Over the coming months, the world will be preparing for what is heralded as an historic meeting for climate change negotiations. If the right decisions are taken–with the aim of making a sustainable energy future a reality–we will be able to reap enormous, multiple benefits deriving not only from decarbonisation, but also from reduced air pollution, better energy access, energy security and economic prosperity. But as we all know, clean energy deployment is not where it needs to be. It is now crucial for governments and other stakeholders to take effective decisions for energy sustainability. 

Stakeholder in Virunga National Park ©Riccardo Gangale/AFP

Is it possible for 9 billion people to live on this planet and enjoy a good standard of living? And on such a planet, is it possible for economies to grow, businesses to profit, and communities to prosper without undermining the natural systems that support all life? And without destroying some of the planet’s last great wildernesses? At WWF, we believe the answer to these questions is simple: yes. We believe this even though our own Living Planet Report shows so clearly just how humanity’s use of resources is affecting our planet. It does not make for cheerful reading. Since 1970, populations of species have declined by around half. Each year, we consume 50% more resources than the planet can replenish. 

©Charlotte Moreau

Climate change and, more generally, environmental damage have quantifiable economic and health costs, which weigh on long-term growth and well-being. If left unchecked, climate change is projected to decrease global GDP by 0.7 to 2.5 % by 2060. At the same time, the costs to society of air pollution already appear substantial–equivalent to some 4% of GDP across OECD countries and even higher in some rapidly developing economies. Yet global action in the environmental domain proceeds only slowly–too slowly to be up to the challenges we face. Why is it so?

Click to enlarge. By StiK, especially for the OECD Observer.

©Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Can a durable recovery come from greener growth? That largely depends on the policies. In 2011 the OECD will deliver its Green Growth Strategy. Here are some early pointers.

“The Red Arrow”, a poem by Paul Durcan, an Irish poet, opens with the line “In the history of transport–is there any other?” Anyone looking at innovation in transport would do well to consider this line. Is history really the history of transport, more than, say, the history of wars and kings, as some would have it? It is a tempting proposition.

Japan is widely regarded as a leading innovator on the environment. We asked Japan’s Parliamentary Secretary of the Environment, Nobumori Otani, who was in Paris in early May, for his insights.

Managing local ecosystems can help create jobs and spur sustainable economic growth.

Once hailed as the imminent successor to fossil fuels, biofuels are hitting some rough patches. Is it time to apply the brakes? 

©OECD

The current crisis is an opportunity to launch a new economic model, in which the environment, as a pillar of human welfare, must be central.

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Pressure is mounting to arrest climate change, so it's hardly surprising that people around the world are being urged to use public transportation. After all, an overall strategy that includes getting people to give up their trucks and cars to use electric trolley buses, tramways and rail can help make a real dent in pollution, traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. But try telling that to Australians living in the outback, long miles from the nearest bus station. Even most Japanese, who have access to some of the world's best high-speed rail links and urban mass transit, own some type of private vehicle.

The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) is 50 years old. It predates the actual OECD itself, having started out in 1958 as a division of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation. It has since grown to become a global body spanning four continents. What does its future hold?

Humanity has few stranger monuments than the moai of Easter Island. Weighing up to 270 tonnes, these huge figures, like the pyramids of ancient Egypt, are all that’s left of what must once have been a creative and complex society–but a society that also used its resources unsustainably, effectively destroying the ecosystem base of its island home.

With energy demand set to rise and pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, what is the potential of nuclear energy to expand? That depends, says the new Nuclear Energy Outlook from the NEA. The authors suggests two scenarios to 2050: a low expansion scenario whereby currently declared intentions are not fully realised, leading to limited expansion, with most new plants simply as replacement; and a high growth scenario, based on current plans and government statements.

©Reuters/Hardi Baktiantoro

With the world’s attention focused on climate change, the main question is how can global carbon emissions be reduced effectively? There is no single solution, which is why we must look seriously again at the importance of forests, in particular at an approach known as Reducing Emissions from tropical Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), and the incentives needed to achieve it.

©Reuters/Gregg Newton

With aviation growing in terms of the number of planes operating and passengers taking to the skies, the industry is engaged in an important and candid dialogue—how to continue to grow responsibly, while further reducing its impact on the global ecosystem

A clean launch ©Reuters/Nikola Solic

International shipping emits as much CO2 as some of the world's largest countries. What can be done?

Extreme choice? Stanford University's solar car, 2005 ©Reuters/Stefano Paltera/Handout

Would adding US$1,500 to the price of a new car be enough to help halt climate change? That’s what US and EU experts broadly agree on as the average price tag for new technologies coming on stream to make cars more fuel-efficient and climate friendly. But what does that price tag entail?

©David Rooney

As the UN called recently on the world’s governments in an “extraordinary emergency appeal” for some $500 million to avert a food crisis in poor countries, many people were placing some share of the blame squarely on strong demand for grains from the biofuel industry.

Das Auto, Das Ecodriving ©Sebastien Pirlet/Reuters

The urgency of reducing fuel consumption rates while transport moves towards massive development over the next two decades, notably among developing economies, is clear. Any weapon counts as part of the overall package. Enter “ecodriving”.

Watch that gradient ©Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

On a single busy day in the summer of 2007, 3.2 million people took to the skies above Europe in 33,000 flights which covered a total distance of 34 million km. That’s 42 billion passenger kilometres generated in just one day of European air traffic movements.

Impressive though these numbers appear, they are in fact expected to double shortly after 2025, assuming that the demand forecasts hold true and that the capacity issues across the European air traffic system are solved.

©RJC

If CO2 emissions from transport cause climate change, why not encourage more cycling? This is precisely what places like Brussels, Copenhagen, Vienna and Berlin are starting to do. One much talked about initiative is in Paris. As the home of cycling’s greatest race, the Tour de France, you would be forgiven for thinking the French always loved cycling. Yet until last year, cyclists and bicycle lanes were a rarity in the capital.

Anu Vehviläinen ©Finnish government

Transport is a major contributor to CO2 emissions. But can policymakers make a difference? We asked Anu Vehviläinen, Finland’s minister for transport, and chair of the first International Transport Forum in Leipzig in May 2008.

©Reuters/MingMing

Any serious attempt to deal with climate change must involve transport. Transport accounts for 13% of all world greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, though this figure takes into account CO2 sources other than fuel combustion, such as forestry, land-use and biomass burning. A look at CO2 emissions from fuel combustion only shows the transport sector accounts for about 23% worldwide and about 30% in the OECD area.
Although the environment is high on the international policy agenda, development aid for the environment has declined in relation to total aid since 1996. This trend comes despite an increase in overall aid funding: from 2004 to 2005, total official development assistance (ODA) rose 32% to a record high of US$107.1 billion, though eased back somewhat in 2006 (see development setback news brief).

©David Rooney

Apart from some optimistic claims that global warming will benefit, say, vineyards in the Thames Valley, most readings of the environment give little cause for cheer. Nor is climate change the only threat. Humanity’s ecological footprint is expanding at an unsustainable rate. Rampant urbanisation and farmland are threatening the biodiversity we all depend on. Air and water pollution are damaging health in all countries: the list goes on.

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Economic activity, technology, population dynamics, globalisation and urbanisation: understanding the drivers affecting the world’s environment and how they interact is important for identifying policy responses that might work. Cities and buildings are a good starting point.

©Henry Romero/Reuters

What do sports shoes, cars, processed foods, cooking utensils, buildings, roads, medicines, mobile phones and the computer this article was written on have in common? A simple answer is chemicals.

©Philippe Lorenson/Reuters

Among the environmental threats we face today, four require urgent policy action: climate change; biodiversity loss; water scarcity; and health impacts of pollution. Here are some key messages that are closely scrutinised in the 2008 OECD Environment Outlook.

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It is easy to call for urgent action on the environment, but hard to know where to start. A pragmatic approach would be to bundle different policy choices into coherent packages to suit government priorities and ambitions.

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