Why is the OECD looking at the environment?

By Anthony Cox, Deputy Director, OECD Environment Directorate

Usually, the most interesting questions come out of left field.

During the question and answer session at a conference on sustainable infrastructure last year, a young audience member asked the question: “Why is the OECD, an economic organisation, working on environmental issues?” At first blush, this question might seem to be trivial or provocative or uninformed, depending on one’s mood at the time. Nevertheless, it is actually a very good question to pose oneself every now and then, in the context of that broader existential question: “Why are we here?”

Of course, the standard answer rolls off the tongue quite easily, combining an assortment of key messages from our mission statement: the economy is actually a subset of the environment, not the other way round; the solutions to most, if not all, environmental problems require some form of policy intervention that will have an economic impact or cost; policy makers need to consider the costs and benefits of policies to address environmental problems; and so on.

However, it was also a prompt to look back at the history of the environment at the OECD to see where it started and how the environmental work has grown and evolved over the years. Read More