The first two installments of What I Read will focus on trends on the social, economic, environmental, humanitarian, technology, and political fronts I will be watching this year.
Robert Frank’s “Under the influence: Putting peer pressure at work” demonstrates that our individual actions on global issues matter because of behavioral contagion and its ripple effects. “Installing solar panels, buying an electric vehicle, or adopting a more climate-friendly diet does not just increase the likelihood of others taking similar steps; it also deepens one’s sense of identity as a climate advocate [p.262].” He shows that behavioral contagion was the most important driver of change behind modifications of smoking habits, acceptance of same sex marriage, and the fall of the former Soviet Union. So he argues that public policies should foster positive behavioral contagion.
On the social front, I will keep watching the growth of citizen-led movements. 2020 saw the power of those dedicated to inclusion and the environment. In 2021, citizens’ assemblies will be gaining traction and going global.
Projections for 2021 global growth by the OECD, IMF, and World Bank range between 4-5.4% contingent on infection containment and fast vaccine rollout. Inequalities and indebtedness deepened by COVID-19 will threaten these prospects beyond 2021. Daniel Mugge also warns that GDP estimates will mislead reconstruction efforts as they do not account for the value of schools, healthcare institutions, “essential” workers, nor non-market household production. Given the lack of action on rethinking GDP as the measure of progress since the 2008 Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission, I am not holding my breath for a 2021 breakthrough. Instead, I will be watching at progress in monetizing the social and environmental contributions of businesses as academics, accounting firms, and reporting standard setters advance the corporate impact valuation agenda.
On the environmental front, I will be looking for more action on climate change on the road to the November COP26. The greening of recovery packages – because they amount to 12% of global GDP – could turn the mid-century net zero targets of 110 countries into concrete action plans. Irrespective of progress, we are heading towards a warming of 2-3C by century end. Accordingly we see a growing securitization of the climate change agenda as evidenced when the Munich Peace Forum held its first climate security session in 2017. End 2020, the Institute for Economics and Peace producing measures of global peacefulness, launched its first Ecological Threat Register. It estimates ecological risks and coping capacities. The first ETR edition shows that 141 countries are exposed to ecological shocks with highest exposure in Afghanistan, Mozambique and Namibia. It also shows that the 19 countries with the highest number of threats count 2.1 billion people and are among the 40 least peaceful nations.
In 2021, I will be looking for the much-awaited WTO Director-General appointment while rooting for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who said: “When it comes to doing my job, I keep my ego in my handbag.”