A Fox News EXCLUSIVE on post-2015

This just in from Fox News:

EXCLUSIVE: The United Nations is planning to create a sweeping new set of “sustainable development goals”

Um… and we’ll have more from Fox News a bit later in the programme.

To be fair, though, their read of the implications – that the SDGs will “likely require trillions of dollars of spending on poverty and the environment, a drastic reorganization of economic production and consumption — especially in rich countries — and even greater effort in the expensive war on climate change” – hardly constitutes a distortion; it sounds pretty much spot on to me.

And tempting as it may be to chuckle, don’t forget how that the 1992 Earth Summit’s “Agenda 21″, became a bête noire for US conservatives, as David Steven observed here last year, quoting US right-wing author Nancy Levant among others:

Let me try to say it in one sentence: Agenda 21 is the end of America.

If they felt that strongly about Agenda 21 – about as inoffensive a sustainable development policy statement as I can think of – just imagine how much of a cause celebre the SDGs have the potential to be in US red states…

Where are the women? Gender imbalance in MY World mobile phone voting

This is a joint post with Frances Simpson Allen, of the UN Millennium Campaign

Women doing the MY World survey in Bangladesh

Women doing the MY World survey in Bangladesh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The million votes – and counting – in the MY World survey will keep data geeks (like us) happy for years.  There’s lots of stories in there, but there’s one in particular which has us scratching our heads and we’d like to know what others think.  It’s this.

We have been experimenting with different ways of collecting data via mobile phones.  About a fifth of the votes come in via phone, mainly text messages or people calling a number and recording their answers.  And while overall the votes are pretty evenly balanced between men and women, the phone votes are strikingly male (all the data can be found here).

Globally, two men answer the survey by phone for every one woman. Of the fifteen countries where there are more than 2000 mobile phone votes, there were only two, Nicaragua and Kyrgyzstan, where women’s votes outnumbered men’s.  In India, Bangladesh and Ethiopia more than 90 per cent of phone votes come from men.  In another five countries: Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Pakistan and Nepal, more than three quarters of phone votes come from men, while in Ghana, the DRC and South Africa, between 65 and 75 per cent of mobile votes came from men.  India and Nigeria also have large numbers of online votes, and there men also outnumber women though by a much smaller margin (around 60:40).

This imbalance is much higher than rates of phone ownership would suggest.  According to industry research, across Africa, 56 per cent of mobile phones are owned by men, and 44 per cent by women, while in South Asia the figures are 63 per cent men and 37 per cent women.  The Kenya figure is also particularly striking, given that a recent survey suggests there is very little difference in mobile phone usage rates between men and women.

The SMS MY World survey so far is not sampled (although we are doing sampled surveys through other means in a growing number of countries) and relies on people choosing to take part.  It’s clear that, under these conditions, women are less likely to offer information via mobile.  With one of our mobile partners we are testing female-specific messaging to see if more women opt-in when the question is phrased differently. We don’t have results from this pilot yet and we are keen to find out from others involved in similar exercises if the gender imbalance is a general finding or something specific to MY World.

There is huge optimism about the possibilities of using current technology to improve data collection, and through that to improved transparency and accountability.  Much of that is justified.  But the old problems – making sure that data is representative and doesn’t reflect existing biases and inequalities – apply to new technologies as much as to more traditional ways of collecting data.  The experience with MY World suggests that this may be a bit harder than we’d like to think.

What Have We Learned About Institutional Change?

institutional changeA number of noteworthy reports on institutional change, development, and foreign aid have been published recently. There is much agreement between them, suggesting that we have reached a tipping point in knowledge in this area. I will briefly summarize the results here and provide links for those who want to explore the subject further. Continue reading

Why US conservatives aren’t for turning

Ross Douthat in the NYT today is worth a read for a good discussion of US conservatives’ motivations in taking the US to the brink on debt. He starts by quoting David Frum on what small government conservatives thought of the 1980s:

However heady the 1980s may have looked to everyone else, they were for conservatives a testing and disillusioning time. Conservatives owned the executive branch for eight years and had great influence over it for four more; they dominated the Senate for six years; and by the end of the decade they exercised near complete control over the federal judiciary. And yet, every time they reached to undo the work of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon — the work they had damned for nearly half a century — they felt the public’s wary eyes upon them. They didn’t dare, and they realized that they didn’t dare. Their moment came and flickered. And as the power of the conservative movement slowly ebbed after 1986, and then roared away in 1992, the conservatives who had lived through that attack of faintheartedness shamefacedly felt that they had better hurry up and find something else to talk about …

The point here, Douthat continues, is that

the deep, abiding gulf between the widespread conservative idea of what a true Conservative Moment would look like and the mainstream idea of the same … To liberals and many moderates, it often seems like the right gets what it wants in these arguments and then just gets more extreme, demanding cuts atop cuts, concessions atop concessions, deregulation upon deregulation, tax cuts upon tax cuts. But to many conservatives, the right has never come remotely close to getting what it actually wants, whether in the Reagan era or the Gingrich years or now the age of the Tea Party — because what it wants is an actually smaller government, as opposed to one that just grows somewhat more slowly than liberals and the left would like.

His conclusion:

if this attitude sounds more like a foolish romanticism than a prudent, responsible, grounded-in-reality conservatism — well, yes, unfortunately I think it pretty clearly is.

(And check out Martin Wolf in Monday’s FT for a good summary of just how foolish…)

McKinsey’s latest on scarcity

McKinsey have just published an annual update on their resource scarcity work, which is well worth a read if you watch those issues. Key headlines as follows (in their own words):

Commodity prices have come off their previous peaks since 2011, prompting some observers to call an end to the so-called resources super cycle—the sharp price rises since the turn of the century. But talk about the death of the super cycle appears greatly exaggerated, the report finds. Despite recent declines, on average commodity prices are still almost at their levels in 2008 when the global financial crisis hit. This is striking given that the world economy is still not back to full power after the worldwide recession in 2009.

The volatility of resource prices has also been considerably higher since the turn of the century. While there are many factors influencing short-term volatility including droughts, floods, labor strikes, and restrictions on exports, there is also increasing evidence of a more structural supply issue that is likely to continue to drive volatility. Supply appears to be progressively less able to adjust rapidly to demand because new reserves are more challenging and expensive to access.

The prices of different resources have been increasingly closely correlated over the past three decades. While rapid growth in demand for resources from China has been an important driver of these increased links, two additional factors are also important. First, resources represent a substantial proportion of the input costs of other resources. Second, technology advances are enabling more substitution between resources in final demand. As a result, shocks in one part of the resource system today can transmit rapidly to other parts of the system.

With the notable exception of shale gas, long-term supply-side costs continue to increase. While the world does not face any near-term absolute shortages of natural resources, increases in the marginal costs of supply appear to be pervasive and put a floor under the prices of many commodities. In the years ahead, resource markets will be shaped by the race between emerging-market demand and the resulting need to increase supply from places where geology is more challenging, and the twin forces of supply-side innovation and resource productivity.

FYI McKinsey’s Jeremy Oppenheim, who worked on this project, is now on sabbatical to run the secretariat for the new Global Commission on the Economy and Climate (‘Stern 2′ to its friends), which was launched last week. Here’s its work programme.

Why Russia might favor humanitarian corridors into Syria

Here’s more exciting Syrian news from the Security Council after last week’s chemical weapons resolution:

The president of the U.N. Security Council said Monday that many members are pressing to follow up on last week’s resolution to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons with a demand that the government allow immediate access for desperately needed humanitarian aid.

Australian Ambassador and council president Gary Quinlan said a draft Security Council statement calls for delivering access in “the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and, where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries …” if necessary to bypass meddling from President Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus.

And here is the really striking news:

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told The Associated Press that Russia approved of the draft statement on humanitarian aid as well.

Now why on earth would Russia support such a proposal now?  This map suggests one answer:

As the map shows, a majority of border towns and cities are held by rebels or Kurds.  So if the UN tries to open up humanitarian corridors from other countries, the burden will be on the rebels to safeguard them.  There are notable exceptions, like Qusayr.  But Russia can support this initiative safe in the knowledge that (1) it reflects facts on the ground and (2) it may create more headaches for the rebels than for Assad.  Will rebels let aid into government-held areas?

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