I believe in global warming, Bjorn Lomborg writes, but also in responsible policies to address it. That can get you in trouble.
Copenhagen Consensus research shows that policy makers considering climate change have practical solutions. Cutting fossil-fuel subsidies is a great idea. Each year $550 billion is wasted, mostly by developing nations, on subsidies that mainly help the rich. A dramatic increase in spending on green-energy R&D is needed, as innovation will drive down the price of green energy to the point that it can outcompete fossil fuels. A well-crafted carbon tax would help too.
But our analyses also show that Kyoto-style approaches—poorly designed EU climate policies, or the pledge to hold warming to two degrees Celsius—are costly and ineffective. There are much better ways we could spend money to help the planet.
That conclusion draws the ire of some climate-change activists. When the collaboration between Copenhagen Consensus and the University of Western Australia was announced, the Australian Climate Council, led by paleontologist Tim Flannery, called it “an insult to the scientific community.” Making up facts, the Climate Council warned supporters that I think “we shouldn’t take any steps to mitigate climate change.” This set the tone for the ensuing attacks.
Philanthropists, donors and policy makers must prioritize development goals. What Copenhagen Consensus does is ensure that such parties understand the price tags and potential outcomes for each option.
This work has shown that some aid projects do phenomenally well: For instance, providing contraception to the 215 million women across the globe who lack access to it would reduce maternal mortality and boost growth, producing $120 in social benefits for each dollar spent.
Other policies have lower multipliers. Getting sanitation to the poorest half of the world, for example, would produce only $3 of benefits for each dollar spent. This is worthy, but for a government with a limited development budget, it probably isn’t the first place to spend money.
We should focus resources where they will do the most good—not where they will make us feel the most good. The United Nations is setting 169 global development targets for the next 15 years. These are laudable aims, but together they’re a laundry list: reduce arms trafficking; finance sustainable forest management; achieve universal access to drinking water; halve deaths and injuries from traffic accidents; increase market access for “small-scale artisanal fishers.”