The value of water: putting together the puzzle pieces for sustainable investment

By Nachilala Nkombo, WWF-Zambia Country Director, Kathleen Dominique, OECD Programme Lead Financing Water, and Andre Fourie, Global Director Water Sustainability, AB InBev

Image credit: Kathleen Dominique / OECD

Last month, the theme of World Water Day — “valuing water” — encouraged everyone to take a moment to consider what water means to each of us. The result was revealing – a kaleidoscope of diverse responses reflecting how the value of water manifests differently for different people and different communities from home and family life to cultural practices, businesses, health and well-being. These are incredibly important facets of the value of water. But, it also raises the question about whether all these individual reflections are sufficient to illuminate a broader collective understanding of the centrality of water systems to economies, communities and ecosystems.

Water presents a paradox of the essential. It is a critical resource for societies and economies – even a life sustaining one for people and nature. Nevertheless, it is chronically under-valued. Water usually only garners attention and investment when it is running out or has caused a disaster. Fortunately, we are starting to see a shift in how water is appreciated, with companies starting to move beyond a focus on water efficiency behind their own fence lines to a broader focus on watershed health. Similarly, investors are beginning to channel capital towards water-related investments and understanding how water risks can impact their portfolios. And governments are working to improve water policies, infrastructure and management.

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Climate change mitigation and adaptation: managing two sides of the same coin

By Catherine Gamper and Mikaela Rambali, OECD Environment Directorate

Image credit: Shutterstock / ValentinaKru

Even if global average temperature increases are limited to below 2°C, there will still be serious climate impacts. Since pre-industrial times, we have witnessed a global average temperature increase of 1.1°C, while ocean acidity has increased by 26%. An increasing number of destructive weather-related extreme events are taking place. The intensity and scale of the wildfires that affected Australia and California in 2019-20, for example, were attributed to climate change.

Until now, efforts to mitigate and to adapt to climate change have been led by distinct policy communities, building on specific knowledge and information, and mobilising different stakeholders to address distinct technological and distributional challenges. However, the issues of mitigation and adaptation are linked and when addressed jointly, their impact and effectiveness can be reinforced. The G20 leaders recently acknowledged “the importance of fostering synergies between adaptation and mitigation, including through nature-based solutions and ecosystem based approaches”. National climate policies also reflect this synergy, such as in the UK’s Adaptation Communication issued in December 2020, which highlights the allocation of EUR 700 million from the Nature for Climate Fund to nature-based solutions that promote synergies between mitigation and adaptation.

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Let’s choose to challenge the climate crisis with a gender lens

By Sigita Strumskyte, Dimitra Xynou, Amelia Smith and Shanda Moorghen, OECD Environment Directorate

Image credit: Shutterstock / sdecoret

On 8 March, the world will observe International Women’s Day under the theme #ChooseToChallenge. It is a day to recognise achievements, spread awareness and strengthen commitments to creating more inclusive societies, but also an opportunity to call out gender inequalities and take action. This year, it is being celebrated amidst dual health and environmental crises that have economic ramifications for all, but whose interconnected impacts risk undermining recent progress towards gender equality.

Women represent a vast share of the health care workforce, the sector most exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a group, they have been severely affected by a sharp contraction in the services sector and job losses in the informal sector, while managing increased family and household responsibilities during periods of lock-down and restricted mobility. Studies show that women experience an increased occurrence of violence, exploitation, abuse and harassment during times of crisis and quarantine.

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2021: Adaptation comes to the fore

By Catherine Gamper and Nicolina Lamhauge, OECD Environment Directorate

Image credit: Petrmalinak / Shutterstock

We entered 2021, full of hope that the approval of COVID-19 vaccines would bring some respite from the crisis brought about by the pandemic. With manufacturing delays, unequal access and delays in the roll-out of many vaccination plans it is becoming clear that the virus will continue to claim lives and severely affect livelihoods in the foreseeable future.

As governments continue to respond to the simultaneous health emergency and economic crisis, we must learn from our failure to prepare for what has been a well-known (pandemic) risk for many years.  And there are other looming global challenges, of which climate change is among one of the most serious.

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Harnessing nature to tackle the climate emergency

By Mikaela Rambali and Catherine Gamper, OECD Environment Directorate

Image credit: Ulrike Stein / Shutterstock

While the term “nature-based solutions” may have been coined relatively recently, communities worked with nature’s strengths to enhance societal resilience long before modern civilisation. For example, the Aztecs developed an agro‐hydrological system, known as the Chinampas, to build resilience against drought. They created rectangular areas of fertile arable land by dredging mud and creating canals. Not only did this technique replenish the nutrients in the soil for the crops, it also created a habitat for fish and birds, which in turn helped maintain the health of the ecosystem as well as provided additional sources of food. The drainage systems also mitigated flooding during the rainy season.

Today, over-exploitation of natural resources and intensive land-use is causing environmental degradation and an unprecedented rate of species extinction. Climate change will only accelerate these processes and add new challenges. Nature-based solutions (NbS) are attracting increasing attention as a way to address these inter-related issues.

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The price of plastic waste and solutions to turn the tide

By Stefanos Fotiou, Director, Environment and Development Division, ESCAP and Anthony Cox, Deputy Director, OECD Environment Directorate

Image source: UNESCAP

The proliferation of plastic in our society is hitting extreme levels that should be of concern to all nations.  Annually, we produce around 359 million tonnes of plastic with the global market being valued at USD 568.9 billion in 2019, and projected to reach almost USD 1 trillion by 2035. Of this volume, 49.3 per cent is produced in the Asia-Pacific region. It is also where 38 per cent of all plastic is consumed.

Eight million tonnes of this plastic will end up in the world’s oceans every year, most of which is fed from rivers, which serve as direct conduits of trash from the some of the world’s fastest growing cities into the marine environment.

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Securing natural capital on land

By Kumi Kitamori and Shanda Moorghen, OECD Environment Directorate

Image credit: Ivy Yin / Shutterstock

We have built our economies on the premise that land is a primary factor of production. Much of our natural capital, such as biodiversity and ecosystem services, is based on land and there is little debate over the importance of land use for economic activity and to feed growing populations. The demographic shift in the last few decades – from just over 3 billion in 1960 to more than 7 billion –  has caused a dramatic rise in the demand for food production, with land used for crops and ranching increasing at the expense of natural grasslands and forests. Farmlands account for almost 38% of the global land surface. It is expected that more than 1 billion hectares of additional land, mostly in developing countries, would be converted for agricultural use by 2050 to keep up with current trends. However, the continued pressures on land, and the ecosystem services such as water retention, carbon storage, soil health and all living organisms that it supports, are bound to bring about biodiversity loss and climate change.

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Regulating groups of chemicals: a cost-effective option for chemical safety

By Bob Diderich and Shanda Moorghen, OECD Environment Directorate

Shutterstock.com / Photobank gallery

There are currently more than 23,000 chemicals produced or imported at quantities of more than one tonne per year just in Europe. We can find them in the clothes we wear, the shampoos we use, and in many other of our daily activities.

This number alone is indicative of the regulatory scope needed if this is dealt with by adopting a substance-by-substance approach in order to evaluate the safety of each chemical. Policy makers are now looking at grouping the substances as a potential solution to facilitate decision-making on chemical safety. But challenges persist.

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Is the COVID-19 crisis spurring a transition to net-zero emissions in the oil and gas sector?

By Andrew Prag and Guy Halpern, OECD Environment Directorate

Shutterstock.com / pan demin

Almost all economic sectors have suffered due to the evolving COVID-19 crisis. For the oil and gas industry, already battered on one side by low prices due to an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and on the other by the push to decarbonise the global economy, the crisis hit at an especially challenging time.

Nevertheless, an increasing number of international oil and gas companies have set out seemingly ambitious goals to transition to “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050. What is behind these new announcements?  Are they just greenwashing, or do they represent a genuine intent to transform firms in the face of the accelerating energy transition?  What do the commitments mean for achieving the Paris Agreement goals, and can they help to convince governments to be bolder and to really deliver on their plans for a “green recovery” after COVID-19?

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COVID-19 et crise climatique : associer instruments de budgétisation environnementale et de politique fiscale au service d’une meilleure reprise

Par Elsa Pilichowski, Directrice de la gouvernance publique, et Pascal Saint-Amans, Directeur du Centre de politique et d’administration fiscales

Shutterstock.com / RachenArt

On dit que demain se construit aujourd’hui. Lorsque le président de la République française a confirmé la participation de la France à l’initiative de l’OCDE pour une budgétisation environnementale (« Paris collaborative on Green Budgeting ») en décembre 2017, il n’aurait guère pu deviner que, moins de trois ans plus tard, la budgétisation environnementale deviendrait un outil central pour amorcer une « reprise verte » de la France après une pandémie mondiale. Lors de la réunion de la Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting qui s’est tenue au début du mois d’octobre, des responsables du Trésor français ont présenté aux délégués de l’OCDE la façon dont le gouvernement avait utilisé cet outil pour identifier des dépenses compatibles avec l’environnement afin de contribuer à l’objectif que la France s’est fixé de consacrer 30 milliards EUR de son plan de relance post-COVID-19 à la transition écologique.

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