OECD Launches new report “Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has launched a new report Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction. It explores the question “What will the next four decades bring?” and urges governments to take immediate policy action before the consequences of recent decades of unprecedented human growth become irreversible.

The report is based on joint modelling by the OECD and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and focuses on the implications of socio- economic trends on four key areas of concern: climate change, biodiversity, freshwater and health impacts of pollution. It concludes that despite uncertainties, urgent and holistic action is needed from policy-makers or the consequences will be significant on both human and economic terms. The report ultimately presents interlinked action-based solutions and addresses some potential challenges and trade-offs.

The report discusses key growth projections for 2050:

  • World energy demand in 2050 will be 80% higher, with most growth to come from emerging economies 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. *
  • Global biodiversity is projected to decline by a further 10% and 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. *

*From an OECD article on the report

The arrival of these projections could see a future hard-pressed to meet the needs of 9 billion people. To avert this scenario, the report recommends new thinking through a variety of global policy solutions such as environmental taxes, emissions trading schemes, pricing of natural assets and ecosystem services, removal of wasteful subsidies and schemes, and encouraging green innovation around production and consumption modes.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría says:

Greener sources of growth can help governments today as they tackle these pressing challenges. Greening agriculture, water and energy supply and manufacturing will be critical by 2050 to meet the needs of over 9 billion people.

The report also highlights some effective green growth policies already in place in many countries such as the UK, US, Mexico and Japan. One example is a water pilot programme in Mexico that transfers cash directly to farmers instead of subsidising the electricity they use to pump irrigation water, helping to remove price distortion leading to over-use of groundwater.

Gurría says:

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.

Access the report here.

Read more about biodiversity, climate change and water in relation to agriculture on Farming First’s website.

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