The so-called “Panama Papers” scandal reminds us that concealing wealth and avoiding tax payments is neither uncommon nor — in many cases — illegal. But the embarrassing leak exposes something else: The public trust is breached when companies, the rich and the powerful can hide their money without breaking the law. If this breach is left unaddressed, those who aren’t rich enough to hide money will be less willing to pay and contribute to the social contract in which taxes are exchanged for quality services.
As finance minister in my home country of Indonesia, I saw firsthand how a weak tax system eroded public trust and enabled crony capitalism. Shadow markets arose for highly subsidized fuel, family connections secured jobs, and bribes helped public servants beef up their salaries. Tax avoidance among the elites was common and the country couldn’t mobilize the resources we needed to build infrastructure, create jobs, and fight poverty.
It is widely acknowledged that reducing emissions from deforestation could bring about one-third of the greenhouse gas emission reductions we need by 2030 to stay on a 2-degrees trajectory. But protecting and managing forests wisely does not only make sense from a climate perspective. It is also smart for the economy. Forests are key economic resources in tropical countries. Protecting them would increase resilience to climate change, reduce poverty and help preserve invaluable biodiversity.
Here are just a few facts to illustrate why forests are so important. First, forests provide us with ecosystem services like pollination of food crops, water and air filtration, and protection against floods and erosion. Forests are also home for about 1.3 billion people worldwide who depend on forest resources for their livelihood. Locally, forests contribute to the rainfall needed to sustain food production over time. When forests are destroyed, humanity is robbed of these benefits.
The New Climate Economy report shows us that economic growth and cutting carbon emissions can be mutually reinforcing. We need more innovation and we need more investments in a low carbon direction. This requires some fundamental choices of public policy, and the transformation will not be easy. However, it is possible and indeed the only path to sustained growth and development. If land uses are productive and energy systems are efficient, they will both drive strong economic growth and reduce carbon intensity.
Already, the world's large tropical forest countries are taking action.
To address those questions and share their experiences, officials in charge of designing and implementing national housing policies in eight countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru) recently met in Washington DC, along with representatives from the World Bank, Cities Alliance, the Urban Institute, and Wharton's International Housing Finance Program.
This blog was previously published in The World Post.
Talk about ‘growth’ in Latin America has become less upbeat today than a few years ago. That’s no surprise. For over a decade, average growth meant at least double the economic activity that we are seeing today.
Photo: Global Environment Facility/Flickr
Waste pickers are the principal actors in reclaiming waste for the recycling industry. Across the world, large numbers of people from low-income and disadvantaged communities make a living collecting and sorting waste, and then selling reclaimed waste through intermediaries to the recycling industry. Where others see trash or garbage, the waste pickers see paper, cardboard, glass, and metal. They are skilled at sorting and bundling different types of waste by color, weight, and end use to sell to the recycling industry. Yet waste pickers are rarely recognized for the important role they play in creating value from the waste generated by others and in contributing to the reduction of carbon emissions.
Fortunately, around the world, waste pickers have been organizing and cities have begun to promote the virtuous circle that comes with integrating waste pickers, the world’s recyclers, into solid waste management.
Brazil was the first country to integrate waste pickers, through their cooperatives, into municipal solid waste management systems and the first to adopt a National Waste Policy, recognizing the contributions of waste pickers and providing a legal framework to enable cooperatives of waste pickers to contract as service providers. The national movement of waste pickers in Brazil was awarded a contract to clean the stadiums during the World Cup.
In recent years, growing evidence supports the value of cash transfers. Research demonstrates that cash transfers lead to productive investments (in Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia), that they improve human capital investments for children (in Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Lesotho, Zambia, and Malawi), and that they don’t get spent on alcohol (all over the world).
At the same time, the vast majority of governments invest large sums in training programs, whether business training for entrepreneurs or vocational training for youth, with the goal of helping to increase incomes and opportunities.
When the water is poor, people get sick: they have diarrhea; their growth is stunted; they die. When the air is poor, people get sick: they cough; they cannot leave their beds; they die. However, they do not look sick when there is lead in their blood. You cannot look at a child who has an unhealthy blood lead level (BLL) and say, "This is not right. Something must be done," because in most cases, there is nothing to see.
Lead (Pb) exposure—which is making headlines in the U.S. because of recent events in Flint, Michigan-- is a major source of critical environmental health risks. But the problem is subtle: Affected children do not perform as well in school. They are late to read. They are slow to learn how to do tasks. Perhaps a few more children are born with cognitive deficits. Perhaps these children have less impulse control. Perhaps they exhibit more violence.
These symptoms are not always understood as an environmental or a public health problem – or indeed a development problem. Instead, people will say it is an issue of morals or of education. They will discipline the children, and then they will take themselves to task and ask how and why they are failing to raise these children correctly. Furthermore, they will have no idea that the problem is in the children’s blood.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure. Studies have documented that exposure leads to neuropsychological impacts in children--including impaired intelligence, measured as intelligence IQ losses--at blood lead levels even lower than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL). So, clearly, the effect occurs at even very low BLLs.
Public transport is an important mode of transport, especially for low-income populations. Cities, however, struggle to provide public transport services for fares that are both affordable and financially sustainable. Since meeting both goals is quite difficult, transport systems either end up relying on high levels of subsidies or charging transit fares that are too expensive for the city’s poor.
To tackle this challenge, the World Bank in 2013 supported the city authorities of Bogotá, Colombia, in designing a pro-poor transport subsidy scheme that would help low-income populations have access to more affordable public transport. In Bogotá fares for its new public transit system are set higher -closer to cost-recovery levels-, than in other cities that provide greater public subsidies to their operators. Despite having more sustainable fares, Bogotá risks excluding people from its transport services—in fact, households in the poorest areas of the city spend a greater percentage of their income on transport, between 16% to 27%, compared to a maximum of 4% in areas that are relatively richer.
In 2016, Colombia has the opportunity to make history. After more than three years of negotiations, the country is very close to achieving an “Agreement to terminate the conflict and build stable, lasting peace,” which will put an end to the internal armed and social conflict which has lasted for over 50 years, the longest in Latin America.
I arrived with high expectations on what this event could mean in terms of re-launching international efforts to fight against this global epidemic that kills 1.25 million people, and maims another 50 million, every year.
For the road safety community, the Brasilia conference was a crucial moment to take stock of what has been achieved so far, and rethink the strategy towards the future so the international community can scale up action and funding to meet the UN Decade of Action targets and the respective SDG targets on road safety.
In these first five years of the Decade of Action (2010-2020), the initial objective, namely stabilizing road deaths, has been achieved: global road deaths (per year) have plateaued since 2007, as shown by the WHO latest report. We should note, however, that among the largest contributors of road deaths (China, India, Brazil, among others) there is significant potential for under-reporting.
In any case, we are still far away from the objective at the heart of these international commitments: reducing road deaths by half by the end of the decade. And we should also note that 90% of these deaths continue to happen in low and middle-income countries, affecting the youngest and most vulnerable.