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Act now or face costly consequences, warns OECD

The OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050 examines the biggest risks to environment and well-being associated with continuing “business-as-usual” between now and 2050 and reaches some disturbing conclusions. It projects that the global economy will nearly quadruple by 2050, at which point energy demand will be 80% higher than current levels. This could lead to a 50% increase in greenhouse gas emissions globally and worsening air pollution. The OECD predicts that urban air pollution will be the top environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050.

The OECD stresses that well-designed policies to tackle environmental problems can also help to address other environmental challenges, and contribute to growth and development. Tackling local air pollution contributes not only to cutting GHG emissions but also to reducing the economic burden of chronic and costly health problems. Moreover, climate policies help protect biodiversity, for example by reducing emissions from deforestation.

If no new policies are implemented the OECD outlook projects that:

  • urban air quality will continue to deteriorate globally. By 2050, outdoor air pollution (particulate matter and ground-level ozone) is projected to become the top cause of environmentally related deaths worldwide.
  • air pollution concentrations in some cities, particularly in Asia, are already far above acceptable health standards (e.g. the World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guideline). This situation is likely to continue and significant reduction efforts will be needed to reduce their effects on health.
  • the number of premature deaths from exposure to particulate matter (PM) is projected to more than double to reach 3.6 million a year globally. Because of their ageing and urbanisedpopulations, OECD countries are likely to have one of the highest premature death rates from ground-level ozone.

The OECD-outlook clearly states that additional efforts have to be made to effectively minimize health and well-being threats related to air pollution.

As air pollution is a transnational problem, the OECD outlook is also of relevance for the EU and its climate and air policies.

HEAL contributes to these policy actions highlighting public health is at the heart of climate and air challenges (e.g. health benefits of greenhouse gas reduction and a joint letter asking to ensure a high ambition level in the revised Gothenburg Protocol on air pollution).

Additional information

Health and Environment Chapter of the OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction and key figures

OECD press release on the outlook

Originally posted on 6 April 2012

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is the leading not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects human health in the European Union (EU) and beyond. HEAL works to shape laws and policies that promote planetary and human health and protect those most affected by pollution, and raise awareness on the benefits of environmental action for health. Read more »


HEAL has over 70 member organisations, representing health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations, as well as national and local groups. Read more »

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