Environment

Background

The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health and well-being. An unspoiled environment is a source of satisfaction, improves mental well-being, allows people to recover from the stress of everyday life and to perform physical activity. Having access to green spaces for example, is an essential part of quality of life. Also, our economies rely not only on healthy and productive workers but also on natural resources such as water, timber, fisheries, plants and crops. Protecting our environment and natural resources therefore remains a long-term priority for both our generation and those to come. Each country in the OECD has its own unique environmental concerns, due to differences in consumption, air and water pollution, climate, industry and trade. But countries also need to work together as certain environmental problems, like climate change and ozone destruction, do not respect national borders.

Air Pollution

Outdoor air pollution is one important environmental issue that directly affects the quality of peoples’ lives. Despite national and international interventions and decreases in major pollutant emissions, globally the health impacts of urban air pollution continue to worsen, with air pollution set to become the top environmental cause of premature mortality by 2050. Air pollution in urban centres, often caused by transport and the use of small-scale burning of wood or coal, is linked to a range of health problems, from minor eye irritation to upper respiratory symptoms in the short term and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer in the long term. Some of these complications require hospital treatment, and may be fatal. Children and the elderly may be particularly vulnerable.

PM10 – tiny particulate matter small enough to be inhaled into the deepest part of the lung – is monitored in OECD countries because it can harm human health and reduce life expectancy. In the last two decades, PM10 concentrations have significantly decreased in many OECD countries, and are at 20.1 micrograms per cubic meter on average, slightly above the annual guideline limit of 20 micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization. The OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050 projects the number of premature deaths associated with exposure to PM10 and PM2.5 to increase from just over 1 million worldwide in 2000 to about 3.5 million in 2050.

Water Quality

Access to clean water is fundamental to human well-being. Managing water to meet that need is a major – and growing – challenge in many parts of the world. Many people are suffering from inadequate quantity and quality of water. Despite significant progress in OECD countries in reducing water pollution, from fixed sources such as industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants, diffuse pollution from agriculture and urban run-offs remains a challenge and improvements in freshwater quality are not always easy to discern. On average, 84% of people in OECD countries say they are satisfied with water quality.

Environment in Detail by Country