Global warming has become the pre-eminent concern of our time. Many governments and most campaigners meeting in Montreal now through next Friday tell us that dealing with global warming should be our first priority. Negotiating a follow-up treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, they argue, requires that we seek even deeper cuts in the pollution that causes global warming.
But they are wrong about our priorities, and they are advocating an inefficient remedy. As a result, we risk losing sight of tackling the world's most important problems first, as well as missing the best long-term approach to global warming.
To be sure, global warming is real, and it is caused by carbon dioxide. The trouble is that today's best climate models show that immediate action will do little good. The Kyoto Protocol will cut carbon dioxide emissions from industrialized countries by 30 percent below what it would have been in 2010 and by 50 percent in 2050. Yet, even if everyone (including the US) lived up to the protocol's rules, and stuck to it throughout the century, the change would be almost immeasurable, postponing warming for just six years in 2100.
Likewise, the economic models tell us that the cost would be substantial -- at least US$150 billion a year. In comparison, the UN estimates that half that amount could permanently solve all of the world's major problems: It could ensure clean drinking water, sanitation, basic health care, and education for every single person in the world, now.
Global warming will mainly harm developing countries, because they are poorer and therefore more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. However, even the most pessimistic forecasts from the UN project that by 2100 the average person in developing countries will be richer than the average person in developed countries is now.
So early action on global warming is basically a costly way of doing very little for much richer people far in the future. We need to ask ourselves if this should, in fact, be our first priority.
Of course, in the best of all worlds, we would not need to prioritize. We could do all good things. We would have enough resources to win the war against hunger, end conflicts, stop communicable diseases, provide clean drinking water, broaden educational access, and halt climate change. But we don't. So we have to ask the hard question: If we can't do it all, what should we do first?
Some of the world's top economists -- including four Nobel laureates -- answered this question at the Copenhagen Consensus last year, listing all major policies for improving the world according to priority. They found that dealing with HIV/AIDS, hunger, free trade and malaria were the world's top priorities. This was where we could do the most good for our money.
On the other hand, the experts rated immediate responses to climate change at the bottom of the world's priorities. Indeed, the panel called these ventures -- including the Kyoto Protocol -- "bad projects," simply because they cost more than the good that they do.
The Copenhagen Consensus gives us great hope because it shows us that there are so many good things that we can do. For US$27 billion, we could prevent 28 million people from getting HIV. For US$12 billion we could cut malaria cases by more than 1 billion a year. Instead of helping richer people inefficiently far into the future, we can do immense good right now.
This does not mean losing sight of the need to tackle climate change. But the Kyoto approach focuses on early cuts, which are expensive and do little good. Instead, we should be concentrating on investments in making energy without carbon dioxide emissions viable for our descendants. This would be much cheaper and ultimately much more effective in dealing with global warming. The US and UK have begun to tout this message.
The parties in Montreal should rule out more Kyoto-style immediate cuts, which would be prohibitively expensive, do little good, and cause many nations to abandon the entire process. Rather, they should suggest a treaty binding every nation to spend, say, 0.1 percent of GDP on research and development of non-carbon-emitting energy technologies.
This approach would be five times cheaper than Kyoto and many more times cheaper than a Kyoto II. It would involve all nations, with richer nations naturally paying the larger share, and perhaps developing nations being phased in. It would let each country focus on its own future vision of energy needs, whether that means concentrating on renewable sources, nuclear energy, fusion, carbon storage, or searching for new and more exotic opportunities.
Such a massive global research effort would also have potentially huge innovation spin-offs. In the long run, such actions are likely to make a much greater impact on global warming than Kyoto-style responses.
In a world with limited resources, where we struggle to solve just some of the challenges that we face, caring more about some issues means caring less about others. We have a moral obligation to do the most good that we possibly can with what we spend, so we must focus our resources where we can accomplish the most first.
By this standard, global warming doesn't come close. Rather than investing hundreds of billions of dollars in short-term, ineffective cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, we should be investing tens of billions in research, leaving our children and grandchildren with cheaper and cleaner energy.
Bjorn Lomborg is the organizer of the Copenhagen Consensus and adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr in a letter to an unnamed US senator on Feb. 9 said that China has offered to “fill every hotel room,” in Palau, “and more if more are built” if the small island nation were to break ties with Taiwan. The letter further claims that China offered US$20 million per year for the creation of a “call center” in Palau, a nation whose economy relies heavily on tourism. It is more evidence that for China, tourism is an economic tool for its political gain. Cleo Paskal, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, posted
Due to enduring the Kafkaesque situation of having two accidents in 30 minutes, one involving an accident with an ambulance, I would like to share my personal experience. Both cases show the loopholes of Taiwanese law, which is a driving factor for the terrible traffic conditions in the nation. I was driving my scooter on the main road in Taoyuan’s Yangmei District (楊梅). Despite there being no cars behind me, a young man in an old car made a sudden left turn and I bumped into his vehicle. At first, the man tried to run away, but was blocked by other
The pre-eminent authority on the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), last month issued an update to one of its entries, adding the term “Chinese dragon” to its lexicon for the first time. The Chinese word long (龍) has for a long time been translated simply as “dragon,” but many commentators opposed this, believing that the traditional Western concept of a dragon is represented by the embodiment of a fearsome, wicked monster that must be killed. It was deemed unsuitable to use a wicked and inauspicious Western dragon to refer to an auspicious Chinese dragon, so it was recommended that a
It has been a year since China relaxed the “zero COVID-19” measures that had been stifling economic activity, but the country has yet to experience the rebound that policymakers and pundits anticipated. Instead, economic indicators from last year have painted a disheartening picture. The fallout from the massive property developer Evergrande’s 2021 collapse is far from over, and the sector continues to struggle, even after the Chinese government relaxed purchasing restrictions in cities like Guangzhou and Shanghai. China’s financial health has also declined as local government debt has snowballed, leading Moody’s to downgrade the country’s credit outlook in December last year.