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Averting global environmental problems is feasible and affordable

Press release | 26-10-2009

Current trends in fossil-fuel use and inefficient land use, ultimately, will lead to large global environmental problems with respect to climate change and biodiversity loss. Affordable solutions are available for averting a global environmental crisis. The main challenge is that of creating the right policy and institutional conditions for a more sustainable economy. This according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) in its report ‘Growing within Limits’, published today. The PBL carried out this global environmental outlook at the request of the Dutch Environment Minister.

In this outlook, the PBL conclusions concur with those drawn in 1972 by the Club of Rome in their publication ‘The Limits to Growth’, which stated that unchanged policy would lead to large-scale environmental problems by the middle of the 21st century. The PBL finds that the main messages of that report are still valid today, although advanced knowledge does present a different picture for certain areas. On 26 and 27 October, the Club of Rome celebrate their fortieth anniversary.

Problems are substantial, but solutions are technically feasible

Crucial tasks in preventing the largest global environmental problems are i) to limit temperature rises and ii) to halt biodiversity loss. A business-as-usual policy scenario is expected to lead to an increase in average global temperature of 4 °C by 2100, and biodiversity will have declined by a further 40% by 2050. In order to limit global temperature increases to 2 °C, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 50%, globally; in developed countries this reduction can even be as much as 80 or 90%. Biodiversity loss is mainly caused by an increase in agricultural land use.

The PBL states that achieving the objectives can be largely realised by applying existing technological options. Important measures for limiting global temperature increases are, for instance, more efficient use of energy, increased use of renewable energy, and the introduction of power plants that capture their CO2 emissions. In the agricultural sector, productivity needs to be increased, losses within the food chain need to be reduced, and meat consumption needs to go down.

Available technology is affordable

In order to realise the objectives, a 1000 to 2000 billion euros will be needed over the coming decades, which makes up around 2% of global GDP. Macroeconomic effects of such an investment appear relatively small. Moreover, an integral approach of environmental issues, for example, by a coupling with air quality policy or reforestation activities, could cut costs substantially.

The challenge: choosing a more sustainable society

Technological and economic options for tackling the climate and environmental crises are available. However, current global political efforts addressing climate change and biodiversity loss fail to realise the objectives. The great challenge, therefore, is mainly that of choosing a sustainable society, with the policy and institutional conditions needed to realise such a society. Effective policy requires long-term objectives and strict regulations for achieving them. The current economic crisis might serve as an incentive, securing the actual political commitment needed to realise such a transition towards a ‘green economy’.

More information

For further information, please contact the PBL Press Office (+31 70-3288688 or persvoorlichting@pbl.nl).