More than a quarter of 15-year-old school students in OECD countries fail to achieve the most basic level of profi ciency in mathematics, reading and science. In other countries, the share is often much larger. Such poor performance at school has severe consequences for individuals: low-performing students tend to have less motivation and self-confidence, will skip classes and perhaps miss days at school. In the long run, this affects their lives and compromises a country’s economic and social prospects. 

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is an oft-repeated phrase that is highly relevant to agricultural systems today. Growing global demand for food, fuel and fibre will have to be met by improving agricultural productivity growth, which will be a tall order, given increasing pressures on natural resources, resulting from climate change and competition for land, for instance. Any growth in agriculture will therefore have to be achieved sustainably through more efficient resource use.


Imagine travelling through time, not as Stephen Hawking would, through wormholes into a new dimension, but rather just to see how farming might look several decades from now. How policy makers and farmers might appreciate such foresight.

Major floods and droughts have prevailed in many countries throughout 2015. South Africa saw the emergence of its worst drought in 30 years, Ethiopia is threatened with a major food crisis, and California suffered its fourth consecutive year of drought. Floods caused over 2 000 deaths in India last summer, while England, Paraguay and South Carolina reported unprecedented flood damage. The trouble is, climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of such extreme weather events in the coming years.

With internet and technology use constantly expanding, data abound. So many data are collected and stored every day that we are seeing new jobs and entire sectors emerging just to deal with them all. Data-Driven Innovation explores the potential uses for and issues of this era of “big data”, providing a resource from which to see the big picture, with the promises and risks for well-being and productivity. 

The ancient Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro once wrote, “Divine Nature gave the fields, human art built the cities.” The adage is still very relevant at the turn of the 21st century. Nowadays, nearly two-thirds of the population of the OECD area lives in cities. Ten years from now there are expected to be about 500 “megacities”, each one home to over 1 million inhabitants. How do cities govern themselves as they expand beyond their boundaries?

Becoming an entrepreneur has become increasingly popular since the economic meltdown of 2008, not least in Europe.

How will workers’ current skills match new requirements for labour in a green economy? So far, few countries have put in place real plans to address this question, yet there is risk of a significant mismatch between skills and jobs. Would you know who to call if your geothermal system crashes? Should construction workers learn new skills for retrofitting buildings?

If the world is to make a dent on climate change, breaking the arm-lock of fossil fuels is inevitable. After all, limiting the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2°C by the end of the 21st century demands curbing greenhouse-gas emissions between 40% and 70% by 2050 compared with 2010 levels, which means replacing fossil fuels–coal, oil and gas–with low-carbon energy sources and developing technologies to capture and store CO2.

Freshwater is essential for life, yet makes up only a tiny fraction of all water on earth. In many areas, especially arid and dry regions, underground aquifers are the only source. Even in less arid regions, groundwater provides an essential resource: in fact, some 2.6 billion people worldwide rely on groundwater resources. Farming is one major reason: over 60% of irrigated agriculture in the US uses groundwater, and in Spain more than 70% of irrigation comes from below ground reserves.    

What have “bursa siyahi” and “sarilop” got in common? They are both varieties of figs. If you enjoy fresh figs in the summer or puddings in the winter, you may be interested to know that there were more than 300 fresh fig varieties growing on earth. The biggest producers are Turkey and Egypt.

Financial crises do more than impose huge costs: they have bigger and more insidious effects. We face big challenges in maintaining the supply of global public goods as the world integrates. But these challenges will not be managed successfully if we do not first overcome the legacy of the crisis. Moreover, all this must be done at a time of transition in global power and responsibility from a world dominated by Western powers to one in which new powers have arisen.

What if economics were within everyone’s grasp? Although you may feel that discussing Greece’s debt sustainability or Europe’s ageing problem is beyond your capabilities, Cambridge scholar Ha-Joon Chang strives to prove that you actually can.

Dementia is an umbrella term coined to embrace all the chronic brain disorders that progressively lead to brain damage and the deterioration of memory, functional capacity and social relations. Alzheimer’s disease, which is fatal, is the most common form of dementia, representing about 60-80% of cases, according to a 2009 study carried out by the non-governmental organisation Alzheimer Europe.

Did you know that life on earth would not be possible without micro-organisms? What is currently overlooked by the public and which could play a substantial role in the future are the different applications that could be made of micro-organisms, especially in the agricultural and energy fields. 

Since 2009 the French government launched a new “auto-entrepreneurs’’ status to help small, often one-person, businesses below a certain earnings threshold to bypass many formalities of registration, in an effort to stimulate entrepreneurial activity and jobs. By mid-2014, the number of auto-entrepreneurs reached nearly 1 million, according to a French business creation agency, APCE. However, according to the national statistics office, INSEE, most of these businesses have made little if any money at all. The crisis has hardly helped, but is there a recipe for success?

With 90% of external trade volumes transported by ship, port-cities stand as symbols of globalisation. Indeed, this has been so since ancient times: French economic historian Fernand Braudel has stressed the historical link between ports, urban development and the birth of the capitalist market economy. 

Overall, well-being has improved over the past two centuries, but not always in the ways or for the reasons we might have thought. The Industrial Revolution sometimes meant workers were worse off and worse fed than before, for example.

How much of a country can you count? The newly updated Understanding National Accounts from the OECD answers this question and gives a summary of how to calculate the accounts as well as the principles and data sources behind them.

The world’s first ATM cash machine opened in Vancouver in October 2013, offering Bitcoin conversion to and from Canadian dollars. As the global use of Bitcoin continues to increase, governments around the world have both greeted and shunned the anonymous digital crypto-currency. 

After decades of economic isolation, Myanmar has boldly re-entered the global market with a wide range of policy reforms intended to court foreign trade and investment. Reforms range from improvements in infrastructure, to food security and agricultural growth, to monetary and financial sector transformations. Rich in natural resources and a young labour force, the country of over 60 million people once called the “rice bowl’’ of Asia stands to gain much from opening its economy to the world.

Industrial policy is now back–unless, as economist Joseph Stiglitz says, it never really left. The third edition of Perspectives on Global Development from the OECD Development Centre demystifies industrial policies. Cambridge Professor Ha Joon Chang calls it a “landmark publication because it looks for ways to make industrial policy work better, rather than having an ideological debate on whether it exists and whether it can ever succeed.”

The recovery from the Great Recession has been slow and arduous, and has at times threatened to derail altogether.

©Brendan McDermid/Reuters

When the worst crisis in over 50 years struck OECD countries in 2008, people rightly asked why they had not been warned. After all, the information world is awash with economists, global traders and other experts watching the markets, and international organisations such as the OECD and the IMF are tasked with what is known as economic surveillance. 

Economic data


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 print editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • 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.
  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • 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.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • 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.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • 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.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • 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.
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on
  • 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 .

Most Popular Articles


What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming

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 2016