OECD Observer
Water quality and conservation

Although agriculture and industry are the thirstiest of all water consumers, household water use accounts for some 10-30% of total consumption in developed countries. As governments develop strategies to promote water conservation, an OECD survey of households conducted in 2008 offers insight into what really works. Based on some 10,000 responses across 10 countries, the answer is as clear as what comes out of the tap: having to pay for water encourages water-saving behaviour and investment in water-saving appliances, thus reducing consumption.

Water aid

Development aid for water supply and sanitation projects has risen in recent years after a decline in the late 1990s. Considering the importance of safe water, perhaps it hasn’t risen far enough. In 2007-08, OECD Development Assistance Committee countries committed on average $5.1 billion in bilateral annual aid to the water supply and sanitation sector, 50% up on 2003-04 in real terms. When combined with aid from multilateral agencies, the total was $6.6 billion. Over the 2003-08 period, bilateral aid to water increased by an annual average of 15%, while multilateral aid rose 3% annually. Still, for DAC countries, aid to the water supply and sanitation sector rose to just 7% of all aid commitments in 2007-08, only slightly up from 6% in 2003-04.

Current trends

Global electricity demand declined in 2009 for the first time since the end of World War II according to OECD estimates. Electricity demand experienced a constant climb over the second half of the 20th century through the oil crises of the 1970s, the Black Monday crash of 1987, and on through the dot-com bubble bursting at the turn of the millennium as development countered all downward forces. The credit crunch of 2008 though, has resulted in a drop of as much as 1.6% based on OECD figures derived from the IMF’s latest GDP growth forecast for 2009.

Environmental aid

Although the environment is high on the international policy agenda, development aid for the environment has declined in relation to total aid since 1996. This trend comes despite an increase in overall aid funding: from 2004 to 2005, total official development assistance (ODA) rose 32% to a record high of US$107.1 billion, though eased back somewhat in 2006 (see development setback news brief).

US energy

The United States is dependent on fossil fuels for almost all its energy supply. Coal dominates electricity generation, accounting for half of its power production, with nuclear and natural gas around one-fifth each.

Switching on

We live in an age of gadgets and gigabytes. Our mobile phones have morphed into multi-tasking life-support systems, with inbuilt cameras, calendars and messaging services. Computers are ever faster child’s play, and Internet allows us 24-hour access to the rest of the world. However, all of this comes at a price: our increasing reliance upon electricity.

Cool China

When a blackout hit part of New York recently, some people blamed the air conditioning, as demand soared during a heat wave. Air conditioning has caught on around the world, which means year-round demand for energy beyond cold winters, and so bigger bills and environmental costs.

Chinese warming

Although natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions or warm ocean currents, or even the earth’s tilt, might all contribute to global warming, carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by human activity–from running homes and factories to flying planes and mowing lawns–is accepted as a major culprit.

Renewable energy

The possibility of using renewable energy to produce electricity on a significant scale is a heated debate.

Carbon dating

Can the Kyoto protocol, which came into force on 16 February 2005, work? Although natural phenomena such as large volcanic eruptions, ocean currents, the likes of El Niño or even changes in the earth’s tilt might all be contributing factors, carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by human activity–whether running homes and factories or driving cars and lawnmowers–is cited as a major culprit in the rise of global temperatures.

Here comes the sun

With oil prices historically high and worries about global warming, greater attention is being paid to renewable energy potential. Take solar energy, for instance, which is already used for water heating and cooling systems.

Healthier energy use

While energy demand in IEA countries has increased steadily since 1973, with only two interruptions, energy savings have been substantial, according to Oil Crises and Climate Challenges: 30 Years of Energy Use in IEA Countries. Compared to 1973, it takes a third less energy to produce a unit of GDP, thanks in part to improved energy efficiency.

Girls read more than boys
Farm problems
Green taxes
Emission impossible?
Scraping the oil barrel?
Pollution alert!