Business as usual is not an option

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This week the WWF’s Living Planet Report on the health of the planet and the impact of human activity was published. In this post, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, who contributed the report’s foreword, argues that we need to shift our economies onto greener growth paths.

The fight against climate change and the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems must be a priority in our quest to build a stronger, fairer and cleaner world economy. Rather than an excuse to delay further action the recent financial and economic crisis should serve as a reminder of the urgency of developing greener economies.

“Business as usual” is not an option. That’s why the OECD is developing a Green Growth Strategy to help governments design and implement policies that can shift our economies onto greener growth paths. Central to this is identifying sources of growth which make much lighter claims on the biosphere. This will require fundamental changes to the structure of our economies, by creating new green industries, cleaning up polluting sectors and transforming consumption patterns.

If they are to promote this change, policy makers and citizens will need reliable information on the state of the planet and objective analyses of the various options proposed. The OECD will continue to refine green growth indicators and improve the way in which we measure societies’ progress.

An important element will be discussions with other stakeholders to explore common ground, and ways to co-operate in educating and motivating people to adjust their lifestyles. That is why the OECD has invited governments, civil society organisations and experts with a wide range of views to join us in shaping the policies and identifying the actions that will enable us to leave a healthier planet to future generations.

Simon Upton, OECD Environment Director, discusses green growth:


Useful links




Investing in Africa

It’s often overlooked, but the past decade saw a very substantial increase in the amount of money foreign companies invested in Africa – what’s known as foreign direct investment (FDI). In 2000, FDI was worth about $9 billion; by 2008 it had risen almost tenfold to $88 billion. To put that in perspective, that was double the $44 billion provided for African countries in official development assistance (ODA) in 2008.


Blood, sweat and fear

Even worse on a trawler

Like most of us these days, I do a search on Internet when writing something. Today, I wanted to write about the Chilean mine rescue, but I found another story about 33 miners. Their accident happened in England in 1838 and they all died, including Charles Hutchinson, aged nine.

Reports for Royal Commissions later in the century show that child labour was nothing exceptional: “Janet Snedden, aged 9… Comes down a quarter before 6 and goes up again about 4 p.m.” is a typical example.

The Coalmining History Resource Centre where I found the reports has a national database of mining deaths in the UK, showing that accidents were typical too. Today, only the location seems to have changed. Ask somebody to supply the missing word in “China. Mine…” and the chances are they’ll say explosion or disaster. Yet mining isn’t the most dangerous civilian profession in OECD countries at least. Another UK study concluded that the fatal accident rate among fishermen was 115 times greater than in the general British workforce.

Despite their radically different workplaces, mining and fishing are similar in that they depend on natural resources and on people putting their lives and health at risk to keep us supplied. Apart from the actual physical dangers, other aspects of workers’ conditions in these industries can be horrendous. The newly published OECD Insights on Fisheries cites the case of Chinese fishers who not only had to pay $470 to secure a place on a boat, but had to agree to have their appendix removed before going to sea and to pay $47 for the operation themselves. And these were among the lucky ones who actually had a contract.

Movies like Blood Diamond show the other prices to be paid when vital metals and minerals come from conflict zones and help to provoke and sustain the conflicts themselves.

Putting an end to a trade controlled by brutal, heavily-armed gangs with friends in high places isn’t going to be easy, but at the end of September, key players in the supply chain of tin-tantalum-tungsten and gold, met with government representatives and international and civil society organisations to finalise guidance on responsible supply chain management of conflict minerals at an OECD-ICGLR conference (International Conference on the Great Lakes Region).

The following week 11 African countries endorsed an OECD system for the responsible sourcing of minerals.

We’ll have to wait to see if words are followed by actions, but hopefully one day this business will seem as unthinkable as sending children down a mine.

Useful links

OECD work on due diligence in the mining and minerals sector

International Network on Conflict and Fragility

Consultation on the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework


Africa: Towards Sustainable Growth and Economic Diversification

Today’s post is contributed by Karim Dahou, Executive Manager of the NEPAD-OECD Africa Investment Initiative. Click on the logo to go to the Initiative’s website.

 There is a new mantra in this post-crisis world: the road to global growth and development is now officially a two-way street. In this changing world order, the so-called “advanced” economies are more dependent than ever on developing countries’ growth for global economic stability. For Africa, analysts are now predicting that even the poorest countries have a role to play in global recovery. But to make the most of these new prospects, Africa will need to diversify its economies, reduce reliance on natural resource revenues and encourage sustainable growth in key strategic sectors for sustainable growth and development, such as telecommunications, agriculture and tourism.

These issues will be at the heart of discussions on Africa at the UN headquarters in New York on October 11, when three key partners for Africa’s development will launch new analysis on how African governments can make the most of their growth and development potential. Led by the NEPAD-OECD Africa Investment Initiative and the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, the work aims to improve recognition of the increasingly important contribution of Africa to global economic growth while providing advice on how to reduce vulnerability to external shocks and food price instability.

In addition to releasing a joint report on economic diversification in Africa, the UN, NEPAD and the OECD will present policy briefs on issues including foreign direct investment, infrastructure, debt, and aid in the continent. Economic diversification requires physical infrastructure, technical skills, knowledge of outlet markets and access to finance. But Africa suffers from inadequate infrastructure, weak regulatory frameworks, expensive credit and a lack of risk-mitigation instruments. While more foreign direct investment could bring much of the missing finance, knowledge and skills, regional co-operation may help provide economies of scale, reduced costs and improved market access.

There is unlikely to be much room for dissent on the study’s findings on the benefits of economic diversification for Africa. The continent’s dependency on the exportation of natural resources and primary commodities has been bluntly exposed by the global financial and economic crisis. The decline in demand and prices of oil and minerals was largely responsible for reducing Africa’s growth rate from 5.7% in 2008 to 1.9% in 2009. As a result, many of the continent’s economies have suffered a severe setback in their efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Economic diversification could reduce Africa’s vulnerability to external shocks and contribute to achieving and sustaining long term economic growth and development in the continent. Only broad-based economies, active in a wide range of sectors, and firmly integrated into their regions, can develop robust growth that is less dependent on the vagaries of the global markets.

Useful links

The OECD Factblog gives more details of investment flows to Africa 

African Economic Outlook

OECD work on development issues

OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

OECD Development Centre

The Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC/OECD)


GPs and healthcare costs

It may be common knowledge that doctors’ pay outstrips average wages, with the really high earnings going to medical specialists. But now, more and more doctors are becoming specialised, with implications for costs and healthcare policy more generally. There were some 3.2 million doctors in the OECD area in 2008, which is over 40% more than in 1990 in absolute terms. But looked at on a per head basis, the number of specialists expanded by about 50% over the same 18 year period,  compared with a mere 15% rise per capita for GPs.

What would YOU do to improve health care?

What is your biggest health worry?  Insurance?  Having an operation?  Correcting an unhealthy lifestyle? All of these?  Let us know your thoughts on how to get the most from healthcare (we will share these with OECD Health ministers).

What’s wrong?

This doesn't come cheap, you know

How many diseases are there? An expert would probably look for the answer in ICD-10, the WHO’s catalogue of over 12,000 calamities that could hit you.

The eponymous hero of Jules Romains’ play Knock, or the Triumph of Medicine would probably have replied that there as many as you can convince people to have. According to him, a healthy person is merely a sick one who doesn’t know it yet.

The ICD can give you that impression too. Some of the characteristics of F60.5 (anankastic personality disorder if you must know) sound more like my job description, and in fact few of my colleagues would escape intact from even a superficial check against sections F60-69, Disorders of Adult Personality and Behaviour. Who hasn’t worked with/for “There may be excessive self-importance, and there is often excessive self-reference”?

According to a special issue of PLoS Medicine, the expansion in the number of diseases these past years is not due to the population becoming sicker or diagnostics getting better. The real reason is “disease mongering” – interested parties creating an all-in-one package of a new treatment and a new condition it can treat, or a new use for an old treatment whose patent is about to expire.

This may play a role in increasing health costs, but the main reasons are that patients expect more from health care systems and that the type of conditions the systems have to treat are changing.

Scanners and other modern imaging techniques are expensive, but are now commonplace, as are sophisticated testing techniques. Many diseases that would once have killed the sufferer can now be treated, but the treatment may last for years. The population is ageing, and more people are living to an age when costly care is needed on a daily basis.

These are postive developments, and investment in health pays dividends. For example, up to 40% of the increase in life expectancy since the early 1990s could be due to increased health spending.

That doesn’t mean that the 9% of GDP an average OECD country devotes to health is all money well spent. Health ministers meeting at the OECD this week will be looking at how to get the best value for money, and ensure that the progress we’ve seen in treating those 12,000 diseases continues. They’ll also be looking at prevention, how to stop us getting them in the first place.

Useful links

OECD work on health

The MRI brain scan is courtesy of Dwayne Reed