CLI­MATE UN­SUITED TO SAV­ING LIVES

A tiny frac­tion of the re­sources wasted on com­bat­ing CO could erad­i­cate deadly TB 2

The Weekend Australian - - COMMENTARY - BJORN LOMBORG

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.

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