Science isn’t settled on response

Bjorn Lomborg accepts that climate change is a real, man-made problem but he says trillions of dollars will be wasted on ineffective policies:

Climate campaigners want to convince us that not only should we maintain these staggering costs, but that we should spend a fortune more on climate change, since our very survival is allegedly at stake. But they are mostly wrong, and we’re likely to end up wasting trillions during the coming decades. . . 

Global warming is a real, man-made problem — but it is just one of many challenges facing humanity. We shouldn’t base our policy decisions on Hollywood movies or on scare scenarios but on the facts. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, even if we did absolutely nothing to respond to global warming, the total impact by the 2070s will be the equivalent to a 0.2 per cent to 2 per cent loss in average income. That’s a challenge that requires our attention — but it’s far from the end of the world.

Over-the-top environmental activists are not only out of synch with the science but they also are out of touch with mainstream concerns. A global poll by the UN of nearly 10 million people found that climate change was the lowest priority of all 16 challenges considered. At the very top, unsurprisingly, are issues such as better education, better healthcare and access to nutritious food. We need to address climate change effectively — but we should remember that there are many other issues that people want fixed more urgently. . .

Climate change, like many issues which become politicised, is generally a pre-occupation of educated, healthy, people with more than enough to eat and generally with middle or upper incomes.

Many of them while wanting “something “ to be done are unaware of how costly, ineffective and unsustainable most of the “somethings” being promoted are.

The present approach to climate change isn’t working. If fully implemented, analysis of the leading climate-economic models shows that the Paris Agreement will cost $US1 trillion to $US2 trillion every year in slowed economic growth. Our response to climate change is so expensive because alternative energy sources remain expensive and inefficient in most scenarios. It is still very expensive to switch from fossil fuels — hence the fortune being spent on subsidies, to little overall effect.

Despite costing a fortune, the Paris Agreement will have virtually no impact on global temperatures. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has estimated that even if every country makes every single carbon cut suggested in the Paris treaty to the fullest extent, CO2 emissions would be cut by only 1 per cent of what would be needed to keep temperature rises under 2C. Incurring an annual $US1 trillion cost while failing to rein in temperature rises is a very poor idea.

A realistic and credible response to global warming needs to bring China and India on board. They are not going to slow their economies and imperil the fossil-fuel-driven growth that is lifting millions out of poverty.

When 27 of the world’s top climate economists and three Nobel laureates looked at the gamut of potential climate solutions for my think tank, Copenhagen Consensus, they found that the current approach, which tries to make fossil-fuel energy as expensive as possible, is very inefficient. Moreover, it is likely to fail since citizens in most countries are unlikely to accept the steep energy price hikes that these policies require. We can look to France’s “yellow vest” protests or to the elections in The Philippines, the US and Australia of politicians who loudly reject these policies to see that voters are making their choices heard. . .

Price increases would have to be prohibitively high to slow people’s use of fossil fuels and that would come at a very high political cost.

What’s needed instead, is much more research to find the green technologies that will replace fossil fuels. Lomborg says that would leave money to fix other problems.

His suggestions for those fixes include access to contraception; better nutrition for pregnant women and infants; and more investment in agricultural research:

This will make farmers able to produce more nutritious, reliable crops, especially in developing and fragile countries. We can generate extra yield increases by investing in agricultural R&D and by boosting the use of better (sometimes genetically modified) seeds, which give farmers more resilience and ability to withstand climate shocks, while lifting the poorest out of hunger. For a cost of $US2.5bn a year, we can produce benefits worth $US85bn. Each dollar spent will help generate more food security, reduced food prices and other social benefits worth $US35. . .

He also recommends treating TB which is still a scourge in poor countries.

Then he comes to trade:

The most powerful thing governments could do to transform lives would cost next to nothing at all: embrace freer trade. During the past 25 years, China lifted 680 million people out of poverty through trade, and there are similar stories from Indonesia, Chile and others. Genuine, global free trade would have benefits that would reach every single country. Far more than any aid dished out by donor countries, lowering trade barriers is the most powerful way to reduce extreme poverty. A completed global Doha trade deal would make the world $US11 trillion richer each and every year by 2030 according to research considered by the Nobel laureates. . .

This is such a simple solution that would help the poorest people most but it needs the political will to achieve it.

In developing nations, the increased wealth from the Doha deal would be equivalent to an extra $US1000 for every single person, every single year by 2030. This alone would cut the number of people living in poverty by 145 million in just 11 years. The annual cost would be $US20bn in pay-offs to those sectors (such as farmers in wealthy countries) who would lose out, and who politically are holding up the deals.

The list goes on. We could halve malaria infections for $US500m annually, save a million children’s lives through $US1bn of increased immunisation, triple preschool access in Africa for $US6bn and get every child in Africa through primary school for $US9bn. We could halve global coral reef loss for $US3bn, and save two million babies from death every year for $US14bn through policies such as providing expecting mothers with nutrients and protection from disease, having nurses and clean facilities at birth and ensuring best practice childcare afterwards.

All of these amazing policies will cost in total $US78bn. Together with the $US84bn for green energy R&D, the total comes to $US162bn — or what we’ll spend on subsidising inefficient renewables this year.

The total benefit to humanity from achieving this total list of policies will be around $US42 trillion. This would be the same as increasing the average income in the world by 50 per cent, and the benefits would mostly help the world’s poorest.

Of course, we also can spend 10 times as much on the Paris Agreement and generate about a thousand times fewer benefits from slightly reduced temperatures.

The choice really is clear. Do we want to be remembered in the future for being the generation that overreacted and spent a fortune feeling good about ourselves but doing very little, subsidising inefficient solar panels and promising slight carbon cuts — or do we want to be remembered for fundamentally helping to fix both climate and all the other challenges facing the world?

Whether or not the science on climate change is settled the science on the response is not.

One reason for that is the response is driven by politics and bureaucracy rather than science.

But Lomborg’s prescription would not only be more effective, it would be a lot more politically palatable than any of the current ones which will add huge costs with little if any benefit.

You can read more from him at lomborg.com  and you’ll find the think tank he heads, the Copenhagen Consensus, here.

2 Responses to Science isn’t settled on response

  1. Andrei says:

    Price increases would have to be prohibitively high to slow people’s use of fossil fuels and that would come at a very high political cost.

    It would come at a high human cost – we wouldn’t be able to maintain our infrastructure that keeps us safe and healthy, like sewerage systems and potable water delivered to our homes by pipes and is available by turning on a tap

    Typhoid would be back on our radar soon enough

    This is crazy – we live longer and better than anyone else in history and most people alive today on this planet, for that matter, and it all comes about because of people who solve problems and have large amounts of cheap energy at their disposal to implement the solutions.

    These cretins need to visit the poor parts of the world and grasp why they don’t have to live like those people do

    And then figure out how to bring the benefits we enjoy to those people – now that would be an admirable venture.

    Of course solving those problems is much harder than proposing new taxes and waffling about the evils of fossil fuels

  2. homepaddock says:

    Andrei, you are right about the human cost and that’s why I think Lomburg has the right idea – tackle existing human problems and use money saved to invest in research.

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