©Reuters/Hardi Baktiantoro

With the world’s attention focused on climate change, the main question is how can global carbon emissions be reduced effectively? There is no single solution, which is why we must look seriously again at the importance of forests, in particular at an approach known as Reducing Emissions from tropical Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), and the incentives needed to achieve it.

We hear again and again that we must choose between having a stable climate and having a strong global economy. This is a false choice.

©David Rooney

Harsh financial reality often rides roughshod over good intentions when it comes to corporate and national balance sheets. Climate change is no exception, for though it may rouse worldwide concern, it also makes people uneasy because of how much it might cost and who should pay.

A clean launch ©Reuters/Nikola Solic

International shipping emits as much CO2 as some of the world's largest countries. What can be done?

Watch that gradient ©Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

On a single busy day in the summer of 2007, 3.2 million people took to the skies above Europe in 33,000 flights which covered a total distance of 34 million km. That’s 42 billion passenger kilometres generated in just one day of European air traffic movements.

Impressive though these numbers appear, they are in fact expected to double shortly after 2025, assuming that the demand forecasts hold true and that the capacity issues across the European air traffic system are solved.

©RJC

If CO2 emissions from transport cause climate change, why not encourage more cycling? This is precisely what places like Brussels, Copenhagen, Vienna and Berlin are starting to do. One much talked about initiative is in Paris. As the home of cycling’s greatest race, the Tour de France, you would be forgiven for thinking the French always loved cycling. Yet until last year, cyclists and bicycle lanes were a rarity in the capital.

©Reuters/Gregg Newton

With aviation growing in terms of the number of planes operating and passengers taking to the skies, the industry is engaged in an important and candid dialogue—how to continue to grow responsibly, while further reducing its impact on the global ecosystem

Das Auto, Das Ecodriving ©Sebastien Pirlet/Reuters

The urgency of reducing fuel consumption rates while transport moves towards massive development over the next two decades, notably among developing economies, is clear. Any weapon counts as part of the overall package. Enter “ecodriving”.

Extreme choice? Stanford University's solar car, 2005 ©Reuters/Stefano Paltera/Handout

Would adding US$1,500 to the price of a new car be enough to help halt climate change? That’s what US and EU experts broadly agree on as the average price tag for new technologies coming on stream to make cars more fuel-efficient and climate friendly. But what does that price tag entail?

©David Rooney

As the UN called recently on the world’s governments in an “extraordinary emergency appeal” for some $500 million to avert a food crisis in poor countries, many people were placing some share of the blame squarely on strong demand for grains from the biofuel industry.

©Reuters/MingMing

Any serious attempt to deal with climate change must involve transport. Transport accounts for 13% of all world greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, though this figure takes into account CO2 sources other than fuel combustion, such as forestry, land-use and biomass burning. A look at CO2 emissions from fuel combustion only shows the transport sector accounts for about 23% worldwide and about 30% in the OECD area.
Although the environment is high on the international policy agenda, development aid for the environment has declined in relation to total aid since 1996. This trend comes despite an increase in overall aid funding: from 2004 to 2005, total official development assistance (ODA) rose 32% to a record high of US$107.1 billion, though eased back somewhat in 2006 (see development setback news brief).

©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.

©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.

For larger graph, please click here

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.

For larger graph, please click here

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.

©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.

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.

©OECD Observer

A 50% rise in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, higher temperatures, with more droughts and storms harming people, crops and buildings; more animal and plant species becoming extinct under expanding farmland and urban sprawl; dwindling natural resources; a billion more people living in water-stressed areas by 2030, with more pollution, disease and premature deaths ahead.

©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.

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

Secretary-General Angel Gurría led a high-level mission of OECD economists and environmental experts at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in December. In this extract from one of his interventions at the conference, Mr Gurría explains some of the reasons why economics and markets must be at the heart of any effective and equitable strategy to tackle climate change.

The UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in early December 2007 may have raised new hopes of progress, but as everyone knows, dealing with climate change will require more than just political goodwill. Providing for abundant, affordable, clean energy will require considerable investment in new power generation–more than US$11 trillion to 2030, based on an estimate in the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2006.

The emergence of China and India on the world economy still unfolds. Lifestyles are evolving fast, and that means more demand, more energy consumption and more greenhouse gas emissions. But what of the impact on climate change?

Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, speaks at the Bali Conference on Climate Change, December 2007
©OECD Observer No. 264/265, December 2007-January 2008

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007 was high in political stakes as well as emotion. But did it produce a result and what more might be done? New Zealand’s climate change ambassador offers his views.

Image based on OECD Observer cover, No 261, May 2007

Welcome to this special online focus on climate change, in view of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, 3-14 in December. "Ambitious policies to tackle climate change should lead to a structural shift in the economy – away from carbon-intensive activities. So the question that remains is: how can this transition be managed in an economically efficient and socially responsible manner? We should not exaggerate the cost of change. Action is affordable."
Energy consumption, and in particular the burning of fossil fuels, is the main source of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. But energy is also a fuel for economic growth, particularly in the fast developing economies of the world. The challenge is to maintain economic growth, while reducing the carbon-content of energy and increasing the efficiency of its use.
Market-based credits can help control emissions alongside other instruments, though the system needs more work. And time. 
Investment in clean technologies can help achieve a wide range of environmental objectives, from mitigating climate change, to controlling air and water pollution, and enhancing resource efficiency in general. Indeed, many governments now see technological innovation as a key channel through which they can lift their economies onto a more sustainable path. But what role can public policies play in encouraging such innovation?

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Satellites are not just about communications or defence, but can help us understand if not resolve some difficult environmental challenges, including climate change. They are investments in innovation whose benefits for humanity should speak for themselves.

Economic data

GDP growth: -1.8% Q1 2020/Q4 2019
Consumer price inflation: 0.9% Apr 2020 annual
Trade (G20): -4.3% exp, -3.9% imp, Q1 2020/Q4 2019
Unemployment: 8.4% Apr 2020
Last update: 9 July 2020

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