Environmental crunch 'worse than thought': OECD

A hillslope of paddy fields in the mountainous region of Yuanyang, southwest China's Yunnan province.
Pressures on Earth's ecosystem are now so great that future generations could be doomed to falling living standards, the OECD said on Thursday in a report looking to the mid-century.

Pressures on Earth's ecosystem are now so great that future generations could be doomed to falling living standards, the OECD said on Thursday in a report looking to the mid-century.

"Providing for a further two billion people by 2050 and improving the living standards for all will challenge our ability to manage and restore those natural assets on which all life depends," it warned.

"Failure to do so will have serious consequences, especially for the poor, and ultimately undermine the growth and human development of ."

The report by the Organisation for and Development (OECD) builds on previous peeks-into-the-future, ending in 2030, that focused on climate change, biodiversity and the impacts on health for pollution.

"The prospects are more alarming than the situation described in the previous edition," it said, speaking of "irreversible changes that could endanger two centuries of rising living standards."

Iron, coal and rare earth processing plants in Baotou city in Inner Mongolia, northwest China
Carbon emissions from energy use are likely to rise by 70 percent by 2050, "locking in" more disruptive climate change, the OCED says.

The report made these points:

- CLIMATE CHANGE: from are likely to rise by 70 percent by 2050, "locking in" more disruptive . On present trends, the world's will be 3-6 degrees Celsius (5.4-10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than in pre-industrial times, compared with the UN's target of 2 C (3.6 F).

To reach the 2 C (3.6 F) goal would cost only 0.2 percentage points in economic growth each year on average if starting today.

"This pales alongside the potential cost of inaction, which could be as high as 14 percent of average world consumption according to some estimates," the OECD warned.

In fact, previous estimates of the cost of climate action may be too high, as they fail to take into account its benefits in and new technology, it said.

A Kenyan woman turns on a tap at a water distribution site in the Kibera slum of Nairobi
Providing for a further two billion people by 2050 and improving the living standards for all will challenge humans' ability to manage and restore those natural assets on which all life depends, the OECD says

- BIODIVERSITY: is set to continue, especially in Asia, Europe and southern Africa.

According to a scientific benchmark called mean species abundance, diversity of land species is expected to fall by 10 percent by 2050 compared with today. Already about a third of freshwater species diversity has been lost.

"The current trend of declining biodiversity presents a threat to human welfare, and will be very costly," said the report. "The aggregate loss of biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits associated with the global loss of forests, for example, is estimated to be between $2 trillion and $5 trillion per year."

- HEALTH: No country will be spared worsening problems of air pollution, according to the OECD's scenarios. Levels in some cities, particularly in Asia, already far exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) safety limits.

"With growing transport and industrial air emissions, the global number of premature deaths linked to airborne particulate matter is protected to double to 3.6 million a year, with most deaths occurring in China and India," it said.

But rich countries, too, will be hit. Ground-level ozone -- a respiratory irritant caused by the reaction of traffic fumes with sunlight -- will be a danger to their ageing, highly urbanised populations.

A green Gecko walks on a palm at Vallee de Mai nature reserve on Praslin island in the Seychelles
Species loss is set to continue, especially in Asia, Europe and southern Africa, the OCED says. Diversity of land species is expected to fall by 10 percent by 2050 compared with today. Already about a third of freshwater species diversity has been lost.

The report, OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050, reissued appeals for a change in policy.

Pollution should be made more expensive, such as by scrapping environmentally-damaging subsidies for fossil fuels, it said.

And natural assets should carry a monetary value that is factored into pricing, so that their true worth is appreciated.

"Progress on an incremental, piecemeal, business-as-usual basis in the coming decades will not be enough," it said.


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Citation: Environmental crunch 'worse than thought': OECD (2012, March 15) retrieved 11 August 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2012-03-environmental-crunch-worse-thought-oecd.html
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