Sanity on the Costs of Carbon Curbs


Regardless of your feelings about Bjørn Lomborg’s belief that man-made CO2 is the principal driver of accelerated warming, he continues to provide what is sorely lacking in the climate debate: honest cost-benefit analysis of climate-change legislation. Lomborg writes in the Times of London:

Global warming is seen everywhere as one of the most important issues. From the EU to the G8, leaders trip over one another to affirm their commitment to cutting CO2 to heal the world. What they do not often acknowledge – in part because it would lose them support – is that the solutions proffered are incredibly costly and will end up doing amazingly little good, even in a century’s time. This is the truly inconvenient truth of the politics of global warming.

However, we need to keep our cool: global warming’s total cost will be only about one half of 1 per cent of the net worth of the 21st century; that is the current worth of all the wealth projected to be generated in this century. Panicking is unlikely to lead to sensible policies. It could lead to exorbitantly expensive policies, which will do great harm.

It is a well-rehearsed point that the Kyoto Protocol was a terribly inefficient, hugely costly way to do virtually no good. Even if every industrialised country, including the United States, had accepted the protocol, and everyone had lived up to its requirements for the entire century, it would have had virtually no impact, even a hundred years from now. It would reduce the global temperature increase by an immeasurable 0.15C by the year 2100. The cost of implementing Kyoto, taking the average figure from the various top macroeconomic models, would have been almost £100 billion annually for the rest of the century.

Using the latest academic meta-study by Professor Richard Tol we can calculate that cutting 1,100 million tonnes of CO2 would create benefits worth £4 billion in terms of the impact on agriculture, forestry, preventing deaths from heat and cold, disease and unmanaged eco-systems. At a cost of £100 billion, the investment involves paying £1 to do less than 4p worth of good.

The UK emits about 2 per cent of global CO2. Thus we could imagine the world as composed of 50 UKs, each emitting one fiftieth of the carbon. If all 50 of our “UKs” paid a £100 billion to reduce temperatures by one three-thousandth of a degree in 100 years, the result would be still be trivial: one sixtieth of a degree by the end of the century. Costs would most probably increase similarly, fiftyfold to £5,000 billion. This amazing sum would simply postpone global warming and its problems by a mere 11 months by the end of the century.


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