Environmental safeguards affordable: OECD
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO (Reuters) - Tackling climate change, pollution and other environmental hazards is affordable and urgent action is needed to avoid irreversible damage, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said on Wednesday.
"Climate change is mankind's most important long-term challenge," OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria told Reuters after issuing a 520-page Environmental Outlook in Oslo.
The 30-nation OECD said possible environmental safeguards might slow world growth by just 0.03 percent a year -- meaning that by 2030 the global economy would be 97 percent bigger than in 2005 instead of almost 99 percent larger with no measures.
"Solutions are available, they are achievable and they are affordable," Gurria told a news conference. "The consequences and costs of inaction ... would be much higher."
"If we want to avoid irreversible damage to our environment ... we'd better start working right away," he said.
Global warming, losses of species of animals and plants, water scarcity, pollution and hazardous chemicals were all areas for urgent action, according to the study by the Paris-based
The OECD called for an overhaul of sectors that cause most damage -- energy, transport, agriculture and fisheries. A first step should be a removal of environmentally harmful subsidies, particularly for fossil fuels and agricultural production.
A hypothetical policy package included a 50 percent cut in farm subsidies, a $25 per tonne tax on emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide phased in by region, new biofuels, measures to cut air pollution and improved sewerage systems.
The measures would limit overall growth in greenhouse gas emissions to 13 percent rather than 37 percent by 2030.
The study adds to evidence that curbing global warming, blamed mainly on use of fossil fuels, will not derail growth. Last year, the U.N. Climate Panel also said that measures to curb global warming would cost a tiny fraction of world gross domestic product a year to 2030.
A 2006 report by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern warned that unchecked warming would be as damaging as world wars or the Great Depression with more floods, droughts, heat waves and rising seas.
The OECD study is wider than both the U.N. and Stern reports and looks at other environmental problems.
Gurria said the environment needed urgent attention even in the worst case of a economic recession. "We would be making a very, very grave mistake" to put off action, he said.
More than 190 governments agreed in Bali, Indonesia, in December to work out by the end of 2009 a new treaty to fight climate change and succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which binds 37 developed nations to cut emissions by 2012.
The United States is outside Kyoto, with President George W. Bush reckoning it would damage the U.S. economy and saying it wrongly omitted 2012 curbs for developing nations. Gurria said that climate change would be a priority for Bush's successor.
The OECD said that rich nations would have to work closely with other big economies -- "especially Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa."
Without curbs, greenhouse gas emissions from China, India, Russia and Brazil alone "will grow by 46 percent to 2030, surpassing those of the 30 OECD countries combined," it said.
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(Editing by Richard Williams)