Report: World must act now on climate change

March 5, 2008 9:53:22 AM PST
The world must deal with climate change now - or pay a much higher price later, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Wednesday.In two decades, unchecked environmental damage could leave half the world's population without adequate drinking water, the OECD's secretary general, Angel Gurria, said Wednesday.

"Climate change is mankind's most important challenge. We know the enemy: It is named carbon," he said.

An OECD report on the environmental outlook to 2030, part of a series of reports compiled every five years, concentrates on climate change, water shortages, energy needs, biodiversity loss, transportation, agriculture and fisheries.

"Without more ambitious policies, increasing pressures on the environment could cause irreversible damage within the next few decades," the report said. "The cost of inaction is high, while ambitious actions to protect the environment are affordable and can go hand in hand with economic growth."

The report also stressed the need for a global response. Gurria urged the United States and developing countries with booming economies such as China and India to accept a binding international commitment to reduce global-warming gases.

"It involves that everyone participates. This is very important. We can't have anybody do a 'free ride,"' he said.

By 2030, the world's population - currently about 6.5 billion people - is expected to hit 8.2 billion, and the global economy could double in size, largely due to growth in countries such as Brazil, Russia, China and India, the report said.

Unchecked, growth in energy consumption in those countries could be 72 percent by 2030, compared to 29 percent for all 30 of the OECD's European nations.

That would lead to a 38 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. However, if Brazil, Russia, China and India take the same step in 2020, and are followed by the rest of the world in 2030, emissions could be held at 2000 levels, it said.

If no steps are taken, world gross domestic product will grow 99 percent between 2005 and 2030, with severe environmental consequences, the report said. With measures, growth would be nearly the same, 97 percent, but with a much healthier environment.

The report said governments must create such policies as "green taxes" to encourage sound technologies and practices, and that the rich world must help poor countries develop without spewing pollution by providing technology and expertise.

It also said ecological advances bring multiple benefits. For example, cutting motor vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions would improve air quality in cities or better insulated homes that cut power bills for consumers while reducing power plant emissions.

"OECD's report identifies critical environmental issues facing our country and countries around the world," Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House of Representatives' science and technology committee, said in a statement from Washington. "The OECD report provides a good roadmap for evaluating environmental challenges and the economic impacts we face if no action is taken."

The OECD, made up of 30 European nations, focuses on economic and social policies.

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On the Net:

www.oecd.org

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