Saving the Earth’s climate is sometimes compared to saving the world’s financial system following the crisis in 2007. But it’s not. The taxpayer saved the financial system by bailing it out a cost of trillions of dollars over a very short period, but there is no bailout option for the climate. If we let things go on as they are until disaster threatens, we’ll have no way of preventing disaster, however much we spend.

©Iain Masterton/Alamy

Japan’s development and influence have long been reflected in its architecture, and that influence is set to continue.

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

OECD Observer No 299, Q2 2014

©Yuya Shino/REUTERS

Expanding airport capacity in large metropolitan areas is difficult, and Japan is a case in point. Some 33 million people (26% of total) and 17 million (13% of total) live in Greater Tokyo and Greater Osaka respectively. According to some sources, Tokyo-Yokohama is the largest urban area in the world and Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto the 12th largest.

©Jackie Naegelen/Reuters

The car industry has taken a dent since the recession started to bite in 2008, but even before then, new patterns were emerging that would reshape the sector for a long time to come. 

©Mazzur. Under licence from Shutterstock

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a long-lived gas. Almost half of the CO2 emitted in 2013 will still be in the atmosphere a century from now. This means that its concentration, and warming potential, increases over time, unless the rate of accumulation can be cut to zero. This is the goal that the OECD is urging all countries to achieve: zero net emissions by mid-century. To accomplish this, the explicit price of carbon dioxide emissions should be aligned more closely with their true cost, while avoiding expensive policy options that could be replaced by more cost-effective ones. 

Climate change is, to a large extent, water change. Water is the predominant channel through which the impact of climate change will be felt. More torrential rains, floods and droughts can be expected in many parts of the world. Not only that–climate change is reshaping the future for freshwater on the planet. 

©Mischa Keijser/Cultura Creative/AFP

Since 1997 the Netherlands has had a tax allowance scheme aimed at promoting investments in energy-saving technologies and sustainable energy production. This so-called Energy Investment Tax Allowance, or EIA to the Dutch, reduces up-front investment costs for firms investing in the newest energy-saving and sustainable energy technologies. The basic design of the EIA has remained the same over the past 15 years: firms investing in technologies listed in an annually updated “energy list” may deduct some of the investment costs from their taxable profits.

©Dmitry Kalinovsky

You’ve probably heard that silly old adage, where someone asks someone else if they “ate lead paint chips” as a child, after they did something stupid or silly. The effects of lead poisoning, however, are not silly. Many academics believe lead poisoning in children correlates to spikes in crime more than any other single factor. Granted, though it takes more than a noticeable pattern to establish causality, the meta-analysis of other factors all seem to point in the direction of lead.  

You've probably heard that old adage, where someone asks someone else if they “ate lead paint chips” as a child, after they did something stupid or silly. The effects of lead poisoning, however, are not silly. Many academics believe lead poisoning in children correlated to spikes in crime more than any other single factor. Granted, it takes more than a noticeable pattern to establish causality, the meta-analysis of other factors all seem to point in the direction of lead.

Return from the dead?

Old ways of thinking won’t bring developed countries back to economic life. Weighed down by the legacy of the crisis, they also face deep challenges like a faltering labour supply and slowing innovation. 

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Investing in a sustainable future

Investment strategies almost never consider external costs to the environment when calculating potential returns. But incorporating environmental risk and sustainability into investor mindsets is possible– and urgent.

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©OECD Yearbook 2013

Time for an energy [r]evolution

We can’t use terms like “inclusive” and “green” as window dressing for the pursuit of economic growth as an end in itself. According to Greenpeace International’s chief, Kumi Naidoo, a real and profound change in how we think about growth is needed–one that doesn’t let special interests get in the way of creating a just, fair and sustainable economy with clean energy for all.

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The EU’s ban on discarding caught fish in February 2013 has received widespread applause. Why?

©DR

Climate change won't wait

The European Union may be facing some difficult economic challenges, but that's no excuse for not acting now to create an economy based on resource efficiency and low-carbon development. The benefits are potentially enormous, including lower greenhouse gas emissions, more efficient use of energy and resources, and rising growth and innovation.

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Clik to enlarge

If you are reading this in a big city, the air you are breathing may be doing you harm. Though over 50% of the world’s population now live in urban areas, only 2% of the global urban population lives with acceptable concentrations of particulate matter, or PM, which can cause breathing and respiratory diseases, cancer and premature death. 

The Earth is a unique, interconnected system that mankind has always tried to understand. Although there have been great discoveries made in science, there are many aspects of our planet that are beyond our understanding or control. However, there is one fact we know: we need to live in harmony with nature.

E. Ostrom ©C. Meyer/Indiana University

Nobel laureate for Economics, Elinor Ostrom, spoke at the OECD in June. At a time when new models are needed, could her ideas on common resources and governance offer guidance?

©Reuters/Mainichi Shimbun

Managing risk could absorb more policy time around the world in the 21st century. How can policymakers be prepared?

The Fukushima tragedy in Japan in March 2011 has unsettled the nuclear energy outlook. Nuclear power started out almost 60 years ago with the Obninsk plant near Moscow in 1954, but after strong growth in the 1960s and 1970s, the industry declined sharply in the 1980s due to costs, delays and safety concerns after the Three Mile Island accident in the US in 1979, and the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine in 1986.

Starting a factory? While “quick and dirty” may be the easiest business model to follow, the OECD is encouraging start-ups to start smart, with sustainability in mind. The OECD Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit is a seven-step checklist to help businesses integrate good environmental practice, and stay on the side of investors, regulators, customers and local communities.

When it comes to the environment, the OECD does not just tell a good green story to its members; as an institution, we are investing time and resources into practising what we preach. Achieving green growth and moving towards a low-carbon economy requires everyone in society to play their part. The OECD secretariat is no exception.

“[…] On behalf of the OECD, I express our profound sorrow at the enormous loss of life and extend our condolences to all those who have been affected by this terrible tragedy. At the same time, we admire the courage and resolve of the Japanese people in face of adversity, and we are confident that Japan will emerge from this disaster stronger and better.

The OECD, a pioneer in the quest to measure the progress and well-being of societies, is launching an exciting new initiative, incorporating Your Better Life Index. The initiative is not only a major step forward in assessing people’s true welfare, but involves people in the process too.

One area where governments have been looking to raise revenues is green taxes. And with good reason. Taxes can provide a clear incentive to reduce environmental damage. But while the number of environmentally-related taxes has actually been increasing in recent years, revenues from these taxes have been on a slight downward trend in relation to GDP. The decline in revenue partly reflects the drop in demand for fuel in response to recent high oil prices and other factors, which in turn has led to a reduction in total revenues from taxes on energy products.

WWF’s 2010 Living Planet Report demonstrates that we are currently using 50% more resources than the earth can provide. If we allow current trends to continue, by 2030 we will need two planets to support us. It’s clear that “business-as-usual” is not the pathway to a prosperous future.

Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, Italy's minister for the environment, and chair of the 2008 OECD meeting of environment ministers ©Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

Climate change is a pressing challenge, requiring leadership and determined action. At the same time, people are concerned that policies do not put them at an economic disadvantage or unnecessarily undermine their welfare.

Can governments balance these concerns? The OECD’s Environment Policy Committee meets at ministerial level on 28-29 April 2008 under the theme of global competitiveness. Some non-OECD developing countries will also participate, as will stakeholders from business, labour and civil society.

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

OECD Observer No 266, March 2008

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

OECD Observer, No 242, March 2004

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