Climate change: the smarter option?

For almost 20 years, from Rio to Kyoto to Copenhagen, we’ve been wasting time, pursuing the failed strategy of cutting carbon-dioxide emissions. Promises of short-term carbon cuts haven’t worked because implementing them is extremely expensive and ineffective: alternative energy technologies are far from ready to take over. To ensure that they are ready, we should instead invest 0.2% of GDP in green research and development . . . which is far smarter option.

The solution is not to make fossil fuels more expensive; the solution is to make alternative energy cheaper.

So argues Bjørn Lomborg, adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and of its Copenhagen Consensus on Climate project. He writes that to set of carbon emission targets is futile as a response to climate change. “We should be negotiating an international agreement” he says ” to increase radically spending on green-energy research and development to a total of 0.2 per cent of global GDP, or $US100 billion a year. Without this kind of concerted effort, alternative technologies simply will not be ready to take up the slack from fossil fuels.”

[L]et’s say we index 1990 global emissions at 100. If there were no Kyoto at all, the 2010 level would have been 142.7. With full Kyoto implementation, it would have been 133. In fact, the actual outcome of Kyoto is likely to be a 2010 level of 142.2-virtually the same as if we had done nothing at all. Given 12 years of continuous talks and praise for Kyoto, this is not much of an accomplishment. The Kyoto Protocol did not fail because any one nation let the rest of the world down. It failed because making quick, drastic cuts in carbon emissions is extremely expensive. Whether or not Copenhagen is declared a political victory, that inescapable fact of economic life will once again prevail and grand promises will once again go unfulfilled. This is why I advocate abandoning the pointless strategy of trying to make governments promise to cut carbon emissions. Instead, the world should be focusing its efforts on making non-polluting energy sources cheaper than fossil fuels.

Most of the promises are empty, with targets unachievable or the numbers fudged, Lomborg says.

Instead of papering over the flaws in the Kyoto approach and pretending that grand promises translate into real action, we need to acknowledge that saving the world requires a smarter strategy than the one being pursued so dogmatically in Copenhagen.

Makes sense. It will be tricky to spend up big on alternative energy without some kind of ‘tax’ on consumers. But Australia could begin by using the money Labor’s failed ETS would have given as compensation to the big polluters.