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Economic activity, technology, population dynamics, globalisation and urbanisation: understanding the drivers affecting the world’s environment and how they interact is important for identifying policy responses that might work. Cities and buildings are a good starting point.

©Philippe Lorenson/Reuters

Among the environmental threats we face today, four require urgent policy action: climate change; biodiversity loss; water scarcity; and health impacts of pollution. Here are some key messages that are closely scrutinised in the 2008 OECD Environment Outlook.

©Henry Romero/Reuters

What do sports shoes, cars, processed foods, cooking utensils, buildings, roads, medicines, mobile phones and the computer this article was written on have in common? A simple answer is chemicals.

©ITF/DR

For transport, a major contributor to greenhouse gases, the challenge to reduce emissions is immense, particularly as most forecasts see transport activity doubling or tripling in the next 30 years.

©David Rooney

Apart from some optimistic claims that global warming will benefit, say, vineyards in the Thames Valley, most readings of the environment give little cause for cheer. Nor is climate change the only threat. Humanity’s ecological footprint is expanding at an unsustainable rate. Rampant urbanisation and farmland are threatening the biodiversity we all depend on. Air and water pollution are damaging health in all countries: the list goes on.

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It is easy to call for urgent action on the environment, but hard to know where to start. A pragmatic approach would be to bundle different policy choices into coherent packages to suit government priorities and ambitions.

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.

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