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| Earth on Apr 29, 2012

OECD environmental outlook for 2050 is grim

A sobering warning of costly consequences by 2050 if actions are not taken to put the world on a sustainable path.

Grim news from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). A report by them released in March, 2012 warns that societies will incur costly consequences by the year 2050 in the areas of climate change, biodiversity, water and health if actions are not taken to help put the world on a more sustainable path.

Earth’s human population – currently 7 billion strong – is expected to be over 9 billion people by 2050. Analysts at the OECD estimate that without changes to current environmental policies, population growth over the next four decades will result in increasing demands for energy, land and water that could jeopardize the past two centuries’ rise in living standards. The results of their research were published on March 15, 2012 in a report titled “OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction.”

Earth. Image Credit: NASA

Specifically, the OECD report estimates that world energy demand in 2050 will be 80% higher than it is today. If those future energy demands continue to be met with a heavy reliance on fossil fuel-based energy, the reports predicts that there could be a dangerous 50% increase in greenhouse gas emissions and a doubling of the number of premature deaths from particulate air pollution from current levels to 3.6 million deaths every year, with most impacts occurring in China and India.

The world demand for land in 2050 is projected to shrink the extent of mature forests by 13% and decrease land-based biodiversity by a further 10%, with substantial losses expected for Asia, Europe and Southern Africa.

The OECD report estimates that the world demand for water in 2050 will grow by 55%. Most of the growth in the demand for water is predicted to come from manufacturing, the production of electricity and domestic use. These demands for water are expected to compete with the use of water by farmers for irrigation. By 2050, it is possible that over 40% of the global population – 2.3 billion more people than today – will be living in regions under severe water stress, especially in Africa and Asia.

To avert the grim future that will likely ensue if the world continues on its current path, the OECD is urging that countries pursue green growth strategies. Strategies recommended in the OECD report include increased investment in R&D efforts that encourage green innovation, policies that make greener technologies less expensive than polluting alternatives and tools to ensure that the true value of natural assets and ecosystem services like clean air, water and biodiversity are included in decision-making.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Image courtesy the World Economic Forum via Flickr.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said in a press release:

Greener sources of growth can help governments today as they tackle these pressing challenges. Greening agriculture, water and energy supply and manufacturing will be critical by 2050 to meet the needs of over 9 billion people.

The OECD was established in 1961 to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.

Bottom line: A new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warns that societies will incur costly consequences by 2050 in the areas of climate change, biodiversity, water and health if actions are not taken to help put the world on a more sustainable path. The report titled “OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction” was released on March 15, 2012.

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