Bjørn Lomborg’s change of mind: a climate change deal IS important

Bjørn Lomborg, the Danish academic who has long been a poster boy for climate change sceptics, now says it is vital that an agreement on tackling climate change is reached this year.

You can read more about Mr Lomborg’s views in an interview with the FT’s Fiona Harvey, but here are a few quotes:

“It’s incredibly important. We need a global deal on the climate.”

“If that disappoints people who are sceptics, I am not in the least bit unhappy.  I hope to have more people enthused [in thinking about how to tackle climate change].”

“…the basic scientific questions [on climate change] have been answered pretty unequivocally”.

Some background: Lomborg maintains that he has never denied that climate change is man-made or that it will be a problem. His arguments have primarily been that the problem is overstated, and that measures to address it not very worthwhile.

A very short history

Lomborg came to prominence when his book The Skeptical Environmentalist, which argued that the global environment was not progressively deteriorating as represented, was published in English in 2001.

Later, he focused on the costs of addressing climate change, arguing that it was not the best use of large amounts of public money. In 2004 he launched of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, with Denmark’s Environmental Assessment Institute and with the co-operation of The Economist magazine.

A group of 50 economists examined various health, education, trade and environmental opportunities and concluded that HIV/AIDS prevention would be the best investment of all. The three climate change measures on the list all came last, in the ‘bad’ investments category. In 2008 the centre released a new list concluding that nutritional supplements for children would be the best target for global welfare, with investment in renewable energy coming in at number 14.

Today

Lomborg is not fully embracing the direction of Copenhagen negotiations, however: he maintains that the quasi-moral idea of wealthy countries undertaking a larger share of actual emissions reductions is inefficient, arguing that it is cheaper to reduce emissions in developing countries.

Nonetheless, his new urgency on Copenhagen is quite a turnround. In a New York Times oped in April he remained sceptical of a Copenhagen agreement, saying:

Sadly, the old-style agreement planned for Copenhagen this December will have a negligible effect on temperatures. This renders meaningless any declarations of “success” that might be made after the conference.

Further reading:

Q&A: Bjorn Lomborg answers FT readers’ questions

The Economist’s articles about the Copenhagen Consensus (2004)

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