Marsh & McLennan Advantage Insights logo
Conversations and insights from the edge of global business
Menu Search

Quick Takes

Global Food Prices Rise, Impacting Food Security

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Global food prices rose for the ninth consecutive month in February, reaching their highest level since July 2014. Food prices increased by 26.5%, compared to the same time just last year. Pandemic-related disruptions to the food and agriculture industry — such as restrictions to global trading and economic distress — contributed to the lower supply of certain foods.  

The FAO Food Price Index — which tracks changes in global food prices — found the biggest increase in the price of sugar — which is up 6.4%, “as production declines in key producing countries together with strong import demand from Asia prompted ongoing concerns over tighter global supplies.” Vegetable oil prices saw the second-highest hike in prices with a 6.2% increase, reflecting concerns about low production, inventory and export potential. 

Food insecurity was growing prior to the pandemic, and estimates show that the virus could almost double the number of people experiencing hunger. International partners and governments are working together to monitor food supply chains and provide financial support for those who are unemployed and are unable to buy food.

Declining Battery Prices Could Reduce Global Emissions

Source: Our World in Data

The price of lithium-ion battery cells fell by 97% over nearly three decades — since they were first commercially introduced in 1991. The cost halved in just four years, according to Our World in Data, and it’s still declining. Thirty years ago, a battery with a one kilowatt-hour capacity cost $7,500; that same battery cost $181 in 2018.

Improvements in production and technology — batteries are getting smaller and lighter — are contributing to the declining cost of lithium-ion batteries. Additionally, each time installed capacity doubles, prices fall 19% on average. 

Battery technology is becoming crucial in storing energy, accelerating the electrification of transportation and expanding the use of stationary batteries. The cost of renewables, previously a barrier in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, now matches the cost or is cheaper than new fossil fuels.

How Does US Infrastructure Spending Compare Internationally?

Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The United States lags behind in infrastructure spending compared to its international competitors. The U.S.’s projected investment by 2040 is 1.5%, compared to 5.1% in China and 4.1% in Indonesia, which are the global leaders in infrastructure investment. 

The U.S.’s lower ranking in infrastructure investment is related to how the country’s infrastructure projects are funded, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. On average, European countries spend 5% of GDP on infrastructure, while China spends roughly 8% — the U.S., meanwhile, spends only 2.4% of its GDP on infrastructure. European countries also rely on infrastructure needs at a national level, while infrastructure in the U.S. is funded at state and local levels. Only 25% of U.S. public infrastructure funding comes from the federal government — down from a peak of 38% nearly 45 years ago.

The U.S. population has more than doubled since the 1960s, when most of the country’s infrastructure systems were created. Experts believe that making further investments in infrastructure could boost long-term U.S. competitiveness, better equip the economy to handle climate-related shocks and create jobs.

Net-Zero Ambitions Rise Among Large Corporations

Revenues Aligned to Net-Zero Target Across Sectors

As COP26 approaches, momentum to set net-zero emissions targets among large corporations is growing, thanks to initiatives such as the UN Race to Zero Campaign, The Climate Pledge, Business Ambition for 1.5°C, and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. Over 350 of the 2,000 largest listed companies in the world have now announced net-zero targets, covering around a third of total revenues.

However, net-zero ambition varies significantly across sectors. Among the largest listed companies, the Consumer Goods sector has the largest share of revenues – 44% – covered by net-zero targets, which is twice the proportion of Industrial and Materials companies. However, it is in high-emitting, hard to decarbonize sectors such as Industrials & Materials that more ambition is most needed. For example, analysis of European corporates by Oliver Wyman and CDP revealed that the Industrials & Materials sector was responsible for 35% of Scope 1 and 2 emissions, but only 5% of low-carbon investments in 2019.


City Populations Were Declining Long Before COVID

Source: Brookings Institution

U.S. cities with populations exceeding one million saw the largest decline in residents, reaching a rate of nearly -0.40 between July 2019 and July 2020. Of the 10 largest cities, eight declared a lower growth rate over the past two years than in 2018 to 2019, and six saw their lowest growth in the last decade, according to Brookings Institution. There were only 33 cities that reported notable growth upticks out of 89 cities.

Emigration from cities, lower rates of immigration from abroad and fewer births all contributed to the recent population losses in these cities. Although COVID-19 sped up the population loss, most were on the trajectory of slower growth before the start of the pandemic. 

Early in the 2000s, Americans were attracted to cities over their surrounding suburbs; however, this trend soon reversed due to the impact of the 2007-09 Great Recession. As the 2010s continued and the housing market jumpstarted, city-to-suburban shifts reemerged. It is unclear whether migration out of city living is a more permanent or temporary trend, but early data shows that urban interest may already be recovering.

Get ahead in a rapidly changing world. Sign up for our daily newsletter. Subscribe