Humanity has witnessed unprecedented growth and prosperity in the past decades, with the size of the world economy more than tripling and population increasing by over 3 billion people since 1970. This growth, however, has been accompanied by environmental pollution and natural resource depletion. The current growth model and the mismanagement of natural assets could ultimately undermine human development.
The OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050 asks "What will the next four decades bring?" Based on joint modelling by the OECD and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, it looks forward to the year 2050 to find out what demographic and economic trends might mean for the environment if the world does not adopt more ambitious green policies. It also looks at what policies could change that picture for the better. This Outlook focuses on four areas: climate change, biodiversity, freshwater and health impacts of pollution. These four key environmental challenges were identified by the previous Environmental Outlook to 2030 (OECD, 2008) as "Red Light" issues requiring urgent attention.
- 15 Mar 2012
Health and Environment
- Richard Sigman, Henk Hilderink, Nathalie Delrue, Nils Axel Braathen, Xavier Leflaive
This chapter examines the current and projected impacts on human health of four key environmental factors – air pollution (focusing on premature deaths from exposure to outdoor airborne particulate matter, or PM, and ground-level ozone as well as indoor air pollution), unsafe water supply and poor sanitation (including in the context of the relevant Millennium Development Goals or MDGs), chemicals (chemical hazards, exposure) and climate change (focusing on the incidence of malaria). For each issue the chapter first describes the current trends, then how the picture could look in 2050 without new policies (the Environmental Outlook’s Baseline scenario), and finally the policy actions required. Air pollution, unsafe water supply, poor sanitation and hazardous chemicals exert significant pressures on human health, particularly for the elderly and the young. While some global trends (e.g. access to improved water sources) are getting better, others – such as urban air pollution and lack of access to basic sanitation – continue to pose a serious risk to human health. In addition, the incremental effects of climate change are contributing to the global burden of disease. Ambitious and flexible abatement policies (e.g. standards, fuel taxes, chemical testing and assessment, green procurement, cap-and-trade emissions trading, transport policies) as well as further investment in water and sanitation services are needed to address these risks. Identified hazards need to be assessed and tackled, and there is also a need to be vigilant and react quickly to new and emerging risks to human health that are not well understood (e.g. endocrine disrupters, manufactured nanomaterials).