Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Misplaced obsession with climate change

By Bjorn Lomborg ( Updated: 2014-09-22 11:12

Climate is back on the global agenda with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call to world leaders to attend a climate summit on Sept 23 “to make climate change a top priority for all leaders”. While it is important to find smart solutions to the real problem of global warming, claiming that on “top of the priority list is climate change” is misplaced. Perhaps this is why Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have declined the invitation.

Moreover, the UN already knows the world doesn’t place global warming first. According to The World We Want, more than 4 million people from countries across the world said their top priorities are better education and healthcare, less corruption, more jobs and affordable food. In the very last place, as priority number 17, comes global warming. Is this surprising? If you’re Mamata Begum from Bangladesh who struggles to feed her children, nutrition is your top priority: “When my kids haven’t got enough to eat, I don’t think global warming will be an issue I will be thinking about.”

This is also true for China, which ranks global warming 11th on its priority list because it believes that there are more important things to fix. Even Europeans, with the world’s strongest climate policies, rank global warming 10th on their priority list.

Yet politicians use catastrophic alarmism to bolster their claim that climate is our “generational mission”. Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief, tells us that we should focus more on global warming because of the “increase in the frequency and intensity of natural events and disasters”, which is simply wrong. If we want fewer weather- and climate-related disasters in the future, we should focus on better policies to keep people out of harms way through building codes, and better warning and better adaptation systems.

In an analysis of climate communications, the University College of London found that scare-mongering is ineffective when it comes to climate change and often prompts people to suspect that “they are trying to manipulate me”. Remember when former US vice-president Al Gore told us in his speech while receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 that the North Pole ice cap is “falling off a cliff” and it could be gone in “as little as seven years. Seven years from now”. That is now. Arctic ice has definitely declined, but nowhere near the 100 percent reduction that Gore predicted. It has reduced by only 17 percent in September.

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