June 19, 2013 | 04:10 AM (BD Time)
19 June, 2013 Wednesday
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Consequences on inaction on environmental front
The 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 costs of inaction could be colossal, both in economic and human terms. Without new policies:
World energy demand in 2050 will be 80percent higher, with most of the growth to come from emerging economies (for North America about +15percent, for OECD Europe +28percent, for Japan +2.5, for Mexico +112percent) and still 85percent reliant on fossil fuel-based energy. This could lead to a 50percent 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 urbanised 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 10percent, with significant losses in Asia, Europe and Southern Africa. Areas of mature forests are projected to shrink by 13percent. 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 55percent, due to growing demand from manufacturing (+400percent), thermal power plants (+140percent) and domestic use (+130percent). These competing demands will put water use by farmers at risk. 2.3 billion more people than today - over 40percent 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.
These projections highlight the urgent need for new thinking. Failing that, the erosion of our environmental capital will increase the risk of irreversible changes that could jeopardise two centuries of rising living standards.
"We have already witnessed the collapse of some fisheries due to overfishing, with significant impacts on coastal communities, and severe water shortages are a looming threat to agriculture. These enormous environmental challenges cannot be addressed in isolation. They must be managed in the context of other global challenges, such as food and energy security, and poverty alleviation." says Gurría.
Well-designed policies to tackle environmental problems can also help to address other environmental challenges, andcontribute 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. For example, Mexico's new pilot programme gives direct cash transfers to farmers instead of subsidising the electricity they use to pump irrigation water, thus removing the price distortion that encouraged over-use of groundwater. The UK government has earmarked 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. Capitalising 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.
World population is expected to increase from 7 billion today to over 9 billion in 2050. A growing population is likely to increase pressures on the natural resources that supply energy and food.
World GDP is projected to almost quadruple by 2050, despite the recent recession.
Average GDP growth rates are projected to slow gradually in the coming decades in China and India. While Africa will remain the poorest continent, it is projected to see the world's highest economic growth rate between 2030 and 2050.
Over a quarter of population in OECD countries is projected to be over 65 years of age in 2050 compared to about 15percent today. China and India are also likely to see significant population ageing, with China's workforce actually shrinking by 2050.
Cities are likely to absorb the total world population growth between 2010 and 2050. By 2050, nearly 70percent of the world population is projected to be living in urban areas.
Energy and land use: A world economy four times larger than today is projected to need 80percent more energy in 2050 without new policy action.
Global energy mix in 2050 will not differ significantly from today, with the share of fossil energy at about 85percent, renewables including biofuels just over 10percent, and the balance nuclear. The BRIICS1 are projected to become major energy users, increasing their reliance on fossil fuels.
To feed a growing population with changing dietary preferences, agricultural land is projected to expand globally in the next decade to match the increase in food demand, but at a diminishing rate. A substantial increase in competition for scarce land is expected in the coming decades.
Climate Change: Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions projected to increase by 50percent, primarily due to a 70percent growth in energy-related CO2 emissions.
The atmospheric concentration of GHGs could reach 685 parts per million (ppm) CO2-equivalents by 2050. As a result, global average temperature is projected to be 3oC to 6 oC above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, exceeding the internationally agreed goal of limiting it to 2 oC.
The GHG mitigation actions pledged by countries in the Cancún Agreements at the United Nations Climate Change Conference will not be enough to prevent the global average temperature from exceeding the 2 oC threshold, unless very rapid and costly emission reductions are realised after 2020. They are more in line with a 3 oC increase.
What if we act?
It makes environmental and economic sense. The Outlook suggests that global carbon pricing sufficient to lower GHG emissions by nearly 70percent in 2050 compared to the Baseline scenario and limit GHG concentrations to 450 ppm would slow economic growth by only 0.2 percentage points per year on average. This would cos
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