Despite hundreds of climate summits, emissions keep increasing because nobody wants policies that actually hurt


Bjorn Lomborg

Net zero promises are prohibitively expensive

A new study in Nature finds that a 95% reduction in American carbon emissions by 2050 - still below President Biden's net zero target - will annually cost 11.9% of U.S. GDP. That means $11,300 per person per year, or almost 500 times more than what a majority of Americans is willing to pay.

Unfortunately, this incredible sacrifice will have minimal effect on climate change. Even if the whole country went carbon-neutral tomorrow, the standard United Nations climate model shows the difference by the end of the century would be a barely noticeable reduction in temperature of 0.3°F (0.16°C).

Lomborg explains in his weekly Wall Street Journal column (also accessible here) that this is because the U.S. will make up an ever-smaller share of emissions as the populations of China, India and Africa grow and get richer.

He also discussed his column on the FOX Business Network with Larry Kudlow.

We need less alarmism, more smart climate solutions

Bjorn Lomborg's bestselling book False Alarm was released in paperback this week. In the paperback edition, Lomborg offers a new epilogue that details climate lessons from a year of global economic shutdown due to COVID-19, and from our increasingly costly but often very ineffective climate policies.

In a new review, The Federalist notes that False Alarm "tears apart the facile reasons driving climate alarmism and proposes smarter solutions."

Lomborg discussed the book in multiple interviews this week, e.g. on The Tom Woods Show and on a podcast run by Scott Adams, creator of "Dilbert".

Similarly, Lomborg had a lengthy conversation about sensible climate policy with Ben Shapiro.

Prof. Jordan Peterson endorsed Lomborg as "better informed on such issues than anyone I have ever met or read. Listen to him." They discussed False Alarm on Peterson's podcast earlier this year.

Want to lock down for the climate?

Despite politicians' talk of "net zero" emissions, the world will continue to run on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. In 2019, 81% of the world's energy came from fossil fuels. Lomborg shows in Wall Street Journal (also accessible here) that by 2040 - if all nations deliver on the current climate promises - the world will still get 73% of its energy from fossil fuels.

Cutting fossil fuels as quickly as some environmentalists want will be tremendously difficult. In 2020 pandemic lockdowns forced the world to cut carbon emissions significantly. But to fulfill the Paris climate accords completely, the UN says that global emissions would have to plunge even further every year for the rest of the decade. In 2021 emissions would have to drop by more than double the lockdown-induced decline. By the end of 2030, they’d have to have fallen by 11 times what they did in 2020. That's hardly realistic, especially since developing nations want more energy access.

That's why we need green energy innovation, as Lomborg explains in newspapers across Latin America, including El Tiempo (Colombia), Milenio (Mexico), La Tercera (Chile), Los Tiempos (Bolivia), El Periodico (Guatemala) and La Prensa (Nicaragua).

New technology is the answer to climate change

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson just announced plans for all of Britain’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2035. He wants to show leadership ahead of the UN climate summit COP26, but the reality is that such targets rarely achieve anything. Either all electricity will go green by 2035 because it is cheaper than the alternative (in which case the target was unnecessary) or, more likely, such a policy will simply drive up electricity prices to levels voters reject.

Lomborg writes in Britain's biggest broadsheet newspaper The Telegraph (also accessible here) that instead of making empty promises and holding one more failed climate meeting, Johnson could make Glasgow a huge success by turning a corner on two decades of failure and introducing a cheaper, smarter way forward that will actually help fix climate change without infuriating ordinary people or exacerbating the risk of energy shortages.

He discussed the op-ed on US television (Varney & Co).

Climate change barely affects malnutrition

Climate campaigners often lobby for degrowth to slow down climate change, while also arguing that we need strong climate policies to help the world's poor secure food supply. In reality, growth has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, allowing parents to buy enough food for their children. Malnutrition used to kill 7 million every year, now it is about 2.8m and by 2050, it could be 'just' 600,000. That is a fantastic story of progress. Compare this with the impact of climate change. It will slightly slow yield increase: yields will still increase but slightly slower. This will make malnutrition drop slightly slower, something that you can barely see in the figure below — the upper line shows the impact on nutrition with climate change. 

In The Wall Street Journal (also accessible here), Lomborg shows that slower growth as a result of climate policies is the actual hazard to poor people's livelihoods. The Paris climate agreement is projected to keep 11 million more people in poverty come 2030 than otherwise would be. If the Glasgow climate conference in November leads to the adoption of much stronger climate measures, policymakers will raise that total to more than 80 million additional people to poverty by 2030, which will inevitably cause even more malnutrition deaths.

Even with climate change, the world isn’t doomed

Young people across the world are terrified of climate change, according to a new study. More than 45% of people 16 to 25 in the 10 countries surveyed are so worried that it affects their daily life and functioning. Almost half of young Americans believe “humanity is doomed,” and two-thirds think “the future is frightening.”

But panic is unwarranted. In fact, humanity has overcome far greater challenges over the past 120 years. While climate change is a problem we should address smartly, our kids and grandkids will still be much better off by the end of the century.

Lomborg points out in Wall Street Journal (also accessible here) that caring about the environment and human well-being doesn’t mean we should terrify young people about climate change. Instead, we should encourage them to pursue innovation. That’s what saved humanity from much greater dangers in the past and what will help us now.

Can leaders finally go down a different path at COP26?

Over the last three decades, the world has hosted hundreds of climate summits and rich nations have reliably talked green; but emissions have kept increasing because no leaders want to stick their citizens with the huge price tag. We clearly need a different approach, one that will enable all countries to make the switch to green energy.

During the 2015 Paris climate summit, most of the G20 countries promised to double R&D spending on green energy innovations by 2020. Unfortunately, most nations are failing this promise, too. Instead of making big and expensive promises that future governments will have to backtrack on once citizens protest rising power bills, leaders should immediately commit to spending much more on green R&D. The total cost for each nation will be much lower than current climate policies.

Bjorn Lomborg's new column is being syndicated with newspapers around the world now, including local newspapers across the United States (e.g. Palm Beach Post and Northwest Indiana Times), Business Day (South Africa) and Bergens Tidende (Norway).

Finding the best policies for Malawi

Copenhagen Consensus is partnering with the National Planning Commission of Malawi and the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) to find the most effective policy solutions for Malawi. Malawi Priorities will facilitate a prioritization of policy options for the country based on cost-benefit analyses. It will also seek to identify interventions that will enable the government to generate more financial resources to finance its development agenda.

New policy briefs and research papers are being released on a regular basis. The findings are presented to decision makers, the media and the general public across multiple channels, including panel debates with high-ranking officials and academics.

One recently released study on natural resource management, for example, was reported in Nyasa Times. Our researchers assessed how to manage mining and fishing more effectively. They find that formalization, with supportive infrastructure and knowledge transfer, in both sectors can provide substantial economic benefits for the country, such as an increase in mining revenue by 35%.

Lomborg on social media:

New study about more climate catastrophes not remotely true

Untrue Washington Post front-page story

One of the world's best investments: tuberculosis

With realistic climate adaptation, relative coastal flooding cost will decline

Electric cars net-bad everywhere

The "brilliant villainy" of asking sensible questions

More global articles and interviews:

Choices that matter for Ghana
Daily Graphic (Ghana)

Blaming deadly floods and wildfires on climate change is convenient for politicians
The Herald (Scotland)

Taking out fossil fuels will ‘absolutely damage' economic growth
Fox Business Network (USA)

"Der Klimawandel ist nicht das Ende der Welt"
Die Presse (Austria)

What really helps against global warming
European Liberal Forum

Il riscaldamento globale salva più persone di quante ne uccida
Tempi (Italy)

Cambiamento climatico? Coraggio, ne abbiamo superate di ben peggiori
Tempi (Italy)

Sorpresa: gli uragani non sono più devastanti di una volta. E neanche più frequenti
Tempi (Italy)

La grande attesa della svolta verso le rinnovabili sarà anche lunga
Tempi (Italy)

No, i costi delle alluvioni non aumentano: si stanno riducendo
Tempi (Italy)

A felmelegedés több ember életét menti meg, mint amennyinek a halálát okozza
Portfolio (Hungary)

Mekkora hatása lehet a klímaváltozásnak a GDP-re?
Portfolio (Hungary)

Upholding women’s rights and choices during a pandemicDevex

Spectre of hidden hunger
Orissa Post (India)

Ghanaian minister tells small-scale miners to form co-operatives
Coop News (Ghana)

Adopting + F route for a healthier future
India News Republic (India)

About Bjorn Lomborg and the Copenhagen Consensus 

Dr. Bjorn Lomborg researches the smartest ways to do good in the world, and has repeatedly been named one of Foreign Policy’s top 100 public intellectuals.

He is the author of several best-selling books, Visiting Professor at Copenhagen Business School, Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and works regularly with many of the world’s top economists, including seven Nobel Laureates.

His think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, was named Think Tank of the Year in International Affairs by Prospect Magazine. It has repeatedly been top-ranked by University of Pennsylvania in its global overview of think tanks.

Lomborg is a frequent commentator in print and broadcast media, for outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, CNN, FOX, and the BBC. His monthly column is published in dozens of newspapers across all continents.
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David Lessmann
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