Environmental indicators, modelling and outlooks

The OECD Environmental Outlook Identifies "Red Lights" for the Future


29/03/2001 - In order to prevent irreversible damage to our environment over the next 20 years, governments need urgently to take action to change their policies in a number of clearly identifiable areas. This is the key message of OECD's Environmental Outlook, a pioneering 20-year projection of OECD environmental problems that identifies realistic priorities for addressing the main challenges. Environment Ministers will meet in Paris on 16 May 2001 to address these concerns and to agree on the "OECD Environmental Strategy for the first decade of the 21st Century" to deal with them.

Journalists are invited to a news conference to launch the OECD Environmental Outlook at 11 a.m. Thursday 5 April 2001. Joke Waller-Hunter, the OECD Environment Director, will make a short statement and respond to journalists' questions. There will also be videoconferences with OECD Centres in Tokyo, Berlin, Washington, and Mexico City.

Using an economy-based vision of developments to 2020, the Outlook identifies the drivers of environmental change (the economy, population, globalisation, etc.), the specific sectors that put the greatest pressure on the environment, and the resulting environmental impacts. Based on the findings, the most critical environmental concerns facing OECD countries are the unsustainable use of renewable natural resources, the degradation of ecosystems and the disruption of the environmental systems that support human life. Some of the most urgent problems (the "red lights" in the attached table) include:

  • Three-quarters of marine fisheries are fished to their limits or over-fished.
  • Tropical deforestation continues at alarming rates. Non-OECD regions will lose another 10% of their forests by 2020.
  • Human-induced climate change already affects weather patterns worldwide. This will worsen as OECD CO2 emissions increase by a projected one-third to 2020.Urban air quality and associated health problems are deteriorating in many OECD countries.
  • Energy use and transportation are already the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Motor vehicle use in OECD countries is expected to increase by 40% to 2020, passenger air kilometres to triple, and energy use to increase by 35%.
  • Municipal waste generation is expected to increase substantially in OECD countries to 2020.
    In most OECD countries groundwater is polluted, largely by farm chemicals. By 2020, nitrogen loading of waterways from agriculture will increase in OECD countries by more than one-quarter.
    Persistent and toxic chemicals will be widespread in the environment, seriously affecting human health.
  • Overall, environmental damage is responsible for 2-6% of disease in OECD countries.
    How can we reverse these trends?

The OECD Environmental Outlook has some of the answers. It suggests a range of policy options to address the "red light" concerns and - through modelling simulations of specific policies - analyses their potential environmental and economic effects.

The policies suggested draw on lessons learned from environmental success stories, including "green lights", such as the virtual elimination of ozone-depleting CFC emissions, the removal of lead from petrol, the expansion of protected natural areas, and significant increases in the efficiency of resource and energy use. In many cases, however, efficiency improvements have failed to counter total increases in the environmental pressures caused by rising consumption and production levels (see Figure 1). More stringent policies are needed to ensure that environmental degradation is de-coupled from economic growth.

The effects of implementing these policies would be significant. Removing subsidies in OECD countries, applying an energy tax linked to the carbon content of fuels and taxing all chemicals could lead to 15% lower OECD CO2 emissions in 2020 than would have been the case in 2020 under business-as-usual assumptions, 9% lower SOx emissions, 3% lower methane emissions, and 30% less run-off of nitrogen to waterways from fertilisers. The economic costs of implementing this package of policies would be almost negligible - with projected GDP in OECD countries in 2020 less than 1% lower than under the reference scenario.

The report is published on the OECD's Online Bookshop and available to accredited journalists through the OECD's password-protected website or from the Media Relations Division.

For further information on the report journalists can contact Helen Fisher, OECD Media Relations Division (tel. 33 1 45 24 80 97).

Download the tables .

"OECD Environmental Outlook"
OECD, Paris 2001
Electronic version available (PDF)
Euros75; FF491.96; US$65; DM146.68
ISBN 92-64-18615-8 (97 01 01 1)

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