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Copenhagen: conned again

December 15th, 2004

In previous posts on Bjorn Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus exercise, both before and after the event, I expressed the suspicion that the whole thing was a setup, designed to push Lomborg’s favorite line that money spent on implementing the Kyoto protocol would be better allocated to foreign aid projects of various kinds. (I’ve pointed out some contradictions in Lomborg’s general argument, here).

However, I thought some good could come of the exercise, if the conclusions were taken seriously. In my last post, I observed

As attentive readers will recall, the conference concluded that fighting AIDS should be the top global priority in helping developing countries and also that climate change mitigation was a waste of money. I agree with the first of these conclusions, and more generally with the need for more spending on health poor countries, and I hope that Lomborg will put some effort into supporting it. I’ll try to keep readers posted on this.

Now Lomborg has revealed his priorities. Chris Bertram points to an article by Lomborg in the Telegraph. The supposed top priority item, initiatives to combat AIDS, gets two passing mentions. The entire article, except for a couple of paras, is devoted to the pressing need to do nothing about global warming.

It’s obvious from reading this piece that the entire lavishly funded Copenhagen exercise was a put-up job, designed to secure impressive-sounding endorsements for Lomborg’s anti-Kyoto agenda, and that the supposed concern for making good use of aid funding was a hypocritical scam. A lot of work went into relative rankings for different health policies, but I don’t expect to hear anything from Lomborg on this score. Similarly, I doubt we will ever see him campaigning for more funding for AIDS programs, as opposed to using them as a cheap anti-Kyoto debating point.

If I was one of the eminent economists who participated in the ranking exercise, or who submitted papers supporting various initiatives, I would be feeling really angry with Bjorn Lomborg right now.

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  1. Johng
    December 17th, 2004 at 13:02 | #1

    I don’t see that Lomborg’s article indicates the ‘Copenhagen exercise was a put-up job’. He reflected the views of the Copenhagen panel fairly. The panel wanted to do health and water etc projects first, and they did not recommend the greenhouse actions that were put to them, though one of them suggested that instead of what had been recommended to them by Cline, that he would favour starting with a very modest carbon tax of $2 per tonne. See extract from Economist article below.

    “The issue is real, they said, but not so urgent that such massive abatement costs need to be incurred right now. One of the commentaries on Mr Cline’s paper, by Robert Mendelsohn of Yale University, proposed starting with a much lower carbon tax than implied by Mr Cline’s three variants—at say $2 a tonne (compared with $150 in Mr Cline’s “optimal” carbon-tax plan), rising in later years as more information on both the hazards and the technological opportunities became available. The panel thought that was more like it”.

    I think $2 a tonne risibly low, but I actually like their approach of starting off with a moderate carbon tax and then increasing it (or if we’re lucky decreasing it) as uncertainty decreases.It seems to me that would be the optimal way to maximise welfare over time in the light of large uncertainty.
    Is that what welfare theory would suggest?

    I am annoyed that Lomborg does not admit that we can easily afford to do greenhouse interventions as well as all the very cost-effective health/poverty/water interventions. World GDP is increasing at $US 2000 billion (PPP terms) per year, so we only need to allocate a portion of one year’s growth and all the interventions the Copenhagen group identified plus greenhouse interventions can be funded.

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