Deep reductions in CO₂ are not enough

By Rodolfo Lacy, OECD Environment Director

From the melting of the poles to the weakening of the ocean currents that carry warm water from the tropics into the North Atlantic, every day the planet sends stronger signals of a climate crisis. On 9 August, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published the first installment of the Sixth Assessment Report, emphasising, among other findings, that GHG emissions are not decreasing, on the contrary, they keep rising.

The world risks global warming of beyond 1.5°C (and even 2°C) this century, unless we achieve deep reductions in CO2 and other GHG emissions. We are faced with an increase in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, and proportion of intense tropical cyclones, as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.

With these risks in mind, it is essential to strengthen public policies at all levels – from local to international levels – to achieve the transition to net zero and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

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Bigger Biodiversity Benefits for your Buck: How economic instruments can help safeguard nature

Katia Karousakis & Edward Perry, Programme Lead & Analyst, Biodiversity, Land Use and Ecosystems, OECD Environment Directorate

This article was originally published on the Forum Network as a part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. To keep updated on all of the OECD’s work supporting the fight against COVID-19, visit our Digital Content Hub.

Ten million hectares of forest are destroyed each year. Live coral has declined by about 4% per decade since 1990. And one million plant and animal species—one quarter of all species—are now threatened with extinction. The past decade has not yielded the biodiversity outcomes that many hoped for when the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity was adopted, under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). As a result, biodiversity loss continues to accelerate, posing significant risks to our economy and the well-being of current and future generations.

The 15th Conference of the Parties to the CBD (CBD COP15)—where a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is due to be agreed—is critical. It is our chance to take stock of lessons learned, and to design a better, more effective framework for the next decade. A framework that includes specific actions countries can take to address the pressures on biodiversity, whether it is land and sea-use change, over-exploitation, pollution, climate change or invasive alien species.

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Dépenser mieux pour la biodiversité : comment les instruments économiques peuvent aider à préserver la nature

Katia Karousakis et Edward Perry, Chef de programme et analyste, Biodiversité, utilisation des terres et écosystèmes, Direction de l’environnement de l’OCDE

Cet article a été initialement publié sur le Forum Network et s’inscrit dans une série de contributions d’experts de l’OCDE et d’influenceurs – du monde entier et de tout secteur de la société – qui répondent à la crise du COVID-19, partageant et développant des solutions pour aujourd’hui et demain. Cette série vise à favoriser un échange constructif de vues et d’expertises développées dans différents domaines afin de nous permettre de relever ensemble ce défi majeur. 

Afin de rester informés de l’ensemble des travaux de l’OCDE dans la lutte contre le COVID-19, visitez la plateforme de l’OCDE  dédiée.

Dix millions d’hectares de forêt sont détruits chaque année. La couverture en corail vivant diminue d’environ 4 % tous les dix ans depuis 1990. Un million d’espèces végétales et animales, soit un quart de la totalité, sont à présent menacées d’extinction. La décennie écoulée n’a pas vu se concrétiser les résultats que beaucoup avaient espérés lorsque le Plan stratégique 2011-2020 pour la diversité biologique a été adopté au titre de la Convention sur la diversité biologique. L’appauvrissement de la biodiversité va donc croissant au péril de notre économie et du bien-être des générations actuelles et futures.

La 15e Conférence des Parties à la Convention sur la diversité biologique (COP 15) sera un rendez-vous crucial, car elle doit aboutir à un accord sur le cadre mondial de la biodiversité pour l’après-2020. Elle nous donne ainsi une chance de dresser l’inventaire des enseignements tirés et de concevoir un cadre plus judicieux et plus efficace pour la prochaine décennie. Ce cadre explicitera les mesures que les pays peuvent prendre pour lutter contre les pressions qui s’exercent sur la biodiversité, qu’elles concernent l’utilisation des espaces terrestres et marins, la surexploitation, la pollution, le changement climatique ou les espèces exotiques envahissantes.

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Seeing the value in climate science

By Dr. Heather Plumpton, Walker Institute at the University of Reading, UK

The recent OECD workshop on approaches to reduce and manage the risks of losses and damages from climate change was fascinating. Not only due to the interesting and novel insights from the diverse panellists, but the challenging and inspiring interventions from discussants and participants that really questioned some of the core concepts and assumptions upon which adaptation research and policy rest.

Value-based decision making

From the start there was a common acknowledgement that more climate science is not in itself sufficient to reduce climate risk. That in trying to reduce and manage the risks of losses and damages from climate change, we are moving beyond the realm of science and into the realm of value-based decision making. The theme of values has been cropping up everywhere recently in policy and economic discussion – from previous governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney’s Reith Lectures on the BBC, to Professor Mariana Mazzucato’s work on public value, and to the Dasgupta Review commissioned by the UK Treasury which suggested valuing nature as a form of wealth. The search for values and value-based decision making is an important shift in the public policy debate, but it also applies to the science we base our policy decisions on.

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The green recovery: an opportunity to address inequalities?

By Enrico Botta, OECD Environment Directorate

Over the past decade, inequalities in income and opportunities have increased. The income of the top 10% is over ten times larger than the bottom 10% while traditional opportunities for social mobility have withered. While official income inequality data for 2020 will be available only in two years time and the impact of government measures on disposable income will need to be carefully examined, it is reasonable to think that low-educated and lower income households have been affected the most by the pandemic. This is primarily because they have less wealth in the first place, and hence less of a “cushion” to weather financial disruptions, and are less likely to be able to telework.

The pandemic is a stark reminder that disadvantaged households are also the most affected by environmental degradation. Unstainable production and consumption patterns are contributing to climate change, air pollution, and increase the risk of the emergence of new zoonoses due to contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. Each of these impacts are stronger for disadvantaged households, and their effects compound each other. For instance, air pollution is often higher in poorer neighbourhoods, and this increases the risk of developing comorbidities (i.e. cardiovascular and respiratory diseases) that are associated with the most severe consequences from COVID-19 infection. 

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Changing climate, changing coasts: Why resilience matters

By Marta Arbinolo and Catherine Gamper, OECD Environment Directorate

Coastal zones have always been one of the most attractive settlement areas because of their access to the ocean, their richness in natural resources, and the high quality of life they offer. As our new policy paper shows, today coastal zones are home to 2.4 billion people, or 40% of the world’s population, with a density three times higher than the global average. Many of the world’s largest cities lie along the coast, including Tokyo, New York and Mumbai.

Coastal zones are also global economic hubs: maritime transport is responsible for 80% of all goods traded globally, and a large share of global tourism flows depends on the coasts. In the United States, for example, 85% of tourism revenues are generated by coastal areas. Coastal zones also harbour some of the world’s richest ecosystems, such as mangroves and coral reefs, which sustain many economic activities and provide natural protection against natural hazards such as storm surges. At the same time, coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves, store up to five times more carbon (per km2) than mainland tropical forests, thus contributing to mitigate climate change.

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Are lower pollution levels really the silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic?

By Rob Dellink, OECD Environment Directorate

Image credit: George Wirt / Shutterstock

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to dominate headlines with distressing messages about the negative effects on health and the economy. But sometimes a positive message creeps through.

The long months of lockdown and reduced economic activity have reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. In many areas, improved air quality has been hailed as a key side benefit of the crisis.

But as economic activity picks up again, are lower pollution levels really the silver lining of the Covid pandemic?

The short answer is no, and there are at least three reasons for this.

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Climate resilience is essential for a sustainable financial system

By Michael Mullan, OECD Environment Directorate

Image credit: Lightspring

At the start of the 2000s, consumers were surprised to discover that some of their “beef” lasagne was instead made out of horsemeat. Several years later, the global financial system was brought to its knees by the discovery that some triple-A securities were made out of distinctly subprime ingredients.

These are clearly very different situations, but the underlying point is that people need to know what they are getting for their money. With what we know – and what we are already seeing – about climate change, we need to know if people’s savings for the future are being invested in ways that are undermining that future. This is no longer viewed as a purely environmental issue: it is now firmly within the mainstream of discussions about the financial system.

A central focus of these discussions is on the financial system’s role in enabling the transition to net zero emissions, but it is also essential to prepare for the climate impacts that are already being felt. We need to become more resilient – better able to plan, prepare, absorb and adapt – to the growing physical impacts of climate change.

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La résilience climatique est indispensable à un système de financement durable

De Michael Mullan, Direction de l’environnement de l’OCDE

Crédit image : Shutterstock / Lightspring

Au début des années 2000, les consommateurs ont eu la surprise de découvrir que leurs lasagnes “au boeuf” étaient parfois faites avec de la viande de cheval. Des années après, le système financier global s’est retrouvé à genoux après qu’on ait découvert que certains titres notés triple A contenaient des ingrédients clairement spéculatifs (« sub-prime »).

Ces situations sont bien sûr très différentes, mais l’idée sous-jacente est que les gens ont besoin de savoir ce qu’ils achètent avec leur argent. Compte tenu des connaissances sur le changement climatique, et de ce qui en est déjà visible, nous avons besoin de savoir si l’épargne accumulée pour le futur est investie d’une manière qui met ce futur en danger. Aujourd’hui, cette question ne se limite plus au domaine de l’environnement : elle est désormais bien présente dans le cadre général des discussions sur le système financier.

L’un des points focaux de ces discussions concerne le rôle du système financier pour rendre possible la transition vers un monde à zéro émissions nettes ; il est néanmoins tout aussi indispensable de préparer le monde aux impacts climatiques que l’on peut déjà ressentir. Le monde doit devenir plus résilient – davantage capable de prévoir, de préparer, d’absorber et de s’adapter aux impacts physiques croissants du changement climatique.

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Can modelling help better understand the transition to a more circular economy?

By Ruben Bibas, Jean Chateau, Rob Dellink, Elisa Lanzi, Eleonora Mavroeidi, OECD Environment Directorate

Image credit: ESB Professional

Economic models have been used for decades to quantify the future costs and benefits of climate policies. With increasing interest in the concept and implementation of a circular economy, the question is: can models also help better understand the transition to a more circular economy?

The answer is yes! Models can provide a better understanding of the link between economic development, materials use and the environmental pressures linked to the extraction, processing and disposal of materials. These include greenhouse gas emissions, pollution to the soil, water and air, and toxic effects on humans and aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Furthermore, models can be used to analyse the costs and benefits of resource efficiency and circular economy (RE-CE) policies, showing the trade-offs between economic consequences and the reduction of the environmental impacts.

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