OECD starts national sustainability reporting

Norway the test-bed for first sustainable development chapter in OECD economic survey

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has for the first time analysed sustainable development issues in one of its influential national economic surveys. Following the approach's introduction in a review of Norway published last week, it will eventually be applied in all national surveys, according to the organisation.

The OECD is a powerful policy think-tank with a membership of the world's richest and most industrialised countries, more than half of them European. Last year, OECD environment ministers reiterated the importance of sustainable development following a report from a high-level advisory group which called on the organisation to redefine its founding goals and to put sustainable development at the heart of its operations (ENDS Daily 25 November 1997).

According to the OECD, the inclusion of a sustainable development chapter in its latest economic survey of Norway will be used to prepare a benchmark analytical framework later this spring. Sustainable development will then be discussed in economic reports for as many as possible of the organisation's 29 member countries over the next two years. A first review of experience is to be made in 2001, the OECD says.

In its Norwegian pilot study, the OECD looks at the complex relationship between economic growth and the environment. While natural capital apart from oil and gas stocks and forests appears to have risen since the early 1980s, reductions in fishing stocks have only partly been reversed, it says. The report adds that while Norway has been fairly successful in reducing emissions, a substantial amount of pollution is imported from abroad as acidification and marine pollution, and Norway's valuable attempts to stimulate international agreements may at times be in conflict with its role as a major oil and gas producer.

The study concludes that Norway could integrate environmental objectives more objectively into overall policy decisions. It notes that heavy metals, fisheries and shipping have been exempted from national green taxes, often out of a desire to support rural areas. Such exemptions necessarily raise the costs to other sectors for achieving given environmental objectives, the OECD notes. Another example is very substantial subsidies given to agriculture, which aim to protect certain activities but do not take into account the associated environmental costs.

Environment minister Guro Fjellanger welcomed the report, which she said was a useful contribution to the environmental debate in Norway. She shared its recommendation that there should be an increased use of economic measures to support environmental objectives.

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00. References: "OECD Economic Surveys 1998-1999: Norway."

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