Richard Tol: Bogus Prophecies Of Doom Will Not Fix The Climate

  • Date: 31/03/14
  • Richard Tol, Financial Times

Yesterday’s IPCC report – repeating its prophecies of doom if emissions are not curbed – missed an opportunity to advise policy makers on how to improve lives.

Humans are a tough and adaptable species. People live on the equator and in the Arctic, in the desert and in the rainforest. We survived the ice ages with primitive technologies. The idea that climate change poses an existential threat to humankind is laughable.

Climate change will have consequences, of course. Since different plants and animals thrive in different climates, it will affect natural ecosystems and agriculture. Warmer and wetter weather will advance the spread of tropical diseases. Seas will rise, putting pressure on all that lives on the coast. These impacts sound alarming but they need to be put in perspective before we draw conclusions about policy.

According to Monday’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a further warming of 2C could cause losses equivalent to 0.2-2 per cent of world gross domestic product. On current trends, that level of warming would happen some time in the second half of the 21st century. In other words, half a century of climate change is about as bad as losing one year of economic growth.

Since the start of the crisis in the eurozone, the income of the average Greek has fallen more than 20 per cent. Climate change is not, then, the biggest problem facing humankind. It is not even its biggest environmental problem. The World Health Organisation estimates that about 7m people are now dying each year as a result of air pollution. Even on the most pessimistic estimates, climate change is not expected to cause loss of life on that scale for another 100 years. [...]

Cutting emissions is not the only way to reduce the impacts of climate change. Adaptation and development are alternatives. But these trade-offs are rarely discussed. More than 15 per cent of all development aid is now spent on attempts to prevent climate change. Is that the best way to help the intended beneficiaries? Or does it reflect the donors’ priorities?

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