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.
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.