Here’s a really sobering conclusion from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: Without ambitious actions by governments global greenhouse gas emissions could increase 50 percent by 2050.
The 34-member-nation OECD, whose mission is to “promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world,” warns in a new report, OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction, that rising living standards over the coming decades will mean increased demands for energy, food and natural resources. This will result in sharply higher GHG emissions and pollution.
OECD says the report presents the latest projections of socio-economic trends over the next four decades, and their implications for four areas of concern: climate change, biodiversity, water and the health impacts of environmental pollution.
Inaction on those fronts will be devastating, the report says, in both human and economic terms. Without new policies:
- World energy demand in 2050 will be 80 percent higher, with most of the growth to come from emerging economies still 85 percent reliant on fossil fuel-based energy. This could lead to a 50 percent increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally.
- Urban air pollution would 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 rates 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 percent, with significant losses in Asia, Europe and Southern Africa. Areas of mature forests are projected to shrink by 13 percent. About one-third of biodiversity in rivers and lakes worldwide has already been lost, and further losses are projected to 2050, the report says.
- Global water demand will increase by some 55 percent, 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. In addition, 2.3 billion more people than today –more than 40 percent 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.
“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 OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría.
The report recommends a laundry-list 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.
Good luck on implementing even some of that agenda worldwide. Sadly and depressingly, there’s no easy or clear escape from the grim box we’ve created—we’ve seen the results when nations sit down to deal with climate change.
[Image Credit: OECD Environmental Outlook report cover via OECD]