Lorents Lorentsen ©OECD

How to be green and competitive was the centre of attention when environment ministers of OECD countries met at the end of April for the first time in four years. How to fight climate change and maintain competitiveness is a question that concerns many countries outside the OECD too, and the governments of four candidate countries for OECD membership–Chile, Estonia, Israel and Slovenia–participated at the conference, as did Brazil, China, Indonesia and South Africa, four countries with whom the OECD is strengthening its relations in a programme of “enhanced engagement”.

We hear again and again that we must choose between having a stable climate and having a strong global economy. This is a false choice.

©David Rooney

Harsh financial reality often rides roughshod over good intentions when it comes to corporate and national balance sheets. Climate change is no exception, for though it may rouse worldwide concern, it also makes people uneasy because of how much it might cost and who should pay.

Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, Italy's minister for the environment, and chair of the 2008 OECD meeting of environment ministers ©Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

Climate change is a pressing challenge, requiring leadership and determined action. At the same time, people are concerned that policies do not put them at an economic disadvantage or unnecessarily undermine their welfare.

Can governments balance these concerns? The OECD’s Environment Policy Committee meets at ministerial level on 28-29 April 2008 under the theme of global competitiveness. Some non-OECD developing countries will also participate, as will stakeholders from business, labour and civil society.

©OECD Observer

A 50% rise in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, higher temperatures, with more droughts and storms harming people, crops and buildings; more animal and plant species becoming extinct under expanding farmland and urban sprawl; dwindling natural resources; a billion more people living in water-stressed areas by 2030, with more pollution, disease and premature deaths ahead.

©ITF/DR

For transport, a major contributor to greenhouse gases, the challenge to reduce emissions is immense, particularly as most forecasts see transport activity doubling or tripling in the next 30 years.

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

Secretary-General Angel Gurría led a high-level mission of OECD economists and environmental experts at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in December. In this extract from one of his interventions at the conference, Mr Gurría explains some of the reasons why economics and markets must be at the heart of any effective and equitable strategy to tackle climate change.

The UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in early December 2007 may have raised new hopes of progress, but as everyone knows, dealing with climate change will require more than just political goodwill. Providing for abundant, affordable, clean energy will require considerable investment in new power generation–more than US$11 trillion to 2030, based on an estimate in the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2006.

The emergence of China and India on the world economy still unfolds. Lifestyles are evolving fast, and that means more demand, more energy consumption and more greenhouse gas emissions. But what of the impact on climate change?

Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, speaks at the Bali Conference on Climate Change, December 2007
©OECD Observer No. 264/265, December 2007-January 2008

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007 was high in political stakes as well as emotion. But did it produce a result and what more might be done? New Zealand’s climate change ambassador offers his views.

Image based on OECD Observer cover, No 261, May 2007

Welcome to this special online focus on climate change, in view of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, 3-14 in December. "Ambitious policies to tackle climate change should lead to a structural shift in the economy – away from carbon-intensive activities. So the question that remains is: how can this transition be managed in an economically efficient and socially responsible manner? We should not exaggerate the cost of change. Action is affordable."
Energy consumption, and in particular the burning of fossil fuels, is the main source of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. But energy is also a fuel for economic growth, particularly in the fast developing economies of the world. The challenge is to maintain economic growth, while reducing the carbon-content of energy and increasing the efficiency of its use.
Market-based credits can help control emissions alongside other instruments, though the system needs more work. And time. 
Investment in clean technologies can help achieve a wide range of environmental objectives, from mitigating climate change, to controlling air and water pollution, and enhancing resource efficiency in general. Indeed, many governments now see technological innovation as a key channel through which they can lift their economies onto a more sustainable path. But what role can public policies play in encouraging such innovation?

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Satellites are not just about communications or defence, but can help us understand if not resolve some difficult environmental challenges, including climate change. They are investments in innovation whose benefits for humanity should speak for themselves.
Globalisation is exerting pressure on the environment, but it may also provide solutions. Could green be turned to gold? Climate change, melting polar ice, rising sea-levels, unpredictable weather patterns, drought, rampant urbanisation, demographic explosions: the list goes on. Many people blame globalisation for these ills, and it is true to say that increased economic pressures inevitably leave a bigger footprint on our planet.

Click to enlarge. Source: OECD in figures 2006

Although natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions or warm ocean currents, or even the earth’s tilt, might all contribute to global warming, carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by human activity–from running homes and factories to flying planes and mowing lawns–is accepted as a major culprit.

Pressures on the earth’s resources are building, but is the current economic model reaching breaking point? What can be done? 

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Can the Kyoto protocol, which came into force on 16 February 2005, work? Although natural phenomena such as large volcanic eruptions, ocean currents, the likes of El Niño or even changes in the earth’s tilt might all be contributing factors, carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by human activity–whether running homes and factories or driving cars and lawnmowers–is cited as a major culprit in the rise of global temperatures.

The Kyoto Protocol will be implemented in mid-February, while the size of the challenge presented by climate change is becoming more daunting than expected. Yet, basic steps could be taken that will not only tackle the effects of global warming, but promote development as well.

Sweden’s good reputation for a clean environment may be deserved, but there are murky spots. True, it gained high marks in the recent OECD Environmental Performance Review of Sweden. It was one of the first OECD countries to cut its use of environmentally harmful chemicals, and is one of the few OECD countries on track to meet their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Three years after the adoption of the OECD 10-year Environmental Strategy, ministers acknowledged that they are “not on track” for implementing it by 2010 and that more ambitious action is needed. OECD and non-OECD ministers or deputy-ministers met in Paris to assess progress.

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

Minister Cullen ©Maxwell PA

Note 26 April: This article was written by Minister Cullen to set out the issues in advance of the 2004 OECD Environment Ministerial meeting which he chaired. For the chair's summary of the meeting, please click here. See end of article for other references.

The OECD Environmental Strategy is in its third year. Governments cannot afford to let up on their commitments.

Biodiversity has struggled for front page attention in environmental policy campaigns. Perhaps it is because the word "biodiversity" has a positive connotation and so lacks the rallying edge of headline terms like pollution, global warming, hazardous wastes or ozone depletion.

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The problem of climate change has not gone away, nor will it be wished away. Governments must act. 

One way to deal with pollution is to encourage polluters to buy and sell limited rights or permits to pollute. It is a market that works, though improvements are needed.

Click for larger version

The debate about energy mix will intensify at Johannesburg and beyond. Technological progress may generate some useful surprises in the years ahead, but for now, Professor Richter presents a cold look ahead at our energy choices.

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