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.

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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.

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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

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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