Copenhagen commitments

While Australia has been transfixed by the meltdown of the Liberal party, there have been a string of positive developments around the world, which make a positive outcome from Copenhagen, leading over the next year to an intermational agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, much more likely than it seemed two years ago, or even six months ago. Among the most important developments

* Obama’s commitment to a 17 per cent (rel 2005) target, which essentially puts the Administration’s credibility behind Waxman-Markey
* China’s acceptance of a quantitative emissions target, based on emissions/GDP ratios, but implying a substantial cut relative to business as usual
* The change of government in Japan, from do-little LDP to activist DPJ
* EU consensus on the need for stronger action
* Acceptance of the principle of compensation for developing countries, and acceptance by countries like India that they should take part in a global agreement and argue for compensation
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Copenhagen collapse

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 “climate 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.
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Copenhagen review

Today’s Fin ReView section (subscription only) runs my review of Bjorn Lomborg’s new book. Regular readers won’t be surprised to find a lot of criticisms of the Copenhagen Consensus project that produced the book. But I found a fair bit to praise as well. The review, pretty lengthy, is over the fold. Comments appreciated.
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Copenhagen: conned again

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.

Copenhagen Interpretation

How would you rank the following priorities for making the planet a better place?

* A major improvement in health in poor countries, saving millions of lives each year

* Substantial progress in reducing the rate of climate change, preventing large-scale species extinctions and other environmental damage

* New and improved advertisements for consumer goods
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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.
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Copenhagen Con ?

I’ve written a couple of posts critical of the Copenhagen Consensus exercise being run by Bjorn Lomborg”s Environmental Assessment Institute and The Economist . The stated objective is to take a range of problems facing developing countries, and get an expert panel to form a consensus on which ones should be given the highest priority. This is a reasonable-sounding idea, and the process has produced some useful contributions in the form of papers by experts arguing the importance of particular problems.

There are however, two big difficulties.
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No consensus in Copenhagen (updated)

Via reader Gangle, I came across this Disinfopedia entry, which indicates that three of seven board members of Lomborg’s Environmental Insitute Assessment have resigned in protest at the Copenhagen Consensus conference he is organising. Two others resigned at the same time “to take up other assignments”. The original story is from the Copenhagen Post

Lomborg’s renewed expression of concern with development issues, and belief that they should take priority over responses to global warming, is of interest in view of the fact that the Danish government that set up the Institute, and installed Lomborg as its head (despite his lack of any relevant qualification) has repeatedly cut foreign aid. As a political appointee of the government, Lomborg can be presumed to endorse its policies unless he dissents from them publicly.

Last time I pointed this out, a number of commenters argued that Lomborg could not fairly be accused of hypocrisy, since the Institute was concerned only with environmental issues, and Lomborg could not be expected to agree with the government on issues outside his area of responsibility. I felt that, at the very least, I had failed to make my case convincing, and decided instead to take Lomborg at face value (start here and work back).

It now appears, however, that development and aid issues are within the Institute’s remit, though the departing board members apparently disagreed that they should be. The Copenhagen Post story cites Environmental Minister Hans Christian Schmidt saying “It is regrettable that the board members cannot stay at their posts and work on with the project,” said. “I am surprised as the conference seems to fit in perfectly with the institute’s aims.”

Economists call on climate change policy

I’ve just signed a statement drawn up by a group of economists from the Toulouse School of Economics and the Université Paris-Dauphine, in advance of the current COP21 international negotiation. The aim of the statement is to encourage the parties to aim for a more comprehensive and economically effective agreement that would ultimately supersede the patchwork of voluntary commitments being put forward at present. While the commitments being made for COP21 represent a huge advance on the vague aspirations that emerged from Copenhagen, we should not lose sight of the ultimate goal of decarbonizing the global economy in a way that minimizes the economic costs by taking advantage of the power of price mechanisms.

From an Australian viewpoint, the most important part of the Call is Part 3: “Free rider” behavior must be hindered. The current government’s attempts to position Australia as a free rider on the efforts of others cannot succeed in the end, and will only do Australia harm.

If you’re a professional economist and agree with Call, you can sign it here. More generally, it’s open for discussion in the comments thread.

Lomborg review: repost from 2005

The announcement that the Federal government will be (they say, only partly, but UWA appears to have a different view) funding a move of Bjorn Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center to the University of WA has attracted plenty of comment.

Rather than pile on, I thought I would repost my, decidedly mixed, review of Lomborg’s first CCC effort in 2005.

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