Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Environment: Act Before 7 Billion Crowd Urban Areas

By Eva Weiler
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BERLIN (IDN) - More than six billion men, women and children will inhabit urban areas around the world in 2050 when the global population would have surged to nine billion, putting stress on the natural resources that supply energy and food.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), over a quarter of population in 30 countries of the grouping is projected to be over 65 years of age in 2050 compared to about 15% today. China and India are also likely to see significant population ageing, with China’s workforce actually shrinking by 2050.

Despite the recent recession, global GDP (Gross Domestic Product) will almost quadruple by 2050. Average GDP growth rates will slow gradually in the coming decades in China and India. While Africa will remain the poorest continent, it is projected to see the world’s highest economic growth rate between 2030 and 2050.

What impact will it have on Planet Earth? The OECD Environmental Outlook 2050 offers alternatives that float between inaction and adequate action by powers that be. This is what the study expects by 2050 without resort to new policies:

Energy and land use

A world economy four times larger than today will need 80% more energy in 2050 without new policy action. However, global energy mix in 2050 will not differ significantly from today, with the share of fossil energy at about 85%, renewables including biofuels just over 10%, and the balance nuclear. The BRIICS (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa) are projected to become major energy users, increasing their reliance on fossil fuels.

To feed a growing population with changing dietary preferences, agricultural land is projected to expand globally in the next decade to match the increase in food demand, but at a diminishing rate. A substantial increase in competition for scarce land is expected in the coming decades.

Climate Change

Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are projected to increase by 50%, primarily due to a 70% growth in energy-related CO2 emissions. Subsequently, the atmospheric concentration of GHGs could reach 685 parts per million (ppm) CO2-equivalents by 2050. As a result, global average temperature is projected to be 3 to 6 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, exceeding the internationally agreed goal of limiting it to 2 degrees Centigrade.

The GHG mitigation actions pledged by countries in the Cancun Agreements at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) in December 2010 will not be enough to prevent the global average temperature from exceeding the 2 degrees Centigrade threshold, unless very rapid and costly emission reductions are realised after 2020. They are more in line with a 3 degrees Centigrade increase.

But things would look better if proper action is taken. The Outlook suggests that global carbon pricing sufficient to lower GHG emissions by nearly 70% in 2050 compared to the Baseline scenario and limit GHG concentrations to 450 ppm would slow economic growth by only 0.2 percentage points per year on average. This would cost roughly 5.5% of global GDP in 2050. This pales alongside the potential cost of inaction on climate change, which some estimate could be as high as 14% of average world consumption per capita.

Further, carbon pricing can raise revenues. If the emission reduction pledges that industrialised countries indicated in the Cancun Agreements were to be implemented through carbon taxes or cap-and-trade schemes with fully auctioned permits, the fiscal revenues could amount to over 0.6% of their GDP in 2020, that is, more than USD 250 billion.

According to the study, delaying action is costly. Delayed or only moderate action up to 2020 – such as implementing the Copenhagen/Cancun pledges only, or waiting for better technologies to come on stream – would increase the pace and scale of efforts needed after 2020. It would lead to 50% higher costs in 2050 compared to timely action, and potentially entail higher environmental risk.

Reform of fossil fuel subsidies is also needed because support to fossil fuel production and use amounted to between USD 45-75 billion per annum in recent years in OECD countries. Developing and emerging economies provided over USD 400 billion in fossil fuel consumer subsidies in 2010 according to estimates of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

OECD Outlook simulation shows that phasing out fossil fuels subsidies in developing countries could reduce by 6% global energy-related GHG emissions, provide incentives for increased energy efficiency and renewable energy and also increase public finance for climate action. However, fossil fuel subsidy reforms should be implemented carefully while addressing potential negative impacts on households through appropriate measures.


The OECD expects global terrestrial biodiversity to decrease by a further 10% by 2050, with significant losses in Asia, Europe and Southern Africa. Globally, mature forest areas are projected to shrink by 13%.

The main pressures driving biodiversity loss include land-use change (for example, agriculture), the expansion of commercial forestry, infrastructure development, human encroachment and fragmentation of natural habitats, as well as pollution and climate change.

Agriculture has been the main cause of biodiversity loss, but climate change is to become the fastest growing driver of biodiversity loss to 2050. It is followed by commercial forestry and, to a lesser extent, bioenergy croplands, says the Outlook.

About one-third of global freshwater biodiversity has already been lost, and further loss is projected to 2050.

But things would look brighter if governments and people take due action. Globally, the number and size of protected areas have increased and now account for nearly 13% of the global terrestrial area. However, temperate grasslands, savannas, shrublands and marine ecosystems are poorly represented and only 7.2% of territorial seas are designated as Marine Protected Areas.

The study pleads for more ambitious policy measures to achieve internationally agreed plans, targets and strategies, such as the Aichi protected area targets of 17% of the world’s terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020, agreed under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Outlook simulations suggest that in order to reach the 17% terrestrial target in a way that is also ecologically representative, a further 9.8 million km of land would need to be protected.

The study stresses the need for maximising policy synergies and co-benefits: “There a number of climate change mitigation options that can be adopted towards the internationally agreed goal to limit global average temperature rise to 2 degrees Centigrade. Some are more biodiversity-friendly than others, and may involve important trade-offs between climate policy, the use of bioenergy, and land use and biodiversity policies.” [IDN-InDepthNews – March 20, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Image: Crowded city street in Shanghai | Credit: mother nature network