Category Archives: environment

Costa Rica tops the Happy Planet Index for the third time

Photo credit:   Beth Rankin

Karen Jeffrey is a researcher at the new economics foundation (nef). This blog was previously published under the title “This is the most efficient economy in the world” on the nef blog.

The 2016 Happy Planet Index (HPI) results are in. For the fourth time, we’ve ranked countries all over the world based on how efficiently their residents are able to live long, happy lives right now, and in the future.

Still, no country has been able to achieve the ultimate goal of long lives and high wellbeing for all within sustainable ecological limits. In fact, the results challenge the conventional wisdom that wealth equates to delivering a successful economy, and offer valuable insights into the policies that might deliver long, happy lives within environmental limits.

What is the Happy Planet Index?

The HPI is the leading measure of sustainable wellbeing. It combines four elements – wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes, and ecological footprint – to show how efficiently residents of different countries are using environmental resources to lead long, happy lives.

How’s it looking in the UK?

The UK places a disappointing 34th out of 140 countries. But it’s not the only wealthy nation that fails to place near the top of the rankings – no G8 economy appears in the top 30.

The UK performs relatively strongly on wellbeing and life expectancy on average and in terms of how equally the scores are distributed across the population. But like most other advanced economies, it is denied a place in the HPI‘s top 20, due to its high and unsustainable ecological footprint – a whopping 4.9 global hectares per capita. However, the UK still comes out ahead of France (44th) and Germany (49th), but behind Norway (12th) and Spain (15th).

The most efficient economy in the world is….

Costa Rica has topped the 2016 Happy Planet Index rankings for the third time. The tiny tropical nation is far ahead of the UK and beats many Western economies on sustainable wellbeing.

The overall results highlight success stories in Latin America and Asia Pacific, where residents enjoy relatively high and equally distributed life expectancy and wellbeing, while leaving a smaller ecological footprint than other more advanced economies.

What does success look like?

In Costa Rica, people are living longer, and are more satisfied with life than people living in the USA – although there is slightly higher inequality in how these outcomes are distributed within the population of Costa Rica. What really sets the country apart is that it manages to combine long, happy lives with an environmental impact that’s little more than one third of the size of the USA’s.

So what’s the secret to Costa Rica’s success?

Since abolishing its army in 1949, Costa Rica has reallocated its defence budget to funding education, health and pensions.  The culture of forming solid social networks of friends, families and neighbourhoods is another factor that’s contributing to Costa Rican’s high wellbeing.

Costa Rica is also a world leader when it comes to environmental protection. 99% of electricity used there comes from renewable sources and the government is far ahead of many wealthier nations, having committed the country to becoming carbon neutral by 2021.

While Costa Rica’s commitment to environmental sustainability is impressive, it still has some way to go before its Ecological Footprint of 2.8 global hectares per capita reaches the sustainable level of 1.7 global hectares per capita.

Like every nation, Costa Rica has more work to do to reach the ultimate goal of truly sustainable wellbeing. But its success, scoring top place on the HPI, demonstrates that there are alternatives to the development paths that have been followed in the West. It provides a shining example of a country that is well on its way to creating good lives that don’t cost the Earth.

To explore the full results, or to find out more about the other high-ranking countries visit


Renewable Energy : Why the Definition Needs to be Revised

This article by Almuth Ernsting, European Focal Point of the Global Forest Coalition and Co-director of Biofuelwatch is part of the Wikiprogress Environment Series.

Climate change mitigation and sustainability are the key rationales for increasing the share of renewable energy.  Yet definitions of renewable energy used by policy-makers are so broad that subsidy regimes and other policies to promote renewable energy are able to result in highly negative climate, environmental and human impacts. 
According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy is “derived from natural processes…that are replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed”.  In reality, North America’s and Europe’s renewable energy policies are heavily focused on large-scale wood combustion for electricity and heat – which depends on increased logging and the expansion of monoculture tree plantations – and on greater use of transport biofuels. 
The fact that soils, freshwater, and ecosystems are being destroyed rather than replenished in this process is ignored. Also overlooked is the growing volume of evidence that industrial bioenergy – both biomass combustion and transport biofuels – commonly cause more greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they might replace. A growing volume of peer-reviewed studies documents the scale of those emissions, which result from indirect land-use change, increased fertiliser use and other causes.
In the US, bioenergy accounts for 44% of all energy classed as renewable – more than any other technology.  The US Energy Information Administration expects its share to grow much faster than that of the renewables sector overall until 2040.  In Canada, the share of bioenergy amongst ‘renewables’ is surpassed only by that of large-scale hydropower.
In the EU, according to Member States’ 2010 renewable energy plans, bioenergy would have a 54.5% share of the 2020 renewable energy target. Most of this would come from burning 80-100 million tonnes of wood a year.  This is likely to be an underestimate:  in the UK alone, companies have announced power station plans which would require around 90 million tonnes of wood annually – nine times as much as the country produces.
The result of these ‘renewable energy policies’ is a massively increased demand for wood, vegetable oil, cereals and, crucially, for land.  Biofuels still only account for 3% of global transport fuel, yet, according to a report by the International Land Coalition, they were responsible for 59% of all land-grabs between 2000 and 2010.  By pushing up the price of cereals and vegetable oils, they have led both to greater hunger and malnutrition, and to the increased destruction of forests and other ecosystems – including peatlands – for palm oil, soy and other plantations. 
Those impacts are being intensified with the rush towards industrial wood-based bioenergy. In the longer term, industry and governments expect much of the wood for EU power stations to come from new tree plantations in South America and Africa, threatening yet more land-grabs and ecosystem destruction. The demand for land for tree monocultures also exacerbates shortages of land for food production and causes rural depopulation further compromising national food sovereignty (see: Women, Indigenous Peoples, pastoralists and small farmers – particularly those without formal land titles – suffer most from these land grabs and from the resulting food shortages, as well as from associated water depletion and ‘water grabs’.
In response to growing awareness of the harms resulting from bioenergy, industry and governments are developing ‘sustainability standards’.  However, these ignore the fact that deforestation and forest degradation, as well as other impacts, are primarily driven by excessive demand for wood and agricultural products.  A study published in Science projected that climate change mitigation policies, which tackle only fossil fuels and ignore the wider land-impacts of bioenergy, could lead to the destruction of all remaining forests, grasslands and most other ecosystems worldwide by 2065. Another study has shown that, even if bioenergy sustainability standards were enforced worldwide and bioenergy expansion relied on agricultural intensification, sub-Saharan Africa would lose 38% of its forests and wooded savannah and large amounts of grassland, while Latin America would lose 20% of its forests and savannah.
Given the volume of evidence of the serious negative impacts that industrial biofuels and large-scale biomass have on climate, forests, biodiversity, soil, water, and people, including them in the ‘renewable energy’ definition can no longer be justified.
Almuth Ernsting,
Almuth Ernsting is European Focal Point of the Global Forest Coalition and Co-director of Biofuelwatch.

This article first appeared in the Outreach Magazine 

Climate Change and Health Beyond 2015: The Sustainable Development Agenda

This blog is part of the Wikiprogress Environment Series
Global Health Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison
The Outcome Document from the recent Rio+20 Summit, “The Future We Want”, recognises that health is both a precondition for, and an outcome of, sustainable development. Climate change affects health through a myriad of exposure pathways, each presenting simultaneously both challenges and opportunities for sustainable health and development.
Interventions targeting either adaptation or mitigation of climate change, therefore, can have multiple health and societal benefits – the key is to find root points of leverage where a single policy might have numerous beneficiaries.
The relationship between health and all three original (1992) Rio Conventions – on Climate Change, Biological Diversity, and Desertification was recently documented in “Our Planet, Our Health, Our Future”, a collaborative effort between the World Health Organization (WHO) and all three Rio Conventions. In particular, the report revealed both risks and interdependencies. Climate change will directly lead to net negative health impacts, including through extreme weather events, spread of vector-borne disease, diarrhoeal disease, food security and malnutrition. Natural capital, such as biodiversity, underpins ecosystem services – upon which health and societal wellbeing depend – but are threatened by climate and land use change. Just a few measurable benefits that ecosystems provide mankind include flood protection, disease regulation, and water purification. Desertification leaves populations vulnerable to water quality degradation, water scarcity and droughts, decreases agro-ecosystem productivity and increases food scarcity/malnutrition.
If human society could advance from a carbon-intensive economy to a green economy, human health opportunities would abound. For example, reducing fossil fuel combustion might not only reduce the extent of climate change, but more immediately such intervention would improve air quality, and if done in the transportation sector, could potentially increase ‘active’ transport that subsequently would lower the risk of obesity and associated chronic diseases. This is just one policy example of how addressing climate change can both enhance sustainable development and save lives.
Sustainable development remains the central context of the post-2015 development agenda. Yet, at this juncture it is critical to acknowledge how health is inextricably linked to ecosystems and our earth’s climate; this awareness is especially salient in the UNFCCC process toward developing a set of post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With the centrality of health as both an input and outcome, and climate change as a cross-cutting issue, a new level of inter-sector awareness and collaboration is warranted, especially as revised targets and indicators are being drafted for the SDGs.
Furthermore, establishment of appropriate indicators will help ensure that interventions in any sector will lessen, rather than add to, the disease burden. WHO, in fact, is now strongly advocating a holistic “Health in All Policies” approach which accepts that population-wide health is determined by many sectors beyond solely health. The role of weather variability and health is obvious for thematic areas such as water and sanitation, food security and nutrition, and disaster management, as well as climate change specifically. Outcome indicators might include: annual mortality rates from climate-sensitive diseases (i.e. the sum of all vector-borne disease, diarrhoeal disease, malnutrition, and weather-related disasters etc.); household dietary diversity scores as an output indicator for food security; and percentage population with access to weather/climate-resilient infrastructure (such as water sources and hygienic sanitation facilities for example).
Health should also be a key consideration for other areas. Representative outcome indicators in the area of energy, for example, might include the percentage of households using only modern, low-emissions heating, cooking and lighting technologies that meet emission and safety standards; or measuring the burden of disease attributable to household air pollution could be another outcome indicator. Indicators for the reliability of energy supply to health facilities are also important. In jobs, healthy workforces are a precondition for sustainable development, and indicators such as the proportion of workplaces that comply with national occupational health and safety standards (an output indicator), or measuring occupational disease and injury rates (an outcome indicator) merit consideration.
Clearly the health of our human population depends on the healthy conditions across all societal sectors and natural systems. Climate change, now solidly tied to our  carbon-intensive economy, challenges all communities working on core elements of sustainable development. Human health has been relatively sidelined in the UN Framework Conventions, but now needs to be better interwoven into the process of defining the next set of global development goals.
Professor Jonathan Patz
This article first appeared on Outreach Magazine 


Putting green growth at the heart of development

Jan Corfee-Morlot, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, shares her insights on the OECD’s recent publication “Putting Green Growth at the Heard of Development” . This blog is part of the Wikiprogress Environment Series.

The rapid pace of development in many developing countries raises the stakes for investments in development, but also begs reflection on the patterns or types of growth that are appropriate for a particular country context. Putting Green Growth at the Heart of Development is a new OECD publication. It explains why green growth is vital to secure a more sustainable future for developing countries and outlines how national and international action can help achieve this.
Green growth does not replace sustainable development, but is a key means to achieving it. Developing economies are highly dependent on natural resources and also highly vulnerable to resource scarcity and environmental risk. By integrating the value of natural assets into the growth model, green growth policies can deliver a range of developmental and environmental benefits. If policies are designed to respond to the needs of the poorest, green growth also can contribute to poverty reduction and social equity.
Based on in-depth consultations and engagement with a range of developing countries, this book brings to light 74 policies and measures from 37 countries as well as 5 regional initiatives that target green growth. Examples range from Cambodia to Ethiopia’s efforts to integrate green growth in national development plans, to China and Cameroon’s use of taxation policies to sustain the use of natural resources, or Indonesia and Ghana’s efforts to  boost government resources for priority issues and improve the incentives for clean energy investment through reform of fossil fuel subsidies. The large number of examples demonstrate growing interest and experience in developing countries with green growth policies. 
The report responds to many of the concerns and questions we often hear about green growth, for instance:  How do we manage the costs of implementing green growth? How do we make green growth and trade work together?
I’m sure that choosing a greener pathway for economic growth will generate up-front costs for some developing economies in the short term, whether to build better infrastructure or to put in place a system to limit over-harvesting of forests or fisheries. Balancing difficult short-term trade-offs with longer-term benefits will be challenging as countries make choices to deliver a more stable and sustainable future. Despite these challenges, the many examples described in the report present a clear and hopeful message: green growth can generate both wealth and well-being for citizens of current and future generations.
Developing countries will need leadership to integrate environmental concerns into development plans and to take bold actions to reform policies. It will be important to secure and publicise some immediate gains, but also to educate and inform people about the risks of non-green development pathways and the need to manage these. Lasting institutional reforms will need to build engagement, be step-wise and emphasise the need to learn and adjust to achieve green growth over time.
Beyond the national policy agenda, international cooperation can provide essential support to developing countries in managing a transition to green growth. Financing green infrastructure, strengthening access to international markets, boosting trade in green products and services, and promoting technological transfer and cooperation are key.
Highlighting both the opportunities and challenges, the OECD Secretary General Gurría said: “Putting green growth at the heart of the development agenda requires real political leadership to instil change at international, national and local levels. Our report shows that green growth can offer new opportunities for developing countries. We are looking forward to working with governments and the development co-operation community to reap the benefits of a greener growth path for the well-being of the people in our partner countries.”
Green growth can help countries to benefit from greater efficiency and productivity in natural resource use, and from innovation and new markets. More importantly, if we do not green our act today, the development achieved so far could be significantly eroded and future growth potential seriously compromised. Green growth is not an option – it is a must-do for delivering sustainable development and global security for all.
Jan Corfee-Morlot
Senior Policy Analyst and Environment and Development Team Leader, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

This post first appeared on the Green Growth.Knowledge Platform, here

For more information on OECD work on green growth and development, see: 

Environment Week in Review

Hi everyone and welcome to another Week in Review. This month we are focusing Environmentso today’s WIR includes a look back at World Environment Day, UNEP’s new report on food waste and a World Bank article on global sustainability. This article will also introduce Wikichild’s upcoming online consultation, partnered by the World Health Organization and Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children, on how child well-being should be measured in view of future development frameworks such as the Post-2015 agenda.

World Environment Day is an annual event that is aimed at being the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action. This year’s celebration, hosted by Mongolia, had the theme of ‘Think. Eat. Save. Reduce your Footprint’.  According to UNEP’s Reducing Food Loss and Waste report, which was launched on W.E.D, an estimated one third, or 1.3 billion tonnes, of all food produced ends up in the garbage of farmers, transporters, retailers and consumers alike. Make sure you look out for more environment awareness days this month including Global Wind Day and World Ocean’s Day.
This week the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction welcomed the emphasis that the Post-2015 committee is putting on combatting climate change. The Head of UNISDR, Margareta Wahlström referenced the recently published Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk, which highlights the economic and social costs of disasters and the impact they can have on the global population, particularly the poor.
This Saturday The governments of the UK and Brazil, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) will co-host a high-level international meeting, Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger through Business and Science on 8 June in central London. The event will bring together business leaders, scientists, governments and civil society to make ambitious financial and political commitments in a bid to reach millions of pregnant women and infants with the right nutrition at the right time, and reduce cases of stunting and deaths from severe acute malnutrition. The whole day will be webcast live from 8.30am to 5.30pm on Saturday 8 June 2013 on this website.
This week the World Bankpublished the ANS indicator for more than 200 countries in the Little Green Data Book, the World Bank’s annual compilation of environment data. Click hereto access highlights from the report.
The Living Planet Index is one of the longest-running measures of the trends in the state of global biodiversity and reflects changes in the health of the planet’s ecosystems by tracking trends in populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Last year’s report provides a comprehensive overview of the cumulative pressure we’re putting on the planet, and the consequent decline in the health of the forests, rivers and oceans that make our lives possible.
Finally, between the 19th of June and the 2nd of July, Wikichild, HBSCand the W.H.Oare running an online consultation on how child well-being should be measured in view of future development frameworks. The discussion will be launched at HBSC’s 30thanniversary conference so make sure you tune in and add your comment to what should be a fascinating conversation! Follow #childwellbeing on Twitter for updates.  
We hope you have enjoyed this Week in Review and look forward to bringing you more Environmentupdates in the coming weeks.
Wikichild Coordinator 

Financing our Future: Sustainable Development Financing Strategy

This blog by Amy Cutter, Stakeholder Forum is part of the Wikiprogress Environment series.

As discussions to develop a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) build momentum, attention is starting to shift towards not only what the world should try to achieve, but also how to go about it. This in large part means starting to think about where the money for the proposed transformative action is going to come from. 

Finance is one of the most frequently cited barriers to the implementation of sustainable development, and the need for significant mobilisation of resources to support countries in their efforts to promote sustainable development, including the achievement of SDGs, was acknowledged in the Rio+20 Outcome Document (para. 254).4080473349 8a7de00fdd o 

This sentiment was reiterated at a high-level meeting convened at the end of last month by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), where governments and other stakeholders exchanged views on financing sustainable development in the context of the outcomes ofRio+20, and ECOSOC President Néstor Osorio highlighted the need for an effective strategy for raising finance from a variety of sources in the follow-up to the conference.

In recognition of this need, Member States at Rio+20 agreed to establish an intergovernmental committee of experts to evaluate and propose options for effective financing for sustainable development. 

The Permanent Representatives of Kazakhstan and Norway have been appointed to facilitate the process of establishing the Expert Committee on a Sustainable Development Financing Strategy, which will comprise of 30 experts nominated by regional groups (with equitable geographical representation), and will assess financing needs, consider the effectiveness, consistency and synergies of existing instruments and frameworks, and evaluate additional initiatives, before proposing options to facilitate the mobilisation of resources and their effective use in 2014.

The committee has a huge task ahead of it. Estimates of the additional investment needed to fund sustainable development in developing countries are as high as $1 trillion per year for the coming decades; and then there are the politics to consider, of course.

In order to be successful, the committee will need to utilise and build upon the commitments and expertise that have been developed through previous experience financing development and the environment, including the Monterrey ConsensusDoha DeclarationBusan Partnership, and efforts to raise finance for climate change. There will also be a need to respond to changes in the global financial system and the development aid landscape by innovating new solutions and mechanisms to leverage resources.

Financing for development has changed significantly since the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were underpinned by a model based largely on domestic resource mobilisation and official development assistance (ODA). For instance, there has been rapid growth in new forms of development finance, including South-South cooperation, philanthropy and climate finance.

It is therefore vital that the process of developing a sustainable development finance strategy is open and inclusive of a wide range of actors, including non-Development Assistance Committee donors, NGOs, philanthropic organisations, private sector, and other stakeholders, all of which will be instrumental to the mobilisation and delivery of funds.

The co-facilitators have now begun the process of recruiting experts to the panel. In March they invited the Chairs of the regional groups to nominate experts by 31st March 2013 and circulated an indicative list of possible expertise to be included in the panel – including ODA and aid efficiency, domestic resource mobilisation/tax, climate financing, asset management, and innovative financing – to aid the groups in their decision-making.

Despite a commitment in the Rio+20 Outcome Document to establish the process in “open and broad consultation with relevant international and regional financial institutions and other relevant stakeholders” (para. 255), stakeholders don’t appear to have been included in the process so far. This could be, however, partially due to the fact that the group, and the process, has not yet been fully constituted and designed. Furthermore, it is up to individual countries to select their own experts.

However, it is also worth noting that, although non-exhaustive, the contribution of NGOs and philanthropy in financing sustainable development is notably absent from the indicative list of experts.

Over the next few months it will be important to follow this process closely and ensure that stakeholders are not stonewalled, as has been seen in the climate finance talksAs with the negotiations to design a set of SDGs, ensuring the process to develop a strategy to finance sustainable development is inclusive, transparent and draws upon broad multi-stakeholder input and expertise will be vital if we are to successfully finance the future we want. 

Amy Cutter, Project Officer, Stakeholder Forum


Week in Review

Hello Wikiprogress followers and welcome to this Week in Review! This week’s highlights include a UN report on human rights in the context of the post-2015 agenda, an update from UNICEF on global progress on sanitation and drinking water and an Oxfam report on risk and poverty reduction.
Released this week, the UN’s Who will be Accountable? – Human Rights and the Post-2015 Development Agendacalls on countries to ensure that the post-2015 development agenda focuses on equality, social protection and accountability, noting that one billion people around the world are still living in poverty. 
“The rise of inequality has severely undermined the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs,” UN Spokesman, 21st May 2013

The “OECD E-Government Review of Egypt” assesses Egyptian e-government policies and implementation, and makes recommendations for future actions. The report highlights Egypt’s progress and proposes that to enhance the use of ICTs in the public sector Egypt should undertake a number of measures. Find out more!

No Accident – Resilience and the Inequality of Risk – This report from Oxfam stipulates that governing bodies and aid agencies must challenge the politics and power at the heart of the increasing effects of climate change, growing inequality and people’s vulnerability to disasters. Oxfam highlights the increasing threat of various major external risks and points out that the majority of these are actively dumped on poor people, with women bearing the brunt because of their social, political and economic status. 

Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water – 2013 Update – UNICEF’s annual report card presents country, regional and global estimates on improvements (or lack of them) in access to drinking water and sanitation. According to the publication, the world will not meet the MDG sanitation target of 75% and if current trends continue, it is set to miss the target by more than half a billion. To find out more about sanitation inequality, read our recent Progblog article on the subject.  
The right poverty measure for post-2015 – is part of a series of blogs that debate how a post-2015 framework ought to measure poverty. This article by Stephan Klasen, Professor of development economics and empirical economic research at the University of Göttingen, puts forward a proposal for internationally coordinated national poverty measurement. 

Thanks for checking in – we are pleased to inform you that our theme of the month in June will be Environment so we look forward to bringing you articles, blogs and Week in Reviews related to the subject in the coming weeks!

The Wikiprogress Team

OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: We’re all doomed

This post first appeared on the OECD Insights Blog and was written by Patrick Love.
While we were launching the OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050, a German TV crew was heading for the zoo in Limbach-Oberfrohna to film an earless rabbit, announced as the Next Big Thing after Paul the Psychic Octopus and Knut the polar bear cub. But the poor bunny turned out to be luckless too, since the cameraman stood on it and killed it. We shouldn’t try to read too much into this, but we will since it sums up so neatly the message of the latest Outlook: humans are causing serious and in some cases irreversible harm to nature.
The Scottish poet Robert Burns was prompted to think about these things when he destroyed the nest of a field mouse with his plough. The most famous part of To a mouse is when he talks about what can happen to “the best laid schemes of mice and men”. But he also regrets that “man’s dominion/Has broken Nature’s social union” justifying the ill-opinion that other creatures have of us.
One rabbit or mouse more or less may be no big deal, but the Outlook paints a depressing picture of what’s happening to life on Earth under our dominion. Terrestrial biodiversity is projected 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%. About one-third of global freshwater biodiversity has already been lost, and further loss is projected to 2050.
Climate change will replace agriculture as the fastest growing driver of biodiversity loss to 2050. Without a significant change in policies, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are projected to increase by 50%, primarily due to a 70% growth in energy-related CO2 emissions. Global average temperature is projected to be 3C to 6C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, exceeding the internationally agreed goal of limiting it to 2 degrees.
The GHG mitigation actions pledged by countries in the 2010 Cancún Agreements at the UN Climate Change Conference will not be enough to prevent the global average temperature from exceeding the 2C threshold, unless very rapid and costly emission reductions are realised after 2020.
Projections like these are probably familiar to most people interested in environmental issues, but other figures in the book may prove more of a shock, notably concerning health. We may be damaging the environment, but it’s killing us. Today, unsafe water kills more people than all forms of violence, but air pollution is set to become the world’s top environmental cause of premature mortality, overtaking dirty water and lack of sanitation. The number of premature deaths from exposure to particulate matter (which leads to respiratory failures) is projected to triple from just over 1 million today to nearly 3.6 million per year in 2050, with most deaths occurring in China and India.
The absolute number of premature deaths from exposure to ground-level ozone will more than double worldwide (from 385,000 to nearly 800,000). More than 40% of the world’s ozone-linked premature deaths in 2050 are expected to occur in China and India. However, OECD countries with their ageing and urbanised populations are likely to have one of the highest rates of premature death from ground-level ozone, second only to India when the figures are adjusted for population size.
The subtitle of the Outlook is “The Consequences of Inaction”, but the authors show that actions to protect the environment make economic sense too. For instance, 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 (the level that keeps warming below 2 degrees) would slow economic growth by only 0.2 percentage points per year on average. The potential cost of inaction on climate change could be as high as 14% of average world consumption per capita.
As the international media noted, the data and trends the report sets out are grim. But the Outlook also proposes policies, and strategies for coordinating them, across all the domains it covers. The question is whether we will take the actions required. Too often we give the impression that we’re like skydivers whose only plan is to jump from the plane and hope they’ll find a parachute somewhere on the way down.
Useful links
OECD Environment Ministerial Meeting 29 March to 30 March 2012
OECD Environment Ministers will meet in Paris under the theme of Making Green Growth Deliver. They will discuss future priorities for action based on the OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050, which makes a strong case for green growth policies.

January Editor’s Choice from Wellbeing Wales

By Danielle Klentzeris from Wikiprogress Correspondent, Lles Cymru Wellbeing Wales.

It is often said that childhood is the best time of our lives. However, according to new figures released by the Children’s Society, almost ‘one in ten children over the age of eight are unhappy’. Issues surrounding family life were found to have the greatest impact on children’s wellbeing and happiness, with relationships ‘within a household rather than the family “structure”’ being the main cause for children’s low sense of wellbeing. Speaking to The Guardian, Elaine Hindell, director of the Campaign for Childhood at the Children’s Society, said ‘we want our country to be the best place for our children to grow up. Yet unless we act now we risk becoming one of the worst and creating a lost future generation’.

In light of the report, Cameron’s call to concentrate ‘not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing’ has great resonance not just for adults, but for the wellbeing of modern children also.

From the state of children’s wellbeing to the state of the planet. The Guardian’s Dean Baker argues for the need to prevent cuts in areas concerning environmental preservation. Defending the need to ensure progress in the technological, environmental and educational fields, Barker argues that spending cuts that ‘that affect our progress in these areas… will be making our children worse-off, not better-off’. The crux of Barker’s argument appears to situate around the simple fact that financial debt will eventually decrease and drop off whereas environmental debt may not be so easily repayable. Quick fixes may appear a tempting option to already struggling governments but if we lose sight of the long-term goals of environmental sustainability then efforts to protect future generations become fruitless given there may well be no planet left to protect.

Unhappy children, planetary decay- there certainly doesn’t feel like there’s much to smile about these days. However, according to The Independent, laughter may hold the key to lifting societies’ woes. From a social tool to a means of curing illness, laughter allows human’s to ‘convey meaning more effectively than words and is a language in itself’. But far from being a sacred tool of human communication it appears that laughter has the power to transcended species. Whilst observing rats, Dr Jaak Panksepp, found that our rodent friends ‘produce ultrasonic chirps, particularly when they appeared to be playfully interacting with each other’. A marvel in itself but even more extraordinary when he later found that, upon tickling the rat’s stomach, these noises became ‘louder and more consistent with [the] familiar, dynamic rhythm’ of laughter.

As tempting as it is to try this experiment for myself, I don’t think the rats of Wales are quite ready for a quick rib tickle but the findings do raise an interesting point. Perhaps we are not so distanced from the creatures we share our planet with and recognising these supposedly ‘human’ traits in other animals may make us realise the importance of preserving the planet for the benefit of all future generations. Now that’s got to be something worth smiling about. 🙂