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COVID-19 Threatens Press Freedom Across the World

Source: Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Note: White represents “Good Situation,” yellow represents “Satisfactory Situation,” orange represents “Problematic Situation,” red represents “Difficult Situation” and black represents “Very Serious Situation.”

Journalistic efforts were completely blocked or severely disrupted in 73% of the 180 countries analyzed in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. Last year, only 7% had a “favorable environment for journalists,” compared to 8% of the countries in 2019.

“The coronavirus pandemic has been used as grounds to block journalists’ access to information sources and reporting in the field,” the report notes. The largest drop in ranking was Malaysia — down 18 places at 119 — as a result of increased censorship. Countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa ranked the lowest due to internet censorship, surveillance and propaganda — especially in China, which ranked 177th. 

Norway ranked first in the index, followed by Finland and Sweden. Europe and the Americas remain the most favorable continents for press freedom, despite “abuses” and “violations” against press freedom increasing. At the same time, the public is putting an increasing amount of trust in business, as opposed to media, along with expectations for social leadership, according to Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer.

How Much Could Global Warming Impact the World Economy?

The effects of a 3.2 degree Celsius warming would reduce global GDP by 18%, according to The Swiss Re Institute. The increase in global temperatures has already reached 1 degree Celsius and is accelerating. To contain global GDP losses to 4% by 2050, warming would have to be below 2 degrees Celsius.

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change launched the first installment of its Sixth Assessment Report. The document posits that the Paris Agreement goal of holding global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will not be achieved without “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” 

World leaders met in November at COP26 to redouble their commitments to curb emissions. According to the Climate Ambition Tracker, global temperatures are set to rise between 1.8 and 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2100, depending on whether all decarbonization targets announced at COP26 will be implemented, with the risk of even more pronounced warming. 

The Pandemic Is Weakening the Stigma Around Mental Health

The prevalence of anxiety and depression has doubled in some countries during the pandemic, according to a report from the OECD. “Risk factors generally associated with poor mental health — financial insecurity, unemployment, fear” have heightened since COVID-19 hit, the report says, while beneficial factors, including social connection, “fell dramatically.”

The study notes that “differences in the openness of populations to discussing their mental state also hampers cross-country comparability,” referring to the stigma around mental health. Mental health is stigmatized through negative judgements, discrimination or dismissiveness toward those with trauma, depression, etc., which becomes a barrier to getting help, according to NAMI. But the spike in mental health issues has also led to a growing willingness to recognize and talk about such issues — chipping away at the stigma

Most countries have increased mental health resources during the pandemic. But, the OECD says we need a systemic-level response that includes assured mental health services and employers who actively support and contribute to the mental health of their employees.

Inflation Numbers Grow Among Lasting Pandemic Effects

For many countries, inflation rates hit year-long highs. According to the U.S. National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the country’s core CPI — an index that accounts for the volatility of energy and food prices — increased 4.58% from October 2021, a year-high. Similarly, departments from the U.K. and China report a year-over-year increase. China’s NBS reported a 1.5% increase for October while the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics reported a 4.2% increase.

For the United Kingdom, inflation is a symptom of rising energy costs as a result of Europe’s gas crisis, statisticians say. Transport is the second-largest contributor to inflation, followed by restaurants and hotels and education. Similarly for China, the rise in inflation is due to a rising cost of energy, as well as a vegetable shortage caused by heavy rainfall.

Automated Trucking Companies Are Raising Larger Deals

While autonomous cars have yet to make a significant impact in consumers’ lives, investors see an opportunity in the automated trucking industry. According to CB Insights, companies have raised an average of $650 million for 2021. These companies cover everything from the actual self-driving truck technology and logistics surrounding fleet coordination.

Waymo, the self-driving subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is the most well-funded company, with a total of $5.7 billion raised throughout its lifetime. It recently announced a partnership with UPS in piloting self-driving trucks in Texas, alleviating supply chain issues caused by the labor shortage. 

Meanwhile, China-based Manbang Group focuses on freight matching — pairing cargo freight with drivers. It has raised a total of almost $3.7 billion. Previously, this was managed by brokers, but automation is increasingly taking the lead. Manbang uses its automation software to connect the 10 million verified truckers with 5 million cargo consignors on its platform. 

There may be other surprising beneficiaries to autonomous trucking, as increased efficiency and lower operating costs could lead to higher congestion in urban centers — making rail a more appealing option.

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