Photo: Sam Kittner / Capital Bikeshare
Recently, I was invited to join a panel on the sharing economy moderated by Prof. Susan Shaheen at UC Berkeley, focusing more specifically on shared mobility.
The panel acknowledged that shared mobility is already transforming the mobility landscape globally, but could go a lot further in increasing the sustainability of urban mobility systems. The panel identified a number of key research gaps that we need to pay close attention to if we want to create a policy environment that is conducive to mobility innovations. Three that I want to highlight are:
- Supporting open data and open-source ecosystems is critical considering the tremendous potential of open-source software and data-sharing for improving transport planning, facilitating management and providing a better experience for transport users (for more detail, please see my previous blog on how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data)
- Looking into shared-economy solutions for those at the bottom of the pyramid – solutions that don’t require credit cards and smartphones as prerequisites (see this blog on the bike-share system in Buenos Aires for a good example)
- The world of driverless cars is coming – which, depending on how policy responds to it, could spell really good or really bad news for the environment: if such technology is used primarily in shared mobility scenarios, it could greatly reduce the environmental cost of motorized transport; on the other hand, the possibility of “empty trips” with zero-occupancy cars could exacerbate the worst elements of automobility (see Robin Chase’s blog in The Atlantic Cities for a great discussion on this). That is why it is critical to create a policy environment that appropriately prices the ‘bads’ of congestion, accidents and emissions while steering the world of driverless cars towards sharing and resource conservation.
With people around the world struggling to afford health care, countries as diverse as Myanmar, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal, Kenya, South Africa, and the Philippines are warming to the idea of universal health coverage. This growing momentum was the subject of a high-profile Spring Meetings event examining the case for universal health coverage and the steps to get there.
Some 70 governments have asked the United Nations for help to achieve universal health coverage, said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He spoke at Toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030, co-sponsored by the World Bank and World Health Organization and moderated by the WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.
“We can celebrate the fact that virtually all mothers in Sweden survive childbirth,” Ban said. “But in South Sudan, one in seven pregnant women will not live to see their babies. Addressing this inequality is a matter of health and human rights … To secure health, we have to take preventive action. The concept of universal health coverage could be an important catalyst.”
Ban was part of a panel including World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim; Harvard University President Emeritus Lawrence H. Summers; Nigeria Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now the U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate.
Many people have the misconception that my field -- global development -- is just about do-gooders and charities helping the poor. To be sure, many charitable groups are doing generous, laudable work. But global development extends far beyond charity and has a greater impact on the global economy than most people think.
Strong economic growth in developing countries became an engine for the global economy after the 2008-09 financial crisis, accounting for roughly 50 percent of all global growth. In addition, fully half of the United States’ exports now go to emerging markets and developing economies.
Global economic development can be good for your bottom line. Our focus is on helping more than a billion poor people lift themselves out of extreme poverty and on boosting the incomes of the poorest 40 percent in developing countries. To do that, we need to find economic growth strategies that help all segments of society in emerging markets -- reaching even fragile states striving to put years of conflict behind them and to create good jobs for their people.
The question I ask my team all the time is, what’s our plan? Increasingly scarce public funding isn’t enough to get the job done. We need to attract private sector investment that creates jobs. Ninety percent of all jobs in the developing world are created by the private sector. If we have high aspirations for the poor and vulnerable, there is no argument: We need the private sector to flourish, even in the poorest countries.
For the last six years, a power plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico has bought water from a nearby wastewater treatment plant to use in its cooling towers (instead of using freshwater). This operation, Project Tenorio, a public-private partnership, continues today and has already resulted in the reduction of groundwater extraction of at least 48 million cubic meters (equivalent to 19,000 Olympic size pools) and increased aquifer sustainability.
This is a good example of the water and energy nexus in practice: the wastewater treatment plant covers almost all of its operating costs from this additional revenue stream and the power plant gets a more reliable water source that is also 33% cheaper than groundwater in that area.
Treated wastewater has been used to reduce the water requirements of power plants in several other countries as well, as water supply becomes more variable or disappears. In the US, for example, around 50 power plants are using treated wastewater for cooling in order to adapt to water shortages. However, innovative integrated approaches like these are still more of an exception than the norm.
While recently touring drought-stricken California, President Obama remarked: "We can't think of this simply as a zero-sum game. It can't just be a matter of there's going to be less and less water so I'm going to grab more and more..."
In his State of the State address, California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, declared a drought emergency. He suggested: “Among all our uncertainties, weather is one of the most basic. We can’t control it. We can only live with it…We can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come.”
He further emphasized the need to conserve water, expand storage, rethink water rules, invest in drinking water protection, and rethink the amount of state water each sector receives.
But, how can California move away from existing rules, expectations, and legacies that include multi-layered federal subsidies and senior water rights to a non-zero sum approach to resolve competing and conflicting water realties?
Photo courtesty Creative Commons
For those of us who have been impacted by the death of loved ones due to the negative health consequences of smoking, the recent announcement by Larry Merlo, the CEO of the U.S. pharmacy chain CVS, to stop selling tobacco products in the chain’s 7,600 stores, was a ray of hope and a step toward a future when public health concerns trump short-term profit motives.
If you follow trade negotiations, then you know there are few more contentious than those for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
On February 4, the World Bank’s International Trade Unit hosted Phil Levy, a senior fellow on the global economy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, who has been following both negotiations closely. Levy spoke with World Bank staff about the potential implications for developing countries as negotiations move forward in what he calls “bargaining among behemoths.”
At this point in the negotiations, one thing is clear: there are still more questions than answers.
I am pleased to be able to return to blogging in this space after a rather extended stint in the land of higher education administration, and am welcoming a re-immersion in matters related to using communication to help facilitate development efforts. One such matter on my mind following the administrative assignment is the relative lack of contact between academics that study development and practitioners who actually do development work.
The gap is widely noted anecdotally, and a recent study confirms the anecdotes. The Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication recently reported a study, conducted for BBC Media Action, on the reach and impact of Media Action’s work globally. One of their findings is that the world of practitioners underutilizes help that is available from academia: “…practitioners are less likely than other development stakeholders to consult academic research on the media…,” and “the policy community involved in funding media programs makes only moderate use of available research and evidence.” Of course, it goes both ways. Promotion up the academic ladder tends to reward theoretical inquiry regardless of real world impact. And, thus, much research tends to be more useful theoretically than practically. Furthermore, for reasons there isn’t time to review here, the considerable number of communication research graduate programs that include development studies has atrophied in recent decades.
The global economy is finally emerging from the financial crisis. Worldwide, growth came in at an estimated 2.4 percent in 2013, and is expected to rise to 3.2 percent this year. This improvement is due in no small part to better performance by high-income countries. Advanced economies are expected to record 1.3 percent growth for the year just finished, and then expand by 2.2 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, developing countries will likely grow by 5.3 percent this year, an increase from estimated growth of 4.8 percent in 2013.
The world economy can be seen as a two-engine plane that was flying for close to six years on one engine: the developing world. Finally, another engine – high-income countries – has gone from stalled to shifting into gear. This turnaround, detailed in the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects 2014 launched last Tuesday, means that developing countries no longer serve as the main engine driving the world economy. While the boom days of the mid-2000s may have passed, growth in the emerging world remains well above historical averages.
High-income countries continue to face significant challenges, but the outlook has brightened. Several advanced economies still have large deficits, but a number of them have adopted long-term strategies to bring them under control without choking off growth.