Environment at a Glance 2013

Environment at a Glance 2013

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Author(s):
OECD
Publication Date :
19 Dec 2013
Pages :
107
ISBN :
9789264208919 (PDF) ; 9789264185715 (HTML) ; 9789264181403 (print)
DOI :
10.1787/9789264185715-en

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This book includes key environmental indicators endorsed by OECD Environment Ministers and major environmental indicators from the OECD Core Set. These indicators reflect environmental progress made since the early 1990s and thus contribute to measuring environmental performance. Organised by issues such as climate change, air pollution, biodiversity, waste or water resources, they provide essential information for all those interested in the environment and in sustainable development.

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    Preface

    This report forms part of the OECD’s At a Glance series which provides snap-shots of key policy areas based on data and indicators. It does not attempt to assess progress in tackling key environmental challenges. Nevertheless, the picture that emerges is clear: while some progress has been made to mitigate environmental pressures in OECD countries, these pressures are continuing to increase. This requires more effective policies, as well as better indicators to establish targets and to measure progress in achieving them.

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    Executive summary

    Our 21st century way of life, and growing global population, have put essential environmental resources under pressure, including air, water and land, together with the animal and plant life they support. How successful are we in breaking the link between economic growth and environmental damage? The answer is a mixed picture, showing some progress in key areas such as air pollution, transport, energy, water and biodiversity protection, but not enough to safeguard our natural resources for the future.

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    Framework of OECD work on environmental data and indicators

    Environment at a Glance presents selected environmental indicators. The report shows the progress that OECD countries have made since the 1990s in addressing a range of environmental challenges. These include air and water pollution, waste management, and the protection of biodiversity and other natural assets.

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    Reader's guide

    The indicators in this report build on data provided regularly by member countries’ authorities using an OECD questionnaire, and on data available from other OECD and international sources. Some indicators were updated on the basis of international information available in April 2013 and on the basis of comments from national delegates received by February 2013. Nevertheless, due to delays in the production of environmental data in most countries, the most recent data for many of the parametres examined in this report is 2010.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Environmental trends

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      Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

      Emissions of greenhouses gases (GHG) from human activities disturb the radiative energy balance of the earth-atmosphere system. They exacerbate the natural greenhouse effect, leading to temperature changes and other consequences for the earth’s climate. Land use changes and forestry also play a role by altering the amount of greenhouse gases captured or released by carbon sinks.

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      Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions

      Carbon dioxide (CO2) from the combustion of fossil fuels and biomass for energy use is a major contributor to the enhanced greenhouse effect. It makes up the largest share of greenhouse gases and is a key factor in countries’ ability to deal with climate change.

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      Sulphur oxides (SOx ) and nitrogen oxides (NOx ) emissions

      Atmospheric pollutants from energy transformation and energy consumption, but also from industrial processes, are the main contributors to regional and local air pollution. Major concerns relate to their effects on human health and ecosystems.

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      Particulate emissions and population exposure

      Degraded air quality can have substantial economic and social consequences, from health costs and building restoration needs to reduced agricultural output, forest damage and a generally lower quality of life.

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      Use of freshwater resources

      Freshwater resources are of major environmental, economic and social importance. Their distribution varies widely among and within countries. If a significant share of a country’s water comes from transboundary rivers, tensions between countries can arise. In arid regions, freshwater resources may at times be limited to the extent that demand for water can be met only by going beyond sustainable use.

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      Water pricing for public supply

      Pricing of water and water-related services is an important mechanism for managing demand and promoting efficient use of water, for allocating water among competing uses and for generating finance to invest in water-related infrastructure and services. When consumers do not pay the full cost of water, they tend to use it inefficiently. At the same time, when the price levels are high, this may pose problems of continued access to water for poorer consumers, and the affordability of the water bill for low income households needs to be taken into account.

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      Wastewater treatment

      Water quality (physical, chemical, microbial, biological) is affected by water abstraction, by pollution loads from human activities (agriculture, industry, households) and by climate and weather.

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      Biological diversity

      Biological resources are essential elements of ecosystems and of natural capital, providing the raw materials of production and growth in many sectors of the economy. Their diversity plays an essential role in maintaining life‑support systems and quality of life.

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      Use of forest resources

      Forests are among the most diverse and widespread ecosystems on earth, and have many functions: they provide timber and other forest products; have cultural values; deliver recreation benefits and ecosystem services, including regulation of soil, air and water; are reservoirs for biodiversity; and act as carbon sinks.

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      Use of fish resources

      Fish resources play key roles for human food supply and aquatic ecosystems. In many countries fisheries make an important contribution to sustainable incomes and employment opportunities. In certain countries, including at least two OECD countries – Iceland and Japan – fish is the main source of animal protein intake.

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      Municipal waste

      Waste is generated at all stages of human activities. Its composition and amounts depend largely on consumption and production patterns.

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      Industrial and hazardous waste

      Some waste streams, such as hazardous waste, nuclear waste and industrial waste are of particular concern since they entail serious environmental risks if badly managed. Hazardous waste is mainly generated by industrial activities. The amounts produced and their composition are largely driven by production patterns. Their impacts on the environment relate mainly to toxic contamination of soil, water and air.

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      Use of material resources

      Material resources form the physical foundation of the economy; they provide essential raw materials and other commodities to support economic activity. Their use in economic activities and the related production and consumption processes have many environmental, economic and social consequences that often extend beyond the borders of individual countries or regions.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Sectoral trends of environmental significance

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      Energy intensity and mix

      Energy is a major component of OECD economies in and of itself and as a factor input to all other economic activities. Energy production and use have environmental effects that differ greatly by energy source. Fuel combustion is the main source of local and regional air pollution and GHG emissions. Other effects involve water quality, land use, risks related to the nuclear fuel cycle and risks related to the extraction, transport and use of fossil fuels.

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      Energy prices and taxes

      Energy end-use prices influence overall energy demand and the fuel mix, which in turn determine environmental pressures caused by energy activities. They also help internalise environmental costs. Though price elasticity varies considerably by end-use sector, historical and cross-country experience suggests that the overall price effect on energy demand is strong and that increases in energy prices have reduced energy use and hence its environmental impact.

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      Road traffic, vehicles and networks

      Transport is a major component of economic activity in and of itself and as a factor input to most other economic activities. It has many effects on the environment: air pollution raises concern mainly in urban areas where road traffic and congestion are concentrated, though road transport also contributes to regional and global pollution problems such as acidification and climate change; vehicles present waste management issues; and transport infrastructure exerts pressures on the environment through use of space and physical transformation of the natural environment (e.g. fragmentation of natural habitats).

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      Road fuel prices

      Prices are a key form of information for consumers. When fuel prices rise relative to other goods, this tends to reduce demand for fuels, as well as for vehicles with high fuel consumption. This stimulates energy saving, and may influence the fuel structure of energy consumption. However, there may be a rebound effect whereby greater use of more fuel-efficient vehicles encourages greater vehicle usage.

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      Agricultural nutrient balances

      Agriculture’s environmental effects can be negative or positive. They depend on the scale, type and intensity of farming as well as on agro-ecological and physical factors, and on climate and weather. Farming can lead to deterioration in soil, water and air quality, and to loss of natural habitats and biodiversity. These environmental changes can in turn affect the level of agricultural production and food supply limiting the sustainable development of agriculture. Farming can also provide sinks for greenhouse gases, conserve biodiversity and landscapes and, help prevent floods and landslides.

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      GDP, population and consumption

      This section provides important socio-economic background information, particularly with regard to economic growth, population and consumption.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Annexes

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      Additional OECD-wide and country trends

      OECD Environment Statistics (database); UNFCCC, Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data (2012).

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      Additional information and country notes

      The main international agreement is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), ratified by 194 parties. Industrialised countries committed to taking measures aimed at stabilising GHG emissions by 2000 at 1990 levels. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol established differentiated national or regional emission reduction or limitation targets for the six major GHGs (CO2, CH4, N2O, PFCs, HFCs and SF6) for 2008‑12, with 1990 as the reference year. The Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 191 countries, including all but two OECD countries, and has been in force since 16 February 2005. In 2010 and 2011, negotiations in Copenhagen and Cancun led to progress on, among other things, goals for emission reductions, including from developing countries; finance; adaptation; and reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD).

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