A big reduction in carbon emissions is a costly and unrealistic response to global warming. Time to rethinkby Bjorn Lomborg / July 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
Global warming matters. There is no doubt that mankind is increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and that this will influence temperature. Yet too much debate is fixated on reducing emissions without regard to cost or to human welfare.
In the Kyoto Protocol, the world set itself the ambition of cutting its carbon emissions to 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels in 2010, or a reduction of almost 30 per cent compared to no intervention. It was the implementation of this deal that broke down in the Hague in November and Kyoto was further stymied by the Bush administration’s near-rejection earlier this year. Next month, the world’s governments will be back at the negotiating tables in Bonn, all facing intense political pressure. The Europeans want to find a way to save Kyoto even if it means sweet-dealing the Americans, whereas the Americans need to find a way to tackle global warming without being seen as irresponsible and uncaring.
However, it is not clear that carbon emission cuts are the best way for the world to ensure progress. Let us consider some of the macro-statistics of global warming. (For these purposes I will accept the scientific models of the UN Climate Panel, the IPCC.)
The IPCC tells us that the world might warm as much as 5.8OC over the coming century. Yet this high-end scenario is unlikely. Reasonable analysis suggest that renewables-especially solar power-will be competitive with fossil fuels by mid-century, and this means that carbon emissions are more likely to follow the low emission scenario, causing warming of 2-2.5OC.
Moreover, most experts believe that global warming will not decrease food production, will probably not increase storminess or the frequency of hurricanes, and will not increase the impact of malaria or cause more deaths. It is even unlikely to cause more flood victims, because a much richer world can protect itself better.
However, global warming will have serious costs-indeed, the total cost is estimated at about $5 trillion. Such estimates are unavoidably uncertain but derive from extrapolating the current cost of warming on agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, water supply, infrastructure, hurricane damage, drought damage, coast protection, land loss caused by a rise in sea level, loss of wetlands, pollution and so on.
Global warming will hit developing countries hardest; the industrial countries may even benefit from a warming lower than 2-3OC. Developing countries are harder hit because they are poor-giving them…