Dolphins swim in the oil spill caused by the collapse of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig. A study by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looked at why dolphins died in such large numbers after the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010. It is the strongest link yet to the spill and to the deaths of bottlenose dolphins. More than 1,000 dolphins have died in the Gulf since 2010. Photo: NOAA

20 May 2015 (PBS) – JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: the lasting impact of America’s biggest offshore oil spill.

It comes as officials are grappling with a new spill along the coast of Southern California near Santa Barbara. It began yesterday when an onshore pipeline ruptured. Slicks are now spanning a total of nine miles and the line was operating at full capacity when it broke.

Today, a new study by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looked at why dolphins died in such large numbers after the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010. It was the strongest link yet to the spill and to the deaths of bottlenose dolphins. More than 1,000 dolphins have died in the Gulf since 2010.

The spill lasted nearly three months, spewing millions of gallons of oil and chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico.

We get the latest from William Brangham, who weekend viewers will recognize, and he is now here with us as our newest NewsHour correspondent.

And we welcome you to the team, William.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Thanks, Judy. Great to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let’s talk about this, what researchers are saying. What do they say these new studies show?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: What they’re saying is that this has been the first definitive link where they can directly connect the death, this massive die-off of dolphins — as you mentioned, over 1,300 — I think it’s 1,200, 1,300 dolphins — linking those deaths directly with the oil spill.

I mean, scientists have been studying these dolphins for several years, ever since the spill occurred. This is the first time they have said, we now know why they died and in such large numbers, and it’s because of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, BP is pushing back, of course. They are saying there’s no proof that there’s a connection to the oil that came out of the Deepwater Horizon rig. What do scientists say about that?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s true.

This has been BP’s argument all along, and in fact they have also pointed out that there were die-offs of dolphins that happened all the time on the Gulf, and that actually some of these dolphins had died off before the spill even occurred.

But scientists went to great lengths today to say that they looked at all the other factors that have caused die-offs in the past, and that this particular spill, the impact the oil has had on marine mammals, they can directly connect it to the dolphins that they have seen. And, in fact, the research that they did showed in the areas where there was more oil in the water, more dolphins died, areas where there was less oil, less dolphins died.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, are the bottlenose dolphins still dying off, or was this a one-time phenomenon?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The deaths have occurred ever since the spill began all the way to the present day. The current study only looked at a couple of years after the spill.

And what they did is, they examined 46 particular dolphins that died, and they were quickly able to catch them on the beaches of the Gulf. And they analyzed their tissues and found lung and adrenal gland problems. So this is — they think this may be an ongoing problem, but this study just looked at this particular period.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And do they offer an explanation for why they’re seeing this with the bottlenose dolphins, but not with other animal species, crab, fish, shrimp, and so forth?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  The impact on those other species may occur. They just haven’t found the data on them yet.

The reason that dolphins, the scientist says, are the — are particularly acute sort of ways to understand this is that, if you think about how a dolphin lives, they’re mammals. They breathe air. So during the spill, they come to the surface to breathe the — to breathe. They enter the area of the water where the oil is sitting, and so they take a huge, deep breath with their blowhole, suck oil and chemicals into that.

Then they take a deep dive and hold that breath for a very long period of time. So, they’re particularly able to, in essence, suck in the oil and cause great deals of problems. Also, the scientists were able, to all throughout the spill, find these dolphins. They were able to go out and find them. They’re very large mammals swimming around in the water. [more]

New science shows Gulf spill is still killing dolphins


20 May 2015 (NOAA) – As part of an unusual mortality event investigation, a team of scientists has discovered that dead bottlenose dolphins stranded in the northern Gulf of Mexico since the start of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have lung and adrenal lesions consistent with petroleum product exposure according to a paper published today in the peer-reviewed online journal PLOS ONE.

These findings support those of a 2011 health assessment of live dolphins in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, a heavily oiled area during the spill which showed those resident dolphins had poor health, adrenal disease, and lung disease.

The timing, location, and nature of the detected lesions support that contaminants from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused these lesions and contributed to the high numbers of dolphin deaths within this oil spill’s footprint. Increased dolphin deaths following the oil spill are part of the northern Gulf of Mexico unusual mortality event investigation.

“This is the latest in a series of peer-reviewed scientific studies, conducted over the five years since the spill, looking at possible reasons for the historically high number of dolphin deaths that have occurred within the footprint of the Deepwater Horizon spill,” said Dr. Teri Rowles, veterinarian and one of 22 contributing authors on the paper, and head of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, which is charged with determining the causes of unusual mortality events, also known as UMEs. “These studies have increasingly pointed to the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons as being the most significant cause of the illnesses and deaths plaguing the Gulf’s dolphin population. This study carries those findings significantly forward.”

Direct causes of death, during this period, likely included:

  • Chronic adrenal insufficiency resulting from adrenal gland effects;

  • Increased susceptibility to life-threatening outcomes due to adrenal insufficiency, especially when challenged with pregnancy, cold temperatures, and infections; and

  • Increased susceptibility to primary bacterial pneumonia, possibly due to lung injury, or alterations in immune function.

Animals with untreated adrenal insufficiency are at risk of life-threatening adrenal crises. The adrenal gland produces hormones – such as cortisol and aldosterone – that regulate metabolism, blood pressure and other bodily functions.

“Animals with adrenal insufficiency are less able to cope with additional stressors in their everyday lives,” said Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson, the study’s lead author and veterinary epidemiologist at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, “and when those stressors occur, they are more likely to die.”

Since early 2010, there has been an ongoing cetacean unusual mortality event involving primarily bottlenose dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Three out of four groupings of elevated dolphin strandings identified within this event followed the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

This ongoing die-off, with the highest number of dead bottlenose dolphin strandings on record in the northern Gulf of Mexico, coincided with the largest marine-based oil spill in the United States.

Barataria Bay, Louisiana, was one of the most heavily oiled coastal areas from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the new study shows that half of the dead dolphins examined from Barataria Bay that stranded between June 2010 and November 2012 had a thin adrenal gland cortex, indicative of adrenal insufficiency. One in every three dolphins examined across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had this lesion. In comparison, only 7 percent of the dead stranded reference dolphins, collected from other coastal regions outside the Deepwater Horizon oil spill area and time frame, had a thin adrenal cortex.

In fact, almost half of the dolphins with this otherwise rare adrenal lesion appeared to have died without another clear explanation for their death.

In addition to the adrenal lesions, the scientific team discovered that more than one in five dolphins that died within the Deepwater Horizon oil spill footprint had a primary bacterial pneumonia. Many of these cases were unusual in severity, and caused or contributed to death.

“These dolphins had some of the most severe lung lesions I have seen in the over 13 years that I have been examining dead dolphin tissues from throughout the United States,” said Dr. Kathleen Colegrove, the study’s lead veterinary pathologist based at the University of Illinois. In comparison, only 2 percent of reference dolphins had these lesions.

In other mammals, exposure to petroleum-based polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, known as PAHs, through inhalation or aspiration of oil products can lead to injured lungs and altered immune function, both of which can increase an animal’s susceptibility to primary bacterial pneumonia. Dolphins are particularly susceptible to inhalation effects due to their large lungs, deep breaths and extended breath hold times.

The prevalence of Brucella and morbillivirus infections, which were investigated as potential alternative causes for increased dolphin deaths, was low in UME dolphins after the oil spill and was no different compared to the reference dolphins. Additionally, biotoxin levels were either low or below the detection limit in the UME dolphins.

Ongoing studies assessing changes in these lung and adrenal gland lesions over time will help to address questions regarding how long these chronic conditions may last.

The study team included representatives from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA’s National Ocean Service, the National Marine Mammal Foundation, the University of Illinois, the University of Georgia, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and University of South Alabama, the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, Gulfport, Mississippi; the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans; the Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, Florida; the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Galveston; and the Marine Mammal Pathology Services, Olney, Maryland.

This work was completed as a part of the Northern Gulf of Mexico unusual mortality event investigation and a part of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment being conducted cooperatively among NOAA, other federal and state trustees, and BP.

Deepwater Horizon oil spill contributed to high number of Gulf dolphin deaths

 Mark Norris, walking in black t-shirt, Retha Norris, Ally Smith, 4, and Christina Norris (L to R), are rescued by firefighters after clinging to a tree at their home during flooding, in Kyle, Texas, on 25 March 2015. Photo: Jay Janner / American-Statesman

By Jim Forsyth
25 May 2015

(Reuters) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday likened the ferocity of flash flooding that killed at least three people to a tsunami, and authorities said a dam had given way in a state park.

Abbott declared states of disaster in 24 counties and flew over the area south of Austin to assess the damage caused by tornadoes, heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and flooding that forced evacuations and rooftop rescues and left thousands of residents without electricity.

"This is the biggest flood this area of Texas has ever seen," Abbott said.

"It is absolutely massive - the relentless tsunami-type power of this wave of water," he said.

He described homes that were "completely wiped off the map" by the dangerous weather system that struck Texas and Oklahoma.

Authorities in Bastrop County, on the southeastern outskirts of Austin, reported in a Twitter feed that Lake Dam had failed in Bastrop State Park. They urged residents in the water's path to seek higher ground.

Accuweather.com said more rain was forecast into late Monday across the eastern half of Texas and Oklahoma, bringing flash floods, tornadoes and winds of more than 65 miles per hour (105 km per hour).

The National Weather Service reported 4.5 inches (11.5 cm) of rain fell in 90 minutes at Marquette, in central Kansas, washing out roads. [more]

Governor says deadly flooding is worst ever seen in Texas area

Smoke rises from a wildfire east of Slave Lake, Alberta, on 25 May 2015 in a photo supplied by the Alberta Wildfire Info department. A wildfire raging in northeastern Alberta has shut down around 233,000 barrels per day (bpd) of production at three oil sands projects and is expected to remain out of control for 'some while yet', a provincial government spokesman said on Monday. Over the weekend, Cenovus Energy Inc and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd evacuated staff and halted output at two sites as a precaution against the rapidly spreading forest fire. Photo: Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD)

23 May 2015 (CBC News) – Cenovus Energy and Canadian Natural Resources Limited have evacuated their facilities within the Cold Lake Air Weapons range, close to Alberta's eastern border, due to an out-of-control forest fire in the area.

"Yesterday, CNRL evacuated their plant facilities in the Primrose area and then, last night at 11 o'clock, we advised Cenovus in Foster Creek that it would be a good precautionary move to evacuate their personnel as well," said  Leslie Lozinski, spokeswoman for the province's environmental and resource ministry.

Cenovus evacuated their facilities at Foster Creek because the fire threatened the only road out, which would have made any evacuation of the facility difficult.

Rhona Delfrari, spokeswoman for the company, said there were approximately 1,800 staff on site last night before the evacuation started early Saturday morning. By the afternoon, only a handful of staff were left over to shut down the plant before escaping by helicopter.

"As far as we know right now, there is no threat from the fire to our facilities, it was more about the road being blocked off from the fire," said Delfrari. […]

As for an entire facility being engulfed by flames, Stauth says it's unlikely.

The facilities are built far from the tree lines, Stauth said. "So we're not anticipating that our facilities would get taken over by flames, just because there's no vegetation anywhere near the facilities." [more]

Alberta forest fire forces evacuation of oilsands facilities


The Dalton Highway is washed out south of Deadhorse on Thursday, 21 May 2015. The nearby Sag River has overflowed the road, cutting off the main supply route for the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. Photo: Loren Holmes / ADN

By Alex DeMarban
21 May 2015

DEADHORSE (Alaska Dispatch News) – Unprecedented flooding continues to interfere with daily operations on the North Slope oil patch after surging waters wiped away swaths of the Dalton Highway and isolated a section of Deadhorse, the jumping-off point for the sprawling industrial region.

“This is just epic,” said Mike Coffey, commander of the unified incident command, a response team consisting of the state, the North Slope Borough and oil companies. “People who have been here for decades say they’ve never seen anything like it.”

The state has estimated the costs of the damage and repairs since March at $5.1 million. The federal government may pay for much of that, since the icing and flooding on the highway has been declared a disaster, said Coffey, the director of state transportation maintenance and operations.

The event was caused by heavy summer rains followed by extensive freezing this winter, trapping the water in place, then a rapid spring warmup that has brought record temperatures to the region.

“It’s kind of a perfect storm for things to go south,” said Coffey.

Viewed from the air for some 20 miles south of Deadhorse, the highway and elevated trans-Alaska pipeline appear like spines above a sea of water, with the Sagavanirktok River tumbling in white currents across sections of the highway. One section of severed road appears to stretch a half-mile long.

It’s impossible to know the real cost of the damage since many sections of the gravel road are still swamped with water. It’s also impossible to know how long until the highway is opened, said Coffey.

“The best guesstimate is the high water is expected to last another four days,” he said. Officials hope repairs can begin immediately after that.

The trans-Alaska pipeline -- and the oil flowing through it that produces the bulk of state revenues -- isn’t threatened, said Michelle Egan of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. [more]

'Epic' flooding on Dalton Highway hinders North Slope oil operations

By Jessica Rosenthal
20 May 2015

California (FOX News Radio) – The obvious solution to California’s drought is water. A lot of it.

A NASA analysis late last year found the state needs 11 trillion gallons to get out of the drought. And if it’s not coming from the sky, water agencies, politicians and regulators have said desalination may be the answer.

In Carlsbad, California, 400 crew members get a beautiful ocean view during their work days as they use cranes, giant wrenches, and lifts at a noisy construction site building that will eventually turn ocean water into drinking water.

“When this project is up in line this fall it will be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere,” Poseidon Water spokeswoman Jessica Jones said. It may end up being the largest but it took less than half-an-hour to see the whole thing.

The water comes in to giant concrete holding areas where silt and dirt are sifted out. The second phase is reverse osmosis. Row after row of pressurized vessels sit on top of one another, connected by thick, blue tubing. The clean water goes through the tubes and is funneled over to a new location where minerals are added. The final destination? A large pipe.

The Carlsbad Desalination Plant in San Diego, California. Photo: ABC 10 News

Right now, it sticks a few feet out of the ground, disappearing into the dirt, open and waiting for its connection. Eventually, it will deliver water to the San Diego County Water Authority’s aqueduct.

Jones says the plant and the pipeline on San Diego’s northern coast cost nearly $1 billion. Poseidon Water is a private company. They, along with private investors, are financing it through bonds. A facility being planned for Northern California’s Monterey County will cost just under $300 million.

The thing is, the state has done desal before. And it didn’t go so well.

Santa Barbara’s desalination plant was built in the early 1990’s, following a drought. But it was not used. It started raining and the cost of production meant it wasn’t worth it.

“This time around it’s a little different,” says Santa Barbara water resources manager Joshua Haggmark. They need to spend an additional $40 million dollars just to get the plant up and running but he’s confident there won’t be a repeat of past failures.

He says the facility “will use about 40% less energy” than it previously did. On top of that, he says the amount they pay for several sources right now is much closer to the cost of creating desalinated water.

Haggmark says they estimate it’ll cost $1,300 – $1,400 an acre foot to produce water. And while that’s a far cry from reservoir water, which goes for roughly $300 an acre foot, “right now, we pay about $1,200 an acre foot for recycled water … this year we’ve been buying water … and we’ve been spending about $1,500 an acre foot to buy water.” (The Metropolitan Water District estimates an acre foot provides the water needs of two average southern California families for a year.) [more]

Desalination: Could One Of California's Drought Solutions Backfire?

Two palm oil plantations have recently been established in Peru, supplanting primary forest. Satellite imagery analysis shows extent of the massive development, which is led by a group of companies tied to plantation entrepreneur and United Cacao CEO Dennis Melka. Photo: Environmental Investigation Agency

By John C. Cannon
20 May 2015

(mongabay.com) – More than 9,400 hectares of closed-canopy Amazonian rainforest has been removed for two oil palm plantations in the Peruvian region of Ucayali since 2011, according to scientists working for MAAP, the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project. The two plantations are linked to Czech entrepreneur Dennis Melka.

Melka is the CEO of United Cacao, a Cayman Islands-based company that has been accused by scientists and NGOs of clearing more than 2,000 hectares of primary forest for a cacao plantation in another part of Peru while claiming to espouse a “sustainable” approach. He is also the founder, director, chairman, and CEO of United Oils, headquartered in the Cayman Islands according to some associates, and is a Singapore-based “palm oil refiner” according to others. Based on the public statements of at least one American investor, it appears that United Oils has also claimed that its operations are also sustainable.

Based on an analysis of satellite images going back to 1990, a total of 12,188 total hectares [47 square miles] of standing forest had been leveled through the end of April, MAAP reported on April 27. MAAP is an initiative by a group of scientific and conservation organizations to accessibly present technical information about threats to the Amazon.

Seventy-seven percent of the total deforested area had not been cleared – in other words, it had been primary forest – for at least the last 25 years. Nearly another 20 percent, or around 2,300 hectares, was secondary forest that had been cleared at one time but had since grown back, the analysis showed. [more]

Primary rainforest cleared for massive palm oil plantations in Peru

A logo is pictured at French oil and gas company Total gas station in Marseille, 11 February 2015. Photo: Jean-Paul Pelissier / Reuters

By Alister Doyle and Geert De Clercq, with additional reporting by Michel Rose and Jessica Chen; Editing by Ahmed Aboulenein and Pravin Char
21 May 2015

PARIS (Reuters) – Top European companies urged governments on Thursday to set a goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero well before 2100, saying that going green can bring profits rather than costs.

Business leaders from global and European alliances of companies including Unilever, Total and Saint-Gobain also called for a global price on carbon emissions and a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies.

"We want a global climate deal that achieves net zero emissions - make it happen," they said in a statement directed at almost 200 governments which are due to agree a deal to slow global warming at a summit in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Net zero emissions would mean drastic cuts and imply any remaining emissions would be offset, for instance, by planting trees to soak up carbon dioxide or with yet-to-be-developed technologies to extract carbon from the air.

They said global emissions needed to peak around 2020 and reach net zero "well before the end of the century", matching advice from the U.N. panel of climate scientists, to give a good chance of limiting warming to manageable levels.

Organizers of the conference, part of efforts to build momentum for a global deal after past failures, said the statement was backed by 25 business networks representing more than 6.5 million firms in more than 130 countries.

Still, the Business and Climate Summit mainly attracted top European CEOs, while large U.S and Asian companies were notably absent.

The statement said businesses believed that a goal of net zero emissions was "compatible with continued economic growth".

"Business as usual is no longer possible," said Pierre-Andre de Chalendar, CEO of French building materials group Saint-Gobain.

Cuts in emissions can help avert economic damage from droughts, floods and rising seas, and have big benefits such as lowering air pollution that causes millions of deaths, especially in big emerging nations such as China and India, the U.N. panel says. [more]

Top EU companies urge drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions

German emission trend 1990-2014 and emission reduction targets, with BMUB projection. Data: UBA, 2015. Graphic: Clean Energy Wire

[To my eyechrometer, it looks like progress halted in 2009. It’s possible that this curve has bottomed out, and Germany can’t reduce carbon emissions further without restarting its nuclear plants. –Des]

21 May 2015 (Carbon Counter) – Some of us are slow learners. In 2011, Germany made the decision to shut 8 nuclear reactors and to close three more by 2020. The obvious consequence of this would be that Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions would be higher than they otherwise would have been. This is simple arithmetic, yet it was denied at the time, and still is, by many (most?) people within the environmental movement. But now many in the environmental movement have suddenly noticed that Germany is not moving away from coal, and this is making their 2020 targets more or less impossible to meet. Naturally, dots remain unconnected, and Germany’s inability to move away from coal is not recognised to be the result of policies lauded by most environmentalists. A new form of denialism. But how much do Germany’s emissions need to fall? The official target is for greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 to be 40% below 1990 levels. Germany has officially published GHG emissions figures for all years until 2014, and this is what it looks like.

Right now, German emits the equivalent of 912 million tonnes of CO2. This target covers everything from burning natural gas to heat homes to the emissions from changing land use. It is mostly CO2, but includes some other greenhouse gases such as methane. The total reduction needed in the next 6 years is 160 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Now. Look closely at the graph above, and you might see a problem. Germany has never reduced its emissions by this much in a 6 year period. In fact, the only time it can remotely close was in the early 1990s, and those cuts were mostly because of the closure of polluting east German industries after the Berlin Wall fell. [more]

Germany’s 2020 greenhouse gas target is no longer feasible


By Kerstine Appunn
9 May 2015

(Clean Energy Wire) – In 2014, the share of renewable sources in German domestic power consumption rose to an all-time high of 27.8 percent, according to the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). Renewables also accounted for 26.2 percent of gross electricity production.

To put this into context: in the UK renewables accounted for 16.1 percent of power production, compared to 13.7 percent in the United States, 17.5 percent in France and 53.2 percent in Sweden(2013 figures). 

In 2014 Germany had a 11.1 percent share of renewables in primary energy consumption (For a comparison of the 28 EU countries in 2012 see Figure 1).

While this puts Germany ahead of many other industrialised nations (note that the share of hydropower in the German energy mix is comparatively low, with most renewable power coming from wind, solar and biomass), Germany has been struggling to keep its greenhouse gas emissions in check.

In 2007, the German government set greenhouse gas reduction targets of 40 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recommendation for industrialised nations outlined in its Fourth Assessment Report. Germany has so far (2014) achieved a reduction of 27 percent on 1990 CO2 emission levels. By 2008, along with the other 14 EU member states at the time, it had more than fulfilled its greenhouse gas reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

Between 1990 and 2014, most major German sources of emissions achieved CO2 reductions (See Figure 2). In the energy industry sector, which is responsible for the largest share of Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions (around 40 percent), emissions fell by 24 percent between 1990 and 2014. Even bigger reductions were achieved by households (32.9 percent) and industry (33.8 percent), while the transport sector only reduced its emissions by 0.2 percent.

Two consecutive rises in emissions in 2012 and 2013 left Germany with the challenge of curbing emissions by another 20 percent over the next six years – or an average of 3.3 percent annually. Experts interpreted a drop in emissions in 2014 as a sign that the country was back on track, but critics pointed out that a significant part of last year’s CO2 saving can be attributed to warm winter weather. [more]

Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions and climate targets

Trends in real household incomes at the bottom, the middle, and the top, 1985-2012, OECD average, 1985 = 1. Graphic: OECD

Paris, 21 May 2015 (AFP) - The gap between the rich and poor in most of the world's advanced economies is at record levels, according to an OECD study that also found glaring differences between men and women.

In most of the 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development the income gap is at its highest level in three decades, with the richest 10 percent of the population earning 9.6 times the income of the poorest 10 percent.

In the 1980s this ratio stood at 7 to 1, the OECD said in a report [In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All].

The wealth gap is even larger, with the top 1 percent owning 18 percent and the 40 percent only 3 percent of household wealth in 2012.

"We have reached a tipping point. Inequality in OECD countries is at its highest since records began,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria.

As high inequality harms growth prospects, there are economic as well as social arguments for governments to try to address the issue, he said.

"By not addressing inequality, governments are cutting into the social fabric of their countries and hurting their long-term economic growth," said Gurria.

The study found that the rise in inequality between 1985 and 2005 in 19 OECD countries knocked an estimated 4.7 percentage points off cumulative growth between 1990 and 2010.

An increase in part-time and temporary work contracts as well as self-employment was seen as an important driver of increased inequality, with half of all jobs created in OECD countries between 1995 and 2013 falling into these categories.

The report also found that as inequality rose, there were significant falls in educational attainment and skills among families in lower income groups, thus implying large amounts of wasted potential and lower social mobility.

As wages for women are 15 percent less than for men, ensuring gender equality in employment is one way to reduce inequality.

Redistributive taxes and transfers is another effective option, said the OECD as it noted that existing mechanisms have been weakened in many countries.

"To address this, policies need to ensure that wealthier individuals, but also multinational firms, pay their share of the tax burden," said the OECD, which has been playing a key role in an international effort to crack down on tax avoidance.

It also encouraged countries to broaden access to better jobs and and encourage greater investment in education and skills throughout working life.

The report found inequality to be highest in Chile, Mexico, Turkey, the United States and Israel among OECD countries.

It was lowest in Denmark, Slovenia, Slovak Republic, and Norway. [more]

'Record gap' between rich and poor


Income inequality and growth in OECD regions, 2008-2012. Graphic: OECD

21 May 2015 (OECD) - Income inequality has reached record highs in most OECD countries and remains at even higher levels in many emerging economies. The richest 10 per cent of the population in the OECD now earn 9.6 times the income of the poorest 10 per cent, up from 7:1 in the 1980s and 9:1 in the 2000s, according to a new OECD report. 

In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All also shows that wealth is even more concentrated at the top than income, exacerbating the overall disadvantage of low-income households. In 2012, the bottom 40% owned only 3% of total household wealth in the 18 OECD countries with comparable data. By contrast, the top 10% controlled half of all total household wealth and the wealthiest 1% owned 18%. 

“We have reached a tipping point. Inequality in OECD countries is at its highest since records began,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Paris with Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility. “The evidence shows that high inequality is bad for growth. The case for policy action is as much economic as social. By not addressing inequality, governments are cutting into the social fabric of their countries and hurting their long-term economic growth."

The report highlights the need to address working conditions. The increasing share of people working part-time, on temporary contracts or self-employed is one important driver of growing inequality. Between 1995 and 2013, more than 50 per cent of all jobs created in OECD countries fell into these categories. Low-skilled temporary workers, in particular, have much lower and instable earnings than permanent workers.  

Youth are most affected: 40% are in non-standard work and about half of all temporary workers are under 30. They are also less likely to move from a temporary job into a stable permanent one.

Another key lesson from the report is that more needs to be done to reduce the gender gap. The increase in the number of women working has helped stem the rise in inequality, despite their being about 16% less likely to be in paid work and earn about 15% less than men. If the proportion of households with working women had remained at levels of 20 to 25 years ago, income inequality would have increased by almost 1 Gini point more on average.

Beyond its impact on social cohesion, the report stresses that growing inequality and weak opportunities in the labour market are harmful for long-term economic growth. The rise in inequality between 1985 and 2005 in 19 OECD countries analysed is estimated to have knocked 4.7 percentage points off cumulative growth between 1990 and 2010. In fact, it is inequality affecting the bottom 40% which mainly brings down overall growth. As inequality rises, families with lower socio-economic background experience significant falls in educational attainment and skills, implying large amounts of wasted potential and lower social mobility.

Inequality is highest among OECD countries in Chile, Mexico, Turkey, the United States and Israel and lowest in Denmark, Slovenia, Slovak Republic and Norway. Inequality is even higher in major emerging economies although it has fallen in many including Brazil.

To reduce inequality and boost inclusive growth, the OECD says governments should: promote gender equality in employment; broaden access to better jobs; and encourage greater investment in education and skills throughout working life.

Redistribution via taxes and transfers is also an effective way to reduce inequality. In recent decades, the effectiveness of redistribution mechanisms has been weakened in many countries. To address this, policies need to ensure that wealthier individuals, but also multinational firms, pay their share of the tax burden.

The full report and individual country notes for Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom, United States are available here: http://www.oecd.org/social/in-it-together-why-less-inequality-benefits-all-9789264235120-en.htm

To obtain a copy of the report or for further information or comment, journalists should contact the OECD Media Division (tel. + 33 1 45 24 97 00).

To coincide with the release of the report, the OECD has launched a new interactive web-tool, Compare your income. It enables users from different OECD countries to compare perceptions and realities, by looking at where they fit in their country’s income distribution. The tool is based on the most recent data from the OECD Income Distribution Database.

Improving job quality and reducing gender gaps are essential to tackling growing inequality

 

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