Research shows that it would cost around 1% of growth to implement policies that can cut key air pollutants by about a third

Answers to current environmental challenges are achievable and affordable, stressed the OECD.

The 2008 OECD Environmental Outlook projects that world GDP will almost double by 2030. And the OECD policy simulation shows that it would cost just over 1% of that growth to implement policies that can cut key air pollutants by about a third, and contain greenhouse gas emissions to about 12% instead of 37% growth under the scenario without new policies.

‘Solutions to the key environmental challenges are available, achievable and affordable, especially when compared to the expected economic growth and the costs and consequences of inaction’, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said at the worldwide launch of the 2008 OECD Environmental Outlook in Oslo, hosted by Norway's Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg.

‘The Outlook is an impressive body of work. It combines hope for the future with an urgent call for action today. It offers important guidance for decision-makers and integrates economic and environmental analysis,’ said Prime Minister Stoltenberg.

The 2008 OECD Environmental Outlook report combines economic and environmental projections for the coming decades and simulates specific policies to address the key challenges. It identifies four priority areas where urgent action is needed: climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity and the impact on human health of pollution and toxic chemicals.

Economic-environmental projections show that world greenhouse gas emissions are expected to grow by 37% to 2030 and by 52% to 2050 if no new policy action is introduced.

To meet increasing demands for food and biofuels world agricultural land use will need to expand by an estimated 10% to 2030; 1bn more people will be living in areas of severe water stress by 2030 than today; and premature deaths caused by ground-level ozone worldwide would quadruple by 2030.

Secretary-General Gurría said: ‘Countries will need to shift the structure of their economies in order to move towards a low carbon, greener and more sustainable future. The costs of this restructuring are affordable, but the transition will need to be managed carefully to address social and competitiveness impacts, and to take advantage of new opportunities.’

OECD recommended economic and market-based instruments such as green taxes, efficient water pricing, emissions trading, polluter-pay systems, waste charges, and eliminating environmentally harmful subsidies (e.g. for fossil fuels and agriculture).

More stringent regulations and standards (e.g. for transport and building construction), investment in research and development, sectoral and voluntary approaches, and eco-labelling and information are also needed, it added.

Developed nations have been responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions to date, but rapid economic growth in emerging economies - particularly Brazil, Russia, India and China - means that by 2030 the annual emissions of these 4 countries together will exceed those of the 30 OECD countries combined. Fair burden-sharing and distributional aspects will be as important as technological progress and the choice of policy instruments.

‘The global cost of action will be much lower if all countries work together’, Gurría underlined.