Don’t panic; fo­cus on green en­ergy R&D

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Bjorn Lomborg Bjorn Lomborg is di­rec­tor of the Copen­hagen Con­sen­sus Cen­ter and a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Copen­hagen Busi­ness School.

The new United Na­tions re­port is be­ing talked about as though it por­tends the end of the world: To avoid catas­tro­phe, we must in­stantly trans­form the en­tire econ­omy no mat­ter the costs.

This is un­jus­ti­fied. The In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC), in its lat­est ma­jor global anal­y­sis, es­ti­mated that the to­tal im­pact of un­mit­i­gated cli­mate change from ex­treme weather, changes in agri­cul­ture, ris­ing sea lev­els and so on would be equiv­a­lent to re­duc­ing the av­er­age per­son’s in­come by be­tween 0.2 and 2 per­cent in the 2070s.

By then, de­vel­op­ing world in­comes will have in­creased by 400 per­cent to 500 per­cent or even more. Cli­mate im­pacts have an ever smaller im­pact on hu­man­ity be­cause of pros­per­ity and re­silience. A hun­dred years ago, cli­mate dis­as­ters glob­ally killed about half a mil­lion peo­ple an­nu­ally. To­day, with many more peo­ple, that toll has dropped by more than 95 per­cent.

Cli­mate change is real and man­made, and it re­quires ac­tion. But the Paris agree­ment on cli­mate change is al­ready an in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive way of help­ing very lit­tle. Those us­ing the lat­est IPCC re­port to call for big­ger po­lit­i­cal prom­ises miss the point by a mile.

Cut­ting car­bon emis­sions is in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive. Green en­ergy is not yet able to com­pete with fos­sil fu­els to meet most of hu­man­ity’s needs. Forc­ing in­dus­tries and com­mu­ni­ties to shift — or ply­ing them with ex­pen­sive sub­si­dies — means ev­ery­one pays more for en­ergy, hurt­ing the poor­est most.

If all the prom­ises in the treaty are kept, the re­sult­ing global hit to growth will reach $1 tril­lion to $2 tril­lion a year by 2030. Those re­sources could have been used to make ev­ery­one more re­silient and pros­per­ous.

The so­lu­tion to cli­mate change isn’t to panic and dou­ble down on a flawed ap­proach. What’s needed is a vast in­crease in spend­ing on green en­ergy re­search and de­vel­op­ment. In­stead of try­ing to force peo­ple to re­place cheap, ef­fi­cient fos­sil fu­els with in­ef­fi­cient tech­nol­ogy, we need to en­sure that green en­ergy is the first choice for all.


Green­peace ac­tivists dis­play a ban­ner out­side a con­fer­ence of the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel for Cli­mate Change in In­cheon, South Korea, on Mon­day.

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