The Independent Evaluation Group found that focusing on women's roles in the post-conflict recovery, beginning by launching country-specific gender analyses, paves the way for more effective conflict resolution. Read more here.

Sustainability, the triple bottom line of economic profitability, respect for the environment and social responsibility: these are the new buzzwords of many a corporate annual report. Global companies everywhere are falling over themselves to declare their adherence to the principles of sustainable development. Is this a new moral crusade on the part of big business, or simply the result of pressure from demonstrators like those in Seattle and Genoa?

As the ocean covers three quarters of the surface of the earth, little wonder people see it as a possible source of freshwater. That basically means desalinating it to make it at least clean enough for agriculture and even good enough to drink. How does it work? Distillation is the cheap option, responsible for most desalinised water, but a newer filtering process using membranes, called reverse osmosis, now accounts for nearly half the world’s capacity to turn ocean into freshwater.

Every Thursday at noon the Tribunal de las aguas (water court) meets outside the cathedral in the city of Valencia along Spain’s Mediterranean coast. For more than a thousand years, it is believed, the court has ruled on disputes affecting the irrigation of the arable lands known as huertas, which nourish the lemon trees, the oranges and other crops that give this region its distinctive scents and flavours, and for many, livelihoods as well.

Click to enlarge.

Achieving the Millennium Development Goal on water should not only require extension of access, but proper maintenance of existing infrastructure, too. It is a long-term challenge.

In the current financial crisis, risk-weary investors worry more about keeping their own boats afloat than in pumping money into a sector noted for high upfront costs, long pay back periods and low rates of return. Add to that an inefficient use of resources, weak regulation and lack of up-to-date information, and the water sector faces what may prove to be a dry season for investment.  

The private water sector is larger than many people think, with thousands of businesses working every day, for the most part, to implement government policies. Are those businesses doing enough and how might they do more?

Pressures on the earth’s resources are building, but is the current economic model reaching breaking point? What can be done? 

Click for bigger image
Source: NOAA

The Antarctic ozone hole, as measured by NOAA’s Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet (SBUV) instrument, during October 2006.

Click to enlarge. Source: V.Smil

Transition to new energy sources is unavoidable, but here are five sobering first principles to remember along the way.

Global electricity demand declined in 2009 for the first time since the end of World War II according to OECD estimates. Electricity demand experienced a constant climb over the second half of the 20th century through the oil crises of the 1970s, the Black Monday crash of 1987, and on through the dot-com bubble bursting at the turn of the millennium as development countered all downward forces. The credit crunch of 2008 though, has resulted in a drop of as much as 1.6% based on OECD figures derived from the IMF’s latest GDP growth forecast for 2009.

Energy planning is not easy, and when governments shop around for energy sources, they must balance costs and benefits of available options.

Nuclear energy could help in the battle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but for many the production of nuclear waste outweighs this advantage. One important challenge is to convince an often reluctant public that with new waste disposal techniques, nuclear energy is worth a second look in the interests of sustainable development.

Click to enlarge. Source: IEA

Fighting global warming means reducing dependency on oil. But though supply is insecure, it remains plentiful. Keeping oil in the energy mix makes sense.

Energy production and consumption patterns are shifting. So are the challenges for investment and global energy policy.

Click to enlarge. Source: OECD/NEA

OECD countries share the same goals of sustainable development, but differ in their views on the role of nuclear energy in achieving those goals. Indeed, few energy sources have been scrutinised in the public spotlight over the years quite as much. The question is simple: is nuclear really a sustainable energy?

While bemoaning the global impact of rich countries’ subsidies on poorer economies, environmentalists are taking a closer look at how the elimination of some subsidies may be detrimental to the environment.

Click to enlarge.

Can biofuels truly compete with petrol? Recent projections suggest that ethanol could represent up to 5% of the world’s transport fuel by 2010. That figure may seem modest at first glance, but it is significant, considering no other alternative fuel has had an equivalent impact on the gasoline market in over 100 years.

Can anything be done to tackle transport problems and steer them to a more manageable level? There has been no shortage of trying.

Click to enlarge.

The problem of climate change has not gone away, nor will it be wished away. Governments must act. 

Click to enlarge. Source: IEA

Global warming, finite fossil fuels and geopolitical risks make a shift to renewable energies inevitable. Though it is a challenge fraught with uncertainties, no action would be worse. An alternative, workable energy strategy is within reach.

Click to enlarge. Source: OECD

Can taxation help governments achieve environmental goals with respect to energy use and emissions? Yes, with conditions.

By 2020 transport will account for more than half the world’s oil demand, and will generate nearly a quarter of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions. According to projections in this book from the International Energy Agency, a sister organisation of the OECD, the rate of increase in transportation oil use is expected to be three times higher in developing countries than in the OECD, though the latter will still account for the lion’s share of emissions.

Click to enlarge. Source: IEA

The possibility of using renewable energy to produce electricity on a significant scale is a heated debate.

Investment in clean technologies can help achieve a wide range of environmental objectives, from mitigating climate change, to controlling air and water pollution, and enhancing resource efficiency in general. Indeed, many governments now see technological innovation as a key channel through which they can lift their economies onto a more sustainable path. But what role can public policies play in encouraging such innovation?

As biofuel production grew fourfold from 2000 to 2008, criticism of the industry seemed to increase nearly as dramatically. Production of these transport fuels, which are based on food crops such as grains, sugar cane and vegetable oils, competes with food crops and drives up food prices, experts argue. Also, from land-clearance needed for cultivation, production and use, these biofuels may actually increase, rather than reduce, greenhouse gas emissions.

Once hailed as the imminent successor to fossil fuels, biofuels are hitting some rough patches. Is it time to apply the brakes? 

Market-based credits can help control emissions alongside other instruments, though the system needs more work. And time. 

Energy has moved to the top of our policy agendas, and with good reason. First, there is the price of oil, which though easing a little in recent months, remains historically high. This has pushed up costs for producers and consumers alike.

Secretary-General Angel Gurría led a high-level mission of OECD economists and environmental experts at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in December. In this extract from one of his interventions at the conference, Mr Gurría explains some of the reasons why economics and markets must be at the heart of any effective and equitable strategy to tackle climate change.

Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • COP21 Will Get Agreement With Teeth: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría on Bloomberg

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.

  • Climate change: “We should not disagree when scientists tell us we have a window of opportunity–10-15 years–to turn this thing around” argues Senator Bernie Sanders.

  • In the long-run, the EU benefits from migration, says OECD Head of International Migration Division Jean-Christophe Dumont.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on www.ft.com.
  • Catherine Mann, OECD Chief Economist, explains on Bloomberg why "too much bank lending can slow economic growth".
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

Poll

What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Unemployment
Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming
Other

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2016