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OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050

The Consequences of Inaction

image of OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050

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.

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Socio-economic Developments

The chapter starts by describing current demographic trends and corresponding Baseline projections (notably for population growth/composition including ageing, and urbanisation). It then outlines economic trends and projections, including economic growth (GDP, consumption, sectoral composition) and its drivers, such as labour and capital. These trends are based on a gradual conditional convergence of income levels among countries. In its final section it explores two factors which directly link economic trends to environmental pressures: energy use (energy mix such as fossil fuels, renewables and nuclear) and land use (in particular agricultural land). The projected key socio-economic developments under the Environmental Outlook Baseline scenario presented in this chapter serve as the basis for the environmental projections described in the other chapters of this Outlook. The chapter focuses on global projections for major world regions such as the group of OECD countries, emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa (the BRIICS) and the rest of the world.

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