OECD report warns of catastrophic environmental changes to come

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has issued a dire warning to world leaders saying that they must take action to protect the environment or risk potentially catastrophic changes. The Link’s Lynn Desjardins has the story.
Urgent warning

World leaders must act now to prevent irreversible damage to the environment and potentially catastrophic changes. That’s the conclusion of a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Projecting trends over the next four decades, the study forecasts that by 2050 world energy demand will be 80% higher and still mostly reliant on fossil fuels. This could lead to a 50% increase in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Air pollution would become the leading environmental cause of death, doubling current trends and killing 3.6 million people annually.

Biodiversity would decline by 10% over what has already been lost. As it now stands about one-third of biodiversity in rivers and lakes has disappeared.

Mature forests are expected to decline by 13%.

World water demand would increase by 55%.

Over 40% of the world population would be living in river basins under severe water stress.

“These projections highlight the urgent need for new thinking,” notes the report. “Failing that, the erosion of our environmental capital will increase the risk of irreversible changes that could jeopardise two centuries of rising living standards.”

Projections indicate that the world population will increase by more than 2 billion people by 2050, which will create a demand for more water, energy and other resources. World leaders are urged to find ways to alleviate the strain on the environment.

Recommended solutions

The report suggests several solutions: make pollution more expensive than greener alternatives by adopting environmental taxes and emissions trading schemes; valuing and pricing natural assets and ecosystem services like clean air, water and biodiversity; removing harmful subsidies to fossil fuels or wasteful irrigation; encouraging green innovation and providing public support for basic research and development.

Effect of report

The warning will be delivered to world leaders at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June.

But what effect is it likely to have? Not much according to Professor Douglas Macdonald of the Centre for the Environment at the University of Toronto. Part of the problem, he thinks, is that 2050 seems far away. Corporate executives are looking at the bottom line three months from now and politicians, at the next election 3 or 4 years away. He says they are unlikely to take steps that will cost money in the short term to tackle a long-term problem.

There are two other major obstacles in his view.

“The first is the absolute primacy that we give now throughout the world to economic growth over all other social goals, our conviction that we can find human happiness through economic growth,” says Prof. Macdonald.

He suggests that as long as people have this belief it is difficult to imagine them doing more to protect the environment. “The second problem is the fundamentally anthropocentric nature of all human societies that will place human interests over the interests of all other species.”

Website: OECD Report Environment: Act now or face costly consequences,3746,en_21571361_44315115_49897570_1_1_1_1,00.html

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