Copenhagen Consensus

The results of the Copenhagen Consensus are out, and as predicted, that is, with climate change at the bottom of the list. I’ll give a more detailed response later on, but I thought I’d respond to this point in the Economist

The bottom of the list, however, aroused more in the way of hostile comment. Rated “bad”, meaning that costs were thought to exceed benefits, were all three of the schemes put before the panel for mitigating climate change, including the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse-gas emissions. (The panel rated only one other policy bad: guest-worker programmes to promote immigration, which were frowned upon because they make it harder for migrants to assimilate.) This gave rise to suspicion in some quarters that the whole exercise had been rigged. Mr Lomborg is well-known, and widely reviled, for his opposition to Kyoto.

These suspicions are in fact unfounded, as your correspondent (who sat in on the otherwise private discussions) can confirm. A less biddable group would be difficult to imagine.

On the contrary, as I suggested at the outset, a panel that included, say, Joe Stiglitz and Amartya Sen would have been considerably less biddable, as well as being better qualified to look at the issues in question.

The panel did avoid some of the criticisms made here and elsewhere by excluding from the ranking issues like financial stability, civil conflicts and (with one trivial exception) governance. They compensated by subdividing the three health-related issues (diseases, malnutrition and sanitation) in the list into ten. (The other items ranked were trade liberalisation which, not surprisingly, they all liked, and migration which got mixed grades).

But the result, in a sense, only makes the process more transparent. The great majority of the approved items are now health initiatives. So, the outcome may be summarised as saying that health care in developing countries is more important than addressing climate change, which is, of course, the strongly stated view of the organiser, The panel also agreed with Lomborg that the costs of doing anything about climate change exceed the benefits. I’ll respond to the substantive findings in a later post, and when I’ve had time to look at any publication arising from the process.

However, the exercise could still be worthwhile. If Lomborg and the other panel members take the results to mean that they should personally campaign for action on the high-priority issues they mention, they could certainly do a lot of good. I’ll wait with interest to see if this happens.

9 thoughts on “Copenhagen Consensus

  1. Personally, I am not sure what to think. Because of all the constant doommongering and other nonsense environmentalists come out with I find myself automatically distrusting most of their claims. Even some of the most credentialed environmentalists come out with extremely silly statements. E.g. Tim Flannery’s claim that Australia is already greatly overpopulated and 10 million would be an optimum figure. In my Amnesty International group members of the green party were the most vocal in criticising Ruddock on immigration but supported a zero population growth policy. I was banned from teaching in environmental courses at Wollongong University after students complained after I criticised David Suzuki. Yet lecturers constantly criticised the Liberal and Labor parties etc. It is this kind of nonsense that has lead to the backlash against environmentalists and not the so-called darker forces often pointed to multinationals, etc.

  2. I sympathise with Michael Burgess on this one. Like most people, I’m not a climate scientist and I have no idea who to believe on the environment debate. JQ and many others argue one side, but there seem to be plenty of sceptics out there arguing the opposite. Are there any convincing (but succinct!) arguments for BOTH sides of the argument that I could read? I’m curious to hear both sides, but too lazy to get a degree in the subject.

    On the Copenhagen Consensus, there do seem to be a number of good ideas for improving the lot of developing countries. However, as JQ points out, the true test of this exercise is whether (rich-country) resources are deployed to back up the ideas.

  3. Michael,

    I suggest you therefore ignore what those you label as “environmentalists” are saying and start listening to what the scientific community has to say. I’d start by checking out many of the articles published in the ages of Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ecosystems, Global Change Biology, Ecology, Journal of Animal Ecology and many more. Use the ISI Web of Science search engine and type in relevant keywords. The inevitable conclusion you’ll draw from the empirical evidence is that a combination of human activities are leading to fraying food webs, the transformation and simplification of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, a signficant loss of species and populations, falling water tables, and a disruption of biogeochemical cycles over immense spatial scales. In other words, we face a number of serious and growing problems worldwide that need urgent attention, if there are not to be consequences. But why listen to scientists like myself? You’ve got every reason now to read the relevant scientific literature for yourself. Stop relying on the ‘establishment’ media to supply you with the ‘facts’.

  4. Matthew, thanks for the link, but I was hoping for something a bit more substantial and less partisan. I’ll repeat my original request, with a bit more specific detail: are there any good summaries of either or both sides of the global warming issue, written by people with a background in climate/environmental science, with supporting scientific evidence? I’m sure many readers do not have the time to trawl through all of the reference sites named by Jeff Harvey.

  5. Fyodor, it’s easy enough to list the credible scientists who could be classed as sceptical of the majority view on the global warming hypothesis. They are Richard Lindzen of MIT (who disputes model assumptions about cloud feedbacks) and Christy and Spencer (University of Alabama and Marshall Space Flight Center), who work together on satellite data. Christy (and I think) Spencer agree that there is human-caused global warming but say it has been overstated. Lindzen says “not proven”. Google will give you plenty of links on all three.

    For the majority view, the IPCC Reports are an excellent source.

  6. “The panel also agreed with Lomborg that the costs of doing anything about climate change exceed the benefits.”

    If you think something has a benefit to cost ratio less than one, isn’t it fair enough to speak out against it regardless of the position you take on other issues?

    For my part, I defer to the majority scientific view that man made global warming is occurring and carries certain risks and uncertainties, as does Lomborg. The issue is how to balance the benefits of reducing these risks and uncertainties against the costs of avoiding them.

  7. Michael Burgess writes, ” I was banned from teaching in environmental courses at Wollongong University after students complained after I criticised David Suzuki. Yet lecturers constantly criticised the Liberal and Labor parties etc. It is this kind of nonsense that has lead to the backlash against environmentalists and not the so-called darker forces often pointed to multinationals, etc.”

    There is simply no doubt in my mind that the IPCC Third Assessment Report’s projections for methane atmospheric concentrations, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations, and most importantly, temperatures in the 21st century constitute the greatest fraud in the history of environmental science. They are completely indefensible, and I challenge any scientist to debate me on the matter.

    When people see what total nonsense the IPCC’s projections are (any intelligent and reasonably hard-working layperson can already see that fact), the environmental movement is going to be very damaged.

    Bjorn Lomborg’s book and his Copenhagen Consensus both have many minor problems. But the the basic idea behind both is very sound–there are significant environmental problems that are *not* being addressed, because people are spending time and money on the computer-generated fantasy problem of global warming.

    Mark Bahner (environmental engineer)

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