Attempts to cut CO2 are futile – and expensive

Blondie Bjorn

Blondie Bjorn

Bjorn Lomborg makes a sound case for abandoning attempts to cut CO2, and instead look at investing in R & D for renewable energy sources. Even if you accept the worst predictions of the AGW alarmists, it still does not make sense to slash emissions.

All the planet’s efforts to reduce CO2 emissions have passed virtually unnoticed by the atmosphere and climate. The pointlessness of it all is summed up by Lomborg’s claim that the current EU climate policy will cost $20 trillion over the century, and will reduce global temperatures by 0.05 degrees C. How about that for a cost/benefit result?

I have always believed that strong economies lead to strong research and industry, which will lead more quickly to competitive renewable energy sources. The opposite, slashing CO2 emissions and strangling economies, means that such developments will take longer, and in the mean time, the population will suffer unnecessarily.

He writes:

Global warming is a problem for the future but a benefit now. Lots of people like to point out that global warming means more deaths from heat waves, but they forget that fewer die from cold. In Britain and almost everywhere, more people die from cold than from heat.

Likewise, higher temperatures mean higher costs for air-conditioning but lower costs for heating. Temperature rises will push some crops beyond their optimal range and reduce yields, but CO2 in the atmosphere acts as a fertiliser and has increased global yields significantly.

When economists estimate the net damage from global warming as a percentage of gross domestic product, they find it will indeed have an overall negative impact in the long run but the impact of moderate warming (1C-2C) will be beneficial. It is only towards the end of the century, when temperatures have risen much more, that global warming will turn negative. One peer-reviewed model estimates that it will turn into a net cost only by 2070.

We need to stop claiming that it will be the end of the world. Just as it is silly to deny man-made global warming, it is indefensible to describe it as the biggest calamity of the 21st century.

Here is how to quantify this. The most well-known economic model of global warming is the DICE model by William Nordhaus, of Yale University. It calculates the total costs (from heat waves, hurricanes, crop failure and so on) as well as the total benefits (from cold waves and CO2 fertilisation). If you compare these over the next 200 years, the total cost of global warming is estimated at about $33 trillion.

While this is not a trivial number, you have to put it in context. Over the next 200 years, global GDP will run to about $2200 trillion, so global warming constitutes a loss of about 1.5 per cent of this figure. This is not the end of the world but a problem that needs to be solved.

Next, consider CO2 levels. With huge, green subsidies showing up on our electricity bills, you would be excused for believing that we have managed to cut CO2 substantially. You would be wrong. Global CO2 has risen relentlessly since 1950. In 1997 the Kyoto protocol put legally binding limits on rich-country emissions. But Kyoto and all our fine policies have had no real impact. The only indication of a CO2 reduction was in 2009 when the global recession put us on track to fulfil Kyoto. Had the recession continued, we might have been able to achieve Kyoto.

Not surprisingly, such a policy has no appeal for politicians or voters in the real world.

Kyoto set a target of 36.6 per cent for the rise in global emissions since 1990. In fact they have gone up by 45.4 per cent. With no Kyoto at all, they would have increased by only about half a percentage point to 45.9 per cent. Put simply, the past two decades of climate discussions have had virtually no impact on global emissions.

The latest peer-reviewed overview of the 311 published estimates show that the entire cost of the most likely future damage is about $5 a tonne. This means that cutting CO2 for less than $5 a tonne is probably a good idea, whereas cutting for more is probably a bad deal.

Unfortunately, almost all policies for fighting global warming are bad deals by this $5 yardstick. Most large nations have managed to enact climate policies for electricity that cost a lot more than the good they do.

China has one of the most efficient climate policies on electricity. Yet it still pays about $46 to cut a tonne of CO2, which is nearly eight times more than the global, long-term benefits. Australia pays about half a billion dollars to cut less than 5 per cent of its electricity emissions, paying about $72 a tonne of CO2, or almost 15 times too much. On biofuels, the excess is even greater and emission reductions even smaller. Australia pays 73 times too much at $364 a tonne of CO2, cutting just 0.1 per cent of its total emissions at a cost of $144m. The US pays a staggering 133 times too much, at $666 a tonne of CO2, costing $17.5bn a year and cutting just 0.5 per cent of its total emissions. (source)

So Australia is paying $364 to solve every $5 worth of problems. An efficiency Gillard and Labor would be proud of.


  1. The economic cost is higher than what is being paid. Because the wealth could be otherwise applied to be more productive; to innovate to develop new technologies.

  2. It is very concerning………………………and scary to imagine how much worse this will be
    in even 10 years from now……

  3. Baldrick says:

    Any private company that knowingly spends over $350 for a return of $5 would be out of business in a matter of days and subjected to civil and perhaps criminal proceedings for squandering investors funds on useless projects.
    If only we could make our politicians so accountable!

  4. Of course, it’s all about breaking down the industrialized world. We weren’t supposed to complain. Thank goodness we’re waking up to the cost and the the futility of mitigation. Civilization hasn’t run aground yet. However dire it looks – don’t give in. We ARE turning this nonsense around.

  5. Russell Biltmore says:

    Lomborg makes a good point about wasting money to fight “global warming-climate change” but we must not lose sight of the fact that the world runs on oil. I know for a fact that Global Corporations are still concerned about meeting “carbon footprint goals”; they’re wasting huge sums of money for nothing. Renewables are not efficient or practical at this point–we must stop burning food.

    I’m so glad the Kyoto agreement is dead. It was an attack on industrialized Western nations aimed mostly at the USA. The “climate change” movement is on its knees because of lies, lack of integrity and radical claims of doom and catastrophic disaster; we must not stop until its dead and buried.

    I favor using all energy as cleanly and efficiently as current technology allows; new technology will phase in as it develops. My advice let’s adapt more and cut back on trying to control climate.

  6. Bananaman says:

    Costs mean nothing when its a banner waving call to arms for the “great moral challenge” of our time.
    Its all about engendering fear and scare mongering about “the end of the world”. What better way to blackmail people into following your lead
    The actual facts about what is really happening are lost because as much as the evidence is mounting against the AGW believers, the panic merchants continue merrily along claiming more & more so called “evidence” to the contrary.
    The mainstream media doesnt want to know as it is not a doom & gloom story that they thrive on. I could never imagine the lead story on the 6pm news being something along the lines of “global warming no longer a threat”.
    The debate should be moving into areas of energy generation and how we can do that the most efficent way. We need to get that right via research & development before anything is implemented. These short term solutions of wind farms etc are useless if they just have to be pulled down or be decomissioned if another solution is found.

  7. Ian Middleton says:

    As CO2 is of little consequence when it comes to global temperatures ( and Lomborg knows this), it amazes me to see that the futue wellfair of this planet is still considered in $$$$$$$. We need not spend a dollar more on CO2 reduction and we will be just fine. Perhaps Bjorn is trying to appeal to both camps with this piece. Either way folks, try and stay warm.

  8. manicbeancounter says:

    This statement in the article is significant

    When economists estimate the net damage from global warming as a percentage of gross domestic product, they find it will indeed have an overall negative impact in the long run but the impact of moderate warming (1C-2C) will be beneficial. It is only towards the end of the century, when temperatures have risen much more, that global warming will turn negative.

    Now consider the Apocalypse Delayed? posting of March 28th. Referring to an Economist article, it says that a number of empirical studies show that climate sensitivity is much lower than the climate models assume. Therefore, moving into the net cost range seems much less likely.
    But why are there net costs? Lomberg’s calculations are based on William Nordhaus’s DICE model that

    calculates the total costs (from heat waves, hurricanes, crop failure and so on) as well as the total benefits (from cold waves and CO2 fertilisation).

    I would claim that the destablisation of the planet’s climate by rapid warming has very little evidence. Claims in AR4 that hurricanes were getting worse; that some African countries would see up to a 50% reduction in crop yields by 2020; that the Himalayan Glaciers would largely disappear by 2035; that the Amazon rainforest could catastrophically collapse – all have been over-turned.
    Thus the policy justification for avoiding climate catastrophe as a result rising greenhouse gases is a combination of three components. First, a large rise in temperatures. Second, the resulting destablisation of the climate system having net adverse consequences. Third, is that the cost of constraining the rise in greenhouse gases is less than the cost of doing nothing.
    It is only this third aspect that Bjorn Lomberg deals with. Yet despite that he shows that the Australian Government is not “saving the planet for future generations”, but causing huge net harm. Policy-making should consider all three components.

  9. It gets worse. Meteorologists will tell you that it is the contrast of temperatures in low pressure storms which fuel the process and move heat to the top of the atmosphere and the poles. So cooling may well cause as many storms as warming – which makes the allegations suspect and we should content ourselves with noting patterns. After all, the ‘loss of ice’ of mountaintops was such poor science that it ignored wind direction and moisture aloft.
    Nor is the cost – benefit analysis new, Monckton having done such some time ago.
    So where are we ? Temperature records are neither of a long enough timespan to assess effects nor co2 contributions by man of such an increase in total supposed radiation retention by a trace gas at the bottom of the atmosphere…below clouds…that any calculations which also ignore heat transfer by storm action can in any way be sufficient for good modeling….let alone as a supposed tool of prediction instead of study.
    This might be best illustrated that meteorologists have been muzzled, being too aware that projections sufficient to forecast for 10 days are not necessarily better for ‘climate change’ even if they do not ‘model’ the same processes, as is alleged. And if they do not, where is any real world application ?
    But this is not a dispute about science, there being far too little possible for any confidence theoretical gaming will be of any use in an exercise without feedback and politicized to the hilt. Being able to follow the math is of little consequence when dealing with GIGO ignorant of any true background – or forground – effects because one cannot deal with unknown processes and complexities simply by ignoring them and hoping they will go away.


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