Dying for a drink

Rain, rain, please come back

Imagine a mile-wide lake evaporating so quickly that shellfish dry and shrivel inside their shells. That’s what happened in Damoguzhen in south-west China over the past few months.

A drought affecting all of south-east Asia is sucking the water from rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands, destroying crops, reducing the output of hydroelectric powerplants and threatening the livelihoods of millions of people.

The drought is causing political tensions too, first among the various groups competing for what water there is, and second among countries who share resources such as the Mekong river.

 It could be a sign of climate change, and with the post-Copenhagen talks getting off to a difficult start, a timely warning of what could be in store. Yet even without global warming, demographic change and economic growth will place the world’s water supplies under strain.

Over 90% of projected population growth by 2050 (3 billion more people) will be in developing countries, often in regions which already are water scarce. And according to the 2009 UN Water Development Report, in 2030, 47% of the world population will be living in areas of high water stress.

In Africa alone, by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people may experience increased water stress due to climate change. The UN report estimates that 24 to 700 million people could be displaced because of a scarcity of water.

Even today, unsafe water kills more people than all forms of violence, including war. Diarrheal diseases kill 1.8 million people a year, and one child under the age of five dies every 20 seconds from water-related diseases.  

We’ll be discussing sanitation and hygiene in a new OECD Insights on water. Other topics will probably include the amount of investment needed for water-related infrastructure ($772 billion a year in OECD and Brazil, Russia, India and China countries by 2015 to maintain existing infrastructure and finance new projects) as well as water for various uses.

Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s water at present but this could rise. Energy production is a big user too. For example nearly 40% of all freshwater withdrawn in the US goes to produce electricity at thermoelectric power plants.

The book is still in the planning stage, and we’d be happy to hear your ideas and arguments.

Useful links

The OECD Water Programme site has data, articles and a video of OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría talking about water pricing.

World Water Council

The Guardian has a number of videos on drought in Damoguzhen and elsewhere.

Water Aid is an NGO working to improve access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities.

Water.org is a US-based organisation founded by engineer Gary White and actor Matt Damon, with similar goals to Water Aid.

Climate change: E-mailstrom

Synchronised sunbathing at the Winter Olympics?

News that Vancouver didn’t have enough snow for the Winter Olympics led millions of global warming sceptics to change their mind. OK, it didn’t.  Yet anecdotes dominate the debate on both sides and carry more weight in shaping public opinion than the scientific process.

This is in line with media coverage of science in general, which often tends to highlight the silly and the sensational. The latest sensations concern stolen e-mails that are supposed to prove that scientists tried to cover up evidence against global warming, and false predictions that the Himalaya’s glaciers would disappear by 2035. (more…)

Climate change: Fisheries too

When thinking about climate change, we usually think about the Earth’s atmosphere, but oceans are affected too, with serious impacts on marine life.

According to a new study by the FAO increasing temperatures could have dire consequences for the fishing industry. Over 500 million people rely on fish as a source of protein and income, and fish provide at least half the animal proteins and dietary minerals for 400 million of the world’s poorest people.

The FAO says both marine and inland fisheries are poorly positioned to withstand the new problems posed by climate change. Marine fisheries in particular may see major decline, as they are already trying to cope with overfishing, habitat loss and mismanagement.

These issues are explored in a forthcoming Insights, Fisheries: While Stocks Last? to be published in Spring 2010 to coincide with a major OECD conference on aquaculture.

Subsidising Pollution?

How can we reduce fossil fuel use and make the switch to clean energy?  Debates on fossil fuel dependence and its consequences for the environment have reached a crescendo as COP15 nears its deadline.  But did you know that governments still subsidize the use of fossil fuels?  Helen Mountford of the OECD Environment Directorate, Peter Wooders of the IISD and Dr. Fatih Birol of the IEA explain the importance of dealing with these contradictory policies.

Useful links:

OECD and COP15
The IISD Blog
COP15

Point of view: OECD Analyst reports from Copenhagen


What images come to mind when we hear “Copenhagen”?  Ministers sitting around a table and protesters waving banners?  COP15 is also analysts, scientists, businesses and civil society representatives working together on climate-related initiatives…OECD Analyst Christa Clapp tells us what she is doing at COP15:

“While in Copenhagen, I will be speaking at an event sponsored by Eneco, a Dutch energy company. Eneco is supporting the Luz Verde programme to distribute 30 million compact fluorescent light bulbs in Mexico. This is one of the first “programmatic” Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects to be approved. It groups similar disbursed projects together to lower transaction costs to access the carbon market and earn carbon credits. Such projects are a first step towards scaling-up carbon market mechanisms. The OECD is working together with the International Energy Agency to support the Annex I Expert Group, which is a group of climate negotiators, on carbon market issues. Our recent papers focus on the strengths and weaknesses of project-based carbon market mechanisms and scaled-up sector-based approaches.

More than 30 countries are already trading in carbon markets, either at a national or sub-national level. Additional countries are discussing how to design new market instruments and potentially link emission trading systems. Decisions taken in Copenhagen may impact the reach of these carbon markets and how they function. At OECD we are actively exploring how carbon markets might evolve post-Copenhagen, building on our recent Economics of Climate Change Mitigation work, which analyzes how carbon market instruments can be used to build up a global carbon market.

To further explore how carbon markets are expanding and evolving, we are bringing together experts and policy-makers for an OECD Workshop on Carbon Markets in April 2010. This workshop will offer an early post-Copenhagen opportunity to investigate these key questions:

  • How can we build up a global carbon market, for example by increasing the number of countries participating, and through direct linking of emissions trading schemes?
  • How will decisions taken in Copenhagen impact incentives for developing country engagement in carbon markets, including the design of “offset” mechanisms?
  • Under what conditions can cities and sub-national actors access carbon market financing for local low-emission projects?
  • How might voluntary markets evolve as compliance markets grow?

Pay a little now or a lot later?

Climate change has stirred controversy since scientists first started debating it.  Cop15 seems to signal a new consensus  – or at least the beginnings of one.  But many big questions remain : How will climate change actually affect people’s daily lives?  What’s the best way to attack the problem ?  Who should pay the bill?

Agreeing that climate change is a world problem requiring world cooperation is only the first step, and many of us watching the summit wonder what real solutions will emerge.

As political leaders settle in to negotiate an agreement, we should be aware of a basic economic fact:  the costs of tackling climate change are moderate provided that we start lowering emissions now.   OECD calculations show that the longer we wait, the more expensive the bill.

Useful links:

OECD on COP15