Climate change poses a significant threat to the economic development of countries around the world. – in part due to a combination of higher agricultural prices and threats to food security and health – especially in the poorer parts of the world. The Paris Agreement and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have provided commitments to tackle the most urgent of these environmental challenges.
Globally, around 2 billion people do not use formal financial services. In Southeast Asia, there are 264 million adults who are still “unbanked”; many of them save their money under the mattress and borrow from so-called “loan sharks”, paying exorbitant interest rates on a daily or weekly basis. Recognizing the importance of financial inclusion for economic development, the leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have made this one of their top priorities for the next five years.
Last week, the World Bank Group presented the latest data on financial inclusion in ASEAN to senior representatives of the ministries of finance and central banks of all 10 ASEAN member countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam). The session, held in Kuala Lumpur, is one of the joint activities the new World Bank Research and Knowledge Hub and Malaysia is undertaking to support financial inclusion around the world.
图片 "Pro Pit" 在CC BY-NC-SA 2.0条款下由Aaron Webb提供 。
Image "Pro Pit" by Aaron Webb is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“Never let an opportunity pass by, but always think twice before acting,” says a Japanese proverb with particular pertinence for East Asia today.
Plunging oil prices present a significant opportunity for most of the region’s developing countries to strengthen the competitiveness of their economies and take advantage of the ongoing global recovery.
The drop in oil prices — over 50% since mid-2014 — reflects several years of increasing oil supply, particularly in North America, along with decreased geopolitical risks to global production, OPEC’s efforts to maintain production levels and market share, and weaker-than-expected global growth last year. These factors are likely to persist, with oil prices expected to remain low through at least 2016.
Most countries in East Asia, including Japan, benefit from the price decline because they are oil importers. They can expect more rapid economic growth, lower inflation and improved current account balances.
In 1954, the World Bank’s first mission report on Malaya – as the soon-to-be-independent country was called then – expressed concern about its development prospects. The mission was “favorably impressed with Malaya’s economic potentialities and prospects for expansion.” But it questioned whether the “rates of economic progress and additions to employment opportunities can move ahead of or even keep up with the pace at which the population and the labor force are growing.”
Sixty years and 25 million more Malaysians later, hindsight proved such worries overdone as income per capita climbed from USD 250 at the time of the report to over USD$10,000 today.
With its successful economic and social development, Malaysia is now actively moving into a new role as a global development partner—supporting other countries in ending poverty and sharing lessons from its journey to become a regional economic powerhouse. This new role is a natural fit for a nation in transition toward a high-income status, and a big gain for the rest of us.
There is clear and present danger that another global food price crisis will emerge sooner than later.
A key signal is the lackluster result of the December 2013 Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Bali, Indonesia - in the heart of the ASEAN community.
The compromises arising from the WTO Bali meeting further demonstrates that many WTO member-nations have returned to a focus on internal domestic politics, sacrificing long-term gains shared across nations, in favor of short-term gains motivated largely by domestic political survival or sheer short-sightedness.
|There is a great deal of passion surrounding the subject of tiger conservation, and there was a great deal of energy at the recent Global Tiger Workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo courtesy of catlovers under a Creative Commons license.)|
I’m writing this in Kathmandu, Nepal, at the end of the Global Tiger Workshop, the latest event leading up to the Tiger Summit expected to be held late next year in Vladivostok. This process all began with the major launch of the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) in Washington, DC, in June 2008, and direct engagement with the tiger range countries on the issue of illegal wildlife trade really took off in Pattaya, Thailand, in April this year with ASEAN-WEN and other partners.
This was no ordinary World Bank-facilitated meeting inasmuch as National Geographic filmed the event, and it included a kilometer-long, elephant-led parade of children calling for the conservation of tigers. The GTI team keyed into the Asian and global media through op-eds, press releases, and YouTube. It also had significant support from the highest levels of the Nepali government which excelled itself not just in organizational support and hospitality, but also in commitments for tiger conservation – i.e. plans to double the size of one of its top tiger habitats, Bardia National Park. As remarked by Eric Dinerstein, World Wildlife Fund-US Chief Scientist, there has not been such a positive period for the future of Nepal’s tigers in all the 35 years he has been living in and visiting Nepal.
In terms of big newsworthy events in Asia, one of the biggest has to be the anti-government protests in Thailand. A relatively small number of protesters dramatically caused the cancellation of an ASEAN+3 meeting held in Pattaya this past weekend where 10 regional heads of state were evacuated. The World Bank President, as well as the head of the IMF and UN, were turned around at the airport in Bangkok. Although the protests around the country have effectively ended after martial law was declared and two protesters died, the damage of this may be longer-lasting. Although a discussion of the politics would be interesting, let's concentrate on the finance-related issues.
|Image credit: simonpocock at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.|
I have been in China for the past few weeks supporting the country team to appraise a package of support to China for recovery efforts following the May 12, 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. One colleague participated in the recent Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery Consultative Group meetings in Copenhagen, Denmark and is now in Jakarta, Indonesia working with field staff, the country’s government, and partners on mainstreaming risk reduction into development programs. Another colleague of mine just returned from the Philippines and Vietnam, where she was stranded by flooding in Hanoi. In fact, she had to wade through knee-deep water when leaving a meeting at the Ministry of Finance. Of course, this represents just part of the team, since we work with a broader network of staff based in country offices who manage country-level programs and projects.