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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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?

Read More

COP26: Big steps forward on adaptation and resilience

By Michael Mullan, OECD Environment Directorate

Image credit: Shutterstock / MemoryMan

While I was at COP26 in Glasgow, one of the speakers said that hope was not the same as optimism; rather it was about being able to see the possibility of a better future. In that sense, I returned from COP26 feeling hopeful about what can still be achieved, even though the path to success remains narrow.

The Paris Agreement seeks to mobilise the collective effort needed to reduce emissions, while recognising that individual contributions will differ. It is building collective effort by combining clear goals with regular submissions of national commitments, transparency about respective contributions, and peer-pressure to encourage a race to the top.

We could see this mechanism in action for COP26. Collectively, our mitigation efforts still fall well short of what is required, but there has been a “ratcheting-up” of ambitions over time. The Glasgow Climate Pact will help to accelerate this process by urging countries to submit revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by the end of 2022. Current NDCs would lead to global emissions being higher in 2030 than in 2010, while reaching 1.5oC requires emissions to fall 45% over the same period.  There is an extremely large gap to fill, but I remain hopeful that the combination of accountability, support and peer-pressure will provide a powerful mechanism for mobilising increased collective action.  

Read More

Deliberative democracy: A bottom up approach to helping solve the climate crisis

By Deborah Holmes Michel, OECD Environment Directorate

Our planet’s ecological systems are increasingly under pressure, millions suffer from the negative effects of air pollution, and very few countries are on track to meet their Paris Agreement objectives. Leaders need to imagine different ways of working that might get us to net-zero emissions and alleviate the climate crisis.

Cultivating imagination to tackle environmental crises

As Rob Hopkins in his book From What is to What if asks: What if our leaders prioritised the cultivation of imagination? Our models of democracy might need to be rethought and reinvented. Decision-making that gives people the opportunity to deliberate, digest and contemplate particular issues in a safe context is known as deliberative democracy. Debate should be informed and informative; participants should be from a range of backgrounds and perspectives, and be willing to talk and listen to each other with respect. Deliberative democracy can be seen to work well in citizens’ assemblies. This can be applied to tackling a wide range of environmental issues in the context of the climate crisis.

Read More

Building it “right” in African cities — not back better

By Brilé Anderson, OECD Sahel and West Africa Club

Image credit: ©Ricci Shryock

The African continent is urbanising quickly — in other words, more and more people are living in cities. In the second half of the twentieth century, the population in African cities grew eightfold, from 27 million in 1950 to 567 million in 2015. A trend that will carry on for the foreseeable future — albeit at a slower rate. African cities are expected to add 950 million people between now and 2050, and assuming densities levels remain the same, cities will cover four times more land in 2050 than in 2000.

How these cities take shape — meaning where buildings and roads are constructed, how close schools and shops are to housing, along with where people live  — has lasting implications for their ability to cope with shocks like climate change (i.e., their resiliency) and future sustainability. Importantly, these choices like infrastructure (e.g., buildings, roads, power plants) will last, for years or even decades, potentially locking in cities to increasing vulnerabilities to climatic events and future emissions.

Read More

Building resilience to natural disaster risk in agriculture

By Francesca Casalini and Jesús Antón, OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate

As one of the economic sectors most inherently exposed to natural hazards, risk management has always been a key issue for agriculture. During the last few decades, however, the frequency and intensity of natural hazard-induced disasters affecting agriculture have increased dramatically, largely due to climate change.

Powerful typhoons and heavy rains cost Japan’s agriculture more than USD 10 billion in 2018-2019. Hurricane Florence and the Midwest floods each caused agricultural damage and losses of over USD 1 billion in the United States over the same period. More broadly, severe droughts have been the single greatest cause of agricultural production losses across the globe between 2008 and 2018. Natural hazards are only expected to become more frequent and harmful in the future, threatening communities and livelihoods and challenging even the most experienced and innovative farmers.

These trends mean that the “business-as-usual” approach of coping with the impacts of natural hazards cannot continue without undermining agricultural productivity and sustainability. Instead, there is a need to transform agricultural and related policies to move from a coping to a resilience approach. This implies designing policies that better enable stakeholders to plan and prepare for, absorb, and recover from shocks, but crucially, that also support them to better adapt and transform in response to a changing climate – a central goal of this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) starting next week.

Read More