The wheels are coming off Bjorn Lomborg’s attempt to undermine the Kyoto Protocol. The Economist, which backed Lomborg’s exercise, published an interesting piece on climate change recently, noting that some members are dissenting, and ending with the observation, from Robert Mendelsohn, a critic of ambitious proposals for climate change mitigation, who worries that â€œclimate change was set up to fail.â€?. This was my conclusion when I reviewed the book arising from the project.
It’s a pity, because, done well, the Copenhagen project could have been a really good idea, and even as it is, a lot of valuable work was done.
Here’s the full passage
A panel of eminent economists, among them three Nobel prize-winners, placed initiatives to tackle HIV/AIDS, malaria, sanitation and other problems confronting the worldâ€™s poor ahead of proposals to tackle global warming, which were described as â€œbadâ€? investments compared with those aimed at tackling these other problems. But several participants now say that there was confusion about how they were ranking ways to spend development aid, or ranking which general global problems should be tackled.
Of course, greens howled in protest at the dismissal of climate change, and pointed to some sort of stitch-up: after all, some argued, Dr Lomborg is well known for his opposition to the Kyoto treaty. He rejects such claims, insisting that the effort was in good faith. He points out that the man selected to write the â€œexpert paperâ€? on climate, William Cline of the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank based in Washington, DC, has impeccable credentials; indeed, he is known as an advocate of forceful, early action to slow global warming. Dr Lomborg explains that the proposals on climate change fared poorly because they offered the lowest benefits for the costs incurred.
Now, some members of the Consensus are dissenting. Thomas Schelling of the University of Maryland, who voted on the final choices, thinks that presenting climate change at the bottom of the list as â€œbadâ€? is misleading. He says he and the other gurus did not like Kyoto or the aggressive proposals made by Dr Cline, whom he sees as the â€œmost alarmist of the serious climate policy expertsâ€?, but Dr Schelling says he would have ranked modest climate proposals higher on the list, because he sees climate as a real problem. Robert Mendelsohn, a conservative Yale economist who was an official â€œcriticâ€? of the climate paper in this process, goes further: because Dr Clineâ€™s positions are â€œwell out of the mainstreamâ€?, he had no choice but to reject them. He worries that â€œclimate change was set up to fail.â€?
Dr Lomborg insists that that was not at all the case. Picking an enthusiast like Dr Cline also could suggest that climate was being taken seriously by the Copenhagen process. However, he accepts that more modest proposals (such as a small carbon tax or investments in research) would have ranked higher on the list. Dr Cline, for his part, acknowledges that his views (for example, on the right discount rates to use when pondering long-term policies) â€œhave not yet been accepted by the mainstreamâ€?. He is unhappy with how climate has been portrayed by the Copenhagen process, but he still feels that the attempt to assess global problems was well intentioned and worthwhile.