December 24, 2007 (Bloomberg) – The world’s lawmakers should abandon attempts to set “optimistic” targets for greenhouse-gas emissions, said Bjorn Lomborg, the author of the best-selling book “The Skeptical Environmentalist. ”The U.S. and developing nations on Dec. 15 agreed at United Nations-sponsored talks to negotiate a new global-warming treaty by 2009, after the U.S. accepted a compromise agenda to protect the climate after 2012, when the existing emissions-limiting accord runs out.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol and last week’s talks on the Indonesian island of Bali are expensive and inefficient ways to tackle climate change, said Lomborg, dubbed in 2004 by Time Magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. Instead, nations should spend more money on developing renewable energy such as wind and solar power, he said.
“The reason we’re not doing this is that it doesn’t feel good in the same way that cutting carbon does,” Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, said in an interview in Copenhagen. “As far as I can tell, we’re simply barking up the wrong tree.”
The Copenhagen Consensus Center is a think tank partly funded by the Danish government. Lomborg in 2004 organized the Copenhagen Consensus, a project which brought together some of the world’s top economists to prioritize the best solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. The next consensus project will be held in 2008.
“We seem to like catastrophe scenarios,” Lomborg said. “The problem is that we panic and that makes for bad judgment and also we over-focus on this one problem and forget about all the other problems.”
The European Union is expected to curb its emissions by 9.4 percent on average in the five years through 2012, compared with 1990 levels, according to a projection published Nov. 19 by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
That’s a bigger reduction than the 8 percent cut targeted for the region in the Kyoto Protocol. Still, that projection includes the region’s purchases of emission credits from developing nations. Without purchases, it would likely fail to meet its target, the UN figures show.
Japan, Italy and Spain together face a payment of about $33 billion for failing to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions as promised under the Kyoto agreement, based on prices of futures contracts for UN emission credits.
Under the protocol, endorsed by about 175 nations and organizations, countries must buy credits to counter any excess emissions. The sellers are typically investors or industrial polluters that are accumulating credits.
“We’ve restricted ourselves evermore, but it’s not worked,” Lomborg said. “That’s why I think it’s a little optimistic to say the least, to say, but all right, next time we’ll make it even harder and then it’ll work.”
The EU was pressing for cuts of as much as 40 percent by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, at the Bali talks.
According to the United Nations Environment Program, the economic cost of making greenhouse-gas levels stabilize at between 445 and 710 parts per million by 2030 ranges from a 3 percent loss of gross domestic product to an increase in GDP of 0.6 percent.
Greenhouse-gas levels in 2005 were 379 parts per million, according to a statement on the UNEP Web site by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel of scientists shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore for raising awareness of global warming.
A better solution would be to spend 0.05 percent of gross domestic product on research and development in non-carbon- dioxide emitting energy, such as wind and solar power, Lomborg said.
“It’d be much cheaper, almost 10 times cheaper than Kyoto, and yet it would be a 10-fold increase in the research and development that we spend right now,” he said.