The countdown is now well and truly onto to the Paris climate change talks in France.
A key factor in the talks will be the national plans, known as the INDCs - Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – submitted to the UN ahead of the Paris conference. They are important building blocks for reaching a final agreement.
Given that emissions from land use contribute significantly to climate change, it’s important to note many countries have included the land sector, which covers sustainable agriculture and forestry, as a key part of their approach to mitigating climate change.
Europe and Central Asia
A study group from Moscow and five regions of Russia recently visited Canada and the US to learn more about initiatives in those two countries and to bring discussion about financial issues into the classroom – with the idea of turning today’s students into active and responsible citizens of the future, able to make well-informed personal financial decisions and to engage in discussions about public finances on behalf of themselves and their communities.
But taxes are fundamental to governing a country.
Without taxes there would be no law and order, no security, no pensions and no social safety net.
Collecting a sufficient amount of tax revenue to finance public services without distorting the economy or discouraging people from working is a challenge everywhere. In Romania, the challenge is especially difficult as the culture of voluntary compliance has yet to take hold: Romania ranks among the lowest countries in the EU in terms of the tax gap and the amount of revenue raised as a percentage of GDP.
The economy is growing quickly, which has an unfortunate side effect: more opportunities for tax evasion.
In the previous decade the government opted for interventionist policies aiming to develop an industrial base and jumpstart a knowledge economy. More recently, as a reaction to declining oil prices and economic sanctions, the Anti-Crisis Plan launched by the Government in January 2015 fleshes out an active import substitution strategy to replace imports with domestic production. So far, 19 roadmaps have been adopted to promote import substitution in a number of priority sectors, including metallurgy, agriculture, machine-building, chemicals, light industry, as well as the medical and pharmaceutical industries.
However, in Central Asia, the story is more complicated. This is because the region’s poorer countries, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, depend critically on Russia through trade and remittances.
Falling remittances, reflecting the weakness of the Russian Ruble
According to just-released Russian Central Bank data, outward remittances from Russia fell sharply in the first half of the year, in USD terms. In the first six months of 2015 (relative to the same time in 2014) private transfers from Russia to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are reported to have fallen by over 45% and 30% respectively. While less exposed, Uzbekistan has experienced a loss of even greater magnitude: -48%.
If you think about it, snow is a pretty amazing thing. It is nature’s way of storing water in the winter, and then using it in the summer when it is needed, namely during the growing season. If it gets too warm, the water does not stay locked up as snow till the summer. Too much warmth also means that more snow and ice may melt than usual, resulting in floods. But at the same time, if the water comes down the mountain too abundantly and too early, there may not be enough water during the growing season, causing drought-like conditions.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are among the Europe and Central Asia Region’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. In these five landlocked Central Asian countries, water resources depend on glaciers and snow pack. In this region, we have already seen average annual temperatures increase since the mid-20th century by 0.5°C in the south to 1.6°C in the north, and impacts are already being observed, from melting glaciers in upland areas (where glaciers have lost one-third of their volume since the 1900s), to droughts and floods in the lowlands (where weather-related disasters are estimated to cause economic losses from 0.4 to 1.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product per year for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyz Republic, for instance).
The future looks even more challenging. According to a World Bank report “Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal,” the region’s glaciers, which account today for 10 percent of the annual stream flow in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins, are projected to lose up to 50 percent in volume in a 2°C warmer world, and potentially up to 75 percent in a 4°C warmer world. Melting glaciers and a shift in the timing of rivers’ flow will result in a lot more water in the rivers but this excess availability will not be in sync with growing season’s water needs. In the second half of the century, there would then be too little water flow in the rivers when the glacier volume is reduced. The timing of peak flow of key rivers is projected to shift towards spring with a 25 percent reduction in flow during the critical crop growing season. The report also projects increased heat extremes which mean more of a reliance on irrigated agriculture (the report projects a 30 percent increase in irrigation demand) leading to an increase in water demand, exactly when water availability becomes more unpredictable. In this region, water is also connected to energy security, given the reliance on hydropower, creating further challenges.
Belarus is undergoing two transitions. The first is the transition to high income. This is a feat that has been accomplished by only about two dozen counties since the 1950s, half of which have done so during the last twenty-five years. The second is the transition to a market economy. Completing the first transition will be impossible without achieving the second one. And here is why...
The reliable and affordable supply of electricity and heating is an issue of major concern for Moldovan citizens, businesses and policy-makers. The viability and sustainability of the country’s energy sector rests on Moldova’s ability to diversify supply options and put in place the right tariff structures that would encourage investments in the energy sector. Currently, 98 percent of the energy resources consumed are imported, with over 80 percent of electricity and all natural gas coming from single sources.
To support the country’s energy sector development, the World Bank recently completed a study on electricity and heat tariffs in Moldova. The study shows the projected range of tariff increases, how much more different kinds of households would have to pay, how Ajutor Social program and the Heating Allowance could protect vulnerable people and how much those social payments would cost.
Anyone working in education is familiar with the story of Finland’s remarkable evolution into one of the world’s top-performing education systems. The country ranked fifth in science and sixth in reading on the 2012 PISA assessment, second on the 2012 PIAAC (the new OECD test of adult literacy) , and is routinely in the top five of practically every other international measure of education quality. To visitors from standards-and-accountability-heavy countries such as the UK and the US, or from low-performing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Finland’s formula can seem like magic. All teachers have a Master’s degree. There is no student testing. There are no school inspections or rankings. Students have little homework and teachers work few hours. Teachers are trusted professionals with full autonomy in the classroom.
My study tour to Finland in September 2015 convinced me that this formula is indeed magic. Why? Because the popular version of the “Finnish story” neglects elements of the institutional context that are so hard-wired into the system that the locals hardly register them. Three crucial elements, in particular, create an accountability framework that makes it possible for the “magic” to work.