Wildfires in Europe: towards a “new normal”?

This blog was originally posted on 22 July 2022 on the OECD Environment Linkedin page.

by Catherine Desiree GamperÁgnes Szuda and Giulia Bonazzi, OECD Environment Directorate

Credit: Adobe stock images

Amidst record-breaking temperatures, wildfires have been raging across Europe. France’s Gironde region has already seen 19,000 hectares of forest destroyed and 34,000 people evacuated from their homes and holiday resorts.

Simultaneously Spanish authorities have reported over 20 wildfires that are out of control across the country, while Portugal is reporting major damage, including to homes, in the country’s north, centre and Algarve regions. Even northern European countries may not be spared from fires this year, after a dry winter, and even drier summer and soaring temperatures across the continent.

Wildfires are a natural component of many ecosystems and can deliver positive benefits in certain cases. This is different for extreme fires, which cause irreversible damage to certain species, their habitats and ecosystem services – to the point where desertification will follow as opposed to natural reforestation. Extreme fires are hard to suppress and make it challenging to protect people, homes, businesses and infrastructure assets.

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Limiting environmental impacts through unused or expired medicine

By Frithjof Laubinger, Environmental Economist, OECD Environment Directorate

Credit: Yulia YasPe/Shutterstock

Pharmaceuticals are widely considered as essential for maintaining human and animal health, but many of us do not consider their impact beyond treating infections and disease. In fact, residues from medicine can become an environmental concern when they enter the environment. This can happen in a myriad of ways – not just from improperly discarded unused or expired medicine, but also after they are consumed and excreted. While it is hard to address the latter, the former is more straightforward.

Flushing antibiotics down the toilet or pouring unused liquid medicine into the sink leads to leakage into freshwater systems. Alarmingly, most conventional wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove these pharmaceutical residues. Medicines thrown away amongst residual household waste can also enter the environment when this waste is landfilled.

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Enabling conditions for bioenergy finance and investment in Colombia

By Lylah Davies, John Dulac, OECD Environment Directorate

Credit: Jeff Kraft/Shutterstock

With sunny skies, windy shores and fertile grounds, Colombia is abundant in natural resources and has substantial potential for renewable energy production. At the same time, domestic oil and gas reserves are in decline and the effects of climate change increasingly impact hydropower installations. Clean energy solutions like solar and wind power can therefore increase Colombia’s capacity to ensure secure, reliable and affordable energy.

The Government of Colombia has committed to diversifying the country’s energy mix and delivering on ambitious climate targets. This can been seen through recent legislation such as the Renewable Energy Law of 2014 and the Energy Transition Law of 2021, which prioritised the use of renewable energy technologies and provided various fiscal incentives. Notable progress includes Colombia’s first renewable energy auctions in 2019 and again in 2021, which enabled project developers to secure long-term supply contracts, attracting considerable investment in new solar and wind projects.

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Norway’s environmental performance: “Are we as green as we think we are?”

by Julia Wanjiru Nikiema, OECD Environment Directorate

Credit: VladOrlov/Shutterstock

“We, Norwegians, are we really as green as we think we are? Do we live up to the national and international environmental commitments we made?” some Norwegian stakeholders wondered. This has been the starting point of the OECD Environmental Performance Review of Norway launched today in Oslo, which provides some answers to these questions. The review examines Norway’s environmental performance over the past decade and how it compares with other countries, offering insights and lessons for other OECD members and partner countries.

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Recovering from the pandemic while facing the climate and energy crisis

By Enrico Botta, OECD Environment Directorate

Credit: Metamorworks/Shutterstock

The energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine has further exposed the risk posed by dependence on fossil fuels and an undiversified energy mix. While a number of OECD countries use renewable energy to meet around a third of their power demand, the overall role of fossil fuels in the total energy supply remains elevated at around 80% on average.  This leaves many OECD countries highly exposed to geopolitical and market volatility.

Following the invasion of Ukraine, the shock to oil and gas prices has been remarkable in countries that are particularly dependent on Russian oil and gas. In Europe, gas prices reached levels 10 times higher than a year ago, and the price of oil has almost doubled.

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The road to a sustainable tomorrow: Tracking a COVID-19 gender-sensitive and green recovery

By OECD (Sigita Strumskyte, Co-ordinator for SDGs and Gender, Environment Directorate; Dimitra Xynou, Policy Analyst, Environment Directorate), UNDP (Esuna Dugarova, Gender Specialist; Verania Chao, Programme Specialist, Climate Gender and Inclusion; Brianna Howell, COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker Analyst) and UN Women (Silke Staab, Research Specialist; Constanza Tabbush, Research Specialist)

Credit: StunningArt/Shutterstock

This year’s International Women’s Day theme “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, puts a spotlight on the role of women and girls in the fight against climate change. Yet International Women’s Day takes place again in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The feminisation of poverty keeps growing, the climate emergency is worsening, conflicts and violence are raging, and the international immunisation effort is not moving fast enough.  

In the context of the global pandemic, emergency government measures and stimulus packages have played a key role in supporting households and businesses throughout the pandemic, but have largely failed women. At the same time, environmental crises loom in the backdrop. As countries work to recover from COVID-19, governments have a unique opportunity to take steps towards gender-equitable, greener and fairer societies, a goal that was embraced by most in the early days of the pandemic.

To make this a reality, we must shift fiscal and other support to productive investments and sustainable consumption and production patterns that promote gender equality and strengthen inclusive and sustainable growth. It is also imperative to align policy measures with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2050 net zero emissions goal that many countries have committed to. Putting the rights of women and girls at the centre of transitions to green economies provides an opportunity to address underlying inequalities and secure a more equal and sustainable future for all.

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High tide for ocean data: How to enrich ocean-related data gathering

By Bum Cheul Park, OECD Environment Directorate

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.”
— Isak Dineson

The data is in—human ingenuity, curiosity, and desire to know have penetrated to every corner of our globe, and humans have since made even the vast resources of the ocean, long a source of mystery, available for use and observation. The amount of key ocean scientific data gathered—Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs) including CO2 concentration, water temperature and pressure, salinity, and acidity—have exploded in recent years, both in terms of quantity and quality. As if to confirm this trend, an article published by the World Economic Forum states that so far scientists have collected more cumulative ocean data during the years 2015-2017 than in all previous years combined.

However, there is still a long way to go before the ocean goes mainstream. Improbable as it may sound, we know more about the topography of Mars than we do about the earth’s sea floor, of which the vast majority of remains unexplored to this day. All this points to a need not only to promote higher visibility regarding the ocean, but also to secure more sustained ocean-related finance, in addition to pursuing international partnerships. To that end, the present blog provides an overview of what is currently being done to support, reinforce and enrich the ocean data-gathering landscape — including such initiatives as the participation of citizen scientists, and the involvement of the private sector in ocean data gathering.

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Rediscover our top 5 blogs of 2021

1. The price of plastic waste and solutions to turn the tide

By Stefanos Fotiou, ESCAP, and Anthony Cox, OECD Environment Directorate

This blog examines solutions to deal with the eight million tonnes of plastic that 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.

Read it here.

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Managing climate risks in mountainous areas

By Mikaela Rambali, OECD Environment Directorate, and Takayoshi Kato, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

Kedarnath Disaster 2013

Mountain communities and ecosystems are highly exposed to climate hazards due to rugged terrains, steep slopes and stark seasonal contrasts. Looking at the impacts of a changing climate in mountainous areas is like pressing fast forward: temperatures have been increasing more rapidly than the global average. In western North America, South American Andes, the European Alps and High Mountain Asia, warming over recent decades has outpaced the global warming rate, at an average rate of 0.3°C   as opposed to  0.2 ± 0.1°C per decade. The scale and intensity of hazards amplified by climate change, such as landslides, avalanches and glacial lake outburst floods, can lead to wide-ranging consequences in both high and low lands, and across human systems.

The rate of change today is likely to be well above the ability of mountain communities and ecosystems to cope. People in the Indian Himalayan region, for instance, have for centuries learned to live and survive with changes in their environment, but many of them consider the present rate of change in the climate as taking place too rapidly to adapt.

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Nanomaterials: tiny particles, big questions

By Kyeong Wha Chung, Hannah Thabet and Bob Diderich, OECD Environment Directorate

Nanomaterials make up many of everyday products around us, whose existence relies on the ability to design, manufacture, and manipulate materials on a tiny scale that is invisible to the naked eye. To give you a better idea of just how tiny that is, nanomaterials are up to 10 000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. They are used in many products from paints to cosmetics.

Why are nanomaterials different from other chemical substances?

When we zoom in and look at materials, we sometimes find that nanomaterials behave quite differently and may have different properties compared to their larger counterparts. This makes it hard to predict how these tiny particles will behave under different conditions, and this unpredictability poses some very big questions.

For example, a raincoat feels incredibly soft to the touch, but if you look at it at a nano-level, you’ll see that some of them are made up of molecules aligned in cross-links to create fabrics that repel water and other liquids. If you’ve ever noticed how liquid forms little beads on waterproof clothing, that may be thanks to nanotechnology.

But how safe is it to be wearing this kind of technology so close to our skin and does it pose a risk to the environment?

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