Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Global Recovery Observatory?

The Global Recovery Observatory (the Observatory) is a joint initiative between the University of Oxford and the Green Fiscal Policy Network (the UNEP, IMF, and GIZ) to track and analyse global economic spending policy. The data visualisation of the Observatory is developed by UNDP and utilises the Observatory data.

The Observatory is housed within the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project (OUERP) at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. Observatory data visualisations are presented on the OUERP website, the GFPN website, and UNDP’s COVID-19 Data Futures Platform.

The program was started by Brian O’Callaghan and Professor Cameron Hepburn, both of the Smith School of Environment and Enterprise at the University of Oxford.

 What is the objective of the Observatory?

The Observatory aims to provide transparency to government spending practices. We envisage that it will act as a tool for governments and researchers to assess spending, and that these assessments will be used as an input in their future stimulus decision making. The ​Observatory intends not only to support COVID-19 fiscal policy and spending, but to provide a rich database for informing research and response for future economic crises. The Observatory is also a tool to increase transparency for tracking government progress against long-term economic, environmental, and social objectives, as well as alignment with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UNFCCC Paris Agreement.

What is the background of the Observatory?

The project began in March 2020 as input to the seminal paper Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change? (Hepburn et al, 2020). The Observatory was previously managed as the Oxford Tracker of Recessionary Fiscal Stimulus and used as a tool to help governments around the world orient their spending to initiatives that prioritise economic, social, and environmental prosperity. 

What data does the Observatory collect and how?

The Observatory currently tracks and assesses rescue and recovery fiscal policies of the 50 largest economies globally (plus the EU). As of February 2021, the Observatory has around 3,500 policy items in its database. Policies are sorted by country and date, and sources are provided. Additionally, the Observatory assigns each policy to an exhaustive and mutually exclusive taxonomy of 40 archetypes and 158 sub-archetypes, including spending and some taxation measures. Based on archetype, policies are assessed on a variety of economic, environmental, and social impact characteristics, providing indications of potential impacts on major global crises including climate change, nature loss, pollution, and inequality.

What kind of policy assessments does the Observatory make?

A policy archetype method is used to assess policy items for:

  • potential environmental impact (greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, natural capital),
  • Potential social impact (wealth inequality, quality of life, rural livelihood), and
  • Potential economic impact (multiplier, speed of implementation).

These assessments consider the impact of policy against a scenario in which no intervention is made. All archetype impact assessments are a work in progress. We invite any peer reviewed literature that suggests that current assessments could be adapted. Please submit recommendations here.

How do you decide on what is green vs neutral or dirty?

The Observatory assess a green spending policy as one that is likely to reduce GHG emissions, reduce air pollution, and/or strengthen natural capital, compared to a scenario in which the policy is not implemented.

Archetypes and sub-archetypes are assessed for environmental impacts (short-term and long-term GHG emissions, air pollution and natural capital) and some other socio-economic ones, based on evidence in academic literature, contributions by a 2020 survey of over 230 leading practitioners in fiscal economics (Hepburn et al., 2020), and an ongoing discussion with leading economists and scientists.

The Observatory assessments are not predictions and do not aim to quantify policy impacts. A methodology document including a full list of archetypes, sub-archetypes, and assessments is available in an accompanying methodology working document (O’Callaghan et al., 2020).

Is it really fair to compare wealthy advanced economies to emerging market and developing economies?

The Observatory is a dataset of country responses to the pandemic. The objective is not to rank countries – but to provide transparency to both global and national actions and assess progress towards commitments to building back better.

Advanced economies (AEs) and emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) are both included in analyses. But this is done to provide a global picture of recovery spending.

The different capacities and challenges faced by AEs and EMDEs in recovery spending choices and resourcing are acknowledged. This classification is only helpful for adding a very simple layer of disaggregation to global analysis, as both the AE and EMDE groups are not homogenous internally.

Why is there a focus on recovery spending?

The Observatory focuses on recovery, rather than pandemic rescue spending because progress towards ’building back better’ is more reasonably assessed by focusing on government policy recovery packages. Once short-term and immediate relief has been provided, policymakers have an enhanced opportunity to design recovery and stimulus measures which align national socio-economic trajectories with Agenda 2030 and Paris Agreement objectives.

There are already several green recovery trackers out there. What makes the Global Recovery Observatory different?

 Several other groups are also tracking and evaluating fiscal spending in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with varying aims and methodologies. None of these trackers cover global spending in quite the same depth or breadth as the Observatory – the Observatory covers the top 50 largest economies, as well as the European Union, and analyses potential policy impacts across environmental, social, and economic perspectives. The Observatory tracks at a significantly higher granularity than all other trackers we have seen, enabling more accurate and informed policy categorisation and impact assessment. Unlike trackers from some multilateral sources, the Observatory relies purely on publicly available data sources to provide complete transparency. Further comparisons are available in O’Callaghan and Murdock (2021) and UNEP (2020).

Are there any plans for expanding the dataset?

The Observatory is currently undergoing expansion to include all PAGE countries outside of the biggest 50 economies and all countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region. By the end of March the Observatory aims to track 89 countries.

I have found a potential missing policy or mistake. Who can I contact to address this?

Thank you for your conscientious use of the dataset. We rely on your detail-oriented review to ensure reliability and credibility of the Observatory.

Please use this form to request a correction. All data is based on publicly available sources and correction requests must be accompanied by such sources to be accepted. Note that only fiscal policies ostensibly introduced or accelerated due to COVID-19 are included.

I am having technical issues, who should I contact?

We apologise for any inconvenience caused. Please provide details of your issue using this form.

What other green recovery materials are available?

Please consult the following links from UNEP, Oxford SSEE and GFPN:

  1. Oxford University Economic Recovery Project (OUERP)
  2. Green Fiscal Policy Network COVID-19 Resources
  3. Green Spending Literature Database (OUERP)
  4. Global Research Programs on Green Recovery (OUERP)
  5. Research Page (OUERP)
  6. UNEP COVID-19 resources

Do you have a mailing list for green recovery news and future program updates?

Yes. Subscribe to the Oxford Economic Recovery Project newsletter for regular updates on the Global Recovery Observatory. You can also subscribe to the newsletter of the Oxford SSEE and/or Green Fiscal Policy Network for other related news.