Mon, 2 December 2013
My guest on this week’s Global Prosperity Wonkcast is CGD senior fellow and director of the Rethinking US Development Policy program Ben Leo, here to discuss his new CGD working paper, Is Anyone Listening? in which he examines how well US foreign assistance aligns with the priorities of people in recipient countries. Answer: not so much or, as Ben puts it more diplomatically: “the alignment is modest at best.”
“It depends on the country, it depends on the region, but there are some major African and Latin American countries where very little of US assistance focuses on what people care most about,” Ben says. Like I said, not so much.
“This project has been kicking around in my mind for quite a while,” Ben explains. It began with discussions about the appropriate post-2015 development goals to follow on the Millennium Development Goals.
“I’d be asked, ‘what do you think the next MDGs should be?’ And I’d always say, ‘it doesn’t matter what I think. Ask ordinary people what they care most about and let’s have that be the working basis for the new goals.’”
“And whenever I’d say that people would respond, ‘well, they’re going to say health and education.’”
Ben thought this might not be the case. Using public attitude survey data from Afrobarometer and Latinobarometer he analyzed what people identify as their top priorities by country and region. Surprise: overwhelmingly the top concerns of people in both Africa and Latin America are jobs and the economy, along with infrastructure in Africa and crime in Latin America. US assistance, meanwhile, goes mostly for health and education, issues that rarely score as top priorities.
Mon, 25 November 2013
News from Warsaw on the just-concluded 19th round of global climate talks suggests that there has been little progress towards a binding agreement on either cutting emissions or paying the rising costs of climate change. Nonetheless, even without a global agreement requiring them to cut emissions from power plants, which account for about a third of the problem, 130 countries have set renewable energy targets. Some of these targets are quite ambitious.
Ambitious renewable targets are great but sun and wind are only available in particular places and fluctuate depending on by time of day, weather, and season. As the share of renewables in a power grid increases, this intermittency problem gets worse: you may have extra power when you don’t need it and not enough power when demand is high. Overcoming intermittency usually requires additional back-up capacity—such as natural gas plants that can be fired up at short notice—raising total costs.
In this week’s Wonkcast I discuss this problem with CGD visiting senior associate Kevin Ummel and explore with him his ingenious, data-intensive solution. Kevin’s plan for making large-scale wind and solar power a reality begins with a simple insight: by taking into account spatiotemporal characteristics of wind and solar—where and when the wind blows and the sun shines—and matching this information against the where the power is needed, the location of the grid, and daily and seasonal fluctuations in demand, it is possible to build renewable power facilities in places that will minimize intermittency, thus reducing costs.
While the concept is simple, execution of such planning is hugely data intensive and devilishly complex. Kevin is well-suited for this task, having among other things overseen the development and roll out of CGD’s Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA) website, the world’s only comprehensive source of information on the location, ownership, and emissions of the 60,000 power plants around the world the 20,000 entities that own them.
To demonstrate the his spatiotemporal approach, Kevin applied these techniques to South Africa, which has committed to an ambitious renewables target: wind and solar power to provide 20% of generating capacity by 2030. His paper, Planning for Large Scale Wind and Solar Power in South Africa: Identifying Cost Effective Deployment Strategies Using Spatiotemporal Modeling, shows why such planning is critical and, for those with the data and modeling skills, a handbook on how to proceed. For the less technical among us, including people like me and presumably many policymakers and government planners, his CGD brief provides an overview of the process and a concise seven-point plan on how to proceed, starting with step one:
Determine wind and solar resource levels and identify geographic areas suitable for potential project or transmission siting. The latter should consider technological, economic, environmental, and sociopolitical constraints through consultation with stakeholders.
Sounds easy, right? Kevin understands that this is easier said than done, and that it requires massive computing power. Fortunately, such power is now low-cost and widely available.
“We have lots of experience planning power systems with no renewables in them,” Kevin explains.
“I like to use the analogy of a Rubik's cube. Solving a traditional Rubik’s cube is like planning a conventional power system with fossil fuels and no renewables. Now, imagine I took that Rubik’s cube and modified 2-3 % of the squares so that they changed every few seconds, and then asked you to solve the cube so that you had solid colors on every side to achieve a maximum percentage of solid colors for a certain period of time. That's like planning a power system that has a low level of wind and solar power penetration. Now, imagine that I took the same Rubik’s cube and instead of just 2-3% of the squares changing colors, imagine 40-50% of the squares. Trying to arrange that in a way that maximizes the probability of having solid colors on all sides at any one time is like planning a high penetration wind and solar power system: very complex.
Complexity notwithstanding, Kevin thinks it entirely possible, given the large potential benefits, that countries will invest in initial spatial and temporal modeling to get an idea of which renewable energy technology makes sense, given their energy needs and geography.
“I'd like to see investors like the World Bank, governments, and energy ministries approach the power system planning problem the way a financially savvy person approaches retirement planning,” he says.
“The future is uncertain. We don't know what's going to happen with costs of technologies, but we should try to develop deployment strategies and transmission plans that leave open as many low-cost possibilities as we can, so that as we learn more we have the ability to go down those paths that make the most sense.”
I invite you to listen in on my conversation with Kevin. After the interview ended, I kept the recorder running in a post-interview chat that offered some surprising insights. With Kevin’s kind permission, we have added that as a bonus audio clip at the end of the Wonkcast.
Thu, 7 November 2013
It’s that time of year again when climate negotiators from around the world head to the jamboree known as the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or, in UN summit jargon, the UNFCCC COP. This year’s COP, held in Warsaw, will be the 19th annual round of global talks on averting a planetary catastrophe.
I asked CGD senior associate Michele de Nevers, formerly a senior official at the World Bank and the veteran of many previous COPs, to join me on the Wonkcast to discuss the prospects for the Warsaw COP. a
“That this is the 19th annual round of climate talks says a lot,” Michele explains.
“It says that climate change continues to be tremendously important, especially for developing countries. But it also says that we haven’t gotten very far with the UN process. If it’s been going on for 19 years and we don’t have a legally binding treaty or anything close, what is this process really doing?” Michele asks.
I ask Michele if there was ever a time when people felt more hopeful about what these meetings could achieve. She recalls several times of high hopes, such as the 1997 meeting in Kyoto, Japan (COP 3), that resulted in the Kyoto Protocol, and the 2007 meeting in Bali, Indonesia (COP 13), where there was agreement on a broad framework of issues that were equally relevant to both developing and developed countries.
Michele also recalls the “huge expectations” leading up to the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark (COP 15). “Expectations were so high, in fact, I think they contributed to a sense of failure that wouldn’t have existed if expectations had been more realistic,” she says.
“I don’t think there’s been a COP as important as Copenhagen since but now all eyes are turned to the COP that will take place in France in 2015. Last year in Doha, it was agreed that in 2015 countries will agree to set targets that will be implemented by 2020.”
Despite the lackluster outcomes of past meetings and the low expectations for the Warsaw COP, Michele does not doubt the importance of the COP meetings as a forum for networking and exchanging ideas.
As for actually agreeing upon and taking on steps to address the problem, Michele says that there is increasing attention to smaller groups that agree to work together on a voluntary basis. As an example she cites a new report from the Oxford Martin School, Now for the Long Term, that calls for “inclusive minilateralism” and a “multi-stakeholder coalition” that would bring together countries (a “C-20” utilizing the existing G-20), companies (a “C-30” selecting 30 companies affiliated to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development), and cities (working through the existing C40 Cities initiative). We also discuss the idea that if the US and China, a “C-2” could come to an agreement, others would fall into line.
As for CGD’s participation in the Warsaw COP, Owen Barder, CGD senior fellow and director for Europe, will be attending. At the COP, Owen will, among other things, seek input on a proposal he is developing for opening the EU Emissions Trading System to participation by developing countries—yet another option for inclusive minilateralism as an alternative to the stalled UNFCCC COPs.
My thanks to Catherine An for a draft of this blog post, and to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast. You can follow Michele on Twitter at @MicheledeNevers, me at @LMacDonaldDC and the Center for Global Development’s institutional feed at @CGDev).
Tue, 29 October 2013
My guest on this week’s Global Prosperity Wonkcast is CGD senior fellow Lant Pritchett, whose new book, The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning, was released last month and is now available on Kindle. The book addresses a fundamental problem in education: despite great progress to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goal target for primary school completion, students the world over are leaving school having learned very little. “They need to be in school and learn,” Pritchett says. “If you create systems where the only measures of schooling are kids in seats, you’re going to get measures of time served rather than learning gained.”
Tue, 22 October 2013
My guest on this week’s Global Prosperity Wonkcast is CGD expert Vijaya Ramachandran, here to speak to us about the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The FAO is the leading global institution dedicated to raising agricultural productivity, but a new report from CGD says that the FAO, despite its respected status as the premier global food agency, risks squandering its potential when demand for food is rapidly rising and supplies are threatened.
Vijaya is head of the working group that produced the report, Time for FAO to Shift into a Higher Gear, which says that the FAO should stop supporting pet projects of various agricultural ministers and instead should focus on global public goods, such as coordinating research to raise agricultural productivity, fostering global data gathering and monitoring, and implementing early-warning systems for plant diseases and pests. The FAO should support global public goods because no single country can do it on its own. “Now more than ever before, the world needs an effective FAO,” she says. “The FAO is uniquely placed to help prevent more widespread hunger in the face of adverse global trends. But it won’t succeed if it continues to putter along with business as usual.”
Wed, 16 October 2013
My guest on this week’s Wonkcast is Cao Jing, one of China’s leading experts on carbon taxes. A CGD visiting fellow and associate professor of economics at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Jing was recently the subject of a Bloomberg profile. Working in collaboration with others at Harvard University, she is developing a proposal for China to tax carbon emissions. She is also involved with the "New Climate Economy Study" (also called Stern 2, to review economic costs and benefits of tackling climate change) led by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón and Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the landmark Stern Report on the economics of climate change. Jing recently presented the plan at CGD’s Research in Progress seminar, and I’m delighted that she agreed to join me on the show to discuss it.
Mon, 7 October 2013
What Caused Those Dramatic Emerging Market Currency Dives? – Liliana Rojas-Suarez and Arvind Subramanian
Shutdowns come and shutdowns go. The rest of the world watches Washington’s political antics and scratches its collective head. This Wonkcast was recorded before the current shutdown, when capital was rushing out of emerging markets and back to the US in anticipation of rising interest rates. While the slide in emerging market currencies has paused as investors reassess risks in the US, the underlying dynamic we discuss is still very much at play.
Emerging market currencies have seen a lot of action over the last few months. India’s rupee has fallen 20% against the dollar, the Indonesian rupiah and the Brazilian real are floundering after falling 15%, and Turkey’s lire has slipped 10%. I invited CGD senior fellows Liliana Rojas-Suarez and Arvind Subramanian to explain what’s driving the fluctuations. Since these economies have mosty been performing pretty well—consistently growing faster than the rich countries—to the untrained eye, the currency slides seem dramatic and unexpected.
Tue, 24 September 2013
Will reduced inequality be included in some form in the post-2015 development goals? Should it be? And, if so, what is the appropriate yardstick?
These were the questions explored last week at a CGD conference, Filling the Gap: Inequality Indicators for Post 2015 (agenda and video available). In this week’s Wonkcast, I discuss the issue with CGD research fellow Alex Cobham, who spoke at the conference about his new paper, joint with Andy Sumner, on the Palma, a proposed alternative to the commonly used Gini measure of inequality.
Tue, 20 August 2013
Tue, 30 July 2013
I suspect that few Wonkcast listeners tune in expecting stock market tips, but my guest this week provides something of the sort. Todd Moss, senior fellow and vice president at CGD, said his recent paper written with Ross Thuotte titled, “Nowhere Left to Hide? Stock Market Correlation, Regional Diversification, and the Case for Investing in Africa,” lays out the potential risks and rewards for investing in the continent.