May 9, 2008

Economist Says Climate Change Efforts Should Be More Diverse

Economically, the steps taken to reduce global climate change will not be a wise investment if money is solely aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study conducted by researchers in the U.S. and Ireland.

Researchers presented a plan on Thursday that they said would help people adapt to droughts or rising seas cased by global warming, while funding research of new technology and curbing emissions.  

They estimate the plan will cost $800 billion over the next 100 years, but it could potentially yield a gain of $2.1 trillion.

"We've got something that makes sense as an investment of public money," said Gary Yohe, an environmental economist at Wesleyan University in Connecticut who was lead author of the 56-page study.

They added that if the $800 billion was spent solely on curbing emissions from burning fossil fuels, money would be lost overall, as they estimate that plan would only yield returns of $685 billion.

"Mitigation is not enough," Yohe said.

The $800 billion sum seems feasible, as it amounts to about 0.05 percent of global domestic product (GDP).

The study was prepared for a May 26-28 conference in Copenhagen headed by Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist."

The Copenhagen conference, including five Nobel Prize laureates, will seek to rank the costs and benefits of challenges such as fighting AIDS, malnutrition or terrorism, promoting free trade or slowing climate change.

"We have a conversation that's not very nuanced when we talk about global warming," Lomborg said. "It mainly focuses on mitigation and that's one of the least effective investments."

However, Yohe said: "If you don't attend to climate change you will be swimming upstream, climate change will be ... making hunger and disease more prevalent."

Until now, the U.N. Climate Panel has known that efforts aimed at fighting global warming would cost up to 0.1 percent of world GDP each year until 2030, but no conclusions had been reached as to how to spend the money.

Yohe, a member of the panel, said he hopes his new plan will make the decision more clear.

Currently, about 190 nations have signed on to an agreement to negotiate by the end of 2009 a successor treaty to the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, which binds 37 industrialized nations to cut emissions by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

Even Thursday's plan would only cut projected temperature rises by 2100 to about 3.0 Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) from 3.5 Celsius -- far above the 2.0 Celsius that the European Union and many environmentalists consider "dangerous" warming.

"One of the many inconvenient truths is that most of global warming is going to happen unless we dramatically change right now," said Lomborg, who argues that the world has to make tough choices about what is affordable.


On the Net:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Wesleyan University