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 / 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 / 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 / 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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COVID-19 and the climate crisis: Combining green budgeting and tax policy tools for a better recovery

By Elsa Pilichowski, Director of Public Governance, and Pascal Saint-Amans, Director of the Centre for Tax Policy and Administration / RachenArt

It has been said that the best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best for today. When the President of the French Republic confirmed France’s participation in the Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting in December 2017, he could hardly have known that, less than three years later, green budgeting would become a central tool for developing France’s “green recovery” from a global pandemic. At the meeting of the Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting earlier this month, French Treasury officials showcased to delegates from across the OECD how the government had used this tool to identify environment-compatible spending that helped France meet its goal of dedicating EUR 30 billion of its COVID-19 recovery plan to a green transition.

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The case for sustainable ocean finance

By Andrew Prag and Shanda Moorghen, OECD Environment Directorate / Sergey Nivens

“All relevant studies show that enabling the required financial flows into sustainable coastal and offshore projects will turn the tide on the destruction of life in the ocean” – Peter Thomson, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, introducing the OECD panel on “Financing a Sustainable Ocean Economy”, 7 October 2020.

The ocean underpins billions of livelihoods, is a vast reservoir of biodiversity and, through its role in regulating the climate, is even critical to the well-being of the planet itself. The ocean and coastal regions provide numerous and invaluable ecosystem services ranging from carbon storage, oxygen generation, protection from storms and of course food. But in this age of converging crises – the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, and the impending environmental emergencies of climate change and biodiversity loss – the ocean is increasingly vulnerable.

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Building back bluer

by Kate Kooka (Ocean Advisor) and Anthony Cox (Deputy Director), Environment Directorate / Song_about_summer

“We must ‘Build Back Bluer’”, urged Kenya’s Ambassador Macharia Kamau (Principal Secretary in the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs) at a Virtual Ocean Dialogue on the COVID-19 crisis, regional peace and security, and the blue economy. As countries are in the process of rebuilding their economies, this was a clever play on the phrase “Build Back Better” that has caught on as COVID-19 continues to wreak health and economic devastation around the world. The phrase originates from the world of disaster recovery management where it is used to describe the physical re-building of communities, cities and regions after earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis. But as governments and organisations begin to think about a post-COVID world (which still appears some way off for many countries), there is a growing call for a green recovery and to “Build Back Better”. The OECD has added its voice to those calling for a sustainable, resilient recovery in a recent policy brief on that very topic.

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The challenges of greening urban mobility in the post-pandemic era

By Katherine Farrow, Ioannis Tikoudis and Walid Oueslati, OECD Environment Directorate

shutterstock_1235608609-biking-mobility-transport-street-traffic-light-bike-reduced / Max Zvonarev

In the aftermath of the pandemic, policy makers face unique challenges in managing urban transport, but also an opportunity to steer urban mobility towards a more sustainable, resilient future.

The Covid-19 crisis has caused an unprecedented shock in travel demand, raising questions about the future of transport in the near and long term. Lockdown measures have brought transport activity to a grinding halt in urban areas worldwide in recent months. The dramatic improvements in air quality that ensued highlight the stark trade-offs between transport activity and the environment.

As the first wave of the outbreak starts to recede in a number of countries, two important questions emerge. First, will urban mobility return to pre-outbreak patterns of use, or will the shock have a more profound, long-term impact on how people travel? Second, how should governments respond to these changes in order to continue steering urban transport systems towards sustainability?

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COVID-19 and the looming plastics pandemic

By Frithjof Laubinger and Nikhil Varghese, Circular Economy and Waste Team, OECD Environment Directorate

Image credit: Shutterstock / DeawSS

During the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, the city was dealing with more than 240 tons of medical waste a day, a six-fold increase over the amount being treated before the outbreak. Improperly discarded single-use facemasks and gloves have already been found at beaches of remote islands and floating at sea, adding to the already chronic problem of marine plastic litter and revealing the shocking speed at which the recent shift in human behaviour impacts the environment.

Responses to the health crisis led to a rise in plastics consumption and waste generation in a number of sectors – well beyond the medical sector – and put pressure on the environmentally sound handling, treatment and disposal of this waste. At the same time, as more household plastic waste was being generated, less was recycled. The risk of recycling workers contracting the virus prompted several municipalities to temporarily put a halt on separate collection and sorting, directing more waste to incineration or landfills. Read More