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United States

Establish a national PPP Unit to support bottom-up infrastructure investment

Robert Puentes's picture
Photo: flickr/cmh2315fl
By any measure, the United States is a laggard in terms of public-private partnership (PPP) projects. Between 1985 and 2011, there were 377 transportation PPP infrastructure projects funded in the U.S. Those projects comprised just nine percent of the total nominal costs of infrastructure PPPs around the world. Europe leads the infrastructure PPP market, concentrating more than 45 percent of the nominal value of all PPPs.

There appear to be several discrete, but related, reasons why the U.S. has been slow to pursue PPPs in comparison with European and Asian countries:
  • In some cases, there is a lack of consensus, institutional capacity, and expertise to properly promote the benefits and costs of PPP deals. In Pittsburgh, for example, an arrangement to lease the city’s parking operations to a private entity collapsed when the city council voted against the transaction.
  • Deals are getting more complex, politically heated, and cumbersome as some stretch across jurisdictions and even international borders, as is the case with the New International Trade Crossing intended to connect Detroit to Windsor, Ontario.
  • With state and municipal finances under strain, the public sector is trying to transfer greater responsibility to the private sector, including in the arena of project financing.
In this regard, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recently noted that while the U.S. has done much to promote the benefits of PPPs, it needs to do more to assist states and metro areas in thinking through potential costs and trade-offs, as well as assessing national interests.

Thinking globally: Local governments leading the way to a global climate solution

Thomas Kerr's picture
California wind power. Bryan Siders/Creative Commons


The Canadian Province of Ontario announced last month that it would join California and Quebec in linking their cap-and-trade programs to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The move was met with approval by carbon market watchers, as local governments showed how they could avoid the lengthy political battles sometimes faced by national governments preparing submissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

At a time when governments are looking for ambition, could this sort of local government action be the start of something much bigger?

Last week, I attended the Navigating the American Carbon World (NACW) event in Los Angeles to explore whether the momentum we are seeing to price carbon is evident on the ground. I found a lot of local government leadership on climate change.

Food for thought

Kalyan Panja's picture
Webcast Replay



Appetizer of grasshoppers, seaweed soup, and as the main course, man-made burgers on the grill. Been twisting the nose? Yet we should get used to similar menus. According to UN estimates, to feed the 2.5 billion additional people, according to some forecasts, who will populate the Earth in 2050, we will need to double world food production, reduce waste, and experiment with food alternatives.

Snowmelt, climate change and urban pollution—new perspectives

Tracy Hart's picture
Image by U.S. National Climate Assessment via Washington PostIt's been a snowy winter—not only here in Washington D.C., but also in places I travel, namely Jerusalem and Amman. The past week, the snowmelt runoff into Rock Creek in D.C. has been a sight to watch. It's also been a teachable moment for my daughter: we've talked about how snowmelt contributes to surface water flows.

Actually I talk, and she goes "okay, okay" looking out the window.

She and I have learned a few new facts to share: one is the linkage of irregular precipitation associated with global climate change.

Chris Mooney, the environment and climate change writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote a great article explaining why more snow is another result of climate change. D.C. is on the south border of the NE of the United States, where, as you can see from the map, (provided by the US National Climate Assessment), extreme rain/snow events have increased dramatically. Similarly, in Jerusalem three weeks ago, the snow came with sleet, blueberry-size hailstones (see below) and lightning.

Vulnerable yet invaluable: Protecting our patrimony by safeguarding art, artifacts, archaeology and assets

Christopher Colford's picture

The spectacular recovery of a long-missing painting by Pablo Picasso – a canvas that had been stolen more than a decade ago, in a daring museum theft in Paris – offers a vivid reminder of the illicit worldwide trade in stolen assets, artworks and archeological artifacts. Preventing the cross-border smuggling of stolen money, art and natural treasures poses a stern challenge to law-enforcement authorities. Yet the vigilance of the international network of corruption-hunters and asset-trackers can often result in a triumph, as illustrated by the case of the now-recovered Picasso.

The art world hailed last week’s revelation that “La Coiffeuse,” painted by Picasso in 1911, had been intercepted in December by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. The painting was identified during its shipment to a climate-controlled warehouse in Long Island City, New York, and it was then seized while it was in transit at Port Newark, New Jersey. The work – unseen since its 2001 theft from the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris – had been shipped on December 17 from Belgium to the United States in an innocent-looking FedEx container, adorned with a holiday-season tag marked, “Joyeux Noel.” Its shipping registration papers falsely described it as an “art craft/toy” valued at $37. The legal process that began last week in New York should soon have the canvas on its way back to France, where it is owned by the nation.

The Picasso had been assigned an estimated value of about 2 million euros at the time of its theft in 2001 – suggesting how lucrative the underground market for stolen art may be. Despite any such theoretical valuation, however, such cultural riches are truly beyond price: They belong to humanity’s shared patrimony, and thus their theft is an immeasurable crime against history.



"La Coiffeuse" by Pablo Picasso. Photograph via the U.S. Department of Justice.

The sudden recovery of the Picasso has reminded art-watchers – and law-enforcement officials – that the 25th anniversary of a still-baffling crime is fast approaching: the March 18, 1990 theft of $500 million in artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. That theft deprived the world of, among other masterpieces, Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” painted in 1633. Despite occasional rumors that some of the stolen works might be available somewhere on the global black market, that crime remains unsolved – and the criminals, part of the vast international network of art thieves and smugglers, remain at large.

Police agencies and global asset-trackers certainly face a herculean task. International plunder takes many forms – from the “grand-scale corruption” that infects fraudulent banking transactions to the looting of countries’ wealth by dictators and kleptocrats. Cracking down on the illicit flows of funds worldwide – which are sometimes abetted by corruptible accountants and pliant lawyers, who help steer loot to safe havens and stash money in offshore tax-dodging accounts – requires persistent detective work and meticulous forensic accounting. In the case of stolen art treasures, the art world must appeal to the conscience of connoisseurs and dealers – and must rely on the integrity of curators at museums large and small, who surely know better than to traffic in property whose provenance might be even slightly suspicious.

Units like the Stolen Assets Recovery (StAR) Initiative – a joint effort by the World Bank and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime – patiently promote cooperation among transnational, national and local law-enforcement bodies. That task requires a commitment for the long haul, as they steadily pursue capacity-building among governments and private-sector watchdog agencies that are determined to build their anticorruption capabilities. Closer legal, technical and financial coordination sans frontières is an indispensable tool in hunting down and repatriating looted lucre.

As in the case of the now-recovered Picasso, the effort to protect priceless artworks sometimes ends in a law-enforcement success. In a just-opened art exhibition in Washington, art-watchers can now get an up-close look at an inspiring example of how a strong national commitment to fighting crime – backed by methodical investigative work and tenacious legal processes – can achieve enduring results.

The Embassy of Italy last week opened an exhibition of irreplaceable artworks that might have forever vanished onto the international black market, had it not been for the work of one of the country's specialized military units: the Guardia di Finanza, which since 1916 has protected Italy from smuggling, drug trafficking and financial crimes. Its specialized art-investigations team, the Gruppo Tutela Patrimonio Archeologico, has successfully prevented the theft of many works of art, some of which can now be seen (by appointment) at the Embassy on Whitehaven Street. Treasures such as these are integral to Italy’s culture and the West's heritage.

In opening the exhibition, Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero noted that “the trafficking of archaeological works is a growing phenomenon that in recent years has spiraled upwards at an alarming rate” – with Italy ranking “first among the countries [that are] victims of this crime. . . . These treasures belong to Italy. But they also belong to European identity and, by extension, to all mankind.”

With the Picasso canvas soon headed back to Paris, and with the recovered art and archaeological treasures now being celebrated at the Embassy, arts-watchers can breathe easier, knowing that these masterworks are secure. But protecting the global patrimony requires the constant vigilance of corruption-hunters and asset-trackers – like the Guardia di Finanza, the StAR unit and their law-enforcement allies worldwide – who stand guard against the plunder of the vulnerable yet invaluable assets that comprise the common heritage of humanity.


Vaccines Save Lives!

Patricio V. Marquez's picture
photo (c) GAVI: The Vaccine Alliance

Measles cases in U.S. highlight need to eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases everywhere

The news media in the United States and abroad has been abuzz in recent days focusing on the measles outbreak at Disneyland.  The irony of this situation is that measles, after being officially eliminated in the United States in 2000, reappeared in 2014 with 644 cases in 27 states as reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC).  The reason is simple:  while in the 1980s, more than 97% of one-year olds in the United States were routinely vaccinated, the current share has fallen to 91%, facilitated by exemptions in some states that permit parents to “opt out” of vaccinating children on the basis of religious or personal beliefs. In other parts of the world,  continued measles outbreaks in Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia have also occurred due to weak routine immunization systems and delayed implementation of accelerated disease control.

Future Development Forecasts 2015

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Despite their mixed record last year, Future Development's bloggers once again offer their predictions for 2015.  Eight themes emerge.
 
1. Global growth and trade. The US economy will strengthen far above predictions. Together with lower oil prices and a better business climate in emerging markets, this will create substantial positive spill-overs, including to the smaller export-oriented Asian economies, boosting the growth of their manufactured exports well above recent trends. The US will look to open new free trade agreements in Asia—India may try to join—and seek opportunities to do the same in Africa. Meanwhile, Germany will face increasing resistance to the free-trade agreement with America (TTIP), just as Angela Merkel celebrates her 10th year in office.

How Well did We Forecast 2014?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

A year ago, we polled Future Development bloggers for predictions on the coming year (2014).  Looking back, we find that many unforeseen (and possibly unforeseeable) events had major economic impact. 

We missed the developments in Ukraine and Russia, the spread of the Islamic State in Iraq, the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, the collapse in oil prices and their attendant effects on economic growth.  At the same time, we picked the winner of the soccer World Cup, and got many of the technology trends right. Perhaps economists are better at predicting non-economic events.

Here’s the scorecard on the seven predictions made:
 

Thoughts on Resilience: Action versus Definition

Marc Sadler's picture
Photo by F. Fiondella (IRI/CCAFS) via Flickr CCA new word has entered the running for buzzword of the moment: “Resilience” seems to appear on every other page and is lauded at events as the focus for all. Indeed, academics, institutions and organizations seem to be racing to define the term, which will most likely end in confusion and competing definitions.

However, the reality of the concept is extremely straightforward. Resilience equals the ability of people, communities, governments and systems to withstand the impacts of negative events and to continue to grow despite them. Or maybe that is simply the definition I use.

Whatever the definition, what we can agree on is the need for action. It has always been challenging to convince people to invest in things that are preventative—quite simply, demonstrating impact requires proving a negative most of the time. However, with the apparent increase in frequency and severity of negative events, political and commercial willingness to take prevention, avoidance and risk management seriously is increasing.

Creating and Sustaining an Essential Partnership for Food Safety

Juergen Voegele's picture
Photo by John Hogg / World BankThis week, the Global Food Safety Partnership will hold its third annual meeting in Cape Town, just ahead of the holiday season when food safety issues are not on everyone’s minds. They should be. Unsafe food exacts a heavy toll on people and whole economies, and is cited as a leading cause of more than 200 illnesses. However, safe food does not need to be a luxury—which is something that motivates and animates our work at the World Bank Group. Food availability alone does not guarantee food safety. Increasingly, we are learning how food safety affects people, and disproportionately impacts the lives and livelihoods of poor people.This growing awareness about food safety is partly because of the food scares that have shaken many countries in recent years. Food safety incidents occur anywhere in the world—both in industrialized and developing countries alike and in countries large and small...

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