Are global companies improving their environmental, social and governance performance? There is good reason to be optimistic, though there is much work to be done.  

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. 

©Government of Morocco

OECD Observer: What are the main transport challenges facing your ministry?

©George Esiri/Reuters

Nigerian oil is renowned for being easy to refine, though this also fuels a trafficking problem. Oil theft in Nigeria hit a record high in the first quarter of 2013. Nigerian authorities reported a loss of US$1.2 billion in a single month, equivalent to a 17% drop in sales. 

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Africa has made tremendous progress over the last 13 years, going from “hopeless” to “aspiring”, in the words of The Economist. Certainly, Africa’s pace of growth has been impressive, averaging 5.1% of GDP per year–much faster than most OECD countries. Some have dismissed this simply as reflecting the recent boom in natural resource prices. They point to the fact that the prices of most commodities– agricultural, mineral and energy–doubled or even tripled over the same period, and warn that Africa’s growth will come to an end once resource prices taper off, as is happening now.

Commodities have been a major driver of Africa’s growth story in recent years. But you may be surprised to hear that natural resources could have contributed far more than they actually did to Africa’s 5% average GDP growth over the last decade. Although Africa’s primary sector has expanded, its global share of natural capital dropped from 11.5% in 1995 to 8.5% in 2005.

©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.

©Marcos D’Paula/Agência Estado

The production of oil has been growing in Brazil at a steady pace since the beginning of the 2000s, and the pace is set to intensify over the next few years. Indeed, massive oil reserves were discovered in 2007 in the Tupi area, 250km off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, and since then other offshore fields have also been found. 

On 7 April 2010, a light aircraft with an unusually wide wingspan took off from a small airfield in the Swiss canton of Vaud. During its one-and-a-half hour flight it reached an altitude of 1,200 metres and went through its paces of turns, approaches and landing. Unlike in the legend of Icarus, the sun did not melt this plane’s wings, but actually powered them. This was one of the world’s first solar-powered flights, and the OECD Observer caught up with one of the creators and pilots of the Solar Impulse HBSIA aircraft, Bertrand Piccard.

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