CLIMATE UNSUITED TO SAVING LIVES
A tiny fraction of the resources wasted on combating CO could eradicate deadly TB 2
Global leaders recently swept into New York for the UN General Assembly, trailed by thousands of media, activists and protesters. During the high-level get-together, two very different meetings held at exactly the same time revealed much about their priorities — and their flawed approach to the planet’s biggest problems.
At a glittering gala event, the heads of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Google and the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, joined leaders from Denmark, France, New Zealand and beyond to pledge support for the acceleration of the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
This is a very poor answer to climate change: even Al Gore’s climate adviser, Jim Hansen, now says it is “wishful thinking” that will increase emissions.
The big problem with the Paris treaty is that countries are expensively trying to cut relatively small amounts of carbon dioxide by subsidising today’s inefficient alternative energy. This doesn’t tackle the underlying problem that green energy sources are far from ready to replace fossil fuels: wind and solar energy meet only 0.8 per cent of our energy needs yet require $US150 billion ($212bn) in subsidies.
The best individual and collectively peer-reviewed economic models show implementing the agreement will cost $US1 trillion to $US2 trillion every year from 2030 by increasing energy costs and thereby slightly slowing GDP growth. Yet this will do almost nothing to solve climate change. It is widely accepted by climate scientists that keeping temperature rises below 2C requires a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to almost 6000 gigatonnes of CO2. The UN organiser of the Paris Agreement estimates that if every country makes every single promised carbon cut between 2016 and 2030, emissions will be cut by the equivalent of 56Gt of CO2 by 2030. Paris leaves 99 per cent of the problem in place.
A far more effective answer to global warming would be to ramp up research and development investments into green energy to outcompete fossil fuels, so all countries can switch without abandoning poverty-eradicating growth.
Across town from the climate event, the first UN leaders’ meeting on tuberculosis made a far smaller splash. Only 16 heads of government showed up, with none from Europe or North America, and no leaders from Silicon Valley or Wall Street.
Public health campaigners were requesting an increase of $US5.4bn a year for the fight against TB, the globe’s biggest infectious disease killer. The disease receives only 4.6 per cent of health development spending from rich countries.
For more than a decade, hundreds of top economists and seven Nobel laureates have undertaken cost-benefit analysis for the Copenhagen Consensus Centre to evaluate solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. Globally and at a national level, this consistently shows testing for and treating TB creates phenomenal returns to society.
TB is especially insidious because it hits mostly young adults, just as they establish families and careers. Recent CCC research looking at several states in India, which has the highest level of TB, found that improving detection and treatment generated huge benefits for society. In monetary terms, every dollar spent can generate a return to society worth more than $US100.
The difference is stark. The World Health Organisation estimates that since the 1970s climate change has claimed about 140,000 lives each year, rising to about 250,000 towards the middle of the century. The Paris response will cost the planet more than $US1 trillion annually, avoiding almost none of these deaths. At an annual cost of one-half of onehundredth of the cost of Paris, we could avoid the deaths of more than a million people each year from TB.
The two meetings show how global priorities are askew. It shouldn’t be a struggle to get donor attention for challenges such as TB (or the many other health, societal and environmental problems that weren’t highlighted by the UN). This is especially disturbing when money and political capital are being poured into a flawed response to climate change by world leaders who — unlike Gore’s climate adviser — refuse to admit the obvious.
The blinkered focus is affecting development spending for the world’s poorest. The OECD estimates that more than $30bn of country-to-country aid — more than one-fifth — is climate related. That is more than three times what would be needed to eradicate the world’s worst infectious disease. Yet international organisations spend another $US19bn on climate-related aid.
This is not what the world’s poor want. Nearly 10 million people were asked their policy priorities. Education and better healthcare were the clear answers, both globally and from the world’s most destitute. At the bottom of the list came climate policies. We should tackle climate change effectively through green energy R&D. That would leave more attention and money for other important issues, from stopping air pollution and reducing malnutrition to ending child marriage — and for finally eradicating the world’s biggest infectious disease killer. Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre Project Syndicate.