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.

English Also available in: French, German


Around the world, cities, farmers, industries, energy suppliers, and ecosystems are increasingly competing for their daily water needs. Without proper water management, the costs of this situation can be high – not just financially, but also in terms of lost opportunities, compromised health and environmental damage. Without major policy changes and considerable improvements in water management, by 2050 the situation is likely to deteriorate, increasing uncertainty about water availability. This chapter summarises the key pressures on water, as well as the main policy responses. It starts by looking at current water challenges and trends and how they could affect the water outlook in 2050. It considers competing demands for water (from agriculture/irrigation, industry, electricity, domestic/urban supply, environment flows) and over-exploitation (both surface and groundwater), water stress, water-related disasters (e.g. floods), water pollution (in particular nutrient effluents – nitrogen and phosphorus – from agriculture and wastewater) and discharge into the seas, and lack of access to water supply and sanitation (as defined by the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs). It reviews the existing policy tools to manage water (such as water rights, water pricing), and explores how the water outlook could be improved by more ambitious policies. The chapter discusses emerging issues in water policy; it pays particular attention to water as a driver of green growth, the water-energy-food nexus, allocating water for healthy ecosystems, and alternative sources of water (reuse). For all these, governance, the use of economic instruments, investment and infrastructure development are important dimensions. They all contribute to and facilitate water policy reforms in OECD countries and globally.

English Also available in: German, French

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