An IPS‘s OPINION by Stefan Shweinfest demonstrates how sadly the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, are threatening Peace & Security in the world of today.
The IMF had recently sounded some alarm over growing debt sustainability problems in many low-income countries well before the coronavirus pandemic. The MENA countries don’t escape this potential trauma in the making as more than two years afterwards, the debt situation deteriorated significantly. A big debt crisis is brewing in the Global South because according to still the IMF, 60% of low-income countries are now at high risk of debt distress. Together with a growing number of middle-income countries are suffering from high debt service burdens. Could all this be the root cause of the following?
Intersecting Crises are Impeding the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Threatening Peace & Security
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 2022 (IPS) – This week marks the mid-way point to the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and with it the release of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022.
While we would like to trumpet success stories and report that we are on track in eradicating poverty and hunger and improving health and education in this report, the reality is, we cannot.
Instead, the data show that cascading and intersecting global crises are creating spin-off impacts on food and nutrition, health, education, the environment, and peace and security, presenting existential threats to the planet, and have already undone some of the initial accomplishments towards the SDGs.
In fact, the results of the report reflect a deepening and impending climate catastrophe; a war that is sparking one of the largest refugee crises of modern time; shows the impacts of the pandemic through increased child labour, child marriage, and violence against women; as well as food supply disruptions that threaten global food security; and a health pandemic that has interrupted the education of millions of students.
The report sounds an alarm that people and the planet are in serious challenges, rather than reading as the successful story of progress that we would have hoped for when launching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015.
The COVID-19 pandemic has halted or reversed years of development progress. As of end of 2021, nearly 15 million people worldwide had died directly or indirectly due to COVID-19. More than four years of progress in alleviating extreme poverty have been wiped out, and 150 million more people facing hunger in 2021 than in 2019.
An estimated 147 million children missed more than half of their in-person instruction over the past two years. The pandemic severely disrupted essential health services. Immunization coverage dropped for the first time in a decade and deaths from tuberculosis and malaria increased.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Threatening Peace & Security
As grim as the scenario sounds, we shall set a course for achieving the implementation of the 2030 Agenda through recovery and response: enact new ways of thinking and open up new possibilities.
During COVID-19, responses sped up the adoption of digital technologies and innovative approaches. There are some examples of positive trends coming out of the report: There has been a surge in the number of internet users due to the pandemic, increasing by 782 million people to reach 4.9 billion people in 2021, up from 4.1 billion in 2019.
Global manufacturing production grew by 7.2 per cent in 2021, surpassing its pre-pandemic level. Higher-technology manufacturing industries fared better than lower-tech industries during the pandemic, and therefore recovered faster.
In addition, before the pandemic, progress was being made in many important SDGs, such as reducing poverty, improving maternal and child health, increasing access to electricity, improving access to water and sanitation, and advancing gender equality.
War in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine is creating one of the largest refugee crises we have seen in modern time, which pushed the already record-high global refugee number even higher. As of May 2022, over 100 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes.
The crisis has caused food, fuel and fertilizer prices to skyrocket, further disrupted supply chains and global trade, roiled financial markets, and threatened global food security and aid flows.
Projected global economic growth for 2022 was cut by 0.9 percentage point, due to the war in Ukraine and potential new waves of the pandemic.
The world’s most vulnerable countries and population groups are disproportionately impacted by the multiple and interlinked crises. Developing countries are battling record inflation, rising interest rates and looming debt burdens.
With competing priorities and limited fiscal space, many are finding it harder than ever to recover economically. In least developed countries, economic growth remains sluggish and the unemployment rate is worsening.
Women have suffered a greater share of job losses combined with increased care work at home. Exiting evidence suggests that violence against women has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Anxiety and depression among adolescents and young people have increased significantly.
Low-carbon, resilient and inclusive development pathways will reduce carbon emissions, conserve natural resources, transform our food systems, create better jobs and advance the transition to a greener, more inclusive and just economy.
The world is on the verge of a climate catastrophe where billions of people are already feeling the consequences. Energy-related CO2 emissions for 2021 rose by 6 per cent, reaching their highest level ever and completely wiping out pandemic-related declines.
To avoid the worst effects of climate change, as set out in the Paris Agreement, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to peak before 2025 and then decline by 43 per cent by 2030 from 2010 level, falling to net zero by 2050.
Instead, under current voluntary national commitments to climate action, greenhouse gas emissions will rise by nearly 14 per cent by 2030.
A Road Map out of Crises
The road map laid out in establishing the Sustainable Development Goals has always been clear. Just as the impact of crises is compounded when they are linked, so are the solutions.
In taking action to strengthen social protection systems, improve public services and invest in clean energy, we address the root causes of increasing inequality, environmental degradation and climate change.
We have a valuable tool in the release of The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 to understand our current state of affairs. What’s more, in order to understand where we are and where we are headed, significant investment in our data and information infrastructure is required.
Policies, programmes and resources aimed at protecting people during this most challenging time will inevitably fall short without the evidence needed to focus interventions.
Timely, high-quality and disaggregated data can help trigger more targeted responses, anticipate future needs, and hone the design of urgently needed actions. To emerge stronger from the crisis and prepare for unknown challenges ahead, funding statistical development must be a priority for national governments and the international community.
As the SDG Report 2022 underscores the severity and magnitude of the challenges before us, this requires accelerated global-scale action that is committed to and follows the SDG roadmap.
We know the solutions and we have the roadmap to guide us in weathering the storm and coming out stronger and better together.
Stefan Schweinfest is Director of the Statistics Division in the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). Under his leadership, the Division compiles and disseminates global statistical information, develops standards and norms for statistical activities including the integration of geospatial, statistical and other information, and supports countries’ efforts to strengthen their national statistical and geospatial systems.
The MENA region is somehow more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than elsewhere and it should take this opportunity to focus on its socio-political among many other things institutional arrangements. An IFRC’s Press release on how the Ukraine conflict tends to intensify existing humanitarian crises in the MENA region. This article follows on how Cascading Climate Effects in the MENA are impacting all and it should be best through an inclusive model of governance for its obvious argumentations towards some democratic development in the said region.
Iranian Red Crescent Society teams install safe water points in the country in March 2022 to help communities cope during the ongoing severe drought. Photo: Iranian Red Crescent Society
16 June 2022, Beirut – The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region continues to face multiple and complex crises from conflicts to climate change and displacement. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) today issued a rapid assessment report focusing on the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on the humanitarian situation in the MENA region.
The findings of the assessment confirmed that the conflict intensifies the impact of pre-existing crises and trends and increases the vulnerability of most countries.
Rania Ahmed, Deputy Regional Director of IFRC MENA said: “The global economic and security impact of the conflict in Ukraine could be the proverbial last straw that breaks the camel’s back, pushing already fragile countries in the MENA region over the tipping point.”
The assessment’s main findings show that food security and livelihoods are the two most affected sectors. Currently, there are 56 million people in need of food in the region. Data show that the number could increase by 25% over the next six months because of the global food price index increase that has hit a record high. Twelve countries from the MENA region have experienced a dramatic increase in the price of basic food items. In Lebanon, prices have increased by 75-100%. In Iran and Yemen prices went up by 50-75%. Currently, five million people are facing food insecurity in the region. An estimated 1.9 million could slide into hunger.
MENA countries source up to 85% of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia. The agriculture industry in the region has already been severely affected by a combination of disrupted supply chains, water scarcity, and increasing temperatures.
With donors’ attention turned towards the Ukraine crisis, there is a risk that the humanitarian funding for MENA countries might drop. Lack of access to donor funding will only amplify the existing humanitarian crisis in several MENA countries. For the millions of Palestinians, Lebanese, Yemenis, Syrians, and others who live in countries experiencing conflict, catastrophic economic meltdowns, and increasing humanitarian needs, this would be equivalent to shutting down critical life support.
Finally, energy and oil-importing countries are experiencing additional social stress as they witness a 25-75% increase of fuel prices. In Syria and Yemen, fuel shortages and a lack of electricity is already severely impacting the delivery of basic services. The compounded crisis trends in Lebanon, including the sharp increase in energy prices resulting from the Ukraine crisis, have the potential to push the country over the tipping point to become a “critical crisis”.
Methodology: This rapid assessment aims to contribute to the ongoing analysis and scenario development to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to evolving crisis trends in the MENA region, with specific considerations on how the Ukraine conflict is a risk multiplier to existing crisis trends. The assessment was carried out between 25 April and 3 June 2022 using secondary data and a perception survey of 24 representatives of National Societies and IFRC Heads of Delegation.
apofeed with “What Lies Beneath the Slow Economic Growth in the MENA?” attempts to elaborate on the current situation that is prevailing in certain MENA countries.
What Lies Beneath the Slow Economic Growth in the Middle East and North Africa?
A dynamic private sector is key for the economies of the region to grow out of their currently high debt levels; Unlocking sustainable growth in the region’s private sector requires reforms that facilitate innovation, the adoption of digital technologies and investments in human capital; Reforms to support these objectives must take account of sustainability and the global agenda to limit climate change
The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank have published a joint report, Unlocking Sustainable Private Sector Growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) (https://bit.ly/3H73CdA). The report analyses constraints on productivity growth and limited accumulation of factors or production in the MENA private sector.
The report is based on the MENA Enterprise Survey conducted between late 2018 and 2020 on over 5 800 formal businesses across Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, the West Bank and Gaza. Historically, economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa has been weak since the global financial crisis of 2007-2009 and the Arab Spring of the early 2010s. Since then, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has grown by only 0.3% a year in the MENA region. That compares unfavourably with rates of 1.7% on average in middle-income countries and 2.4% in the developing economies of Europe and Central Asia.
Achieving higher and sustainable growth is particularly important in view of other economic challenges facing the region. Public debt has increased considerably over the last decade, accompanied by declining investment. More recently, the coronavirus pandemic has battered the region, further straining public finances. In addition, the Russian invasion of Ukraine affects the MENA economies through higher hydrocarbon prices, risks to food security and declining tourism.
Against this background, it is important that policymakers exploit the potential of the private sector to propel the region towards greater prosperity.
“The spillovers from the war in Ukraine add to structural vulnerabilities in the region. The prospects for global financial tightening, persistently high energy and food prices and concerns for food security come on top of concerns related to weak economic growth and rising debt levels,” said EIB Chief Economist Debora Revoltella (https://bit.ly/2UYJi4s). “When responding to the new shock, MENA countries need to tackle the main structural bottlenecks affecting the region. Reforms that lower regulatory barriers, tackle informal business practices, promote competition, and facilitate innovation and digitalisation are crucial for achieving sustainable economic growth and improving resilience to future shocks.”
The business environment in the MENA region as reported in the survey has been held back by various factors. Political connection and informality are undermining fair competition, bringing economic benefits to a limited number of companies. Management practices lag behind benchmark countries, with a decline in average scores in all MENA countries since 2013.
Customs and trade regulations appear to be more severe barriers for firms in the MENA region than in other countries. Firms need more time to clear customs to import or export than in other countries. The MENA economies depend on high levels of imports compared to low export activities.
Although firms trading in the international market are more willing to develop and innovate processes, only 20% invest in innovation, which can affect the long-term economic prospects for the region.
The region needs to make better use of its human capital. Predominantly, only a few foreign-owned companies invest in training their human capital, and they tend to be digitally connected exporting firms. Additionally, a significant share of companies are not engaging in financial activities with other economic players, opting to self-finance voluntarily.
Incentives for companies to decarbonise are weak, and MENA firms are less likely than their counterparts in Europe and Central Asia to adopt measures that reduce their environmental footprint.
Unlocking sustainable growth in the region’s private sector, the report calls for MENA economies to lower regulatory barriers for businesses, promote competition and reduce disincentives emerging from political influence and informal business practices.
The region is also in need of reforms to facilitate innovation, the adoption of digital technologies and investments in human capital, while being in line with the global agenda to limit climate change, enhance sustainability and protect the natural environment.
Improving management practices can be instrumental to that. “Good management practices can account for as much as 30% of differences in efficiency across countries,” said Roberta Gatti, Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank. “Management practices are lacklustre in firms in the region, particularly in those with some state ownership. Improving these practices can have substantial benefits, is not costly, but is not easy. It will require — among others — a change in mindsets.”
Companies should also be given incentives to exploit the benefits of participating in cross-border trade and global value chains more broadly, accompanied by better management practices.
At the same time, the state has a duty to ensure that this transition process is just, through measures that help workers to take advantage of opportunities to obtain new, higher-quality jobs linked to the green economy, while also protecting those at risk of losing their jobs. Such measures include labour market policies, skills training, social safety nets and action to support regional economic development.
EBRD Chief Economist Beata Javorcik said: “Climate change creates an opportunity the MENA region to build up its green credentials and use them as a source of competitive advantage. This will create the much-needed high-quality jobs linked to the green economy.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of European Investment Bank (EIB).
Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change, with Hezbollah and its allies losing ground across the country in a parliamentary election.
Just as the recent election in Northern Ireland brought a boost for the non-sectarian Alliance Party, Lebanon’s election saw significant gains for political representatives untethered to sectarian politics. Like Northern Ireland, Lebanon’s political system is set up to share power. Its new parliament will have various sectarian blocs, revolving around Hezbollah and rival party Lebanese Forces, and a sizeable non-sectarian group campaigning on economic issues, social justice and accountability.
Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian Shia-based party, emerged in 1982 largely in response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. It gained prominence after the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990) and its share of parliament seats started rising in the 2000 elections. After the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005, its alliance with key political players such as the other Shia-based political party, Amal, and the Christian-based Free Patriotic Movement allowed it to gradually block major policy processes deemed detrimental to its interests such as negotiations on its demilitarisation.
The Hezbollah bloc has lost ground to rivals across the spectrum. Results indicate that the pro-Thawra opposition candidates have made significant gains, capturing up to 13 seats. The Thawra name harks back to October 2019, as the state’s economy went into freefall, when an uprising of ordinary citizens, often called the Thawra, campaigned for all sectarian leaders to resign and for rights for foreign domestic workers, women and LGBTQ+ people.
In this election, the Lebanese Forces party has used widespread anger against Hezbollah and its allies to increase its number of parliamentarians. Lebanese Forces has positioned itself as the main faction willing to contest Hezbollah in the power-sharing government.
This national election took place as Lebanon struggled with a series of crises beginning in 2019, including an economic meltdown that left more than 75% of the population below the poverty line, in what the World Bank ranks as among the three most severe economic collapses anywhere since the 19th century. The country is also dealing with the aftermath of the port disaster. More recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed millions close to starvation because of Lebanon’s heavy dependence on Ukrainian wheat.
Relatives of victims of the August 2020 Beirut port blast carry their pictures during a protest near the port. Reuters/Alamy
Lebanon’s political power-sharing system is deliberately designed to protect the entrenched interests of the state’s powerful sectarian leaders. All seats in the 128-member parliament are reserved on a sectarian basis and the powerful factions have often functioned on behalf of other powers, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.
For its supporters, the power-sharing system gives guarantees of political representation to the main groups and ensures that no faction can control the government.
While the protests eventually ran out of steam, it built a platform for a political movement that has now gained independent parliamentary seats.
While it is tempting to suggest that Lebanon’s election has ushered in significant change, caveats are required. Voter turnout was 41%, lower than in 2018. This may point more to apathy and disillusionment than hope.
Obsolete electoral laws have not kept pace with people’s lives, and may have been a factor in the low turnout. In Lebanon, people must vote in the constituencies where they were born. With fuel prices rising and a crumbling transportation system, many could not travel to their birthplace hours away.
This result could lead to political stalemate and confrontational power-sharing. The parliament could turn into a polarised arena where parties with opposing agendas are supposed to share power. The main factions are likely to disagree on the new speaker of parliament and on the allocation of executive ministerial positions, making it difficult for the council of ministers to address the disastrous economic situation.
Factions are also likely to disagree on the new presidential candidate set to replace current president Michel Aoun five months from now at the end of his term.
Yet there is still room for optimism. The success of these independent candidates demonstrates that anti-sectarian politics can succeed in an environment designed to prohibit it flourishing. Unlikely breakthroughs in sectarian strongholds represent notable and exceptional gains.
Independent candidates have not had the array of tools at the disposal of the major sectarian parties. They do not have the economic clout to court votes or have links to powerful media networks to echo their message. They also can’t ask for support from powerful states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Their candidates are more likely to be harangued and attacked by sectarian factions.
Nevertheless, their victory in Lebanon’s elections has powerful implications. It is one of the key achievements of the 2019 Thawra movement, a landmark episode that many had dismissed for not having achieved very much.
The desire to minimize dependency on fossil fuels, improve energy security, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions has prompted governments in the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) area to commit to meeting aggressive renewable energy objectives. By 2030, MENA countries want to produce between 15% to 50% of their power from renewable sources. A favorable climate for the uptake of renewables, notably solar & wind power, is being created by falling technology costs and an increasing focus on green regulations. However, the MENA region has been reluctant to adopt renewable energy, with a total developed renewable energy capacity of only 10.6 gigawatts (GW) relative to a worldwide total of 2,799 GW by 2020.
ESS (Energy storage systems) will be critical in integrating variable renewable energy (VRE) technologies into power grids. Through capacity firming as well as other ancillary services like frequency and voltage management, ESS will improve the flexibility and stability of the power systems.
ESS offers a variety of services that can be combined to maximize value based on the demands and requirements of the power system and grid. Depending on market needs, these services are rewarded differently. Moreover, to the storage capacity payment, service stacking offers revenue stacking, making ESS’s business case more appealing. Traditionally, power system design has concentrated on increasing power-producing capacity to satisfy rising electrical demand. This has sparked a competition throughout the MENA region to increase power generation, which is primarily based on thermal energy and is growing at a rate of 7% per year. Population growth, subsidies, and the ever-increasing need for cooling and water are all driving up demand. The trend in power system design is toward lower peak loads, which is crucial for MENA nations to minimize the pace and rate of power output capacity addition.
Nations in the region are undertaking steps to increase their energy storage capability, with 30 projects expected to be completed by 2025. Pumped hydro storage (PHS) accounts for 55 percent of the region’s ESS installed capacity, relative to 90 percent globally, while batteries, especially lithium-ion and sodium-sulfur batteries, are predicted to rise from 7% to 45 percent of MENA’s ESS by 2025.
The reasons for ESS deployment differ per area. Ambitious renewable energy objectives encourage Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, and the majority of Gulf republics. This applies mostly to utility-scale FTM (front-of-meter) applications — grid-scale energy storage linked to generation sources or even transmission and distribution (T&D) networks — mainly through renewable energy-plus-storage auctions or even the co-location of solar and wind power plus storage. Currently, FTM applications account for 89 percent of the region’s ESS installed capacity. Significant power supply shortages, on the other hand, provide another push for ESS in countries that experience frequent power outages, such as Iraq and Lebanon. This is largely in terms of behind-the-meter (BTM) solutions, which mitigate the socioeconomic losses linked with blackouts by storing electricity on-premises behind the consumer’s meter.
Despite these factors, ESS deployment in the Middle East and North Africa is currently around 1.46 GW, relative to a worldwide capacity of around 10 GW, or simply below 15% of overall capacity – roughly equivalent to battery storage in the United Kingdom. To expedite ESS and VRE implementation in the region, governments, power utilities, and financial institutions will require to address a number of legislative, financial, and market impediments.
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