Global Conference on Macroeconomic Statistics for the Future – Opening Panel: Statistical needs for policy making in a changing world – UNCTAD

Dear Paolo Gentiloni, European Commissioner for Economy, Dear Kerri-Ann Jones, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD,
Dear Irene Tinagli, Member of the European Parliament and Chair of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs,
Dear Mariana Kotzeva, Director-General of Eurostat,
Your excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,
It is my pleasure to speak to you today from the perspective of data needs of global politics.
I was looking for a quote, to find something interesting to start my video with, but all I found was jokes!
One line, I must say, was really good was this brilliant one-liner from Nielhs Bohr: “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”.
But eventually, I found my quote. It was from the late George Box.
It said: “to record what happens after something changes, you need to change it first”. And here lies the crux about statistics.
There are two kinds of statistics.
There is the statistics that passively records what has already happened.
And there is the statistics that actively participates in the goings-on of the world, the statistics that proposes change and keeps up with change.
In the context we are in today – a context of cascading crises – we need this second kind of statistics more than ever.
A continuing pandemic, an aggravating climate crisis, a global cost-of-living crisis – the complexity of the times we live in is daunting.
Without statistics, we would be utterly lost.
At UNCTAD, the role of statistics cannot be overstated.
We consider statistics as a shared, strategic asset – the essential ingredient for all our research, policy analysis, and evidence-based policy recommendations.
More recently, in my role as task team coordinator of the UN Global Crisis Response Group, I have seen first-hand the incredible value of reliable and timely statistics for crisis management and decision-making.
Data are at the core of this initiative as the objective is to “curate data and generate analysis, policy recommendations and solutions”.
At the Global Crisis Response Group, we quickly came out with three policy briefs on the food, energy, and finance dimensions of the current crisis.
These briefs proved to be very useful to inform policymakers on what was happening on the ground.
But the true value of the briefs went much beyond the data that we revealed.
What made the biggest difference was the narrative we managed to build with the data.
Because statistics doesn’t end in the number, it ends in the way we understand and then deliver that number.
The two Istanbul Agreements, which facilitated food and fertilizer corridors from the Black Sea and the Russian Federation, would have been impossible without the raised awareness our briefs created, in showing the world the real global implications of the war, especially in terms of food security.
Without agile, solid, and reliable data and statistics, we could not have done that.
Before I finish, I would like to share with you five ideas on how we can collectively improve the scope and impact of statistics worldwide.
First, we urgently need metrics beyond GDP.
GDP is at the heart of economic statistics and has strong merits.
But it cannot sufficiently capture aspects of growth and development that are central to wellbeing and sustainability or account for growing inequalities.
We need to go “beyond GDP” with metrics as strong and visible as GDP, to reflect key social and environmental issues.
This is an old and complex challenge that has been prioritized by the UN Secretary General in “Our Common Agenda” proposal.
I am sure you are busy working towards common metrics that capture the externalities of the economy and the economic repercussions of climate and environmental crisis.
We need economic measures that consider these externalities to be able to manage them, to punish them, to account for them.
Furthermore, it is important to fight greenwashing and have better data and agreed standards on ESG and climate finance to capture the magnitude of the challenges and the dearth of resources.
This is especially important for climate-vulnerable countries which are also in debt distress.
These countries cannot reconcile their debt obligations and needs to invest in climate action without more climate finance.
Second, the crisis times underline the value of innovation, timeliness and trusted data to enable effective decision-making.
In 2020, the pandemic put statistics to the test – timely information was badly needed, on the spread of the virus and the social and economic impacts.
The lockdowns hampered data collection.
So, we saw a rapid rise of innovation and uptake of new technologies and methods to continue to provide timely data.
We do not always have statistics for immediate action, so we must find new ways. UNCTAD, like many others, has explored new methods.
We now provide a weekly neural networks-based nowcast of global trade and GDP using the fastest official statistics as a basis.
The community of national accountants and statisticians is a true global asset for us to innovative together, to shape the statistics of today and the future.
Third, we need more statistics on multinational companies as key actors of globalization.
Most trade and investment around the world is channeled through multinational enterprises.
We need more statistics on the activities of these enterprises.
This requires a more global approach to statistics, including for safe data-sharing among statisticians.
We need statistics to help us understand global interconnections and cross-border spillovers being mindful of the confidentiality challenges.
Fourth, we need to support developing countries in their statistical infrastructures, especially to use digital data.
Here, when it comes to digital, the EU is clearly leading the way. The ‘Brussels effect’ is a thing to behold.
But we need to be careful that we do not overload least developed countries, and small and medium enterprises in those countries, with regulations they lack the institutional capacities to deal with.
Developing countries need support to step up their statistical capacity by using digital data and improving data governance.
And fifth, lastly, we need to better capture the illegal economy and illicit flows. Globalization is much bigger than what we currently measure.
While we try to measure the illegal economy and illicit flows, we are far from understanding it with statistics.
The first step to end illegal and illicit trade is to make it visible.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In closing, I want to emphasize that data, and especially official statistics ensure the right to information and equal access to it.
Here, lies your responsibility to show us the way and shed light on what is happening in the world.
Tell us what we should pay attention to. Give everyone a voice in statistics.
I want to finish by ensuring our full support to our partners at the OECD, the EU, the UNDESA Statistics Division who are leading the way in making statistics fit for purpose in the 21st century.
Thank all of your commitment and contribution. Please count on us at UNCTAD as allies.
We share the same goals. We share the ambition.
And most importantly, we share the same love for statistics.
Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *