The climate is changing–not for the better, but for good. Governments want to limit the global temperature increase to less than 2⁰C, which implies that greenhouse gases (GHG) pumped into the atmosphere by human activity need to decline to around zero or below on a net basis towards the end of this century. GHG emissions in 2050 consistent with this target would be around 40% to 70% lower globally than in 2010. The world’s largest emitters have signalled their willingness to undertake strong collective action. The joint declaration between the US and China signed in Beijing in November 2014 has injected political momentum into the longer range effort to transform to low-emission-resilient economies. The US will cut its emissions from 2005 levels by up to 28% by 2025, while China said its emissions would peak around 2030. 

If the right decisions are taken–with the aim of making a sustainable energy future a reality–we will be able to reap enormous, multiple benefits deriving not only from decarbonisation, but also from reduced air pollution, better energy access, energy security and economic prosperity. But as we all know, clean energy deployment is not where it needs to be. It is now crucial for governments and other stakeholders to take effective decisions for energy sustainability. 

©Vandana Shiva

It is also the year the UN Millennium Development Goals launched in 2000 expire, and are to be replaced by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 goals and their 169 targets cover a vast range of issues, but care for the soil is the foundation of sustainability and is central to practically every SDG. As the ancient Indian Vedas recognised more than 4,000 years ago: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Care for it and it will grow our food, our fuel, our shelter, and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.” It won’t be possible to end poverty and hunger using agriculture based on the purchase of costly seeds and chemicals. This traps impoverished farmers in debt and forces many of them to swell the ranks of the urban poor. Industrial agriculture’s focus on chemical-dependent monocultures and growing “nutritionally empty” commodities such as biofuels and animal feed is an aberration when we can produce twice the nutrition the world needs through biodiversity intensification. 

OECD

A warming planet and a flat world economy have propelled the issue of investment in clean energy to the top of the policy agenda. The question has become all the more crucial in view of the landmark global summit on climate change to be held in Paris in December 2015.

©Charlotte Moreau/OECD Observer

That is why we must focus increasingly on not just development but sustainable development. To do that, we need to form global coalitions to work for progress on a range of challenges. Over the past few decades, humanity has made unprecedented progress. Extreme poverty has been halved. Child mortality has been halved. In just 15 years, deaths from malaria have been halved.

In my first climate change lecture, nearly two years ago, my key message was that meeting the challenge of climate change required us to achieve zero net greenhouse emissions globally by the end of this century. 

©Romeo Gacad/AFP Photo

We now know, through the experiences of both developed and developing countries, that economic growth can complement environmental conservation and transitioning to a low-carbon economy can go hand-in-hand with increased access to economic opportunity and higher levels of well-being. I believe we can look to the experience of my own country, Indonesia, as an example of how, through wise policymaking and enough political will, countries can tackle both the challenges of climate change and inclusive economic development.

©Rights reserved

The good news is that in that time many factors have come together to make this more of a reality. Governments, including in developing countries, are increasingly committed to a low-carbon future; there is, in theory, adequate capital available to finance the transition; and there has been a recent boom in the technology needed to make green growth more affordable and feasible. The missing element, then, is better co-ordination and cooperation between the private sector and governments to make this possible. In order for that co-operation to be most effective and efficient, both groups need to take some crucial steps on their own. Fundamentally, however, without sufficient political will on the part of governments and long-term thinking and commitment on the part of private-sector actors, transitioning to a low-carbon economy will be difficult if not impossible.

Stakeholder in Virunga National Park ©Riccardo Gangale/AFP

Is it possible for 9 billion people to live on this planet and enjoy a good standard of living? And on such a planet, is it possible for economies to grow, businesses to profit, and communities to prosper without undermining the natural systems that support all life? And without destroying some of the planet’s last great wildernesses? At WWF, we believe the answer to these questions is simple: yes. We believe this even though our own Living Planet Report shows so clearly just how humanity’s use of resources is affecting our planet. It does not make for cheerful reading. Since 1970, populations of species have declined by around half. Each year, we consume 50% more resources than the planet can replenish. 

©Charlotte Moreau

Climate change and, more generally, environmental damage have quantifiable economic and health costs, which weigh on long-term growth and well-being. If left unchecked, climate change is projected to decrease global GDP by 0.7 to 2.5 % by 2060. At the same time, the costs to society of air pollution already appear substantial–equivalent to some 4% of GDP across OECD countries and even higher in some rapidly developing economies. Yet global action in the environmental domain proceeds only slowly–too slowly to be up to the challenges we face. Why is it so?

Her farm needs more rain ©Reuters/David Gray

It is widely accepted nowadays that climate change affects water supply. After all, it plays havoc with rainy seasons, melts glaciers, and causes drought in normally humid regions. 

Unintended benefactor ©AFP/Biosphoto/Minden Pictures/Fotonatura/Ingo Arndt

©Roy Philippe/HEMIS.FR

How to improve water systems is one challenge; financing them is another. Public authorities in most countries play the main role in implementing and funding water infrastructure, but it is a model that is under increasing pressure, with government budgets stretched and banks still prudent about issuing credit. 

Did you know that life on earth would not be possible without micro-organisms?

Charlotte Moreau

Water holds huge potential for economic, social and individual betterment. There are challenges to confront, but also opportunities. With the right approach, water could be a harbinger of progress. 

California dreamin' at the World Agricultural Expo in February 2015 ©David McNew/Getty Images/AFP

Investing in infrastructure for water is important, but how we govern water is more critical than ever. 

©OECD

How can we rid the oceans of plastic refuse, which is damaging our planet? Young entrepreneur Boyan Slat may have a solution. He came to discuss his ideas with Angel Gurría under The Coffees of the Secretary-General series on 18 March 2015. You can read the complete transcript below.

It’s easy to dream about holidays in far-off exotic islands, especially with current global petrol prices. A sustained low oil price has allowed many of us to put away a little more of that paycheck and think seriously about buying an iWatch or taking that much-deserved break.

Click to read cartoon. By StiK, especially for the OECD Observer.

OECD Observer No 302, Q1 2015

Ever plodded through flood waters to get to a conference? In late January, the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP) held their 3rd annual conference in Venice, Italy at the impressive Ca’ Foscari University. More than 200 experts from universities, governments and agencies converged to discuss the role that fiscal policies can play in greening growth. With the streets filling rapidly with water, nature (influenced by a changing climate) provided extra motivation to act immediately on this issue as participants flocked to indoor heaters and radiators to dry out their drenched shoes and socks.

“Lonesome George” walking around Galapagos National Park on April 19, 2012. ©Rodrigo Buendia/AFP

Please join me in an ode to the giant tortoise, recently confirmed to be back from near extinction on the Galapagos Espanola Island after conservation work that began forty years ago. The population currently stands at over 1000, a spectacular recovery considering that only 15 remained in the late 1960s, when they were summarily rounded up and placed into a breeding program. 

Click to read cartoon.

OECD Observer No 301, Q4 2014

 

As environmental pressures continue to rise, governments, just as businesses, have not been sitting back. If anything, the stringency of policy measures in the OECD area has been increasing on the whole, not least to combat pollution and climate change. But what about the effects of these actions on productivity?

As environmental pressures continue to rise, governments throughout the OECD area have not been sitting back. If anything, the stringency of their policy measures has been increasing on the whole, not least to combat pollution and climate change. And as the evidence shows, stringent environmental policies can be introduced without hurting overall productivity.

The world is still not moving fast enough to fight climate change.  Fossils fuels remain the dominant energy source with billions of dollars still being spent on subsidising their use.

Studies estimating that the global demand for water, energy, and food will increase by 55%, 80%, and 60% respectively by 2050.

Australians are well-known for being a sports-mad people. Some 43% of the adult population attended at least one sporting event in 2009-10 and national pride is often rooted in the latest successes of its national sports teams and international sports stars. Beating the All Blacks in rugby union (a rare event these days) or the English in cricket (a more even match) will significantly lift the national mood. After Australia II won the America’s Cup sailing race in 1983, Prime Minister Bob Hawke famously declared an effective public holiday: “Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum.”

A new webpage has been opened to help understand and monitor progress in addressing the Ebola virus outbreak which has struck western Africa and preoccupied global public opinion in recent months. 

Biodiversity is fundamental to sustaining life, providing critical ecosystem services, such as food security, water purification, nutrient cycling, and climate regulation, that are essential to support human well-being and economic growth.

The Electric Flats was the name given to a group of houses on the corner of the street in what’s now called North Lanarkshire, Scotland, where I grew up. It’s not that the rest of us didn’t have electricity (we even had indoor toilets) but the Electric Flats had a radiator in every room. 

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