Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide have been trending upwards for decades. A small group of large countries is responsible for the lion’s share of these global emissions.

From the early 2000s, sustainability has emerged as a central policy-making consideration as climate change and population growth have heightened concerns about already-stretched natural resources. With governments, business and civil society frequently clashing at the intersection of economic policy and conjecture over future livelihood viability, sustainability has asserted itself as a precondition, a license to operate, or simply a moral imperative.

How will workers’ current skills match new requirements for labour in a green economy? So far, few countries have put in place real plans to address this question, yet there is risk of a significant mismatch between skills and jobs. Would you know who to call if your geothermal system crashes? Should construction workers learn new skills for retrofitting buildings?

Major floods and droughts have prevailed in many countries throughout 2015. South Africa saw the emergence of its worst drought in 30 years, Ethiopia is threatened with a major food crisis, and California suffered its fourth consecutive year of drought. Floods caused over 2 000 deaths in India last summer, while England, Paraguay and South Carolina reported unprecedented flood damage. The trouble is, climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of such extreme weather events in the coming years.

Freshwater is essential for life, yet makes up only a tiny fraction of all water on earth. In many areas, especially arid and dry regions, underground aquifers are the only source. Even in less arid regions, groundwater provides an essential resource: in fact, some 2.6 billion people worldwide rely on groundwater resources. Farming is one major reason: over 60% of irrigated agriculture in the US uses groundwater, and in Spain more than 70% of irrigation comes from below ground reserves.    

©Reuters/Stringer

The human economy is a physical system embedded in society, which itself is embedded in a finite global ecosystem. The primary goal of the economy should be to meet basic human and social needs, now and in the future, without degrading the global ecosystem services upon which all life depends. How can this be done?

Policy makers should do much more to encourage pension funds and other institutional investors to put their ample assets into sustainable energy infrastructure. The wins would be significant. The question is how? 

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See StatLink for further breakdown: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/data-00735-en

In tackling climate change, it makes sense for policymakers to know which sectors greenhouse-gas emissions are coming from. Our chart shows the main sources for European carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, including electricity supply, manufacturing, households and transportation. Household emissions are largely generated from fossil fuel energy used to heat dwellings, but some of the other industry sources are more complex.

©Romeo Gacad/AFP Photo

For many years one of the predominant conventional wisdoms in both business and policymaking circles was that cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions necessitates a sacrifice in economic growth. 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. 

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. 

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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. 

If the world is to make a dent on climate change, breaking the arm-lock of fossil fuels is inevitable. After all, limiting the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2°C by the end of the 21st century demands curbing greenhouse-gas emissions between 40% and 70% by 2050 compared with 2010 levels, which means replacing fossil fuels–coal, oil and gas–with low-carbon energy sources and developing technologies to capture and store CO2.

©Charlotte Moreau/OECD Observer

The fates of humanity and of the environment are two sides of the same coin. 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.

©Rights reserved

For the past decade or so, there has been a lot of debate in policy circles on how to get governments and the private sector to work together more collaboratively in order to catalyse the transition to green growth. 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. 

©Vandana Shiva

The year 2015 is the International Year of Soils. 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. 

A transition to a low-carbon economy is achievable, but will require a concerted, more consistent effort across a range of policy areas, from tradeable permits to stringent norms.

Over the coming months, the world will be preparing for what is heralded as an historic meeting for climate change negotiations. 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. 

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?

Click to enlarge. By StiK, especially for the OECD Observer.

©Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Can a durable recovery come from greener growth? That largely depends on the policies. In 2011 the OECD will deliver its Green Growth Strategy. Here are some early pointers.

“The Red Arrow”, a poem by Paul Durcan, an Irish poet, opens with the line “In the history of transport–is there any other?” Anyone looking at innovation in transport would do well to consider this line. Is history really the history of transport, more than, say, the history of wars and kings, as some would have it? It is a tempting proposition.

Japan is widely regarded as a leading innovator on the environment. We asked Japan’s Parliamentary Secretary of the Environment, Nobumori Otani, who was in Paris in early May, for his insights.

Managing local ecosystems can help create jobs and spur sustainable economic growth.

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

©OECD

The current crisis is an opportunity to launch a new economic model, in which the environment, as a pillar of human welfare, must be central.

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Pressure is mounting to arrest climate change, so it's hardly surprising that people around the world are being urged to use public transportation. After all, an overall strategy that includes getting people to give up their trucks and cars to use electric trolley buses, tramways and rail can help make a real dent in pollution, traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. But try telling that to Australians living in the outback, long miles from the nearest bus station. Even most Japanese, who have access to some of the world's best high-speed rail links and urban mass transit, own some type of private vehicle.

The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) is 50 years old. It predates the actual OECD itself, having started out in 1958 as a division of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation. It has since grown to become a global body spanning four continents. What does its future hold?

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  • 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
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  • Bill Gates visited the OECD on 26 June. He met with the Secretary-General Angel Gurría to discuss areas of collaboration with his foundation and participated at a briefing session on official development assistance modernisation with OECD experts.
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  • 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 .
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