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Blog // Adaptability
October 23, 2004

Climate Change and The Copenhagen Consensus

The Copenhagen Consensus is a group of economists led by Bjørn Lomborg who try to rank the most important development issues by using cost benefit analysis.

Today’s Guardian brings an article by conservative party advisor Tom Burke, criticising Bjorn Lomborg and the so-called Copenhagen Consensus. Burke isn’t a fan and he raises a lot of good questions about the group.

The Copenhagen Consensus have been featured heavily in The Economist. The group is trying to use cost-benefit analysis to decide where governments should invest their money in order to promote economic development around the world. It’s an interesting project, trying to discuss the world’s problems from a purely economic point. This leads to some surprising ways that economic arguments, and not just ethical ones can be used to suggest that tacking HIV/AIDS is more important than trade liberalisation. Or that dealing with malnutrition is more important that reducing with business regulation.

Where the Copenhagen Consensus has courted controversy is on how to approach climate change. They suggest it should be a low priority. This has been picked up by a number of anti-environmentalists and people who criticise attempts to address climate change as supporting their position.

On the surface it might appear that way.

But, the Copenhagen Consensus was mostly talking about attempts to reduce carbon emissions when they placed a low priority on dealing with climate change. Other environmental concerns, like air and water quality, were addressed in different kinds of measures. The group isn’t advocating for the kind of extreme position we see in someone like the much maligned apologist for corporate anti-enviromentalism Richard Lindzen. There’s a fair amount of disagreement amongst the thinkers involved with the Copenhagen Consensus and the role of climate change in economic development.

That said we need to question if the rationale behind this “consensus” is the right one. Is economics is the best way to measure what are, fundamentally, quality of life and human flourishing issues? Or perhaps, is there more to explore in the way economic theorising can intersect with ethical questions?

Friendly Swami 17 years ago

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. — Calvin Coolidge

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