Volume 17, No.01 - January 2013

Feature articles

Global economy risks falling into renewed recession

“We have identified three major economic risks,” said Pingfan Hong, Chief of the Global Economic Monitoring Unit of DESA’s Development Policy and Analysis Division, as the World Economic Outlook for 2013 was revealed on 18 December 2012. Mr. Hong pointed to the deterioration of the euro crisis, the US fiscal cliff and a possible hard landing for some large developing countries.

“To mitigate these risks, policymakers worldwide are greatly challenged,” underscored Mr. Hong, also describing how the world economy is still struggling to recover five years after the eruption of the global financial crisis.

The first chapter of the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2013 (WESP) just launched, outlines that growth of the world economy has weakened considerably during 2012 and is expected to remain restrained in the coming two years. “A number of developed economies in Europe and Japan have already fallen into a double-dip recession,” explained Mr. Hong.

The report also predicts that global economy is expected to grow at 2.4 per cent in 2013 and 3.2 per cent in 2014, a significant downgrade from the forecast six months ago. This growth pace will not be enough to overcome the continued jobs crisis faced by many countries. With existing policies and growth trends, it may take at least another five years for Europe and the United States to make up for the job losses caused by the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Root of economic slowdown

Weaknesses in the major developed economies are at the root of the global economic slowdown. It is stressed that most of them, particularly those in Europe, are trapped in a vicious cycle of high unemployment, financial sector fragility, heightened sovereign risks, fiscal austerity and low growth. Several European economies and the euro zone as a whole are already in recession, and unemployment here increased further to a record high of almost 12 per cent this year.

“The US economy remains sluggish,” Mr. Hong pointed out, referring to the trend seen in 2012 and with a predicted growth for 2013 of 1.7 per cent. Mr. Hong continued saying that “several large developing economies such as Brazil, China and India, which managed to recover rapidly in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, are currently also facing a significant slowdown”.

The economic woes in Europe, Japan and the US are spilling over to developing countries through weaker demand for their exports and heightened volatility in capital flows and commodity prices. Most low-income countries have held up relatively well so far, but are now also facing intensified adverse spillover effects from the slowdown in both developed and major middle-income countries.

The prospects for the next two years continue to be challenging, fraught with major uncertainties and risks slanted towards the downside. Rob Vos, the Director of DESA’s Development Policy and Analysis Division and the team leader for the report, warned: “Each of these risks could cause global output losses of between 1 and 3 per cent.”

Policies for jobs and green growth

The report further assesses that present policy stances fall short of what is needed to spur economic recovery and address the jobs crisis. While policy efforts have tried to redress sovereign debt distress, the combination of fiscal austerity and expansionary monetary policies has had mixed success so far in calming financial markets and even less so in strengthening economic growth and job creation.

Fiscal policies need to shift focus from short-term consolidation to robust economic growth with medium to long-term fiscal sustainability. They should also be internationally coordinated and aligned with structural policies, supporting direct job creation and green growth. The report also recommends that monetary policies be better coordinated internationally. It also underlines the need to secure sufficient development assistance to help the poorest nations accelerate progress towards poverty reduction goals and invest in sustainable development.

Recession and high unemployment in Europe

Several European economies are already in recession. To address the situation, a number of new policy initiatives have been taken by the euro area authorities in 2012, including the Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) programme. But there has been no significant initiative towards boosting growth in the short run or tackling the ever-mounting crisis in the labour markets.

The euro area economy is expected to grow by only 0.3 per cent in 2013 and 1.4 per cent in 2014 and because of the dynamics of the vicious circle, the risk for a much worse scenario remains high and could be triggered by deeper fiscal cuts and delayed implementation of the OMT programme.

The unemployment rate continued to climb to a record high during 2012. In Spain and Greece, more than a quarter of the working population is without a job and more than half of the youth is unemployed. Only a few economies in the region, such as Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, register low unemployment rates of about 5 per cent. Unemployment rates in Central and Eastern Europe also edged up slightly in 2012.

United States sees weakened economy

The US economy also weakened during 2012, and growth prospects for 2013 and 2014 remain slow-moving. On the up side, the housing sector is showing signs of recovery, and further support is expected from the new round of quantitative easing recently launched by the Federal Reserve (Fed). The unemployment rate stayed above 8 per cent for the most part of 2012, but dropped to just below that level from September onwards.

The lingering uncertainties about the fiscal stance continue to hold back business investment and external demand is also expected to remain weak. Growth of GDP (gross domestic product) in the US is forecast to decelerate to 1.7 per cent in 2013 from 2.1 per cent in 2012. Risks remain high for a bleaker scenario, emanating from the “fiscal cliff,” which would entail a drop in aggregate demand by as much as 4 per cent of GDP during 2013 and 2014, as well as from spillover effects.

Economy slows in Japan and weakens in developing Asia

Economic growth in Japan in 2012 was up from a year ago, mainly driven by the reconstruction work following the earthquake-related disasters of 2011. And for 2013 and 2014, Japan’s GDP is forecast to grow at 0.6 per cent and 0.8 per cent, respectively. The Japanese government took additional measures to stimulate private consumption, however exports faced strong headwinds from the slowdown in global demand and appreciation of the yen. Japan’s economy is also expected to slow as a result of the phasing out of incentives to private consumption and a new measure that increases the tax on consumption, reduces pension benefits and cuts government spending.

Economies in developing Asia have also weakened during 2012, as the region’s growth engines, China and India, have shifted into lower gear. Deceleration in exports has been a key factor behind the slowdown, however, both economies also face a number of structural challenges, hampering growth. Average growth in East Asia is forecast to pick up to 6.2 per cent in 2013 and GDP growth in South Asia is expected to average 5.0 per cent in 2013, up from 4.4 per cent in 2012.

Moderate growth in Africa and decelerated GDP expected in Western Asia

Economies in Africa are forecast to see a slight moderation in output growth in 2013 to 4.8 per cent, down from 5.0 per cent in 2012. Major factors behind this continued growth route include the strong performance of oil-exporting countries, continued fiscal spending on infrastructure projects, and expanding economic ties with Asian economies. However, Africa remains plagued by numerous challenges, including armed conflicts in various parts of the region. Growth of income per capita will continue, but at a pace insufficient to accelerate poverty reduction.

Contrasting trends are found in Western Asia, where most oil-exporting countries have experienced robust growth supported by record-high oil revenues and government spending. Social unrest and political instability, notably in the Syrian Arab Republic, continue to elevate the risk assessment for the entire region. On average, GDP growth in the region is expected to decelerate to 3.3 per cent in 2012 and 2013, from 6.7 per cent in 2011.

Weaker export demand decelerate growth

GDP growth in Latin America and the Caribbean decelerated notably during 2012, led by weaker export demand and lower prices of non-food commodities in the region’s exports.

In the outlook, subject to the risks of a further downturn, the projection is for a return to moderate economic growth rates, led by expected improvements in economic conditions in Brazil. For the region as whole, GDP growth is forecast to average 3.9 per cent in the baseline for 2013, compared with 3.2 per cent in 2012.

Firm commodity prices hold up growth

Economic growth in the Russian Federation and other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was robust in 2012, although it moderated in the second half of the year.

Firm commodity prices, especially the prices of oil and natural gas, held up growth among energy-exporting economies, including the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan. In the outlook, GDP for the CIS is expected to grow by 3.8 per cent in 2013, the same as in 2012.

More findings on the world economy will be revealed on 18 January 2013 when the full report of the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2013 will be launched. The report is produced by DESA, the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the five United Nations regional commissions.

Describing the way forward, tackling the grim economic situation, Mr. Hong said, “some countries have indeed strengthened their policy stance, but we need more concerted policy actions, at both national and international levels. We also need policies to focus more on promoting jobs creation.”

For more information:

World Economic Situation and Prospects

Putting commitments into actions after Rio+20

Lush mountainside

The Rio+20 Conference, which took place in June last year, launched various processes as a result of the outcome document “The Future We Want”. Activities are now under way to make sure that commitments are put into actions. On 30 November, the General Assembly’s Second Committee also adopted an important resolution on sustainable development, providing specific timelines for implementation.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has previously highlighted that the Rio+20 outcome document contains many good recommendations. “What is important at this time is to implement them,” he has said, also stressing the importance of “ensuring the three pillars of our goals: social equity, economic development and environmental sustainability”.

At Rio+20, Member States agreed on the new high-level political forum for Sustainable development. As a result of the Second Committee resolution adopted on 30 November, discussions will begin this month on the format and organizational aspects of this forum. They are likely to continue through May.

The resolution also recommended that the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) holds its last session just prior to the first high-level political forum. It also officially adopted the Ten-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production; the beginning of work of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will submit a report to the 68th session of the General Assembly and calling for the work of the OWG to view to propose options for effective sustainable development financing strategy and requests that the OWG updates the General Assembly on the progress of its work before the beginning of the 68th session of the General Assembly.

In addition to the agreements in the Agenda 21 resolution, DESA will produce a synthesis report with views of Member States on the Sustainable Debvelopment Goals and a Secretary-General’s report is also being requested on lessons learned from CSD, to inform negotiations on the high-level political forum. Finally, the resolution welcomed that preparations are now underway for the third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that will be held in Samoa in 2014.

Adressing sustainable challenges of Small Island Developing States

At Rio+20, Member States also decided to convene the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in 2014, reaffirming their recognition of SIDS as a special case for sustainable development. The Government of the Independent State of Samoa has offered to host the conference in 2014, and negotiations were recently concluded in the General Assembly on the first modalities resolution for the conference preparations. As a result, SIDS-led national, regional, and inter-regional preparations will take place throughout 2013.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo as the Secretary-General of the SIDS conference. Mr. Wu has begun mobilizing the full support of DESA, including the SIDS Unit within the Division for Sustainable Development. The President of the General Assembly will launch the intergovernmental preparatory process at the end of 2013, with the first committee meeting to occur early in 2014.

The objectives of the conference, laid out in the modalities resolution, are to: a) assess progress to date and the remaining gaps in implementation; b) seek a renewed political commitment; c) identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them, including through collaborative partnerships; and d) identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 UN development agenda. The resolution also calls for “a concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented political document.”

Platform for follow up and continued knowledge-exchange

The Rio+20 Conference was an action-oriented conference focusing on implementation of sustainable development. Member States, the United Nations system, and Major Groups and other stakeholders are together leading the way forward to the future we want.

Rio+20 mandated DESA to establish and maintain a comprehensive registry of voluntary initiatives for sustainable development, whose partners have requested registration with the United Nations Secretariat. The present registry is available on the United Nations Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform (SDKP). This platform was launched after Rio+20 as a platform for follow-up activities to the Conference. The database is searchable by thematic areas and can be filtered by various “Action Networks”, including the Rio+20 voluntary commitments, partnerships for sustainable development and green economy policies.

Key initiatives for implementation of sustainable development resulting from Rio+20 include Voluntary Commitments, Partnerships for Sustainable Development, and Green economy policies and initiatives. All voluntary initiatives are expected to announce and achieve concrete time-bound deliverables that advance sustainable development.

Other major networks included in the “SD in action” registry are the Secretary-General established Sustainable Energy for All initiative, which aims to drive actions and mobilize commitments to positively transform the world’s energy systems; the Every Woman Every Child initiative, launched by the Secretary-General during the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit in 2010, aiming to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015; the initiative by United Nations Global Compact in calling for commitments to action from the private sector to take action in support of UN goals and issues; and the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative, which aims to get institutions of higher education to commit to teach sustainable development concepts, encourage research on sustainable development issues, green their campuses, and support sustainability efforts in their communities.

In addition to the Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform website, DESA has also launched complementary social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, for civil society to engage in the follow-up to Rio+20. Visitors can “like” the Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter via the Twitter handle @SustDev.

The Rio+20 Conference was a major step in moving towards the future we want. Mr. Wu has also highlighted the far-reaching vision of the conference, emphasizing, “it is our responsibility to help turn that vision into reality.”

For more information:

Sustainable development in action

Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform

The UN System framework for follow-up of Rio+20

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – SIDSNet website

Removing barriers for an inclusive society accessible to all

“Persons with disabilities have a significant positive impact on society, and their contributions can be even greater if we remove barriers to their participation. With more than one billion persons with disabilities in our world today, this is more important than ever,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on 3 December.

Commemorated with events and festivities at UN Headquarters in New York, the theme of this year’s celebrations was “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.” Following the opening ceremony with a joyful musical performance by students from the New York Institute for Special Education (NYISE), the event included statements by key Government representatives, a panel discussion and the United Nations Enable Film Festival (UNEFF).

Panelists and audience members were invited to discuss strategies to ensure full integration of persons with disabilities in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and setting targets for a post-2015 development agenda. Specific issues of exclusion and accessibility, including removing barriers to education, employment, transportation and sports were also discussed.

The Day’s events culminated with the United Nations Enable Film Festival that included the screening of disability-related films from a wide range of countries and organizations. The films featured diverse stories that challenged stereotypical assumptions about persons with disabilities. They also helped raise awareness about a variety of barriers including lack of accessibility in the physical environment; to information and communication technologies, as well as hurdles resulting from legislation and policy; or from societal attitudes and discrimination.

The event was organized by the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD), collaborating with the Governments of the Philippines, Spain and Brazil, as well as the New York Institute for Special Education (NYISE), WHO, UNICEF, the International Disability Alliance, Rehabilitation International and others.

Emmanuel’s dream

Among the speakers at the IDPD event, Emmanuel Elisha Ford, a young student from NYISE, shared his personal experiences of discrimination and made an urgent plea on behalf of all persons with disabilities. Emmanuel, who was born prematurely, is blind and was also diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He related his story about when his mother had enrolled him in a swimming programme to help exercise his arms and legs to enable him walk better, the instructor refused to let him into the pool. Furthermore, when he and his mother tried to get a taxi on the street, they had to wait for a very long time because most drivers were not willing to serve them because he was in a wheelchair. Emmanuel said that he was “hurt and disappointed.”

Despite these obstacles, Emmanuel has a great dream. “I would like to be a meteorologist and even though people tell me that they’ve never seen a blind meteorologist, I am determined to achieve my dream. To everyone listening, be aware, this is an alert, it is very important that we prepare now, because stormy weather is in forecast for people with disabilities. If we do not prepare now, things will deteriorate and more people with disabilities will suffer and die. Please heed the storm warning and put in place laws to protect and respect people with disabilities,” he announced in a concerned tone.

Emmanuel called for laws to protect and respect the 1 billion persons with disabilities in the world today, who constitute approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population. He concluded his statement calling on all participants to take the opportunity of this IDPD event to address the exclusion of persons with disabilities by highlighting the need to ensure their equal access to services and opportunities and by identifying obstacles and barriers to accessibility, worldwide.

Enjoying rights and realizing potentials

The Director-General of UNESCO, Ms. Irina Bokova, stated in her message for the Day that “persons with disabilities remain marginalized today in education systems, and children with disabilities represent one third of all out-of-school children.” She stressed the importance of equal human rights for persons with disabilities, saying, “We have a responsibility to ensure that all persons enjoy equal rights and that women and men are empowered to participate fully in social, political, economic and cultural life.”

According to United Nations Enable website, there is a growing body of evidence and experience indicating that when persons with disabilities are empowered to participate fully in society by removing barriers to their inclusion, their community can better achieve progress and development for all. These barriers are, therefore, a detriment to the development of society as a whole, as well as to achieving the MDGs.

All panelists at the IDPD event concurred that empowerment of persons with disabilities was a key element for development at community, national and international levels, and called on world’s leaders to aim for the development of an entirely inclusive and equitable society. Mr. Srinivas Tata, representing the UN Regional Commissions noted that the investment in persons with disabilities was critical in achieving the future we want. He stated “You cannot treat persons with disabilities as expenditure; they are investment,” Mr. Richard Morgan from UNICEF also added that focusing on this least advantaged group is “a single most effective development strategy.”

Preparations kick off for High-level meeting on disability and development

This years IDPD marked the official opening of preparations for the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on disability and development, which will take place on 23 September 2013 at UN Headquarters in New York.

Some of the panelists underscored the importance of collecting and using available evidence-based data to inform the high level meeting. Ms. Adriana Telles Ribeiro from the Government of Brazil proposed a showcase of best practices and success stories of policy and practices in regard to promoting inclusion and accessibility. She added that it was crucial to showcase these examples in that “they be not only from developed countries but also from developing countries.” Mr. Werner Obermeyer from WHO also suggested that the meeting must ensure the relevant and specific indicators to uncover patterns or trends experienced by persons with disability. “We all know that what is measured gets done,” he said.

Panelists also shared their thoughts on the topic related to the outcome document of the high level meeting. Mr. Obermeyer stated that the impact of the meeting should be to bring a real change in the quality of life of people with disabilities over the longer term. Mr. Tata further suggested that there should be clear guidelines for roles that the different stakeholders should play in regard to the meeting. He urged for a strong and clear mandate about inclusion and accessibility to strengthen the work of all agencies.

Mr. Morgan also provided another critical input, referring to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP) by which development programmes and policies should be evaluated. “Every policy, every development programme, every bit of development cooperation has to be subject to that test and needs to pass that test of systematic consideration and inclusion. With costs not being a reason for exclusion. But rather, cost efficiency being sought in order to make the necessary investment in the inclusion and for the rights of persons with disabilities.”

Like many organizations striving to build an inclusive society for all, UNICEF, UN Women and the International Disability Alliance have hosted an online consultation for the post-2015 development agenda on the World We Want 2015 web platform. Running through 5 December, the discussion sought input and feedback on inequalities related to disability.

“I make an earnest plea and call upon all of you to look at people with disabilities as differently-abled,” concluded Emmanuel Elisha Ford in his statement, also encouraging the world community to make the most of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the opportunity offered by next year’s high-level meeting of the General Assembly on disability and development.

For more information

International Day of Persons with Disabilities – Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all (UN Webcast – Part 1)

International Day of Persons with Disabilities – Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all (UN webcast – Part 2)

International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3 December 2012

United Nations ENABLE

DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development