GFB Update

A monthly newsletter on the vast and underappreciated world of current affairs books


Michael Marien, Director

2:3, March 2012

In This Issue
Book of the Month: The Atlas of Climate Change
Feature of The Month: OECD's Vision for Better Societies
1) Global Economic Issues
2) Governance
3) Environment/Resources
4) Society
5) Work, Education, and Health
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Book of the Month


The Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the World's Greatest Challenge (Third Edition). Kirstin Dow (U of South Carolina) and Thomas E. Downing (Oxford U). Berkeley: U of California Press / Myriad Editions UK, Dec 2011, 128p, $21.95pb.


Climate change is a "wicked environmental problem" that "touches everything, and everyone." This compact overview by two geographers associated with the IPCC is arguably the best recent introduction to this long-term mega-problem. First published in 2005, the new edition notes "substantial changes surrounding the understanding and treatment of climate change." Although uncertainty remains, "it is [now] absolutely clear that forestalling action on that basis is to invite other problems and losses." Climate warming is "unequivocal," and very likely due to anthropogenic GHGs, which require deep cuts of 60-80% to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 beyond preindustrial levels.


The Atlas is organized in seven parts, featuring 36 two-page overviews with global maps, charts, data, and brief discussion:

  1. Signs of Change: increasing frequency of extreme weather events, warming permafrost, shrinking glaciers, warming oceans;
  2. The Changing Climate: intensification of the greenhouse effect, the climate system explained, past climates, forecasting future climates by the 2050s, possible "tipping elements";
  3. Climate Change Drivers: CO2 emissions (total and per capita), methane trapped in permafrost and undersea hydrates, nitrous oxide, greater use of motor vehicles, agriculture as a major GHG source, changes in the carbon balance;
  4. Expected Consequences: disrupted ecosystems, water and food security, health threats, rising sea levels, cities at risk, cultural losses;
  5. Responding to Change: urgent action to adapt, building capacity to adapt, city responses, investing in renewable energy, pursuing low carbon futures, carbon accounting;
  6. International Policy and Action: the UN Framework Convention, meeting Kyoto targets, looking beyond Kyoto, trading carbon credits, improving finance;
  7. Committing to Solutions: lifestyle changes, pressure on governments and companies, promoting climate-friendly technologies and green jobs.

The last part offers extensive footnotes to the above, a decent index, and data for 197 countries on carbon intensity, CO2 and methane emissions, water withdrawals, etc. There is probably no better way to quickly grasp this "wicked" problem in all of its dimensions, as well as the needed response.

Feature of The Month:  

OECD's Vision for Better Societies




OECDThe Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is a huge but underappreciated global think tank seeking "Better Policies for Better Lives."  It issues hundreds of leading-edge reports every year, both generalized and specialized, not only for its 34 "developed country" members, but increasingly including analyses of the "BRIICS" (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China, and South Africa).  The focus is always on "what works," based on the experience of these countries, as well as sophisticated and futures-oriented policy research.  


Why is OECD underappreciated?  In part, it is because academics and individual researchers and analysts cite only other academics and analysts, ignoring the work of large international organizations, no matter how useful and important.  But another reason is that OECD publishes so many reports that it is difficult to get a reasonable wrap on their evolving cross-sectoral vision for improving economies, governance, society, the environment, health, education, and job opportunities, and fighting inequality.  The vision is influential among government ministries, and deserves to be widely known.  If it goes too far, where is the critique?  If it doesn't go far enough, where is the critique?

The April 2011 issue of GFB Update, celebrating "The OECD at 50," provided an overview of 150 recent OECD reports of general interest, arranged in seven categories: Sectoral/Regional Overviews, Governance, Jobs, Sustainability and Environment, Health Care Efficiency, Education, and Miscellaneous.  
This update highlights a selection of 38 recent OECD reports from mid-2011 to early 2012 that have been added (or will soon be added) to the GFB website.  Categories include
  1. Global Economic Issues;
  2. Governance;
  3. Environment/Resources;
  4. Society;
  5. Work/Education/Health.  
Many if not all of these reports are available for downloading at Items without underlining are not yet posted in the GFB database.
OECD on Global Economic Issues


The latest edition of OECD's annual "flagship economic publication," first published in 2005, is entitled Going for Growth: Economic Policy Reforms (Feb 2012 ; It identifies key reform priorities to boost economic activity and raise living standards in each OECD country, as well as the BRIICS.  Assessing and comparing progress that countries have made on structural reforms in the 2007-2011 period, it shows that "the pace of reform has accelerated where it is needed most-in the European countries hardest hit by the sovereign debt crisis."  The labor market crisis has provided an impetus for structural reforms aimed at raising labor utilization.  The report also focuses on ways to reduce growing income inequality while boosting economic growth, and how to spread macroeconomic risks more fairly.

A deeper analysis on household inequality is provided by Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising (Dec 2011, 388p), finding that wage gaps have widened in most OECD countries in the three decades before the recent economic downturn, and discussing which policies are most promising to counter these increases.  Insofar as inequalities between countries, Perspectives on Global Development 2012: Social Cohesion in a Shifting World (Nov 2011, 200p) notes "a new geography of growth," whereby the center of economicgravity is shifting from West to East and from North to South; the resulting re-configuration of the global economy will shape future agendas of "converging" and "poor" countries; also examines social cohesion in fast-growing countries, with a policy agenda for more cohesive societies that work toward the well-being of all.


Tackling the Policy Challenges of Migration: Regulation, Integration, Development (Nov 2011, 160p) finds that the current governance of migration is both insufficient and inefficient: restrictive and non-cooperative migration policies affect development in sending countries and is also costly for host societies; more effective partnerships are needed.  Also see International Migration Outlook 2011 (July 2011, 452p), OECD's 35th report on migration trends, international student migration, etc. Investing in Security (Sept 2011, 81p) maps 570 Armed Violence Reduction and Prevention interventions around the world and highlights promising practices. Future Global Shocks: Improving Risk Governance (Oct 2011, 137p; GFB BOOK OF THE MONTH, Jan 2012) discusses four case studies (pandemics, financial crises, cyber risks, geomagnetic storms), tools to prepare for future global shocks, effective emergency management, and strategic approaches to reduce new vulnerabilities in a globalized economy. 

OECD on Governance


GovernanceUnlike many Americans who seek drastic cuts in over-bearing government, OECD is a firm believer in good albeit reformed government as both necessary and desirable.  Government at a Glance 2011 (June 2011, 200p) measures performance of OECD governments in a comparative perspective, allowing countries to benchmark their performance on such matters as public finance, employment, transparency, public procurement, regulation, and performance.  Making the Most of Public Investment in a Tight Fiscal Environment (Aug 2011, 198p) acknowledges the imperative of "doing better with less," and highlights good practices and lessons learned on the effectiveness of economic recovery strategies.  Entrepreneurship at a Glance 2011 (June 2011, 105p) notes that the central role of entrepreneurship in boosting economic activity has been emphasized in many countries, and governments have allocated important shares of recovery packages to helping entrepreneurs, especially green investors, through loan guarantees, tax incentives, and research credits, e.g.: South Korea invested 79% of its total 2009 economic stimulus package in "green activities."  Business Innovation Policies (Oct 2011, 156p) identifies good practices such as R&D tax credits among government programs that support innovation, with a special focus on Canada.

Regulatory Policy and Governance: Supporting Economic Growth and Serving the Public Interest (Oct 2011, 120p) encourages governments to "think big" about regulatory policy, and provides ideas for a robust regulatory environment as key to stronger, fairer, and more sustainable growth.  Measuring Regulatory Performance (Jan 2012, 88p) notes that OECD countries are investing significant resources in regulatory policies and reforms, and explaining such reforms through business and citizen perception surveys as an increasingly integral component.  


M-Government: Mobile Technologies for Responsive Governments and Connected Societies (Sept 2011, 152p) describes how use of mobile phones is becoming a strategic and inherent way of doing government business. Together for Better Public Services: Partnering with Citizens and Civil Society (Oct 2011, 120p) identifies cutting-edge practices in public service delivery, costs and benefits of co-production practices, and drivers and obstacles behind implementation.

OECD on Environment/Resources


Environment & ResourcesOECD has developed a sophisticated "Green Growth Strategy" over the past three years, issuing several reports on this strategy, notably Towards Green Growth (June 2011, 142p; GFB BOOK OF THE MONTH, Aug 2011;, which summarizes work done so far.  "Green growth means fostering economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies."  To do this, investment and innovation must be catalyzed to open up new sources of growth through more efficient use of resources, green technologies and job opportunities, reducing resource price volatility, and reducing risk of negative shocks.  The report outlines a policy framework for green growth, strategies to promote transition, and ways to measure progress.  Also see Towards Green Growth: Monitoring Progress (June 2011, 141p), on indicators of assets and environmental quality of life, and Fostering Innovation for Green Growth (Sept 2011, 126p), asserting that innovation is key in enabling green and growth to go hand in hand, and discussing the best mix of policies for green innovation.  Invention and Transfer of Environmental Technologies (Sept 2011, 234p) considers the role of public policy in stimulating innovation.


Future Prospects for Industrial Biotechnology (Sept 2011, 140p) surveys progress in molecular biology research (notably for biofuels and biodegradable plastics), noting that "over 70 countries now have bioenergy targets." Water Governance in OECD Countries: A Multi-Level Approach (Oct 2011, 244p) argues that the current water crisis is not one of scarcity but of mismanagement; key obstacles to improving water management are institutional fragmentation and badly-managed multi-level governance.  Meeting the Challenge of Financing Water and Sanitation (Oct 2011, 142p) notes that huge investments are needed to deliver sustainable systems, and offers a "toolbox" to support effective policies, including strategic financial planning, multi-year investment planning, and performance-based contracts.  Greening Development: Enhancing Capacity for Environmental Management and Governance (Jan 2012, 96p) notes that environmental resources and services are vital for economic growth and human well-being, especially in developing countries where natural capital accounts for 26% of total wealth, compared to 2% in industrialized countries; national development planning must consider the environment and the OECD Green Growth Strategy to ensure sustainable development.

OECD on Society 


SocietyThe sixth edition of OECD social indicators, Society at a Glance 2011 (April 2011, 103p) provides  a wide range of trend data on household income, migration, old age support, unemployment, student performance, poverty, public social spending, water and air quality, trust, and much more.  How's Life? Measuring Well-Being (Oct 2011, 284p) finds that "well-being has increased on average over the past 15 years," but differences across and within countries are large.  "Average life satisfaction appears to have increased over the past 30 years in some countries and stagnated in others."  The Future of Families to 2030 (Dec 2011, 280p) notes "significant transformation" of the family in the OECD areas since the 1960s, and projects a continuation and even acceleration of changes in household and family structures in the next 20 years, notably a significant increase in single-adult and single-parent households. Doing Better for Families (April 2011, 278p) looks at the different ways that governments support families, such as reducing barriers to parental employment and policies for single-parent families and child maltreatment.

OECD on Work, Education, Health 


WorkThe 2011 edition of OECD Employment Outlook  (Sept 2011, 278p) discusses overall unemployment in OECD countries (8.2% in June 2011, down from a peak of 8.8% in Oct 2009), the adequacy of income supports for the unemployment earnings volatility, and the qualifications mismatch.  Taxation and Employment (Oct 2011, 168p) discusses ways that governments can address the challenges of tax systems that generally deters employment by reducing the return to working and/or increasing labor costs.  Sick on the Job?  Myths and Realities about Mental Health and Work (Jan 2012, 206p) notes that a third to one-half of all new disability benefit claims are for reasons of mental ill-health (among young adults, the proportion is >70%), and that "at any one time about 5% of the working-age population have a severe and another 15% have a common mental disorder."  This long-neglected problem is "a key issue for labor market and social policies," in that many jobs exacerbate mental illness. Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in Tertiary Education and Employment (May 2011, 144p) examines school to work transition of young adults with disabilities, and policy experiences of several OECD countries.

EducationStarting Strong III: A Quality Toolbox for Early Childhood Education and Care  (Dec 2011, 369p) notes the wide range of benefits for ECEC, but conditional on quality; discusses quality goals and regulations, designing and implementing curriculum and standards, improving staff qualifications and training, better working conditions, and engaging families and communities.  Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators (Sept 2011, 500p) provides a broad range of indicators on who participates in education, how much is spent, tuition-fee reforms, social background and learning outcomes, school accountability, labor market outcomes, adult education and training, access to education, and impact of resources invested.  Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from around the World (Nov 2011, 92p) reports on how teachers are recruited and trained, how they are developed in service and supported, evaluation and compensation, and teacher engagement in school reform-which will not work unless supported from the bottom up.  Designing for Education: Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities 2011 (Sept 2011, 256p) explores the evolution of learning environments over the past 350 years, and showcases >60 recently-built or refurbished facilities from 28 countries, demonstrating state-of-the-art design.


HealthHealth Reform: Meeting the Challenges of Ageing and Multiple Morbidities (Nov 2011, 221p) notes that the aging of our societies is both a great achievement and a huge challenge, as the overwhelming burden of disease is increasingly chronic;  examines the need to modernize payment systems, innovation policies, and human resource policies to generate improved health outcomes at a sustainable cost.  A System of Health Accounts 2011 (Oct 2011, 522p), co-published with WHO and Eurostat, reflects the desire for cross-country comparability to assist common health care system goals of equity, efficiency, and effectiveness of care. Help Wanted? Providing and Paying for Long-Term Care (June 2011) notes the growing need for community involvement in care of frail and disabled seniors, and looks at policies to support family care-givers, long-term care workers, long-term care insurance, and getting better value for money.

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