The report, OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction, presents the latest projections of socio-economic trends over the next four decades, and their implications for four key areas of concern: climate change, biodiversity, water and the health impacts of environmental pollution. Despite the recent recession, the global economy is projected to nearly quadruple to 2050. Rising living standards will be accompanied by ever growing demands for energy, food and natural resources - and more pollution. The report indicates that, "The costs of inaction could be colossal, both in economic and human terms." Without new policies:
- World energy demand in 2050 will be 80% higher, with most of the growth to come from emerging economies (for North America about +15%, for OECD Europe +28%, for Japan +2.5, for Mexico +112%) and still 85% reliant on fossil fuel-based energy. This could lead to a 50% increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally and worsening air pollution.
- Urban air pollution is set to become the top environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050, ahead of dirty water and lack of sanitation. The number of premature deaths from exposure to particulate air pollutants leading to respiratory failure could double from current levels to 3.6 million every year globally, with most occurring in China and India. Because of their ageing and urbanized populations, OECD countries are likely to have one of the highest rate of premature death from ground-level ozone in 2050, second only to India.
- On land, global biodiversity is projected to decline by a further 10%, with significant losses in Asia, Europe and Southern Africa. Areas of mature forests are projected to shrink by 13%. About one-third of biodiversity in rivers and lakes worldwide has already been lost, and further losses are projected to 2050.
- Global water demand will increase by some 55%, due to growing demand from manufacturing (+400%), thermal power plants (+140%) and domestic use (+130%). These competing demands will put water use by farmers at risk. 2.3 billion more people than today -- over 40% of the global population -- will be living in river basins under severe water stress, especially in North and South Africa, and South and Central Asia.
According to a release, well-designed policies to tackle environmental problems can also help to address other environmental challenges, and contribute to growth and development. Tackling local air pollution contributes not only to cutting GHG emissions but also to reducing the economic burden of chronic and costly health problems. Moreover, climate policies help protect biodiversity, for example by reducing emissions from deforestation.
To avert the grim future painted by the Environmental Outlook to 2050, the report recommends "a cocktail of policy solutions:" using environmental taxes and emissions trading schemes to make pollution more costly than greener alternatives; valuing and pricing natural assets and ecosystem services like clean air, water and biodiversity for their true worth; removing environmentally harmful subsidies to fossil fuels or wasteful irrigation schemes; and encouraging green innovation by making polluting production and consumption modes more expensive while providing public support for basic R&D.
Green growth policies are already in place in many countries. OECD cites for example, Mexico's new pilot programme gives direct cash transfers to farmers instead of subsidizing the electricity they use to pump irrigation water, thus removing the price distortion that encouraged over-use of groundwater. The UK government has earmarked 3 billion British Pound (GBP 3 billion) for the new UK Green Investment Bank; this should leverage an additional GBP 15 billion of private investment in green energy and recycling by 2015. The US government has been working to phase out preferential tax provisions worth about USD 4 billion per annum that continue to support the production of fossil energy. Capitalizing on its knowledge-base and environmental technologies, city of Kitakyushu in Japan is working with businesses to enhance its competitiveness as a "green city" for low-carbon growth. Governments, businesses, consumers all have a part to play to move towards greener growth.
32 Years of Environmental Reporting for serious Environmental Professionals