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OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: Part one

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050 notes the following trends in energy and climate change:


  • World population will increase from 7 billion today to over 9 billion in 2050. This is likely to increase pressure on natural resources that supply energy and food.
  • Cities are likely to absorb the total world population growth between 2010 and 2050. By 2050, nearly 70% of the world population is projected to be living in urban areas.

Energy and land use

By 2050, without new policies…

  • A world economy four times largely than today (world GDP is projected to quadruple by 2050) is projected to need 80% more energy in 2050 without new policy action.
  • OECD anticipated that global energy mix in 2050 will not differ significantly from today, with the share of fossil fuels at 85%, renewables including biofuels just over 10%, and the balance nuclear. The BRIICS (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China, South Africa) are projected to become major energy users, increasing their reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Agricultural land is expected to expand globally in the next decade to match the increase in food demand, but at a diminishing rate. A substantial increase in competition for scarce land is expected.

Climate change

By 2050, without new policies…

  • Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions projected to increase by 50%, primarily due to 70% growth in energy-related CO2 emissions.
  • The atmospheric concentration of GHGs could reach 685 ppm CO2 equivalent by 2050. As a result, global average temperature is projected to be 3 – 6 °C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, exceeding the internationally agreed goal of limiting it to 2 °C.

If action is taken…

  • The Outlook suggests that 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 would slow economic growth by only 0.2%/y on average. This would cost approximately 5.5% of global GDP in 2050. In contrast, the potential cost of inaction on climate change could be as high as 14% of average world consumption per capita.
  • If the emission reduction pledges that industrialised countries indicated in the Cancun Agreements at the UN Climate Change Conference were to be implemented through carbon taxes or cap-and-trade schemes with fully auctioned permits, the fiscal revenues could amount to over 0.6% of their GDP in 2020 i.e. more than US$ 250 billion.
  • Delayed or only moderate action up to 2020 would increase the pace and scale of efforts needed after 2020, leading to 50% higher costs in 2050 compared to timely action, and potentially entail higher environmental risk.
  • The Outlook simulation shows that phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in developing countries could reduce global energy-related GHG emissions by 6%. However, OECD emphasises that fossil fuel subsidy reforms should be implemented carefully while addressing potential negative impacts on households through appropriate measures.

Adapted from a report by Emma McAleavey.

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