I’m getting a lot of identical letters calling on me to “Make Copenhagen work for the world’s poor”. This refers to next year’s environmental conference in Copenhagen, designed to create a successor to the Kyoto protocol. These letters take it as an article of faith that “stopping global warming” is the most important thing we can do for the world’s poor. I think they’re wrong. Here is my reply:
Thank you for writing to me on the question of “Making Copenhagen work for the poor”. I share your concern for poor people in developing countries.
Many of these people live in the most primitive conditions. Many spend much of their time scavenging for firewood (with consequences in terms of local deforestation). They live and cook in one room, and the smoke from their cooking fires has adverse health consequences, causing long-term respiratory problems and eye diseases, especially amongst infants. Their children have to go to bed when the sun goes down and cannot study.
For these people, the very first step out of absolute poverty is the provision of electricity. They can cook without smoke; there is light for the children to study at night; they can refrigerate food and medicines. I am concerned that an over-aggressive commitment to cut carbon emissions will militate against the provision of the electricity which they so badly need.
There are more general questions about the effectiveness of climate mitigation strategies for alleviating poverty. Professor Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish academic and environmentalist, brought together some of the world’s top economists to create his Copenhagen Consensus (www.copenhagenconsensus.com) on the best ways of helping the world’s poor. They ranked possible initiatives in terms of value for money for poor people. The very best thing we could do, they found, would be to provide micronutrients (vitamins etc) for poor children. Providing clean water, sewage systems, basic healthcare, education and so on were also very effective ways of helping the world’s poor. Spending on climate mitigation not only came bottom of the list, but almost off the chart. It is rotten value for money.
Governments are proposing to spend literally trillions of dollars on climate mitigation, and there are big questions about whether this investment will have any significant effect. For a fraction of that sum, we could provide clean water, basic healthcare and education across the world. We could eradicate malaria. Against this background, climate mitigation is not merely a waste of money — it is a diversion of limited resources away from real priorities.
Amongst developed countries, this diversion of resources will leave less money (especially in these troubled times) for foreign aid, and less money for research and investment in low-carbon energy technologies which we so desperately need in the face of current threats to our energy security. So in Copenhagen, I shall be looking for practical solutions that actually meet the world’s needs, rather than responding to alarmist media hype on global warming.
I have recently produced a DVD on the climate change issue, “Straight Talking on Climate Change”, based on a seminar I delivered last June at the London think-tank Global Vision. If you would like a free copy, please send me your street address.
Thank you again for writing to me.
FREE DVD on Climate Change
E-mail your street address to me at email@example.com, or send an A5 pre-addressed envelope to me at 9 Prospect Court, Courteenhall Road, Blisworth, Northamptonshire, NN7 3DG for a free copy of my new DVD “Straight Talking on Climate Change”.