Air pollution deaths will triple and 40% of the world's population will be living in areas of water stress by 2050 unless urgent global action is taken to improve environmental impacts, warns the OECD
In its Environmental Outlook to 2050, the Paris-based organisation predicts that, with the global economy set to quadruple in size in the next four decades and the worldwide population forecast to reach nine billion, energy demand will increase by 80%, water use by 55% and greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 50%.
Based on its projections of economic and environmental trends to the middle of the century, the OECD concludes that without effective policies aimed at driving resource efficiency and renewable technologies across the globe, air pollution will overtake access to clean water and sanitation as the top reason for premature deaths; biodiversity will continue to decline due to competing needs for land-use (including for agriculture and biofuels) and global temperatures rises could hit 3°C-6°C.
The research argues that while the 34 OECD-member countries have attempted to better protect the environment impacts through policies aimed at encouraging resource efficiency and preventing pollution, economic and population growth has overwhelmed any progress made, and the world’s prospects are more alarming now than in 2008, when it published its Environmental Outlook to 2030.
Progress on an incremental, business-as-usual basis, it concludes, will not be enough. “Urgent – and holistic – action is needed now to avoid the significant costs and consequences of inaction.”
The OECD analysis suggests that well-designed policies, such as a global carbon price, ceasing subsidies for fossil fuels and more ambitious biodiversity protection targets, implemented before 2020 could halt the worst environmental impacts and create significant savings.
For example, it concludes that introducing a carbon price structure that lowers GHG emissions by 70% by 2050, would cost 5.5% of global GDP, while not taking any action to cut emissions would cost 14%.
OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría said: “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.
“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.”
The OECD report also argues that policies must act quicker than those outlined in recent international climate change negotiations, saying that: “moderate action up to 2020 (such as implementing the Copenhagen/Cancún pledges) … would lead to 50% higher costs in 2050 compared to timely action.”
However, following the agreement reached by international governments at UN climate change meeting in Durban, it seems unlikely that legally-binding international GHG reduction targets will be in place before 2020.