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.

©REUTERS/Kyodo Kyodo

Exactly four years ago, on 11 March 2011, a violent earthquake struck eastern Japan. The tsunami that ensued devastated the inland up to 10km and put the Fukushima nuclear power plant at risk, forcing it out of action. The result was a humanitarian and environmental crisis. 

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A litre of diesel has around 10% more combustion energy than petrol, but produces roughly 18% more CO2 emissions. 

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

OECD Observer, No. 258/259, December 2006

©AdStock Rf. Under licence from Shutterstock

In July 2008, the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) launched North America’s first revenue-neutral carbon tax reform. “The Political Economy of British Columbia’s Carbon Tax”, an OECD Environment Working Paper by Kathryn Harrison, looks at this tax from its origins, following it through and beyond a period of political backlash, and finally considers its prospects for the longer term. 

©Rory Clarke

Imagine a house that keeps itself warm in the wintertime. Think of the savings in terms of fuel bills and unfriendly emissions. Such houses in fact exist. Called “passive houses”, the concept of these highly energy-efficient buildings took root in the 1990s, before slowly consolidating as a niche construction concept in the 2000s. Are passive houses now actively moving into the mainstream as sustainable buildings? 

Brazil is poised to become one of the world’s largest oil producers. But the elation caused by the discovery of two massive oil fields is tempered by access difficulties and high cost of extraction. Still, the discoveries have thrust Brazil centre stage in the global energy grab. 

Energy has always been a hot political issue, but recently the temperature has been cranked up another notch. Large, persistent differences in natural gas and electricity prices across regions, coupled with a sustained period of high oil prices–unparalleled in market history–have many governments on edge. 

©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. 

 

©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.

The world's largest solar-powered boat, Turanor PlanetSolar, arrives in Paris, France, docking along the river Seine, 10 September 2013. The catamaran powered exclusively by solar energy, completed the first solar-powered trip around the world on 4 May 2012, after travelling over 60,000 km (37,282 miles) in 584 days.

G20 countries are treating a range of energy issues as a central concern, but four of them require particular attention.

©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.

More...

©IEA

The IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2012 was released 12 November. Though oil prices are at historic highs, the future for energy is promising, provided the right policies are in place. 

Thomas Edison’s assertion that “genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” is particularly pertinent to the solar energy sector. This remarkable technology could hold answers to so many of the world’s energy challenges, but only at the cost of hard effort and investment. Solar Energy Perspectives, the first in-depth study dedicated to solar technology from the International Energy Agency (IEA), a sister organisation of the OECD, gives a comprehensive analysis of solar energy’s potential as well as the policies required to increase its capacity in the coming decades. 

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For many years Brazil was the world’s largest biofuel producer, until it was overtaken by the US in 2006. Brazil’s biofuel production reached 28.5 billion litres in 2010, which according to International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates is 27% of world biofuel production, most of which is ethanol, only a small portion (2.4 billion litres) of that being biodiesel. For 2011, however, IEA estimates show a drop of more than 4 billion litres in Brazilian biofuel production compared with the previous year. But there is good reason to believe that this drop will prove temporary. 

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.

How willing are you to pay more for renewable energy? Judging by a survey we previewed in 2010 (see here for instance) and whose results have now been published, the answer is: not that much. Greening Household Behaviour shows that while people may change their habits if given the right incentives and information, they are not quite as ready to dip deeply into their pockets.

The Cree Indians around Lake Athabasca used the gobs of tar they found there to waterproof their canoes. The potential of this mundane stuff to yield oil was gleaned early in the 20th century, and Athabasca in Alberta, Canada sits on the world’s richest petroleum resource: more than 2 trillion barrels, as much as all the remaining recoverable conventional oil in the world.

How much more would you be willing to pay for renewable energy? Are environmental concerns a factor in how much you use your car? And are you really thinking about the environment when you buy organic food? All these questions, and more, are at the heart of the 2008 survey which forms the basis of Greening Household Behaviour. A part of the OECD’s Green Growth Strategy, this survey covered 10,000 households across ten OECD countries to determine how our day-to-day relationship with the environment may affect reforms, and is due for another round in 2011.

Economic data

GDP : +0.5%, Q4 2014
Employment rate: 65.9%, Q4 2014
Annual inflation : 0.57% Feb 2015
Trade : -3.0% exp, -3.7 imp, Q4 2014
Unemployment : 7.022% Feb 2015
More moderate expansion ahead? Composite leading indicators
Updated: 23 Apr 2015

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