Click to enlarge.

Can biofuels truly compete with petrol? Recent projections suggest that ethanol could represent up to 5% of the world’s transport fuel by 2010. That figure may seem modest at first glance, but it is significant, considering no other alternative fuel has had an equivalent impact on the gasoline market in over 100 years.

Nuclear energy is back in the public eye in light of the concerns about climate change and the need for a sustainable energy supply. Some powerful public voices are unconvinced about the technology’s competitiveness and safety. For Luis Echávarri, Director-General, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, these doubts should be put to rest.

A decade ago, even thinking about expanding nuclear energy was almost taboo in some OECD countries, but this may now be changing. For Luis Echávarri, director-general of the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), those taboos are now being challenged as governments and people everywhere seem ready to openly discuss the potential of the nuclear option.

Click to enlarge. Source: IEA

Can our insatiable appetite for energy be met efficiently and cleanly by renewable sources?

Click to enlarge. Source: IEA

Global warming, finite fossil fuels and geopolitical risks make a shift to renewable energies inevitable. Though it is a challenge fraught with uncertainties, no action would be worse. An alternative, workable energy strategy is within reach.

Building a new global energy strategy to improve efficiency and tackle global warming requires political leadership. It also demands practical, hands-on policy action. It is one thing for governments to recognise that energy is under-invested, vulnerable and dirty, but are they starting to move?

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

Through the ages, the countries of the Middle East and North Africa have been known for their great feats in engineering. The marvels are legion, from the Mesopotamian irrigation systems to the Great Pyramid. But did you know that the first concentrated solar steam engine was built near Cairo in 1914? A century later, solar energy is again putting the region on the cusp of new exploits, this time in renewable energy.

Click to enlarge. Source: OECD

Can taxation help governments achieve environmental goals with respect to energy use and emissions? Yes, with conditions.

Click here for bigger graph

When a blackout hit part of New York recently, some people blamed the air conditioning, as demand soared during a heat wave. Air conditioning has caught on around the world, which means year-round demand for energy beyond cold winters, and so bigger bills and environmental costs.

Click to enlarge. Source: IEA

The possibility of using renewable energy to produce electricity on a significant scale is a heated debate.

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?

As biofuel production grew fourfold from 2000 to 2008, criticism of the industry seemed to increase nearly as dramatically. Production of these transport fuels, which are based on food crops such as grains, sugar cane and vegetable oils, competes with food crops and drives up food prices, experts argue. Also, from land-clearance needed for cultivation, production and use, these biofuels may actually increase, rather than reduce, greenhouse gas emissions.

The archipelago that makes up Japan is two-thirds mountains, with few indigenous energy resources. As the fourth largest energy consumer in the world, with relatively high energy prices, the most important energy challenge for Japan is security of supply.

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

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?

Click to enlarge.

While energy demand in IEA countries has increased steadily since 1973, with only two interruptions, energy savings have been substantial, according to Oil Crises and Climate Challenges: 30 Years of Energy Use in IEA Countries. Compared to 1973, it takes a third less energy to produce a unit of GDP, thanks in part to improved energy efficiency.

Transport is the main cause of carbon dioxide emissions, ahead of power generation or industry. While aviation accounts for 14% of transport-based CO2 emissions in the EU, roads have a larger effect. In OECD countries, road transport accounts for over 80% of all transport-related energy consumption, for most of the accidents and the majority of air pollutant emissions, noise and habitat degradation.

Click to enlarge. Source: OECD/IEA

In OECD countries coal has a blackened image. Yet, it remains a key component of any energy mix. Innovation might help make that future brighter.

Energy has moved to the top of our policy agendas, and with good reason. First, there is the price of oil, which though easing a little in recent months, remains historically high. This has pushed up costs for producers and consumers alike.

Oil prices may be high, causing more than a little anxiety among governments and the public. Yet, it is precisely at such times that a calm look at the energy situation is needed.

© David Rooney

How will the financial crisis affect nuclear energy?

Did you think twice before you switched on the air conditioning this summer? For many living in hot, humid cities and regions, air conditioning is seen as the greatest invention of all time. But being slightly cooler has a high price as far as energy consumption is concerned.

It’s easy to dream about holidays in far-off exotic islands, especially with current global petrol prices. A sustained low oil price has allowed many of us to put away a little more of that paycheck and think seriously about buying an iWatch or taking that much-deserved break.

©REUTERS/Kyodo Kyodo

Exactly five years ago, on 11 March 2011, a violent earthquake struck eastern Japan. The tsunami that ensued devastated the inland up to 10km and put the Fukushima nuclear power plant at risk, forcing it out of action. The result was a humanitarian and environmental crisis. 

Click to enlarge

A litre of diesel has around 10% more combustion energy than petrol, but produces roughly 18% more CO2 emissions. 

©AdStock Rf. Under licence from Shutterstock

In July 2008, the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) launched North America’s first revenue-neutral carbon tax reform. “The Political Economy of British Columbia’s Carbon Tax”, an OECD Environment Working Paper by Kathryn Harrison, looks at this tax from its origins, following it through and beyond a period of political backlash, and finally considers its prospects for the longer term. 

©Rory Clarke

Imagine a house that keeps itself warm in the wintertime. Think of the savings in terms of fuel bills and unfriendly emissions. Such houses in fact exist. Called “passive houses”, the concept of these highly energy-efficient buildings took root in the 1990s, before slowly consolidating as a niche construction concept in the 2000s. Are passive houses now actively moving into the mainstream as sustainable buildings? 

Brazil is poised to become one of the world’s largest oil producers. But the elation caused by the discovery of two massive oil fields is tempered by access difficulties and high cost of extraction. Still, the discoveries have thrust Brazil centre stage in the global energy grab. 

Energy has always been a hot political issue, but recently the temperature has been cranked up another notch. Large, persistent differences in natural gas and electricity prices across regions, coupled with a sustained period of high oil prices–unparalleled in market history–have many governments on edge. 

Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017