Forbes Online, December 18, 2009
If you’re hoping for a momentous climate deal to be signed at Copenhagen within the next couple of days, the news is not good.
Developing nations who are represented at the U.N. conference have been griping about a lack of transparency from the Danish hosts drafting final treaty texts, and overnight the Chinese were reportedly seeking a vague political declaration from the summit rather than the more hoped-for, technical agreement on carbon emission cuts.
None of this bothers Bjorn Lomborg, the founder of the Copenhagen Climate Consensus and self-styled skeptical environmentalist whose TED videos have recently taken YouTube by storm.
Though he has no desire to see a major climate deal emerge from the U.N. conference in Copenhagen (where he resides) Lomborg has been attending the summit anyway to hammer home his main message: Nations shouldn’t be seeking agreements on carbon emission cuts–they are too expensive to carry out and their effect on the environment is negligible.
"It’s a strategy that has failed over the last 18 years at Kyoto and Rio, with political leaders making grand promises that they’re not going to keep," he said in an interview from the Bella Conference Center in Copenhagen, pointing out that few political representatives who had been at the Kyoto talks in 1997 were at the summit this week.
That means failure at Copenhagen is the best outcome, says Lomborg, because it means the world can seek out a smarter strategy for tackling climate change. "People will be looking around for a plan B once it becomes obvious that this isn’t going to work." His alternative: Governments should focus on putting money into research and development for renewable energy sources.
He cites economists who have told his Consensus panel that the adoption of new technology is 500 times more effective than cutting carbon emissions. "If you put a dollar into carbon cuts, you avoid 2 cents of climate damage. But if you put it into R&D and green energy sources, you avoid $11 of climate damage," he said.
Negotiators in Copenhagen are currently focusing on carbon cuts, with debate surrounding how deep the cuts should be and whether the world should aim to cap a global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius, or 1.5 degrees Celsius. (See "The Carbon Question.")
Also under heated discussion is how much funding advanced nations should give to developing nations to help them cut emissions.
Lomborg questions the creation of a global "honey pot" for the developing world to dip into for climate-change purposes. Though most of that money would probably be used correctly, he said, expect some of it to "end up in Swiss bank accounts."
Money aside, some of the deepest divisions are currently over political will. (See "Schisms At The Climate Talks.") Developing world leaders don’t want to be pushed into a shambolic "photo opportunity," said Stephen Pope, global portfolio strategist with Cantor Fitzgerald in London.
"It is likely that developing-world leaders will surprise the G-20 nations by showing that they are strong enough to refuse an agreement merely to help western politicians under pressure to come back with results."
Lomborn’s big thesis till now has been that the international community shouldn’t even be prioritizing climate change over more urgent matters such as global hunger and disease, which could see more radical change for less money than the billions currently being pledged in Copenhagen by the U.S. and European Union.
When the world does tackle climate change effectively, leaders will be making decisions about ramping up R&D. "It frustrates me that we have very little intent of learning from the past 18 year of failures and trying to find a different tack," he said. "The only way to solve this problem long-term, is for developing countries to have the opportunity to get cheap alternative energy technology."