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Pollution deaths could double by 2050

OECD warns developed countries could be hardest hit.

A new report by the OECD concludes that "action needs to be taken now to prevent irreversible damage to the environment", warning that the struggle with stretched public finances and high unemployment must not lead to an abandonment of the long-term.

The report warns that:

  • World energy demand in 2050 will be 80 per cent higher, with most of the growth to come from emerging economies, and still 85 per cent reliant on fossil fuel-based energy.
  • 2.3 billion more people than today – over 40 per cent of the global population – will be living in river basins under severe water stress.
  • Urban air pollution is set to become the top environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050, ahead of dirty water and lack of sanitation.

The final threat is particularly interesting, since it is one of the few fallouts of environomental damage which largely affects economically developed countries. The number of deaths per million inhabitants due to ground-level ozone, a key indicator of urban air pollution, is expected to increase from 66 to 97 in OECD members, placing them second only to India, expected to grow from 92 to 131 per million.

The OECD recommend a variety of solutions to avoid these problems. They call for environmental taxes and emmissions trading schemes to boost the price of polluting; ending fossil fuel subsidies and pricing natural assets like clean water for their true worth; and providing public support for envirnomental R&D.

They specifically praise the plans in place for a British Green Investment Bank, which will have £3bn worth of state funding, to be leveraged to £15bn of private investment, to develop better green energy and recycling, and write that "governments, businesses, consumers all have a part to play to move towards greener growth."

The consequences of inaction are not pretty, but it will take international co-operation to prevent the damage.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.