Geo-Politics of Environment


March 19, 2017

The Geopolitics of Environment

by Giulio Boccaletti

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/environment-economic-and-geopolitical-challenges-by-giulio-boccaletti-2017-03

Much of the world seems to be on edge. The West’s relationship with Russia, the future of NATO, the Syrian civil war and refugees, rising right-wing populism, the impact of automation, and the United Kingdom’s impending departure from the European Union: all of these topics – and more – have roiled public debate worldwide. But one issue – one might say the most significant of them all – is being ignored or pushed aside: the environment.

Image result for Environmental challenges of 21st century

That was the case at this year’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. Beyond a mention of the Paris climate agreement by Chinese President Xi Jinping, topics like climate change and sustainable development didn’t even make it to the main stage. Instead, they were relegated to side meetings that rarely seemed to intersect with current political and economic events.

Allowing environmental issues to fall by the wayside at this time of geopolitical and social instability is a mistake, and not just because this happens to be a critical moment in the fight to manage climate change. Environmental degradation and natural-resource insecurity are undermining our ability to tackle some of the biggest global issues we face.

Environmental insecurity is a major, though often underestimated, contributor to global instability. The UN High Commission on Refugees reports that natural disasters have displaced more than 26 million people per year since 2008 – almost a third of the total number of forcibly displaced people in this time period.

Image result for global environmental disasters

Even the current refugee crisis has an environmental element. In the years leading up to the war, Syria experienced its most extreme drought in recorded history. That drought, together with unsustainable agricultural practices and poor resource management, contributed to the internal displacement of 1.5 million Syrians and catalyzed political unrest ahead of the 2011 uprising.

The link between environmental and agricultural pressures extends far beyond Syria. Over-reliance on specific geographies for agriculture means that food production can exacerbate environmental problems, or even create new ones. This can pit global consumer interests against local citizen interests, as it has along the Mississippi River, where fertilizer runoff from one of the world’s breadbaskets is contributing to concerns about water quality.

The connection goes both ways, with environmental conditions also shaping agricultural production – and, in turn, the prices of agricultural commodities, which represent about 10% of traded goods worldwide. For example, rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns are already driving up the price of coffee. With the global land area suitable for growing coffee set to contract by up to half by 2050, price pressures will only intensify.

A sudden shift toward trade protectionism could drive up agricultural commodity prices further. Such an increase would affect farm-level household income, favoring some farmers while harming others. End consumers, particularly the poor and vulnerable, would also suffer.

Another reason why the environment should be at the center of economic debates is its role as the world’s single largest employer. Almost a billion people, just under 20% of the world’s labor force, are formally employed in agriculture. Another billion or so are engaged in subsistence farming, and therefore don’t register in formal wage statistics.

Any initiatives to support economic development must support this population’s transition toward higher-productivity activities. This is particularly important at a time when increasingly sophisticated and integrated technology threatens to leapfrog an entire generation of workers in some countries. Efforts to benefit this huge population must focus not only on training and education, but also on new models that allow countries to capitalize on their natural capital – the landscapes, watersheds, and seascapes – without depleting it.

Just as natural-resource insecurity can cause displacement and vulnerability, effective natural-resource management can support conflict resolution and sustainable economic development. On this front, efforts to achieve environmental remediation, to boost the resilience of rural communities, to advance sustainable agricultural production, and to support community-based environmental stewardship have all shown promising results.

Consider the Northern Rangelands Trust, an organization focused on creating community conservancies to enable sustainable and equitable land use in Kenya. NRT has helped pastoralist communities establish effective governance mechanisms for the environment on which they depend, reducing conflict over grazing rights, especially in times of drought.

For many communities, members’ relationship with the landscape in which they live is an integral part of their identity. With effective governance and planning, open dialogue, resource-sharing frameworks, and sufficient investment, including in skills training, these communities can translate this relationship into effective environmental stewardship – and build healthier and more secure societies.

The crises engulfing the modern world are complex. But one thing is clear: the environment is connected to all of them. Solutions will mean little without a healthy world in which to implement them.

 

When Facts don’t matter in America


March 13, 2017

When Facts don’t matter, Trump’s White House is the sole arbiter of truth.

by Paul Krugman@www.nytimes.com

Image result for Paul KrugmanDr. Paul Krugman-The Nobel Laureate in Economics

The U.S. economy added 10.3 million jobs during President Obama’s second term, or 214,000 a month. This brought the official unemployment rate below 5 percent, and a number of indicators suggested that by late last year we were fairly close to full employment. But Donald Trump insisted that the good news on jobs was “phony,” that America was actually suffering from mass unemployment.

Then came the first employment report of the Trump administration, which at 235,000 jobs added looked very much like a continuation of the previous trend. And the administration claimed credit: Job numbers, Mr. Trump’s press secretary declared, “may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”

Image result for When Facts don't under TrumpTrump’s American Supporters are factually challenged

Reporters laughed — and should be ashamed of themselves for doing so. For it really wasn’t a joke. America is now governed by a president and party that fundamentally don’t accept the idea that there are objective facts. Instead, they want everyone to accept that reality is whatever they say it is.

So we’re just supposed to believe the president if he says, falsely, that his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever; if he claims, ludicrously, that millions of votes were cast illegally for his opponent; if he insists, with no evidence, that his predecessor tapped his phones.

And it’s not just about serving one man’s vanity. If you want to see how this attitude can hurt millions of people, consider the state of play on health care reform.

Obamacare has led to a sharp decline in the number of Americans without health insurance. You can argue that the decline should have been even sharper, that there may be troubles ahead, or that we should have done better. But the reality of the law’s achievement shouldn’t be in question, and you should worry about the consequences of Trumpcare, which would drastically weaken key provisions.

Republicans, however, are in denial about recent gains. The president of the Heritage Foundation dismisses the positive effects of the Affordable Care Act as “fake news.” In Louisville over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence declared that “Obamacare has failed the people of Kentucky” — this in a state where the percentage of people without insurance fell from 16.6 to 7 percent when the law went into effect. And as for the likely impacts of Trumpcare — well, they literally don’t want to know.

When Congress is considering major legislation, it normally waits for the Congressional Budget Office to “score” the proposal — to estimate its effects on revenues, outlays and other key targets. The budget office isn’t always right, but it has a very good track record compared with other forecasters; even more important, it has always been scrupulous about avoiding partisanship, and therefore acts as an important check on politically motivated wishful thinking.

But Republicans rammed Trumpcare through key committees, literally in the dead of night, without waiting for the C.B.O. score — and they have been pre-emptively denouncing the budget office, which is likely to find that the bill would cause millions to lose health coverage.

The truth is that while the office got some things wrong about health reform, on the whole it did pretty well at projecting the effects of a major new bill — and far better than the people now attacking it, who predicted disasters that never happened. And whatever criticisms one may have of its forthcoming score, it will surely be better than the ludicrous claim of Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, that “nobody will be worse off financially” as a result of a plan that drastically cuts subsidies and raises premiums for millions of Americans.

But this isn’t really about whose analyses of health policy are most likely to get it right. It’s about Trump and company attacking the legitimacy of anyone who might question their assertions.

The C.B.O., in other words, is in the same position as the news media, which Mr. Trump has declared “enemies of the people” — not, whatever he may say, because they get things wrong, but because they dare to challenge him on anything.

“Enemy of the people” is, of course, a phrase historically associated with Stalin and other tyrants. This is no accident. Mr. Trump isn’t a dictator — not yet, anyway — but he clearly has totalitarian instincts.

And much, perhaps most, of his party is happy to go along, accepting even the most bizarre conspiracy theories. For example, a huge majority of Republicans believe Mr. Trump’s basically insane charges about being wiretapped by President Obama.

So don’t make the mistake of dismissing the assault on the Congressional Budget Office as some kind of technical dispute. It’s part of a much bigger struggle, in which what’s really at stake is whether ignorance is strength, whether the man in the White House is the sole arbiter of truth.

Policy uncertainty threatens trade growth, says World Bank


February 22, 2017

Policy uncertainty threatens trade growth, says World Bank

Warning on protectionism and threats to trade agreements in Trump era

https://www.ft.com/content/9d49b092-f859-11e6-9516-2d969e0d3b65

Image result for global trade under trump

Political uncertainty is slowing trade growth, a World Bank report has concluded, indicating that the rise of Donald Trump may already be casting a shadow over the global economy.

Major international institutions such as the IMF, the OECD and World Bank have recently upgraded their forecasts of global economic growth largely due to expectations that tax cuts, rising infrastructure spending and a wave of deregulation will boost the US economy under the new president. But the report by World Bank economists, released on Tuesday, highlights the fragile state of one historically important engine of global growth — trade.

To the extent that the policy uncertainty will remain high we should continue to expect [global] trade growth to be subdued. Michele Ruta, World Bank report co-author

The study avoids naming Mr Trump, but highlights rising protectionism and threats to unwind trade agreements — such as those made by the president. It also raises the prospect that attempts by the Trump administration to force companies to repatriate global supply chains to the US could undermine efforts to boost lagging productivity growth. To the extent that the policy uncertainty will remain high we should continue to expect [global] trade growth to be subdued Michele Ruta, World Bank report co-author International trade has been growing below historic trends for the past five years. The 1.9 per cent growth recorded in 2016, according to the team at the bank, was the slowest since the 2009 collapse in commerce that followed the global financial crisis.

Image result for global trade under trump

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House–The Future of NAFTA

The team found that some of the reasons for the anaemic trade growth, which affected both developed and developing economies, were broader trends such as slow economic growth around the world and a collapse in commodity prices. But in 2016 the principal change was a surge in uncertainty about economic policy. According to the World Bank’s calculations, such uncertainty was responsible for 0.6 percentage points of the 0.8 percentage-point fall in trade growth between 2015 and 2016. The team at the bank based their figure on a study of the relationship between trade and economic policy uncertainty in 18 countries over three decades. They added they expected the impact to continue in 2017. “To the extent that the policy uncertainty will remain high we should continue to expect [global] trade growth to be subdued,” said Michele Ruta, one of the authors. The World Bank team also sought to quantify the impact of trade agreements on global trade growth. World trade grew at an annual rate of 6.53 per cent between 1995 and 2014, they calculated. Had no new members — including China — joined the World Trade Organisation or no new trade agreements been signed, international trade would have grown at just 4.76 per cent annually, they found.

One of the big consequences of the explosion in trade deals in recent decades has been the emergence of global supply chains. Such chains are widely seen by economists to have made businesses more efficient and boosted productivity. But Mr Trump and his administration have said they want to unwind those international supply chains and bring them home. “It does the American economy no long-term good to only keep the big box factories where we are now assembling ‘American’ products that are composed primarily of foreign components,” Peter Navarro, one of the president’s top trade advisers, told the Financial Times last month.

Image result for global trade under trump

According to the World Bank team such a move, coupled with unwinding existing trade agreements that have encouraged the establishment of international supply chains, would hurt productivity growth. “Preserving and expanding the reach of trade agreements, rather than backtracking on existing commitments, would help to sustain the growth of productivity,” the bank’s economists wrote.

MARA: Stop being an albatross around Malay Entrepreneurs


February 17, 2017

MARA: Stop being an albatross around Malay Entrepreneurs

“…there is something wrong with Mara. From business to education, it seems to be making all the wrong moves. It needs to have more faith in bumiputeras. Bumiputeras cannot flourish or advance themselves in spaces closed off to other races and cultures. Mara must recognise that bumiputeras are not just competing with other Malaysians, but also the citizens of the world. It must lead, not stubbornly cling to the old ways.–Syukri Tahir

Mara is one of the most important and respected institutions in Malaysia. Since its formation in 1966, it has helped countless thousands of bumiputeras succeed in business and industry. But has Mara adapted enough to remain relevant and effective today? Sadly, I don’t think so.

Image result for MARA

I say this because Mara seems more interested in protecting bumiputeras from the world than letting them compete in it. This is a recipe for stagnation and backwardness. Take the Mara Digital Mall, for example – it was set up as a bumiputera alternative to Low Yat Plaza. What exactly has it achieved?

Because it was created and promoted as a platform for bumiputera IT traders, non-bumiputera customers have largely stayed away, choosing to shop at Low Yat instead. How are bumiputera traders supposed to survive – let alone thrive – when their customers are only limited to one race?

I recently paid a visit to the Mara Digital Mall in Kuala Lumpur and found the traders to be demoralised. Many shops had stock shortages, confirming what traders told online news portal Free Malaysia Today last December. If you want to buy anything, you will have to pre-order in advance. Rather serve as a vehicle for bumiputera empowerment, the mall may well turn out to be an embarrassment to bumiputera entrepreneurs.

Image result for Minister Ismail Sabri is an idiotMinister Ismail Sabri from Pahang

Mara’s short-sightedness also extends to education. Recently, now suspended Mara chairperson Annuar Musa said that UniKL, which is wholly-owned by Mara, recognises the Chinese-education-based Unified Examinations Certificate (UEC) as an entry qualification. He correctly bases this on long-standing government policy. Because UniKL is a private institution of higher learning rather than a public one, it is allowed to recognise the UEC.

Image result for MARASuspended MARA Chairman

In recognising the UEC, Annuar saw an excellent opportunity to grow UniKL, expand the diversity of its students, and give it an international outlook. Sadly, the rest of Mara disagreed with him, including the minister who oversees the institution – Ismail Sabri Yaakob. Annuar has the right idea, but he got into trouble for speaking it. How can Mara advance the cause of bumiputeras if Mara’s leadership can’t even see or comprehend the bigger picture?

They need to realise a few things. UEC recognition will allow us to keep talented Chinese-educated students in the country instead of having them leave for places like Taiwan and Singapore. Also, it will boost race relations and national unity because campuses will have students of different races and backgrounds.

It would not make sense to reject the UEC when prestigious universities around the world – from Australia to the UK to the United States – recognise it. The UEC is accepted at Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford, and Cambridge. If these are considered role models in education, then why shouldn’t UniKL follow in their example?

Furthermore, UEC students will expand the revenue base of UniKL and Mara. After all, Mara only sponsors bumiputera students – non-bumiputeras will have to pay, enhancing Mara’s ability to sponsor even more bumiputera students. In the end, it is bumiputeras who benefit the most from UEC recognition.

But as you can see, there is something wrong with Mara. From business to education, it seems to be making all the wrong moves. It needs to have more faith in bumiputeras. Bumiputeras cannot flourish or advance themselves in spaces closed off to other races and cultures. Mara must recognise that bumiputeras are not just competing with other Malaysians, but also the citizens of the world. It must lead, not stubbornly cling to the old ways.

Fareed Zakaria from Davos, Switzerland


January 25, 2017

Fareed Zakaria from Davos, Switzerland

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/everyone-seems-to-agree-globalization-is-a-sin-theyre-wrong/2017/01/19/49bded68-de8b-11e6-918c-99ede3c8cafa_story.html?utm_term=.2786e5e7a9d7

The World Economic Forum this year feels like an exercise in ritual self-flagellation, which — as with the old Christian practice of fasting and whipping one’s own body — is supposed to purify the sinful nature of man. The sin, of course, is globalization, which everyone now seems to agree has been lopsided, inequitable and dangerous. In fact, most of the flaws attributed to globalization are actually mistakes in national policy that can be corrected.

Image result for Fareed Zakaria in Davos, 2017

It took a Chinese billionaire to speak frankly on this topic. Jack Ma, the founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, estimated that over the past three decades the U.S. government spent $14.2 trillion fighting 13 wars. That money could have been invested in America, building infrastructure and creating jobs. “You’re supposed to spend money on your own people,” he said. He pointed out that globalization produced massive profits for the U.S. economy but much of that money ended up on Wall Street. “And what happened? Year 2008. The financial crisis wiped out $19.2 trillion [in the] U.S.A. alone. . . . What if the money [had been] spent on the Midwest of the United States developing the industry there?” he asked. “It’s not [that] the other countries steal jobs from you guys — it is your strategy,” he concluded.

You don’t have to accept Ma’s specifics and statistics to recognize the validity of his general point. Globalization created huge opportunities for growth, many of which were taken by U.S. companies. The global economy is still dominated by large American firms; 134 of Fortune’s Global 500 are American. And if you look at those in cutting-edge industries, the vast majority are American. These companies have benefited enormously by having global supply chains that can source goods and services around the world, either to lower labor costs or to be close to the markets in which they sell. Since 95 percent of the world’s potential consumers live outside the United States, finding ways to sell to them will have to be a core strategy for growth, even for a country with a large domestic economy such as the United States.

Image result for Jack Ma with Trump

Jack Ma said “It’s not [that] the other countries steal jobs from you guys — it is your strategy”

Obviously globalization has large effects on national economies and societies, and it produces some significant problems. What complex phenomenon does not? But it also generates opportunities, innovation and wealth for nations that they can then use to address these problems through good national strategies. The solutions are easy to state in theory — education, skills-based training and retraining, infrastructure. But they are extremely expensive and hard to execute well.

It is much easier to rail against foreigners and promise to fight them with tariffs and fines. But the cost of addressing these problems at the global level is massive. The Economist reports, in a survey on globalization, that in 2009 the Obama administration punished China with a tariff on its tires. Two years later, the cost to U.S. consumers was $1.1 billion, or $900,000 for every job “saved.” The impact of such tariffs is usually felt disproportionately by the poor and middle class because they spend a larger share of their income on imported goods, such as food and clothing. That same Economist survey points to a study that calculated that, across 40 countries, if transnational trade ended, the wealthiest consumers would lose 28 percent of their purchasing power, but the poorest tenth would lose a staggering 63 percent.

Image result for Technology images

Keeping pace with technology change–Learn, Unlearn and Relearn

Perhaps most important, the key driver depressing wages and eliminating jobs in the industrialized world is technology, not globalization. For example, between 1990 and 2014, U.S. automotive production increased by 19 percent , but with 240,000 fewer workers.

Even when manufacturing comes back to the United States, it is high-end manufacturing. It’s not just new Intel plants that have few workers anymore. Adidas has set up a new shoe factory in Germany that is run almost entirely by robots. It will open a similar one near Atlanta later this year. And the few workers in these factories tend to be highly skilled technicians and software engineers.

You can’t turn off technological revolutions. Nor is there a quick fix to stop business from going to other countries. Tariffs on China will simply mean that production will come from some other developing country.

The best approach to the world we are living in is not denial but empowerment. Countries should recognize that the global economy and the technological revolution require large, sustained national efforts to equip workers with the skills, capital and infrastructure they need to succeed. Nations should embrace an open world, but only as long as they are properly armed to compete in it. And that requires smart, effective — and very expensive — national policies, not some grand reversal of globalization.

Krugman reacts to Donald J. Trump


January 24, 2017

Krugman reacts to Donald J. Trump— “somehow we’re going to have to survive four years of this temper tantrum”.

If America had a parliamentary system, Donald Trump — who spent his first full day in office having a temper tantrum, railing against accurate reports of small crowds at his inauguration — would already be facing a vote of no confidence. But we don’t; somehow we’re going to have to survive four years of this.

Image result for Nobel Laureate paul krugman

And how is he going to react to disappointing numbers about things that actually matter?

In his lurid, ghastly Inaugural Address, Mr. Trump portrayed a nation in dire straits — “American carnage.” The real America looks nothing like that; it has plenty of problems, but things could be worse. In fact, it’s likely that they will indeed get worse. How will a man who evidently can’t handle even the smallest blow to his ego deal with it?

Let’s talk about the predictable bad news.

First, the economy. Listening to Mr. Trump, you might have thought America was in the midst of a full-scale depression, with “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.” Manufacturing employment is indeed down since 2000; but overall employment is way up, and the unemployment rate is low by historical standards.

And it’s not just one number that looks pretty good: Rising wages and the growing number of Americans confident enough to quit their jobs suggest an economy close to full employment.

What this means is that unemployment probably can’t fall much from here, so that even with good policies and good luck, job creation will be much slower than it was in the Obama years. And since bad stuff does happen, there’s a strong likelihood that unemployment will be higher four years from now than it is today.

Oh, and Trumpist budget deficits will probably widen the trade deficit, so that manufacturing employment in particular is likely to fall, not rise.

A second front on which things will almost surely get worse is health care. Obamacare caused the percentage of Americans without insurance to fall sharply, to the lowest level ever. Repeal would send the numbers right back up — 18 million newly uninsured in just the first year, eventually rising to more than 30 million, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. And no, Republicans who have spent seven years failing to come up with a real replacement won’t develop one in the next few weeks, or ever.

On a third front, crime, the future direction is unclear. The Trump vision of an urban America ravaged by “the crime and the gangs and the drugs” is a dystopian fantasy: Violent crime is, in fact, way down despite highly publicized recent murder increases in a few cities. Crime could, I suppose, fall further, but it could also rise. What we do know is that the Trump administration can’t pacify America’s urban war zones, because those zones don’t exist.

Image result for Donald Trump

So how will Mr. Trump handle the bad news of rising unemployment, plunging health coverage, and little if any crime reduction? That’s obvious: He’ll deny reality, the way he always does when it threatens his narcissism. But will his supporters go along with his fantasy?

They might. After all, they blocked out the good news from the Obama era. Two-thirds of Trump voters believe, falsely, that the unemployment rate rose under Obama. (Three-quarters believe George Soros is paying people to protest Mr. Trump.) Only 17 percent of self-identified Republicans are aware that the number of uninsured is at a historic low. Most people thought crime was rising even when it was falling. So maybe they will block out bad news in the Trump years.

But it probably won’t be that easy. For one thing, people tend to attribute improvements in their personal situation to their own efforts; surely many voters who gained jobs over the past eight years believe that they did it despite, not thanks to, Obama policies. Will they correspondingly blame themselves, not Donald Trump, for lost jobs and health insurance? Unlikely.

On top of that, Mr. Trump made big promises during the campaign, so the risk of disillusionment is especially high.

Will he respond to bad news by accepting responsibility and trying to do better? Will he renounce his fortune and enter a monastery? That seems equally likely.

No, the insecure egomaniac-in-chief will almost surely deny awkward truths, and berate the media for reporting them. And — this is what worries me — it’s very likely that he’ll try to use his power to shoot the messengers.

Seriously, how do you think the man who compared the C.I.A. to Nazis will react when the Bureau of Labor Statistics first reports a significant uptick in unemployment or decline in manufacturing jobs? What’s he going to do when the Centers for Disease Control and the Census Bureau report spiking numbers of uninsured Americans?

You may have thought that last weekend’s temper tantrum was bad. But there’s much, much worse to come.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on January 23, 2017, on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Things Can Only Get Worse.