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New Tool by NASA Brings Clarity to the 2020 Wildfire Season

Source: NASA

There has been a surge in wildfire activity this year throughout the southern Amazon states of Pará, Mato Grosso and Amazonas in areas where there was already extensive deforestation. A new tool by NASA tracks the fires and distinguishes between the most damaging types of fires: deforestation and understory fires.

NASA released this satellite-driven, web-based tool on August 19, right before the peak of wildfire season in September and October. The tool accounts for fire location, intensity, duration and spread rate. “By providing more information about fire types and locations in real time, we hope this dashboard will give decision-makers better information needed to manage and respond to fires,” says Douglas Morton of NASA. 

Scientists are monitoring this season closely because of early warning signs, like the growth of fire activity last year, a gradual rise in deforestation and a much drier season. The Amazon has already seen a 17% rise in fires compared to last year — with over 10,000 fires in the first 10 days of August 2020.

US Active Oil Rig Count Collapses From COVID-19

Source: Baker Hughes, North America Rig Count

The U.S. active oil and gas rig count hit a record low of 251 in July due to the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — the year started with the rig count at 796. Prior to COVID-19, the lowest rig count was 404 during the oil crash of 2014. 

Texas, the largest oil-producing state in the U.S., lost 336 land rigs this year. Each of these rigs creates an estimated 31 jobs immediately and more than 300 in the long term. 

The pandemic first majorly impacted the oil industry at the beginning of March 2020 when oil prices plummeted. By August, the oil industry had lost more than 100,000 jobs. Although the U.S. administration implemented measures to bail out big oil companies, thousands of workers are still struggling financially. Devashree Saha of The World Resources Institute states that government responses need to prioritize workers and communities to ensure they “are not collateral damage in the pandemic-fed downturn or during the longer-term energy transition.”

COVID-19 Threatens a Decade of Progress Against Poverty for Low-Income Countries

Source: International Monetary Fund

As the percentage of those living in poverty grows, household consumption declines, prompting concern over “the permanent loss of productive capacity,” in low-income developing countries (LIDC) says the IMF. Rising levels of poverty also threaten progress in health, education and gender equality, with implications for lifetime earnings and savings.

LIDCs experienced 5% growth just last year, and they even contributed a larger portion of COVID-19 financial support toward health compared to advanced or emerging economies. But they aren’t able to provide the same level of fiscal support as a public safety net or to stimulate economic activity.   

More vulnerable countries may look to their international community for support, for example, in the provision of health supplies, supply chain protection and financial assistance, including debt payment deferrals. The virus is only the first challenge to overcome, says the IMF, as “the COVID-19 pandemic will be defeated only when it and its socioeconomic consequences are overcome everywhere.” 

Northern Europe Maintains a Positive View of Its Economy, Even Amid the Pandemic

Source: Pew Research Center

Nearly 75% of those in Denmark believe their country’s economic situation is good — a surprising outlook considering the restrictions COVID-19 has placed on economic activity across the world. These views were reported between June and August, 2020, and collected in a survey from the Pew Research Center.

A similar percentage of respondents from Sweden and the Netherlands share positive views about their countries’ economies. But these northern European countries are outliers, as most adults surveyed across 14 countries report a negative economic situation in their country.

Denmark and Sweden — the two countries with the highest percentage of positive assessments of their respective economies — have had relatively low COVID-19 infection and death rates. They were also two of the first countries in Europe to lift lockdown restrictions. There is a correlation between how respondents perceive their country’s response to COVID-19 and how they view the economic status of their country, according to the research: “Those who view their country’s coronavirus response negatively are more likely to describe their country’s current economic situation as bad.” 

GDP Growth Depends on Far More Than Investment

Source: World Economic Outlook Database, IMF

Average gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Latin America has not grown consistently since 1990. However, in the last 30 years, GDP in Asian countries has grown fourfold — in part due to investor activity, according to a paper from the International Monetary Fund. 

Over the past two decades, Latin America has received far less investment compared to Asian countries — but more than European countries, and Europe saw growth in GDP during the same period. Europe’s growth resulted from institutional reforms, meaning the relatively low GDP growth in Latin America is due to factors beyond investment.

The combination and quality of human capital, business climate and governance is what makes a difference: “In countries where property rights are not secure and governance is poor, firms will remain small and productivity low,” the paper notes. IMF analysis found that Latin American countries score low on both human capital and strong governance, making low investment in Latin America the result of low growth — not the cause. “Governments solely focused on boosting investment might want to look at the problem from a different perspective,” says the IMF.

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