The global environment faces a bleak future unless world leaders change the way energy and water are consumed, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said.
Greenhouse gas output will rise by 50 percent, annual deaths from particulate air pollution may double to 3.6 million people and 2.3 billion more people will live in water-stressed areas in fewer than 4 decades under the planet’s current trajectory, the Paris-based OECD said today in its first environmental outlook report since 2008.
“If we fail to transform our policies and behavior, the picture is rather grim,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said in the report. “The costs and consequences of inaction are colossal, both in economic and human terms.”
Global leaders must prepare for a planet that’s projected to have more than 2 billion additional people by 2050 and a greater demand for water, energy and other resources. The prospects for climate change, biodiversity, water, and the impacts on human health of pollution are all “more alarming” than in 2008, according to the OECD.
Energy demand is likely to be 80 percent higher in 2050 than now, putting greenhouse gas emissions on a trajectory that may lead to at least 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by the end of the century, the OECD said. Primary forests, which are rich in wildlife and plants, are projected to shrink 13 percent by then, while farm runoff will worsen, damaging water ecosystems, it said.
“Delay in alleviating these environmental pressures will impose significant costs, undermine growth and development and run the risk of irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes further into the future,” the report’s authors wrote.
Every dollar invested in alleviating air pollution in the fast-growing economies of Brazil, Russia India, Indonesia, China and South Africa may yield $10 of benefits in the future, according to the report. Investing in safe water and sanitation in developing countries may lead to savings worth seven times the expenditure, it said.
The OECD prepared the study as a guide for world leaders who will gather in Rio de Janeiro in June to chart a development path that doesn’t deplete resources and pollute unsustainably. That gathering, called the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, has been convened to mark 20 years since the first UN environmental summit in the Brazilian city that set up bodies to preserve the planet’s species and climate.
The OECD recommended that governments devise policies to halt and reverse the trends of environmental degradation. These policies would make pollution “an expensive business” through environmental taxes, removing fossil fuel subsidies, putting a price on water and establishing regulations and standards for the energy efficiency of products, vehicles and buildings.
“Progress on an incremental, piecemeal, business-as-usual basis in the coming decades will not be enough,” the OECD said. “Environmental policy reform work best when high-level political leaders are committed.”
Without concerted action, “the erosion of our natural environmental capital will increase the risk of irreversible changes that could jeopardize two centuries of rising living standards,” Gurria wrote.
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