What Could The World Look Like In 2050

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“The only way water reform will be successful,” warned OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría; “is if policy combines sustainable financing, effective governance and coherence. Without major policy changes, we risk high costs to economic growth, human health, and the environment.”

This is the takeaway message from the latest OECD synthesis report, Meeting the Water Reform Challenge, that was released at the World Water Forum on Tuesday. Also showcased was the chapter on the outlook for water from the upcoming OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction, where water is a major focus. The chapter on water and water reform was launched in Marseille at the World Water Forum on Tuesday and takes stock of what the next four decades will bring to a world that already has seven billion people on it. Starting with a baseline scenario from 2000, the report is a collaborative effort between the OECD and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) that examines what “business-as-usual” demographic and economic trends could mean for the environment in 2050. Some of the projection highlights include:

  • By 2050, over 40% of the world’s population will be living in river basins under severe water stress.
  • Water demand is projected to increase by 55% globally, with most of the demand coming from manufacturing (up 400%), electricity (up 140%) and domestic use (up 130%).
  • OECD countries, through efficiency improvements, see improvements in surface and groundwater quality by 2050. Outside of the OECD, however, water quality is expected to deteriorate in the coming decades through increased nutrient flows from agriculture and poor waste-water treatment.
  • More than 240 million people will not have access to an improved water source in 2050 and close to 1.4 billion will lack access to basic sanitation.
  • The number of people affected by water-related disasters will rise by nearly 20% of the global population.

But it’s not all about doom and gloom. The report does suggest paths to redirect policy to avoid these consequences of inaction. Improving water pricing to capture the cost of scarcity and adopting flexible water allocation mechanisms that incorporates water rights reform are two excellent starting places for reform. Coherence in policy will be vital in achieving this. Water governance must be improved, with subsidies that encourage unsustainable water use being wiped off slates. The role of investment into green infrastructure – for innovative water storage capacities, and water and sanitation infrastructure – can’t be ignored either. Without this investment, not only will it be impossible to meet the goals and targets set up institutions and governments but there will be no way to reduce the impacts and occurrences of water-related disasters.

A panel that included IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus and Madame Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, Commissioner of the Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union, debated key issues presented in the outlook report.   The report will be released in its entirety on 15th March, 2012 in London, United Kingdom.

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