports record 314 pro-business reforms in 128 economies 

31 October 2018: "Governments around the world set a new record in bureaucracy busting efforts for the domestic private sector, implementing 314 business reforms over the past year," says the World Bank Group’s report on Doing Business 2019: Training for Reform.

The reforms, carried out in 128 economies, benefit small and medium enterprises as well as entrepreneurs, enabling job creation and stimulating private investment. This year’s reforms surpass the previous all-time high of 290 reforms two years ago.

“The private sector is key to creating sustainable economic growth and ending poverty around the world,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “Fair, efficient, and transparent rules, which Doing Business promotes, are the bedrock of a vibrant economy and entrepreneurship environment. It’s critical for governments to accelerate efforts to create the conditions for private enterprise to thrive and communities to prosper.”

The report finds that reforms are taking place where they are most needed, with low-income and lower middle-income economies carrying out 172 reforms. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a record number of 40 economies implemented 107 reforms, a new best in number of reforms for a third consecutive year for the region. The Middle East and North Africa region scaled a new high with 43 reforms.

The most improvements (50) are in cutting red tape in starting a business. Enforcing Contracts (49) and Getting Electricity (26), also saw marked improvement.

The top 10 improvers, based on reforms undertaken, are Afghanistan, Djibouti, China, Azerbaijan, India, Togo, Kenya, Côte d'Ivoire, Turkey and Rwanda. With six reforms each, Djibouti and India are in the top 10 for a second consecutive year. Afghanistan and Turkey, top improvers for the first time, implemented record single-year reforms, with five and seven, respectively.

IThe easiest places in which to do business are New Zealand, Singapore, Denmark, Hong Kong, South Korea, Georgia, Norway, United States, United Kingdom and Macedonia.

Since the World Bank began issuing the report in 2003 more than 3,500 business reforms have been carried out in 186 economies. The report monitors 190 economies.

SOUTH ASIA: In a first for South Asia, two of the region’s economies earned coveted spots in the global top improvers. India continued its reform agenda, implementing six reforms in the past year and advancing 23 spots to 77th place in the global ranking. India is now the region’s top-ranked economy.

Afghanistan, with five reforms, moved up 16 spots to 167th place in the global rankings. Collectively, the region’s economies carried out 19 reforms in the past year. Many of the reforms focused on improving starting a business, access to credit, paying taxes and resolving insolvency.

AFRICA: Sub-Saharan Africa set a new milestone for a third consecutive year, implementing 107 reforms in the past year, up from 83 the previous year. In addition, this year also saw the highest number of economies carrying out reforms, with 40 of the region’s 48 economies implementing at least one reform, compared to the previous high of 37 economies two years ago. The region is home to four of this year’s top 10 improvers – Togo, Kenya, Côte d'Ivoire and Rwanda. While reforms in the region were wide-ranging, many improvements focused on easing property registration and resolving insolvency.

The full report and its datasets are available at

anodyne SG speech to imf-world bank meeting skirts hair-raising world situation 

13 October 2018: "We meet at a time of enormous uncertainty," said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in opening his speech to the world's Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors as they began their annual meeting in the balmy air of Bali. But then he skittered away from mentioning any details.

The US-China trade war was marked down to a "trade dispute." Beijing's enormous housing bubble and the trillion dollar pileup of debt in corporate boardrooms went without mention. The "major risk of rising debt, to which the IMF has called attention with increasing urgency" was noted but there was not even a nod to the fear that the world economy could go into a tailspin that has become a ghoulish presence in the world's stock markets. The rest of his remarks was a repetition of familiar bromides. Herewith the almost full text:  

Text of SG's Remarks
 "As Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, you are accustomed to dealing with deficits every day. But the biggest deficit the world faces today is not in budget plan or accounting chart.  It’s the deficit of trust, a bad case of what I called in the UN General Assembly Trust Deficit Disorder.  It is feeding discontent and instability and eroding faith in our political institutions and our rules-based multilateral system. And you are essential to restoring and building the trust that our world so desperately needs. 

 "Yes, global growth is stable and relatively strong. But it is uneven, and risks are mounting rapidly. The global community needs to act now to set a path of growth that is socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals provide a roadmap for that action. But we know there are many obstacles and challenges on that road – climate change, rising inequality, illicit financial flows, the impacts of the 4th industrial revolution, rapid urbanization, migration. 

 "Alongside these mega-trends, the increased volatility in financial markets and global trade tensions also loom large.  The trade dispute feared in April, in your last meeting, became a reality and has already affected the outlook for growth. Financial market conditions have tightened in several countries and will get worse with further spillovers from the trade dispute. However, because of the rising debt levels, countries have less space to react than ten years ago. Thirty least developed and low-income countries are already in debt distress or at high risk of getting there.

 "Many more countries — including many characterized as middle income — are facing levels of debt service that shrink their fiscal space at a time when much more public spending would be needed to achieve the SDGs.  And this underlines the importance of international cooperation and of the full motivation and attraction of the private sector to fully play its role in the Agenda 2030.

"The 2030 Agenda points the way to a fair and inclusive globalization and resilient societies. But present trends project that we will only get half way to achieving the SDGs by 2030. While we have made some progress, much more is needed. We must dramatically step up our actions. We need a surge in investment, long-term financing and global stability. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda, if fully implemented, provides the framework for achieving this.  In line with the Agenda, I have just launched a forward-looking Strategy to support the Financing of the 2030 Agenda. 

 The Strategy sets out three priority lines of action. First, aligning global financial and economic policies with the 2030 Agenda. Second, enhancing national and regional sustainable financing and investment strategies. Third, encouraging financial inclusion and equitable access to finance for all, particularly for women and youth, through financial innovations, new technologies and digitalization. This strategy cannot be implemented without your active engagement, working together as the International Monetary and Financial Committee, and in your individual capacities as Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors at home. 

"Working as the International Monetary and Finance Committee, you are critical to the first element of the strategy: aligning global economic policies and financial systems with the 2030 Agenda. You will lead the way in framing the policies needed to stabilize financial flows and minimize the disruptions that could otherwise accompany the normalization of monetary policy. You can begin now to prepare the necessary mechanisms to address rising global indebtedness in a coherent manner that does not derail our progress towards the SDGs. And you can work to strengthen the institutions of global economic and financial governance to reinforce our rules-based multilateral system against the threats to assail it, including now in the area of trade.

 "As Finance Ministers, you are also central to the Strategy’s second pillar: developing sustainable financing solutions, strategies and investments at the regional and country levels. Your cooperation to fight illicit flows of capital, money laundering and tax evasion, and other abusive practices will help put an end to the drain of vital tax resources away from developing countries, exactly when many of them are making progress in relation to good governance and the strengthening of tax systems. 

 "You bear the responsibility for formulating national budgets that support national sustainable development strategies that are fully aligned with Agenda 2030. You can set your fiscal policies to create positive incentives for longer-term sustainable investments and a transition to sustainable, equitable and inclusive growth. As the regulators of the financial system, you can work to minimize the adverse impact of prudential regulations on longer-term capital flows, while preserving short-term financial stability.

 "Your regulations will also determine how well we capture the enormous potential of innovative financial technologies and digitalization to promote a more inclusive financial system, capable of providing access to finance to all, and better mobilizing domestic savings. 

"Finally, Excellencies, a last word on climate change. The truth is that climate change is running faster than we are.  In a moment in which we see a trend in several parts of the world to diminish their commitment and sense of urgency, that would be suicide.  In their report published on Monday, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that the world is now completely off-track on keeping the rise in global temperatures to under 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, and is heading instead toward 3 C.  The report also underlines that the preferred target of 1.5oC would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented challenges in all aspects of society.

"We are still collectively very far from this target. We have very little time to curb the emissions of green house gases if we want to avoid that the targets of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change become irreversibly unattainable, with catastrophic consequences for the future of the planet.  We have technology on our side, the green economy is more and more the best path for development. But political will is still lacking—to put a meaningful price on carbon, to end fossil fuel subsidies, to invest in climate-friendly infrastructure that does not lock us for decades into an unsustainable path. This is not a matter for Ministers of the Environment.  This is a matter for all political leaders in today’s world.  This is a matter for each one of us. We face many challenges, but we can overcome them acting together. 

 "We at the UN are stepping up our collaboration with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group at all levels, in keeping with our respective comparative advantages. I am particularly grateful to Christine Lagarde for having framed our discussions on financing the Sustainable Development Goals and for having frank discussions on financing the SDGs during the recent UN General Assembly High-Level Week. 

"We are also undertaking in the UN the most comprehensive reform to strengthen our ability to promote peace, security but especially to make much more effective our UN development system. We need your help to protect and preserve a rules-based global economic and financial order that supports sustainable development. 

 "We count on your leadership to translate global aspirations into national strategies, programmes and projects.  And we depend on your action to galvanize the financing needed to achieve the 2030 Agenda and help restore trust in a world that sorely needs it."

The World Bank's Social Progress Index 2017 should be taken with a large pinch of salt  

21 June 2017: The World Bank's "Social Progress Index 2017" is out, and for the first time it places the United States in the second rank of countries, color coded differently from most of Northern and Western Europe.

The Nordic countries  top the list, followed by most of Western Europe, Canada, Australia etc, all countries with "Very High Social Progress;" they are shown in deep green.  

The United States keeps company with Mediterranean Europe; a slice of Eastern Europe from Estonia in the north to Bosnia Herzegovina in the south; Argentina and Chile; Japan and the Republic of Korea, all shown in the light green of those with "High Social Progress."

Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Mexico, Tunisia, South Africa, Malaysia and a swathe of South America from Brazil to Colombia and down through Peru, are among the "Upper Middle;" they are colored slate.

India, Indonesia, Philippines, China, the Central Asian republics, Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Senegal. Ghana, Namibia and Botswana are in the "Lower Middle" ranks; they are a dark slate.  

Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan,  and the countries of Africa's Great Rift Valley, from Ethiopia to Mozambique, as well as much of Western Africa, are in the "Low" category; they are colored sand.

In the "Very Low" group are countries ranging from Afghanistan and Yemen in Asia to Angola and the conflict-ridden countries of central Africa;  they are a brownish yellow.

Then there are the countries in pallid gray in the category "Incomplete." They include North Korea, Iraq, Syria,  Libya, Sudan, South Sudan, D.R. of Congo, Gabon, Zambia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Vietnam. 

Saudi Arabia on par with Mexico? 

As an intellectual construct, the Social Progress Index is open to challenge at many levels. Perhaps the most obvious is the issue of credibility. How can we take seriously a ranking system that puts Saudi Arabia on par with Mexico and Russia, and above India? Perhaps there is a sound financial reason.

A broader challenge is to the concept of "social progress" disassembled into the data-points the indexers claim to have measured. How exactly did they take the measure of such qualities as Personal Rights, Tolerance and Inclusion, and Personal Freedom

A yet more interesting question is how the indexers disassociated "social progress" from a country's international role. Would Hitler's Germany before the outbreak of the Second World War have ranked in the highest category? Or more to the point today, should we be concerned at Britain's "very high" ranking when its bankers run the global black market catering to every organized crime group and terrorist movement on the planet?  

Unless questions like those are addressed frontally and honestly, the Social Progress Index should be taken as little more than the product of a group of academics seeking to keep themselves lucratively employed. 

Regional economic and social perspectives 2017

6 June 2017: Reports to the July session of ECOSOC present a varied regional picture of the world economic and social conditions. Some of the highlights: 

Although income poverty globally has fallen sharply in the past 20 years, considerable challenges remain amidst recent economic and financial crises and a resurgence of poverty across conflict-affected countries.

Poverty is distributed unevenly between and across regions with 50.7 per cent of the world’s poor in Sub-Saharan Africa, 33.4 percent in South Asia, 9.3 percent in East Asia and Pacific, 4.4 in Latin America, 1.4 percent in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and 0.8 percent in the rest of the world.

Poverty in Africahas declined very slowly in the last twenty-five years with the absolute number having been almost constant since 2002. That represents a notable geographical shift from 1990 when half of the world’s poor resided in East Asia and the Pacific.  

Latin America remains the region with the highest overall socio-economic inequality level, although income inequality was considerably reduced in the region over the last decade. Africa is the world’s second most inequitable region after Latin America.  

Understanding and addressing inequality is integral to reducing global poverty. Historically, an analysis of inequality has focused on income disparities. Today there is a growing recognition that inequality is a multidimensional phenomenon and extends to health, education, civic participation and human rights. The rights-based approach seeks to ensure that all citizens enjoy a baseline level of wellbeing (access to education, health, work, social protection and other rights). All these dimensions are interconnected and, as such, require an integrated approach.


Africa’s strong growth performance during the last decade, with an annual growth rate averaging nearly five per cent, resulted in a lower poverty level and led to steady progress in education, health and living standards. However, the pace of progress, albeit increasing, has been slow and hampered by high levels of income inequality within countries. Inequality trends across the five sub-regions of Africa vary considerably. Between 1993 and 2011, West Africa recorded a steady decline, while the decline was more modest in East Africa. In contrast, Southern and Central Africa showed a rise in inequality. In Northern Africa, inequalities have persisted or even worsened.

In 2016, overall economic growth in Africa declined drastically, dropping to 1.7 per cent, lower than the developing country average of 3.8 per cent. This growth performance was influenced greatly by outcomes in the six largest African economies and masks the remarkable growth, by at least 3 per cent, achieved by 32 countries in 2016. 

The resulting positive growth was generally underpinned by private consumption and investment (in infrastructure in several countries), made possible by improvements in the business and investment environments in many countries.

Even though commodity prices started to recover from the beginning of 2016 after falling for the previous two years, they still remain below their 2014 levels. This notwithstanding, growth in all the economic groups (oil-exporting, oil-importing and mineral-rich economies) slowed, registering 0.8, 2.5 and 2.2 per cent respectively in 2016. This slowdown led to uneven growth performance among the subregions, with East Africa recording the highest growth.

The continent’s medium-term prospects remain positive, buoyed by strong domestic demand and investment (particularly in infrastructure), a robust service sector, recovery in commodity prices and the focus placed by oil-exporting countries on non-oil sectors. 

Downside risks remain, however. The slower recovery in the global economy, consequences of “Brexit” on other developed economies, uncertainty in the policy orientation of the new United States administration, the continued economic slowdown in China, and also weather-related, political and security risks, continue to pose a challenge for African countries. The long-term growth outlook for Africa is still promising, however, as its underpinnings remain relatively strong.

SOCIAL: The poor in Africa live much further below the extreme poverty threshold than in other regions, with an average consumption at about 60 per cent of the international poverty line. Despite numerous gains, inequality remains a key development challenge in Africa. The average inequality levels in African countries are high and hamper the poverty-reducing effect of economic growth. 

Although significant progress has been made on the continent in terms of gender, gains have been uneven across countries and subregions and gender inequality remains a key development challenge in Africa.

Inequality in Africa remained high due to the reliance of African economies on the extractive industry (mining and oil), agriculture and export of primary commodities, which have generated few formal jobs and redistributed economic gains unequally, resulting in a growing informal sector in Africa with rising vulnerable employment.

Inequality in Africa is a gendered phenomenon. In 2016, women had an unemployment rate of 9.4 versus 6.9 per cent for men. African women continue to face discrimination in accessing economic assets, as well as constraints in participating in economic activities. Substantial disparities in land and asset ownership persist between men and women, with women in some countries having no legal rights to own land and property or conduct business independently.

Low involvement of girls in secondary and tertiary education, especially in rural communities, is one of the root causes of gender inequality. Poverty, the high cost of education, early marriages, adolescent pregnancies, the lack of gender-sensitive sanitation facilities, gender-based violence, and the disproportionate unpaid care work burden on girls compound this gender inequality. 9. Access to education and health in Africa remains low overall. More than two out of five adults are still unable to read or write, and the quality of education is substandard. Progress in health services is occurring, but outcomes nonetheless remain the worst in the world. Nearly two in five children are malnourished, and progress in immunization rates has waned.

While Africa is still predominantly rural, it is also the fastest urbanizing region in the world. There are large geographical differences in poverty and inequality within countries along the urban-rural divide. Urbanisation simultaneously represents a challenge and an opportunity for decreasing poverty and inequality in Africa. ECA has developed the African Social Development Index (ASDI) as a tool to support its member States to track progress towards reducing human exclusion (including poverty). The ASDI can be used to measure the inclusiveness of growth and therefore contribute to SDGs. The ASDI has also proved to be an innovative tool in aiding member States to take a comprehensive look at social policy as it relates to human inclusion and poverty reduction.  


In the 1990s, only nine percent of the population in the Arab region lived under the global poverty line and the region experienced comparatively low poverty and inequality levels. Over the past thirty years, income inequalities have been on the rise due to an uneven distribution of income gains. In some Arab countries, while poverty decreased, inequality remained the same or increased. In Tunisia, for instance, between 2000 and 2010, poverty rates were reduced from 35 to 10 per cent, while the drop in inequality, as measured by Gini coefficient, was nominal (from 0.344 to 0.327).

Inequality increased in countries affected by conflict and political instability. In the Syrian Arab Republic, armed conflict precipitated increased poverty from 12.3 per cent in 2007 to an estimated 43 per cent in 2013. By 2015, the upper poverty rate increased to 83.4 per cent. In Yemen, poverty increased from a rate of 34 percent in 2006 to an estimated over 60 per cent in 2015.

There are striking subregional disparities in per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the region, with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries at the top and Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia, Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen at the bottom.

This stark contrast in GDP does not necessarily translate to patterns and dynamics of economic inequality: low income coincides with high inequality in Djibouti, Mauritania and Comoros; medium income with medium inequality in Syria and Jordan; medium income with high inequality in Iraq, Jordan and Morocco; and high income with high inequality in Qatar.

Inequalities in wealth and income also underpin social inequalities in health care, education, housing and political and social rights. Although remarkable progress has been achieved, gender inequality persists. In conflict and displacement settings, gender inequalities are even more profound with heightened impacts on vulnerable groups.

The Arab region has experienced a significant reduction in gender gaps in health and educational achievements over the past two decades. However, there remain widespread economic and political inequalities between men and women. Youth have on average two to four times lower employment rates than adult population.

ESCWA has developed a new poverty measurement tool on multi-dimensional poverty (MPI). The tool is applied to all countries in the Arab region to monitor progress on multidimensional poverty. ESCWA is rolling out two toolkits on social protection and social justice in the region.


Economic growth has significantly driven down the total number of people living in poverty in the region. In 2013, 400 million people lived below the poverty line, a decrease from one billion people in 2000. However, economic gains were not equally shared and income inequality remained above the world average. In eight countries, including China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Russian Federation, income inequalities have increased.

Although economic expansion in Asia and the Pacific has been steady, it is modest compared with the recent historical trend. That is because of prolonged weak external demand, rising trade protectionism and heightened global uncertainty. At the same time, decades of rapid economic growth, facilitated by globalization and technology, came at the expense of rising inequalities and environmental degradation. Addressing such economic, social and environment challenges in a coherent and decisive manner will be critical for the region’s future.

In view of such challenges and the terms of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2017 highlights the importance of better governance and effective fiscal management. In particular, the quality of governance affects development outcomes through its impact on the composition and efficiency of public expenditure. At the same time, weak governance partially explains the low levels of tax revenues in several countries in the region. Governance has impacts on the way public revenues are raised, especially its effects on tax morale, as the willingness to pay taxes is affected by perceptions of how well tax revenues are used.

The Survey argues that transparency and accountability in public administration can be improved and strengthened by ensuring the production of and access to key data and information, and by developing public administration capacities to monitor, evaluate and audit policies and actions. Inclusive institutions, where public service beneficiaries can exchange views with the Government, could also be instrumental for raising tax revenues and making expenditures more efficient. The Survey also highlights the role of e-government, information and communications technology and decentralization in improving governance in the context of fiscal management.

The Survey further emphasizes that the potential benefits of better governance are large and wide ranging, including better health outcomes in the Pacific, economic diversification in North and Central Asia, decent jobs in South and South-West Asia, ecological innovations in East and North-East Asia and the narrowing of development gaps in South-East Asia.

Vulnerable employment, comprised of self-employed workers and those working in low-productivity services, is pervasive across the region, constituting more than 80 per cent of all employment in India, Bangladesh and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

One of the most worrisome trends in the region is the low and even declining level of women’s participation in the labour force. Currently, the average gender gap in labour force participation is 30 per cent, reaching 50% in South and South-West Asia.

The unequal burden of unpaid care work is a critical barrier to achieving gender equality. In Iran, time-use surveys indicated that the share of paid work of total time used was 11.8 per cent for women compared to 78.3 per cent for men. Similarly, in Pakistan, women spent 21.4 per cent of their time in paid work as opposed to men’s 91.2 per cent share. Persons with disabilities also face multidimensional exclusions in the region. As many as 650 million persons with some form of disability live in Asia and the Pacific.

Income and wealth inequality are driven and reinforced by gaps in opportunities. Inequality of opportunities refers to unequal access to services, including health care, education, employment, water and sanitation, and energy services and/or electricity. For instance, in Pakistan, girls in the highest quintile attend school for 7.7 more years than girls in the lowest income quintile. This difference is 5.8 years in Nepal, and 5 years in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Sex, ethnicity, religion, caste, residence in urban or rural areas, even the province in which one is born, determine the quality of access to services they have throughout their life. In India, the prevalence of malnutrition is higher in rural areas and among scheduled tribes and castes. Teenage pregnancy is a more frequent occurrence among rural populations. Rural poverty is also strongly associated with indigenous populations. ESCAP, in cooperation with ECA, ECLAC and ESCWA, launched an online interactive platform, the Social Protection Toolbox, which highlights good practices in establishing the foundations of a social protection floor. Using multimedia and data visualization techniques, the Toolbox presents for policy makers and stakeholders the argument for strengthening and broadening social protection in a user-friendly and interactive fashion.


In the UNECE region, levels of equality vary greatly. The financial and economic crisis of 2008 resulted in increased poverty and inequality across the region, especially in the Eastern and South-Eastern parts of the region. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, inequality increased as the broad access to social services that the population had enjoyed under socialist system has diminished.

In addition, in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, low commodity prices and slowing growth in the European Union and Russian Federation during the last decade have made it difficult for many to find safe and stable employment; consequently, inequality has increased. This situation is especially stark in “pockets of poverty”, including isolated rural and mountainous areas and mono-company towns.

The UNECE region experiences notable territorial inequalities with the majority of wealth concentrated in urban areas. The economic and financial crisis in the region resulted in decrease of affordability of housing and utilities. Poor owners or those who could afford to pay for utilities emerged across the region. Over 100 million people in the UNECE region today have to spend more than 40 per cent of their disposable income on housing. The social housing waiting lists in the United Kingdom are at 1.8 million, 1.7 million in France and 1.17 million in Ukraine. The U.S. has a shortage of 5.3 million social housing homes.

High inequality is a deeply entrenched historic and structural characteristic of Latin American societies. It is also heavily determined by the productive structure where 50 per cent of all jobs in the region are in low productivity sectors usually due to constrained use of technologies and/or low skills of workers. While the region has succeeded in reducing income inequality over the last decade, thanks to better employment conditions, stronger social protection systems and improved tax systems, this reduction rate has slowed in recent years. 

Inequality is affected by cross-cutting gender, racial and ethnic factors and disabilities. Poverty levels in 2014 were significantly higher for the Afro-descendant and indigenous population, especially among women. People with one or more disabilities also have much lower economic opportunities. 

Women who dedicate their time to unpaid domestic work are highly vulnerable to poverty as they lack their own income, have less certifiable employment experience and generally lack social security protections. Their poverty is exacerbated in the event of separation or widowhood. Women without economic autonomy are also more likely to suffer gender-based violence. 

Territorial considerations are another determining factor of poverty: 23.2 per cent of poor people are in urban areas as compared to 47.9 per cent in rural areas. Meanwhile, 7.7 per cent of the urban population faces conditions of extreme poverty as compared to 28.2 per cent of the rural population (2015). 

Latin America and the Caribbean have made significant progress in expanding the coverage of and access to education. Between 1990 and 2013, the percentage of young people between the ages of 15 and 19 who completed primary education rose from 60.5 percent to 94.4.8 The region also achieved a two-thirds reduction in child mortality. ECLAC has been making efforts for over thirty years to promote the measurement of income poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean. ECLAC’s methodological recommendations for poverty measurement form the basis of national official poverty in most countries of Latin America. ECLAC also provides countries with strategic advice on poverty reduction. 

why Agenda 2030 is set to fail

2 September 2016: A year after the General Assembly adopted “Agenda 2030” as the global plan of action for the next 15 years the project is appearing increasingly Utopian. There are two main reasons. One is that the plan’s high rhetoric about all countries and stakeholders “acting in collaborative partnership” is in stark contrast to the reality of geopolitical power struggles, wars fought for profit in poor countries, obscenely high global military expenditures, drug trafficking, terrorism and the cancerous incubus of a $30 trillion+ black market within the world economy. The second is a pronounced deterioration in the quality of United Nations capacity to provide sound analytical and political guidance, evident in Agenda 2030 itself  and in the implementation process. 

All the problems noted above were major international concerns as the United Nations led what it claimed was a “global consultation” to determine the content of the 2030 Agenda, but strangely, none of them featured prominently in the document. 

Terrorism was among the high priorities for most world regions during the consultation period but it got only three low key mentions in Agenda 2030 (one of them noted below). The African and Latin American-Caribbean regions highlighted other issues of particular concern; the former emphasized the importance of ending armed conflicts and illicit financial transfers from developing countries; the latter stressed the need to combat drug trafficking by ending prohibitionist policy. 

The preambular section of Agenda 2030 acknowledged those serious threats to sustainable development thus: “Global health threats, more frequent and intense natural disasters, spiraling conflict, violent extremism, terrorism and related humanitarian crises and forced displacement of people threaten to reverse much of the development progress made in recent decades.” 

In its actionable section the text devoted all of 23 words to those concerns (Target 16.4): “By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime.” Most of the 15,500+ words of Agenda 2030 focused on priorities ostensibly identified by an online opinion poll administered by UNDP in which the global public was offered options precooked by the UN secretariat.

Indivisible Global Goals Defined Nationally

The 17 Goals and 169 Targets of the Agenda that emerged from such “consultations” were declared to be “integrated and indivisible, global in nature and universally applicable.” However, there was no guidance on the nature and value of that dynamic interrelationship and not even a mention of the global connectivity that is revolutionizing every area of international relations. Instead, Agenda 2030 set out Goals and Targets “defined as aspirational and global, with each Government setting its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances.” 

Follow-up and Review arrangements were also declared to be “voluntary and country-led,” conducted “in a manner which respects their universal, integrated and interrelated nature and the three dimensions of sustainable development.” Governments were told to identify “achievements, challenges, gaps and critical success factors” and “mobilize the necessary means of implementation and partnerships.”

After listing a string of other desiderata (people centered, gender sensitive, etc.), the Agenda required that national assessments of implementation be “rigorous and based on evidence,” use “high-quality, accessible, timely, reliable” data “disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.” The text admitted that all this “will require enhanced capacity-building support for developing countries,” adding that they “will benefit from the active support of the United Nations system and other multilateral institutions.”

Manipulative and Misleading UN Role
How useful will that support be? Not much, especially if we consider the manipulative and misleading role the United Nations secretariat had in shaping Agenda 2030. It diverted attention from the real problems preventing sustainable development by setting out a range of “aspirational” goals and scheduling the Addis Ababa conference on Financing for Development before the adoption of Agenda 2030, at which developing countries were promised help to meet the multi-trillion costs of achieving them. The promise turned out to be pie in the sky at the first meeting of the Financing for Development Forum in April 2016. The multilateral process of oversight and cooperative guidance has also proved to be of little worth. In July 2016, the first High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), the supposed acme of 2030 review processes, turned out to be a farcical exercise with speakers allotted three-minute slots to address the most complex issues. The HLPF demonstrated little capacity to integrate available information or communicate it to a wide audience.

Rube Goldberg Logistics
A primary reason the HLPF cannot succeed in providing overall guidance to the 2030 process is its Rube Goldberg logistics. It will meet annually under the aegis of ECOSOC for three years, convene every fourth year under the General Assembly, and within that cycle, consider the “integrated and indivisible” issues of Agenda 2030 in their own cyclical progression. Delegations discussed those arrangements as if they seriously expected them to distill national/UN system experience under ECOSOC and facilitate policy guidance from the Assembly. No one seemed to recall that similarly clumsy arrangements have consistently disappointed expectations since Agenda 21 a quarter century ago.

The factors that make the 2030 Agenda an unrealistic proposition – inadequate cooperation among States and the low quality of UN leadership – were evident most recently at UNCTAD 14 which concluded in Nairobi on 22 July. At this writing (2 September) its outcome document is reported to be still under negotiation in Geneva because of fundamental disagreements between developed and developing countries, including on whether or not UNCTAD should have the mandate to consider the issues related to the illicit transfer of resources out of poor countries. 

If the UN membership cannot agree on a forward-looking action plan to make trade more equitable and efficient at a time when the entire engine of world growth is in deep disarray, there can be little doubt about the writing on the wall for Agenda 2030.
For some other recent examples of low quality UN Secretariat work see here


UN Sees Elevated Risk in Economic Outlook

​June 2016: "Downside risks to the global economy remain elevated against the backdrop of weak demand, low investment, low commodity prices and the financial market turbulences" says the latest update of the UN's World Economic Outlook.

It points out that divergent global inflationary pressures have prompted pro-cyclical monetary tightening in several developing economies while the euro area and Japan are continuing monetary easing policies and the United States Federal Reserve is delaying a rise in interest-rate.

"Increased divergence in global interest rates may intensify capital flow volatility and exchange-rate pressures in developing economies" says the report. It suggests greater policy coordination among countries to mitigate the negative spillover effects of policy misalignment and contain financial market volatility.

There is also a growing need for reducing high dependency on monetary policy by exploiting available fiscal space and other policy measures to boost global growth.


"Integration Segment" Fogbound in Vaporous Talk
7 May 2016: The “Integration segment” of the Economic and Social Council (2-5 May) was supposed to discuss innovative and balanced policy to implement Agenda 2030 on sustainable development but with the exception of one panel on "Leaving no one behind," very little was said that can be easily geared to change. Expressions of support for such vaporous formulations as a “new mindset,” the necessity of “breaking out of silos” and the high priority of “empowering women” were not followed by specifics of innovative action. One "keynote speaker" on energy asked the audience to close their eyes and imagine a blissful scene in 2024 that she described; she said nothing about the policy paths that might take us from the current turmoil in world oil markets to that future.

The exceptional panel was made so largely because of the ministerial participant from Vietnam who spoke of privatizing State Owned Enterprises and using the proceeds for education and hospitals. The government also maintained a safety net for those who needed help and to deal with emergency situations. A new initiative was creating interactive community web sites that were used to present data on local conditions and engage private donors in beneficial projects. Each web page was itself sponsored by a major donor. 

There were also several other interesting speakers on the same panel. One represented the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. He spoke of a forthcoming meeting in Sweden to discuss the application of Agenda 2030 to developed countries and how they could mainstream sustainable development. A key activity was to make the avalanche of available data into knowledge and that into policy. How governments could deal with complex economic, social and environmental issues was important; key elements would be risk management and the role of private entrepreneurs and cities; the Habitat 3 conference later this year in Quito would have to plan for the next two decades. As Machiavelli had commented 500 years ago, there was nothing more difficult than to establish a new order of things. Policy makers would have to assess upside and downside aspects of integrated action and weigh synergies and trade-offs; all that would take time and resources.

Another notable participant was from Columbia University. He spoke of the need to have all voices heard. Existing Environment Impact Assessments did not do so. For instance, BP had a 600-page EIA document on its Gulf oil well that blew up; evidently no one had read it. He said it was necessary to have all EIAs posted on the web so that communities and activists could access them and robust laws to enforce action. The delegate of Guyana commented that implementing Agenda 2030 would have to be an organic process, combining institutional firmness and fluidity of practice. His government was preparing a green development plan that looked at decentralizing action to the country's 10 administrative provinces, with each having a "capital town." A speaker representing the International Telecommunications Union recalled the World Bank digital report released earlier this year. The analog support for the digital revolution would require hard wired connectivity in the health and education sectors; it would require private/public collaborations.   

Most member States participated in the general debate through a handful of representatives and the developed countries not at all except for the Czech Republic. Some of the invited discussants from outside the UN seemed almost clueless.  The unfortunate impression in much of the proceedings was of intellectual confusion and irrelevance even when individual presenters were pertinent and insightful. For instance, the two opening speakers of the session addressed the topics of e-governance and the informal sector of developing country economies, both critically important contexts for innovative public policy; but there was no discussion following their presentations.

​Instead, the chamber was taken over for the taping of a dreary BBC radio show whose two hosts seemed oblivious not only of the UN’s conservative dress code but its decorum of practice. As one of them boasted of the “53 million” audience of the BBC its logo flashed on the video screen behind the podium; I’ve had the Secretary-General as my “warm-up act,” she said smugly.

That Ms. Piggy sensibility continued into the substance of their interviews on topics ranging from “barefoot lawyers” in Uganda to toilets in India. The best of the interviewees was an environmental activist from Costa Rica who made a series of interesting and important observations but seemed to get the cold shoulder. A comment about the urgent need to overcome the short-term perspectives of most parliamentarians was met with a non sequitur about road noise that had interfered with a BBC interview; another regarding the need to translate Agenda 2030 into the language and concerns of ordinary people was met with glazed silence.

Members of the second panel, on “A paradigm shift in development” seemed confused about what exactly they should be addressing; some spoke of obstacles to change (the tendency for issues to be addressed in “silos”), others of changes already happening (the shift to multi-dimensional measurement of poverty). Two participants with important things to say were a World Bank official speaking of the need for “analog support” for the digital revolution and a veteran leader of the women’s banking movement who noted that gender and finance were both cross-cutting issues in Agenda 2030. Increasingly aware that women with access to finance were powerful change agents, governments were acting to provide it. In Nigeria a woman could now open a bank account with a mobile phone, a photograph and an address; previously it required answering some 50 questions on a printed form. In the last year 700 million women had opened bank accounts globally, half of that in India. Most of them used mobile phones to access their accounts; it was sobering that 1.8 billion women had no mobile phones.

In the general debate developing countries stressed the need for the UN to look to the coherence of its own internal architecture and policies. Regional and country offices needed to be integrated, best practices had to be better shared, South-South and Triangular Cooperation utilized. The Arab League spokesman noted the need for innovative policy to fight violent extremism and terrorism. China called for the coordination of "macroeconomic arrangements" and said it would make implementation of Agenda 2030 top priority at the next G-20 summit. 


Development Financing as Theater
22 April 2016: The inaugural session of the UN Forum on Financing for Development Follow-up (19-21 April), was more theater than international diplomacy. There was a great deal of strutting and fretting on the stage of the new ECOSOC subsidiary that will oversee support for the broadest plan the UN has ever made to transform the world: but to what effect was unclear. 

The plan’s three components, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, all adopted in 2015, aim at “eradicating poverty, combating inequality, preserving the planet, creating sustained economic growth and fostering social inclusion” (to quote the UN System’s Chief Executives Board). The new Forum will keep track of that complex effort by focusing on the “holistic, coherent framework” for financing development set by the Addis Agenda. 

Supporting the Forum will be a UN Inter-Agency Task Force reporting not only on the “several hundred concrete actions” States “have pledged to undertake individually and collectively” but on the financing “outcomes and the means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”  Further, the Task Force will advise governments “on implementation gaps and recommendations for corrective action … mapping out policy options and analyzing their underlying assumptions and economic, social and environmental implications.”

Those are hugely ambitious goals, especially if we consider that the Forum will be meeting just once a year for five days, but at the inaugural session the only skeptical murmurs came from a World Bank Governor and a “Business Sector” representative; for the rest, the suspension of disbelief was worthy of a Broadway show. There was also more than a little active make-believe in the proceedings. Amidst all the talk of an "enabling international economic environment," only a single speaker mentioned – in the most hesitant manner – the negative impact of the post-2008 “quantitative easing” gyrations of developed economies; no one at all spoke of the novel concept of “negative interest rates” now prevalent in Japan and the European Union.

That restraint was especially remarkable considering that the Forum engaged the World Bank and IMF in a “High-level interactive session” and had before it a report noting that “over $700 billion of capital left developing and transition countries in 2015, greatly exceeding the magnitude of net outflows during the ‘great recession’.” Also unmentioned, including in the Task Force document, was the trillion dollar erosion of China’s foreign exchange reserves in 2015 and a slower but continuing steep fall in 2016.

Such reserve is rooted in a diplomatic reluctance to offend the powerful that has always been the bane of the United Nations. The most glaring example in the context of financing development is the silence at the Forum and in its documentation about military expenditures; in 2015 they totaled $1.7 trillion globally, some $700 billion more than at the peak of the Cold War. 

“Illicit financial flows” from developing countries were considered unmentionable a few years ago; the 2002 Monterrey Conference on financing development ignored them completely. At the time even UNCTAD used to refer to this bald thievery as the “reverse transfer of resources.” Ironically, now that the matter is out in the open unnecessary histrionics are clouding policy. There is no need for more studies and speeches: a global ban on “shell companies” and the “tax havens” that cater to them will end the problem. 

An even more development-friendly maneuver would be for developing countries to cancel all personal and corporate income taxes, thus not only cutting out a great deal of domestic corruption but offering a major incentive to all investors, domestic and foreign.


Scroll down for articles on:


  • World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report sees record progress
  • Anodyne SG speech to IMF-World Bank Annual Meeting
  • World Bank's Social Progress Index 2017: take with much salt
  • Regional Commissions reports to ECOSOC 2017
  • Why Agenda 2030 is set to fail (September 2016)
  • UN sees elevated risk in economic outlook (June 2016)
  • Integration Segment Fogbound in Vaporous Talks (May 2016)
  • Development Financing as Theater (April 2016)


  • The latest on Internet trends from Mary Meeker
  • 10 messages from the Vienna Energy Forum on SDGs
  • World Bank, UN set framework to help countries in conflict
  • Achim Steiner of Germany to head UNDP
  • ECOSOC tax meeting: little hope of meaningful action  
  • ECOSOC sets theme for Humanitarian Segment
  • Social Development Commission 55th Session
  • New Code of Conduct to combat international tax evasion
  • Migrant populations grow in rich countries, stable elsewhere
  • Assembly hears of regional action on 2030 Agenda
  • Renewable energy use delinking growth & carbon emissions
  • Funds for South-South Cooperation (September 2016)
  • Very peculiar UNCTAD 14 (Aug 2016) 
  • No "Developing Countries" for World Bank (May 2016)
  • African Think Tanks Meet (May 2016)
  • ​Confused UNCTAD report on offshore flows(May 2016)
  • IMF in Major Power Shift (May 2016)

"Tax Body" a civil society mascot telling the world it needs rules to prevent illicit transfers of wealth from poor countries was thrown out of the UN in 2016 and hasn't been let back .

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