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NEW SHOREHAM, RI - SEPTEMBER 22: The GE-Alstom Block Island Wind Farm stands 3 miles off of Block Island on September 22, 2016 New Shoreham, Rhode Island. The five 6-megawatt wind turbines are expected to produce more energy than Block Island needs. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

The US Excels in Cleantech, but Is It Innovative Enough to Meet Global Emissions Goals?

The United States continues to progress in clean energy innovation — even after announcing its intent to pull out of the Paris Agreement. The U.S. ranks fourth among all countries (behind Norway, Finland and Japan) in terms of its contributions to the global clean energy innovation system on a per-capita GDP basis according to the ITIF Global Energy Innovation Index. Still, “without more and faster clean energy innovation, it will be virtually impossible to meet global climate emission goals,” write the index’s authors.

Among other trends, the index considers the growth of high-impact startups, which can help incubate emerging clean technologies. On that front, “the global system is dependent on a few countries, led by the United States in absolute terms, to perform this function.” Still, a lack of public funding for demonstration of capital-intensive technologies “appears to be a major weakness in the global energy innovation system.”

Spain’s Supply of Rental Homes Jumped 52% in One Year

Source: Brookings Institution

Spain now has one of the lowest rentership rates compared to European countries, with 23% of households renting their homes. Around 70 years ago, renters made up half of the housing market, according to Brookings Institution. Now, of the 18.6 million households in Spain, fewer than one in four contain renters.

Over the last 20 years, the number of renters in Spain had actually been gradually increasing due to job insecurity and caution around banks granting mortgages. But the COVID-19 pandemic caused rental prices to drop significantly — marking the first drop since the 2009 financial crisis. Brookings states that “the supply of rental homes in Spain increased 52% ​​between September 2019 and September 2020.” 

Similar to other countries, Spain saw a loss of interest in renting during the pandemic — reflecting a decline in tourism and people’s growing desire to relocate to cheaper areas and have more space. The Spanish government responded with policies for “mortgage payment moratoriums, rental assistance and the suspension of evictions for vulnerable families,” notes Brookings.

Digital Exhaustion Threatens the New Hybrid Workplace

Source: Microsoft Work Trend Index survey

Time spent in meetings and chats per person spiked in 2020 and continues to grow. The number of meetings hosted in Microsoft Teams more than doubled — up 148% — as of February 2021, compared to the same time last year. Email communications to commercial and education customers also increased to 40.6 billion, compared to 12.4 billion at the start of COVID-19, according to the Microsoft Work Trend Index.

Many employees reported experiencing digital exhaustion — with 54% of survey respondents feeling overworked and 39% feeling exhausted. “The shared vulnerability of this time has given us a huge opportunity to bring real authenticity to company culture,” Microsoft employee, Jared Spataro says. When employees feel they can bring their whole selves to work, it can actually spur productivity and attract talent, according to Microsoft.

Moving forward, Microsoft recommends five strategies to help business leaders successfully shift to hybrid work: promote flexibility, invest in space and technology, prioritize addressing digital exhaustion from the top, rebuild social capital and culture and rethink employee experience to attract top and diverse talent.

Foreign Aid Is at a Record Peak, But Is It Enough?

Source: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

Foreign aid rose to an all-time high of $161.2 billion last year, a 3.5% increase from 2019. In many cases, larger economies directed these funds to countries in need of significant help to respond to the short-term impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the OECD. 

An OECD survey shows that the foreign aid supported health systems, humanitarian aid and food security. However, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría added that there will need to be “a much greater effort to help developing countries with vaccine distribution … to build a truly global recovery.” 

Internationally, governments approved $16 trillion worth of COVID-19 stimulus measures, but only 1% was used to help developing countries handle the virus. Trade, foreign direct investment and remittances in developing countries have also declined as a result of the pandemic, intensifying their need for support.

Why Are Central Banks Creating Digital Currencies?

Source: Atlantic Council

Nineteen countries have started to test a central bank digital currency (CBDC) on a small-scale with a limited number of participants. The Atlantic Council defines CBDC as “the digital form of a country’s fiat currency that is also a claim on the central bank.”

As of today, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and the European Central Bank (ECB) are prominent players in the digital currency realm. The United States currently lags behind in the research phase, yet the Federal Reserve has expressed continued interest in the digital dollar.

As digital currencies expand globally, there are challenges ahead — the legal, political and regulatory properties of CBDCs remain unclear. But the IMF notes that there are also multiple benefits to having government involvement in digital currencies, including lower cash transfer costs, greater accessibility to banking services and easier implementation of monetary policies. 

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