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The Haze Surrounding Climate Mitigation Statistics

5 November 2015
by Guest author

Suzi Tart, OECD Environment Directorate

How have CO2 and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions changed since 1990? Three different visuals tell three very different stories. Which perspective offers the most clarity?

Perspective #1:

Perspecctive 1

This first visual shows the percent increase or decrease of GHG emissions.[1] It is pretty predictable, telling us the story with which we are most familiar. The bubbles of China and the US are the obvious giants in the room. Together they contributed 35% of global GHG emissions in 2010.

China conspicuously dominates the map with a 178% increase in its emissions from 1990-2010. Much of China’s explosive economic growth has been dependent upon coal, so this is not surprising. India and Indonesia’s bubbles pale in comparison with that of China’s—yet their growth rates of 108% and 73% are still significant, leaving Asia with an average 95% increase in emissions. Oceania also witnessed a fairly significant increase of 22%, yet compared to Asia, this seems miniscule.

The giant bubble on the other side of the room represents the United States. Unlike China, which has a relatively small yellow core compared to its red layer, the U.S. has a relatively large core and small red layer. While both countries have increased their emissions over time, the United States has witnessed slower growth, and its GHG emissions have been on a declining trend since 2007.

Also noteworthy is Russia’s green bubble (representing a decrease, see page 51 of the linked publication). Keeping in mind that Russia transitioned to a market economy and experienced a collapse of its carbon-intensive industries in the 1990s, it is not that surprising. Nor are all those tiny green bubbles dotting the European Union, which has been championing climate change action. While the colour of the bubbles is important to note, so too, is their size. Although Russia is green like the rest of Europe, its fugitive emissions from the oil and gas sector alone amount to more than the total GHG emissions of Spain.

Perspective #2:

Perspective 2

The second visual tells a more intriguing story. This one depicts CO2 emissions in relation to population size. Here, China’s bubble appears quite small…even smaller than that of Hong Kong. What is even more striking is how big the bubbles in the Middle East are. Qatar leads the world on this map, with the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia not far behind. Rich in oil and with high demand for energy and transport, these countries have larger bubbles than they did on the previous visual.

Another significant trend is the relative size of the bubbles for some island and port economies. Singapore and Chinese Taipei stand out. Trinidad & Tobago also appears unusually large and isolated. The country has strong petrochemical and power generation sectors, which are behind these massive relative emissions. Some have noted that foreign companies largely own these industries, and that most of their production is exported. Such issues open the debate as to which countries’ bubbles should actually represent the emissions—those where the emissions are produced, or those where the emissions are consumed. While it is interesting to think about this in terms of the global economy, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) ruled on this matter in the 1990s, deciding once and for all that emission inventories would be based on production.

Once again, Europe is covered with green (declining) bubbles, although they are bigger in this visual. Luxembourg, which enjoys the second highest GDP per capita in the world and has low taxes on road fuels, has much larger per capita emissions than many other European countries. The high per capita emissions also applies to the Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) region, where many of the bubbles are not that much smaller than the bubbles of the United States and Canada.

Perspective #3:

Perspective 3

The third and final visual is strikingly green. Every continent has achieved an average negative rate of emissions per unit of gross domestic product using purchasing power parity rates (GDP PPP). That’s great news for the planet—you’d almost be fooled into thinking we’re winning the war on emissions. It indicates that most nations are now successfully decoupling GHG emissions from GDP growth. Technology has allowed countries to continue to grow while producing fewer emissions.

At first glance, Zimbabwe seems to be leading the pack. Unfortunately, the size of its bubble is most likely related to the hyperinflation it experienced in the early 2000s, and larger economic woes that have affected it as a result. EECCA shows up yet again, even more so than in the second visual. This testifies to the dominant coal, oil and gas industries in many of these countries, with the shrinking bubble sizes evidence of their efforts to clean up these industries—alternative energy production and energy efficiency targets are on the rise in many of these countries.

Does bubble size really matter?

As COP21 edges closer, accusations will fly faster, and fingers are sure to be pointed with greater passion. Yet this is a global problem and we all pollute and breathe the same air, so it is much like the right hand pointing at the left. Equity issues always arise during climate change negotiations. Some countries pollute a lot, others only a little. Some countries are producers, others consumers. Industrialised countries that burned fossil fuels in the past have contributed most to the situation we are in today. Developing countries seem to be the ones paying the biggest price yet are starting to burn more fossil fuel.

These maps show that all countries can play a role in limiting climate change. In fact, it will be impossible to combat climate change unless the world’s economies are fully committed. The sheer quantity of emissions is a crucial factor to consider in the negotiations; yet so too, is the amount of effort countries put into solving the issue of climate change. Perhaps if we used the colour and size of countries’ bubbles to assess effort, the world might see greater results.

Useful links

OECD on the road to COP21


[1] Data is taken from the EDGAR database, which includes partial coverage of emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry (direct emissions from forest fires, emissions from decay of aboveground biomass that remains after logging and deforestation, emissions from peat fires and decay of drained peat soils).

Running in the Middle of the Pack: Judging Progress in Educational Achievement

4 November 2015
by Guest author
Where's the quarterback?

Where’s the quarterback?

Jeremy Simon, Harvard Graduate School of Education

In the United States we treat education like it is a sport. And thanks to the PISA, an international test administered to 15 year olds around the world which produces a ranking of countries’ achievement in math, science, and reading every three years, we know who is winning. But winning isn’t all that is important in education. For that we need to consider how education is more like running a marathon and less like the Super Bowl.

There is only one Super Bowl winner every year. But education has more in common with a marathon, not a tournament. While it is true all runners would like to be the first ones across the finish line, an appeal of marathon running is that each racer is competing not only against her or his fellow runners but also themselves. They are striving to set a new personal best and see how their new training regimen paid off from last time, all while racing not only one another but the clock as well.

Education is a marathon and PISA is the race. Every three years there will only be one PISA “winner”, but dozens of countries will have the opportunity to see if they improved, regressed, or stayed the same.

If the goal of every runner in a marathon was to win then there would be hundreds of losers in every event. Similarly, if every country only focused on where they ranked in the PISA, the test would produce dozens of losers. But if we focus on the PISA score and not the ranking, much like a runner might examine her time and not her place, we can understand how the PISA is invaluable for evaluating if a country is getting better or worse at educating its children.

A marathon runner races themselves and the other runners. Even when victory is impossible, a marathoner can still cross the finish line and immediately know if the hard work they had put into training for the race had paid off with an improved time. Similarly, countries can use the PISA to measure their progress and determine how effective their attempts to improve have been.

For example, the United States can use its PISA score to see how consistently we have performed in reading. In the initial PISA test the U.S. scored a 504 in reading. Twelve years later we regressed slightly, scoring 498. This tells us that U.S. reading performance didn’t improve during that time. But the rankings tell a different story. In 2000 the U.S. ranked 16th in the world in reading. By 2012 we had dropped to 24th.

Click on the graph title for more display options and information

If the United States were obsessed with PISA rankings these results would be a disheartening trend. However, by using PISA scores and not rankings, the U.S. can at least understand that we have stagnated, not fallen, in reading scores.

Admittedly a plateau in progress isn’t an achievement worth celebrating. But knowing that as a country we haven’t gotten worse but other countries have gotten better is critical information for U.S. educators and policy makers. When competing in education, the U.S. should be thankful the PISA is a marathon and not the Super Bowl.

Useful links

OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

OECD education working papers

In the absence of Marty and Doc’s time machine…

3 November 2015
by Guest author

Eco consequences climate changeElisa Lanzi , OECD Environment Directorate

You may have seen recent Back to the Future festivities marking 21 October 2015 as the date Marty and Doc travel to the future in the famous second film with Michael J. Fox. If only we had a similar time machine allowing us to travel to 2045 to see what the climate has in store to better decide what policies to adopt today. Alas, no time machine has been invented yet but, in the absence of such a cool device, we can rely on climate and economic models that attempt to shed light on how climate change may affect the future of our societies. The new OECD report The Economic Consequences of Climate Change, does this using a global multi-sector, multi-region modelling approach.

Covering impacts on agriculture, coastal zones, some extreme events, health and energy and tourism demand, the report finds that climate would cost the global economy 1.0-3.3% of GDP annually by 2060 and 2-10% by the end of the century in the absence of new policies (the range reflects the uncertainty surrounding the way the climate may respond to the concentrations of greenhouse gases). However, most importantly, the impacts vary drastically across regions: in some regions they’re slightly positive while in others, starkly negative.

Climate impacts particularly affect regions in Africa and Asia, which are especially vulnerable to a range of different impacts, such as heat stress and crop yield loss. GDP losses in 2060 are projected to amount to 1.6-5.2% in the Middle East & North Africa regions, 1.7-6.6% in the South- and South-East Asia regions and 1.9-5.9% in the Sub-Saharan Africa regions. Impacts are projected to be smaller in most OECD countries. The model results show that for a few countries, especially those in higher latitudes, i.e. Canada and Russia, the benefits from impacts such as gains in tourism, energy and health, outweigh the negative ones, at least to 2060.

The model also allows us to identify the impacts that will affect the economy the most. Of the impacts included in the modelling assessment, changes in crop yields and in labour productivity due to health impacts are projected to affect the economy most strongly, causing losses to annual global GDP in 2060 of 0.9% and 0.8%, respectively, and several percent in the most vulnerable regions. Each of the impacts causes important indirect effects on other sectors and regions as well.

As we learn from combining climate and economic models, once greenhouse gases are emitted, they will have unavoidable and enduring effects on the climate and the economy for a century or more. This doesn’t just mean that there will be higher impacts in the long term but also stronger risks of tipping points and very severe impacts. Together, this leaves no doubt that policy action both on mitigation and on adaptation is needed.

So while economic models are not as cool as a time machine would be, they do have the advantage that they can be used to study how policies may affect the future economy. Simulation results from The Economic Consequences of Climate Change show that ambitious adaptation and mitigation policies can reduce the future costs of climate change, but above all limit the risks of more catastrophic impacts. In an optimal policy scenario, both adaptation and mitigation are implemented, while also leaving some remaining market impacts (it would be too costly to reduce all impacts). The benefits of adaptation policies, from a reduction in the selected market impacts alone, may amount to more than 1 percentage point of GDP by the end of the century. Early and ambitious mitigation action can help economies avoid half of the macroeconomic consequences by 2060 and could reduce projected GDP reductions from 2-10% to 1-3% of global GDP by the end of the century.

While the fictitious elements and machines in the Back to the Future films are still not reality, climate modelling analysis tells us that strong policies are needed now to address climate change. Maybe even better than a time machine taking us to the future, would be one going back to tell our ancestors to reduce emissions. But since that’s not an option, we should really at least change our present choices and adopt climate policies now. That would spare future generations from having to invent a time machine to correct our mistakes.

Useful links

Policy highlights from The Economic Consequences of Climate Change

OECD on the road to COP21



Can Companies Really Do Well By Doing Good? The Business Case for Corporate Responsibility

2 November 2015
by Guest author

Prof. Dr. Roel Nieuwenkamp, Chair of the OECD Working Party on Responsible Business Conduct (@nieuwenkamp_csr)

A recent study involving a survey of over 1000 CEOs found that 93% of them believe that sustainability will be important for the future success of their business. These views may be based on strong evidence from studies that have contributed to strengthening the link between company performance and “doing the right thing”. However it should not be forgotten that a moral, and in some cases legal expectation towards business to do the right thing exists independently of financial incentives.

Cost and risk reduction

These days the consequences of irresponsible business behaviour can be significant. For example BP’s bill for settlements of state and federal claims for environmental damages and damages to impacted communities for the Deep Water Horizon spill reached nearly USD 54 billion this June. The Volkswagen scandal involving emissions rigging of vehicles contributed to their stock plummeting a third of its value in less than a week and estimated costs associated with recalls as well as penalties that will have to be paid are being reported at USD 35 billion.

A recent study by Vigeo showed that corporate social responsibility (CSR) related sanctions for companies are also quite common. Nearly 20% of companies in a sample of over 2,500 were found to be subject to such sanctions between 2012 and 2013, amounting to penalties upwards of EUR 95.5 billion

Beyond actual legal liabilities poor business conduct can also result in delays and opportunity costs for companies. For example where companies do not adequately communicate and engage with stakeholders it frequently leads to delays in operations, misapplication of staff time, and lost opportunities in instances where companies want to expand operations, renew contracts or otherwise. A study by Harvard found that the costs attributed to delays arising from community conflict can cost a mining project with capital expenditure between USD 3 million and USD 5 billion on average, or USD 20 million per week in NPV (Net Present Value) due to delayed production.

Additionally, reputational costs stemming from poor business conduct increasingly can hurt the bottom line and scare off investors. Today divestment campaigns from companies with poor environmental and social records are a common tool to encourage better behaviour.

Competitive advantage, reputation and legitimacy.

Responsible business practices, in addition to avoiding costs, can help to build a positive corporate culture and image. This in turn can influence the retention of employees, help increase productivity as well as boost brand appeal and thus increase market strength.

In a study of the ‘’100 Best Companies to Work for in America’’, Prof. Edmans of the London School of Business found that those companies generated 2.3-3.8% higher stock returns per year than their peers over a period of 27 years.

More broadly, a cross-sector Harvard Business School study by Prof. Serafeim and others tracked performance of companies over 18 years, found that “high sustainability” companies, those with strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) systems and practices in place, outperformed “low sustainability” companies as measured by stock performance and in real accounting terms. (High sustainability include companies which include a substantial number of environmental and social policies that have been adopted since the early to mid-1990s; Low-Sustainability Companies include comparable firms that have adopted almost none of these policies.)


Firms with better sustainability performance were also shown to face significantly lower capital constraints. A study by Babson College and IO Sustainability found that CSR practices have the potential to reduce the cost of debt for companies by 40% or more and increase revenue by up to 20%. Likewise a recent meta study by the University of Oxford found that 90% of the studies on cost of capital show that sound sustainability standards lower the cost of capital of companies. Furthermore the study found that 88% of research showed that solid responsible business practices result in better operational performance. And 80% of the studies show that stock price performance is positively influenced by good sustainability practices.

Shared value creation

In a Harvard Business School article Professors Porter and Kramer coined the term ‘’shared value creation,’’ defining it as generation of economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing its challenges. A shared value approach reconnects company success with social progress. Firms can create shared value in three ways: (1) by reconceiving products and markets; (2) redefining productivity in the value chain; and (3) building supportive industry clusters at the company’s locations.

Porter & Kramer describe the societal and business benefits of providing products to meet societal needs and serve disadvantaged communities and developing countries. For example, a service developed by Thomson Reuters providing weather and crop pricing information for farmers earning under $2,000 reached subscription by an estimated 2 million farmers and contributed to increasing income in more than 60% of them. In another example Nespresso created shared value by investing in their suppliers, resulting in higher incomes and fewer environmental impacts among coffee growers, while increasing Nespresso’s supply of reliable quality coffee beans.

Delayed recognition of the business case for RBC

While a significant and growing body of empirical evidence is pointing to the fact that responsible business makes good business sense this understanding has yet to be internalized in the mainstream. In the first place information challenges continue to exist because certain benefits of RBC such as strong corporate culture or good will are difficult to isolate and quantify. However there is reason to believe that these data gaps will be overcome as increased information regarding RBC is collected.

Another reason is that intangible assets, whether they be related to RBC or other intangibles in general, are not usually immediately reflected by financial markets as their value is only realized in the long term. In order to make sure these values are recognized in financial markets, and thus adequately prioritized at the level of companies themselves, organizational changes will have to be made.

There is growing evidence that responsible business conduct pays off for business which affirmatively answers the question that companies can indeed do well by doing good. However in order to ensure that responsibility is embedded within corporate DNA, a move towards organizational and incentive structures prioritizing long term growth over short term gains will have to be made.

Useful links

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

Ten questions you should ask about life. The answers may surprise you!

30 October 2015
by Patrick Love

The OECD has just published How’s Life? 2015: Measuring Well-being. It includes statistics on material well-being (such as income, jobs and housing) and the broader quality of people’s lives (such as their health, education, work-life balance, environment, social connections, civic engagement, subjective well-being and safety), with a special focus on child well-being, and also has a chapter on how volunteering affects well-being.

Do you know as much about life as an OECD bureaucrat? Try the quiz and find out. (You can cheat your way to happiness by looking up the answers in the book.)

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

We need to talk about the SDGs

27 October 2015
by Brian Keeley

UNSustainableDevelopmentGoalsViews vary on how much of a difference the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) actually made to the world. But on one thing people seem more or less united: They were a great communications tool. They took the abstract concept of “development” and turned it into a series of mostly concrete goals – fewer poor people, more kids in school, healthier mothers and babies, and so on.

According to Jan Vandemoortele, an independent researcher and UN veteran, the communications power of the MDGs rested on three pillars – the three Cs: they were clear, concise, computable.

So what about the successors to the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Will the new set of goals adopted at the United Nations in October prove equally effective as a communications tool? You could be forgiven for having doubts. While the MDGs had just eight goals and 18 targets, the SDGs have 17 goals and a whopping 169 targets.

The number of goals is just one issue; there’s also the question of scope. The MDGs were essentially focused on the needs of developing countries. By contrast, the new SDGs are part of a global agenda for the development of the entire planet – they apply to wealthy countries just as much as poorer countries, and they cover a much broader range of issues: Poverty reduction, yes, but also economic sustainability, employment, climate change and much, much more.

“If you apply those three C’s to the SDGs, it’s clear you have a problem,” according to Mr. Vandemoortele.

This “problem” – if that’s what it is – was recently discussed by development communicators at a meeting in Paris of the OECD Development Centre’s DevCom network. The discussions provided fascinating insights into differing approaches on how to communicate around the SDGs.

If you’ve heard of the SDGs at all, it may well be thanks to the Global Goals campaign, brainchild of the British filmmaker Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary). The campaign is operating on many fronts: In September, to coincide with the UN General Assembly, it hosted the Global Citizen festival in New York, featuring performers like Beyoncé and Coldplay; it has produced slick videos featuring famous names like Malala Yousafzai, Stephen Hawking and Meryl Streep; it has created a set of logos that rebrand the SDGs as “The Global Goals” and simplify their messages; and it has helped deliver a classroom lesson on the SDGs to half a billion children worldwide in 160 countries.

“We’re campaigning to make the Global Goals famous,” Piers Bradford of the Global Goals campaign said at the DevCom session. “We set out to tell seven billion people in seven days – patently ridiculous,” he admitted, “but it got people’s attention.” The actual estimated impact of the campaign is still impressive – in the region of three billion worldwide.

But the Global Goals campaign hasn’t pleased everybody. Among a number of complaints, some civil society groups have objected to the language of the campaign. They argue that it is oversimplified and fails to mention some key concepts – most notably the “sustainable development” part of the goals. Some of these criticisms were voiced at the DevCom meeting by Leo Williams of the Beyond2015 Campaign.

“Awareness should not be focused on some edited highlights of the SDGs, renamed as Global Goals and shown in films, adverts and music videos,” Mr. Williams said. “It should be about recognizing the change dynamics of the universal agenda, real meaningful participation, meaningful understanding, not just information.”

One concern of some civil society activists is that the focus on the 17 goals, and on certain goals in particular, risks obscuring the fact that they are actually part of a much broader agenda that has much to say on implementation and accountability. “There needs to be the recognition that this is an indivisible agenda,” according to Mr. Williams.

But is such a sweeping agenda really “communicable” (as they say in development circles)? Comments from a number of other speakers and delegates seemed to support the idea that it’s OK to pick and choose from the SDGs.

“I don’t think that at the local level, everybody in a country is going to associate with all the goals,” said Edith Jibunoh, who works on civil society relations at the World Bank: “I completely buy into the idea that in some countries the focus will be on certain areas, and I think that as development communicators we should be really comfortable with that.”

That view was echoed by Mr. Vandemoortele. “We have 169 targets in the SDGs – which is good – but you cannot have it all as a priority. If you have that many priorities then you have no priorities.” He argued that communication of the SDGs needs to happen at two levels, the local and the global, and that at both levels it needs to convey a strong sense of what’s happening in the real world.

“We have to go beyond global statistics, and coloured maps,” he said. Instead, he said, we need to hear more about the on-the-ground experience of the SDGs – Viet Nam’s successful “VDGs,” for example, or Cambodia’s inclusion of mine-clearing in its development goals. “Have you ever heard about these?,” asked Mr. Vandemoortele. “No, because we only hear about global statistics. Let us avoid the trap.”

Useful links

Informal Network of DAC Development Communicators (DevCom)

OECD Development Centre

OECD and the Sustainable Development Goals

OECD Insights: From Aid to Development


Rich or poor? We’re not sure…

26 October 2015
by Brian Keeley

COPE launch event

Back in May, we asked you a simple question – are you rich or poor? For once, this question wasn’t rhetorical. Thanks to the OECD’s Compare Your Income tool, you could actually check for yourself where you stood on the income scale – rolling around in money or struggling to make ends meet.

Since the launch of Compare Your Income, more than a million people worldwide have completed the survey. And the answer we’ve all given to that question – are you rich or poor? – is absolutely clear: We’ve no idea.

In other words, if we’re rich, we think we’re poorer than we are; if we’re poor, we think we’re richer.

It’s true that these are still early findings and cover just three countries – France, Mexico and the United States. But, they do suggest that many of us have only a dim understanding of whether we’re doing better or worse than our neighbours. In France, only 1 in 6 people correctly guessed if they were high, medium or low earners; in Mexico it was 1 in 8; and in the United States it was just 1 in 10.

The people who were most likely to guess their position on the income scale correctly were middle-earners. By contrast, the people who most often got it wrong were the very highest and lowest earners. Among low earners, most underestimated just how far behind they were compared to everyone else. But the well-off, too, were almost as likely to get it wrong, often dramatically so. More than half of top earners in the U.S. and Mexico actually thought they belonged down in the bottom half of the income distribution.


Presumably, these top earners didn’t comprehend just how well they were doing compared with everyone else. If that’s the case, it seems to echo other research suggesting that a high income may not bring much of a sense of economic security. For example, a few years ago Boston College managed the rare feat of getting some millionaires and a couple of billionaires to talk frankly about the joys and dilemmas of being rich. Amid the findings, perhaps the most surprising aspect of being well off was that people still seemed to worry a lot about money. As Graeme Wood wrote in The Atlantic, despite sitting on assets worth tens of millions of dollars, most said “they would require on average one-quarter more wealth than they currently possess”. One heir to a vast fortune admitted that “he wouldn’t feel financially secure until he had $1 billion in the bank”.

Income perceptions aren’t the only issue under examination in the Compare Your Income survey. Among a number of issues, it also looks at people’s attitudes to how the economic pie is sliced up – what percentage of national income goes to top earners and how much should they earn?

Here, again, people’s understanding of the facts seemed to be at odds with reality. For example, French respondents believed that about 60% of the country’s income goes to the top 10% of earners. The actual figure is rather lower – around 25%. And when respondents were asked how large a share of income should go to top earners, they actually opted for a figure in excess of the reality – about 30%.

Speculating again, it’s possible here that respondents are confusing income and wealth. In extremely basic terms, income is the money you receive at the end of every week or month in your paycheque and wealth is the money that’s – hopefully – building up over time in your bank account (as well as other assets). Wealth is, indeed, spread out much more unequally than income: In OECD countries, the top 10% of wealth owners hold about half of all household income, according to In It Together, a recent OECD report.

Think you can do better than the million-plus people who’ve already taken part in the Compare Your Income survey? There’s still time to have a go – just follow the link below.

Useful links

The OECD today launches its new Centre for Opportunity in Equality to take forward the organisation’s work on inclusive growth and inequality.

Compare Your Income


The innovation imperative and the design of learning systems

22 October 2015
by Guest author

Schooling redesignedDavid Istance, Senior Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Education has become increasingly important worldwide, including politically. Probably the key driver for this is economic – the fundamental role of knowledge and skills in underpinning and maintaining prosperity. No argument has more political purchase today regarding education’s value than that it enhances competitiveness. These developments create an appetite for reform and innovation, often manifest as favouring “learning” over “education”, and a readiness to disrupt accepted institutional arrangements as too slow to change, too inward-looking, and too detached from the economic shifts taking place globally and locally.

This represents a very different starting point for innovation compared with the longstanding educational ambition to realise more holistic opportunities and promote individual development. From this perspective, the problem is not that the institutions of education are too detached from the economy, but that they are too close, and are pulled to narrow their curricula and instil only superficial knowledge and not deep understanding. The charge is also that education systems are profoundly inequitable, too driven by sorting and selecting and not organised for the optimisation of learning.

There is another constituency with an interest in innovation. Innovating learning environments offer a far more promising route for enhancing the attractiveness of teaching than backward-looking definitions of professionalism seen as the right of the individual teacher to be left undisturbed in his or her own classroom.

The differences of the critiques and constituencies notwithstanding, they coalesce around the urgent need to innovate the fundamentals of schooling: to address the low visibility of teacher work and their isolation in highly fragmented classroom arrangements, the low engagement of too many of the main players (especially students), conformity and highly unequal learning outcomes.

Some 26 school systems (countries, regions, networks) participated in the final part of the OECD Innovative Learning Environments project by submitting their own initiatives for innovating learning beyond single schools or organisations. The synthesis report that emerged from this project, Schooling Redesigned: Towards Innovative Learning Systems, is published today.

The report summarises the strategies that lead to innovation as a series of Cs: culture change; clarifying focus; creating professional capacity; collaboration and co-operation; communication technologies and platforms; and change agents .

The book emphasises the importance of design, and for that read “leadership”. In complex school systems, leadership can include many more actors – such as community players, families and foundations – besides those usually involved in designing curricula and classrooms. Government leadership remains fundamental, however, because of its legitimacy, breadth and capacity to unlock resources. Governments have a privileged role in starting and sustaining change, and in regulating, incentivising and accelerating it. But this does not have to mean “micro-managing”.

For example, New Zealand’s “Learning and Change Networks” is a government-initiated strategy to establish a web of knowledge-sharing networks among schools, families, teachers, leaders, communities, professional providers and the Ministry of Education. Network participants work collaboratively to accelerate student achievement in grades 1 to 8 and address equity issues.

Austria’s “New Secondary School” reform was initiated by the government in 2008 and has since been mandated to be phased in completely by 2018. It is introduced in individual schools through school-based change agents (Lerndesigners) who themselves work collaboratively as networks. The recently established National Center for Learning Schools provides materials and organisation for these change agents.

The report elaborates what an innovative learning environment would look like, not just in individual schools but across a whole system. For example, schools and classrooms would be characterised by the “buzz” of collegial activity and have many students learning outside conventional classrooms; learner voice would be prominent, including in leadership, right across school systems; educators would discuss and practice learning strategies collaboratively, and personalise these strategies for individual learners; learners and educators would use digital resources and social media innovatively for teaching, learning and professional exchanges; there would be a dominant practice of self-review and use of evidence to inform design; and there would be dense networks of collaboration across districts, networks, chains and communities of practice.

How interesting it would be to be able to measure progress towards this vision, to supplement the more conventional education statistics and indicators!

Useful links

Critical Maths for Innovative Societies – The Role of Metacognitive Pedagogies

Can cross-border co-operation be a tool for the stabilisation and development of Mali and its northern regions?

22 October 2015
by Guest author

Photo courtesy of Yann Arthus-Bertrand

This post, by Laurent Bossard, Director of the Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat, is published to coincide with the International conference for the economic recovery and development of Mali at the OECD today. French President François Hollande, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría will open the conference at 9:30-10:15 am Paris time. The event is not open to the public but you can watch the live webcast of the opening session.

Mobile populations, transhumance and nomadic herding, a valley at the interface between the desert and the savannah, cultural diversity between Arab-Berber and sub-Saharan worlds, everything in northern Mali reminds you that this area is a transition zone between Mali and Algeria.

This characteristic that for centuries underpinned the prosperity of the Saharan-Sahelian areas has not been perceived as an asset, either under colonisation or since independence. Sahelian and West African countries look “to the south” when thinking of their development (raw material exports, consumer goods imports) while the Maghreb, Algeria in particular, turns to the Mediterranean and Europe.

For over a century, the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu have no longer been considered integrated parts of this mobile space rich in connections. They are simply “the north of a country”, contained within a border.

Trade continues to thrive however, anchored on a grid of trans-Saharan roads largely inherited from the distant past. But these activities are for the most part illegal, sometimes even serious crime.

Is it imaginable that one day trans-Saharan trade will be revived, restoring to the north the role it has always played; giving it the chance to change status from a marginal area to one of dynamism and linkage? Cross-border co-operation may be the first step towards achieving this goal.

Mali is one of the pioneers of cross-border co-operation in Africa. In the late 1990s Malian President Alpha Oumar Konaré imagined an Africa where “the concept of border would give way to that of ‘border area’, a place of bonding, sharing and exchange, where populations on both sides of the border share common schools, security posts, markets and health centres… In this way, border areas can escape the absurd colonial geometric layout and become areas of movement and solidarity for people who often share the same language and the same culture[i].”

This approach was taken up by Mali’s National Directorate for Borders with even more conviction than the 1992 Constitution, which stipulates in Article 117 that “The Republic of Mali may conclude with any African state agreements of association or community, including partial or total surrender of sovereignty in order to achieve African unity.” On the Algerian side, a December 1994 decree authorises and provides a framework for border barter trade with Niger and Mali in order to “normalise a legitimate practice based on traditional trade links between Algeria and West Africa whose habits and customs predate colonisation.”

Across the great Sahara-Sahelian areas, the concept of trans-border must be adapted. It is not a question, as in densely populated areas, of supporting and strengthening co-operation based on close proximity, but rather based on roads and markets.

CBC-triangleOn the Malian side, Gao (90 000 inhabitants) is the “metropolis” of the north. Sitting on the “hinge” that is the river, it is located 500 km from the border, as the crow flies. Kidal (30 000 inhabitants) is the last real town before the Algerian border more than 350 km away and itself located 500 km from Tamanrasset (100 000 inhabitants) in southern Algeria. These long distances do not prevent trade that binds these communities as surely as if they were neighbours.

To be useful, cross-border co-operation should, as much as possible, address “real” spaces. That is to say, it must confirm to the dynamics on the ground shaped by social and economic networks. In terms of history, socio-cultural links and trade, Tamanrasset looks as much to Niger as to Mali. Agadez (120 000 inhabitants) is the third apex in a grand triangle of cross-border co-operation. The city is located 400 km as the crow flies from the Algerian border. In between is Arlit (80 000 inhabitants). Another smaller triangle can be drawn with Tamanrasset, Kidal and Arlit as the vertices.

It is for the relevant authorities to define what could be the focus of a cross-border co-operation programme within one or the other of these spaces.

Consider hypothetically the livestock and meat sector, already at the centre of strong informal cross-border dynamics. Southern Algeria largely depends on Mali and Niger for its supplies of sheep and camels. The sale of Sahelian cattle is banned in Algeria, yet illegal importation is common. Pressures on the price of beef in the Tamanrasset market are becoming more frequent. Speaking on the subject, the President of the Tamanrasset Chamber of Agriculture said in July 2010: “Neither Mali nor Niger has slaughterhouses of the standard that could possibly supply Tamanrasset, not to mention the north. Right now, only a few butchers are engaged in live cattle trade between the two friendly countries and Algeria. But the quantities they bring are only enough for the towns of Tamanrasset and In Salah. Yet the cattle potential in these two neighbouring countries is impressive, and if investors get involved in that niche, particularly investing in abattoirs that conform to health standards, fresh beef would sell at a quarter of its current price.”

There is here perhaps is a starting point for reflection among national and local authorities in the three countries concerned, with the knowledge also that very many herders of Algerian nationality live and raise their herds in Mali and Niger.

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This article is based on The Malian regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu: National and regional perspectives (in French). Executive summary available in English and French.

International conference for the economic recovery and development of Mali: Northern regions at the heart of reconciliation and peace consolidation OECD, Paris, 22 October 2015. The conference brings together the Mali government and civil society, international partners, investors and diaspora, to discuss together the economic recovery and development of Mali.

[i] Cited by Adame Ba Konaré in his preface to the Jeune Afrique Atlas of Mali

If this is a war on emissions, governments need a strong arsenal

20 October 2015
by Guest author

mitigationSuzi Tart, OECD Environment Directorate

More than 150 countries have submitted their post-2020 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Such contributions are vital to the #COP21 climate change conference in Paris this December. They are often met with fanfare from UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, who cheer-leads the much-needed international co-operation in the realm of climate change.

Indeed, significant progress has been made since 1990, when the first assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was written. The use of coal has declined in 29 of the 34 OECD member countries, and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP have decreased in nearly all of the 45 countries and regions that are responsible for producing 80% of the world’s greenhouse gases (that is the OECD member countries, the OECD 10 partner economies, and the EU). This decoupling of GDP from GHG emissions proves that it is possible to grow the economy while cutting emissions.

Such developments mark great progress and need to be touted as so. But they do not mean that we can become complacent with the fact that we could be doing much more. Aggregate emissions continue to go up worldwide, and many countries continue to rely on fossil fuels to power their economies. When we look at our incredible capabilities, humans are doing a mediocre job on climate.

A new OECD report, Climate Change Mitigation: Policies and Progress, shows that current emissions trends are NOT in line with countries’ targets. It finds that annual emission reduction rates need to be accelerated—sometimes at unprecedented levels—in order to meet many of the mitigation targets and goals that have been announced, let alone the standards required for a two-degree trajectory.

This is an overwhelming finding for your average citizen. So what can we do? We can start by pushing our governments to implement policies that are in line with a shift to a low-carbon lifestyle. Currently, our economies are hardwired around fossil fuels, and putting a price on carbon is essential for this shift. Emissions trading systems and taxes on energy (such as carbon taxes) are the most cost-effective policy approaches for countries to take in order to reduce their emissions, and they are being implemented the world over. Yet, the current trading schemes in place cover only a small share of emissions, and taxes on carbon are unfortunately too low to alter consumer behavior or spur technological change.

A perhaps more difficult, yet equally important approach is cutting policy support for the production and consumption of fossil fuels altogether. India and Indonesia have proven that this IS feasible. More countries need to follow suit. Fossil fuel subsidies remain widespread, and cutting them is often met with resistance from the public and other groups. It is imperative we let our governments know that we stand behind such changes to improve our system in the long-run.

Huge structural changes are required across more than the energy sector if we are to achieve our goal. Agriculture, forestry, industrial processes, and waste are all significant sources of greenhouse gases in some countries. In such cases, efficiency standards, information programs, and government support for research and development need to be implemented in these sectors as well.

While pomp and circumstance accompany the agreements being made at the international level, follow-up action needs to take place at the local and national levels. Without such action, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that the world will exhaust its carbon budget for the two-degree goal by the year 2040. Time is of the essence, and our current efforts are simply not good enough. We must convince our governments to start restructuring our economies to be sustainable, and we must convince them to do this today.

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