Rethinking climate policy: solutions to an inconvenient truth?

Bjørn Lomborg, who E&E News called the “Danish professor environmentalists love to hate,” is back in the news ahead of the release of a new book, Smart Solutions to Climate Change, Comparing Costs and Benefits. As the book’s editor, he is now touting a plan to spend over $100 billion a year on investments in clean energy development, climate engineering and climate change adaptation (the book is comprised of cost-benefit studies that look at a range of options including solar, wind and nuclear power for dealing with climate change). In a break from his previous position, Lomborg would raise the annual sum through a carbon tax. That scale of investment is on par with the plan that developed countries agreed to last December at the UN Conference of Parties (COP) 15 in Copenhagen. The COP 15  agreement provided that by 2020 $100 billion a year will go to poor countries to adapt to climate change.

Noting Lomborg’s new affection for carbon pricing, most news sources are inquiring about a perceived change in his views on climate change—something he clarifies in the various interviews. Lomborg tells the New Scientist, “[m]an-made global warming exists,” and he also gaveBloomberg News the impression that, “[w]hile the renewable energy spending he calls for is four times greater than what he had earlier recommended, he said his position on global warming is essentially unchanged.”

Despite the fact that he agrees that anthropogenic climate change is occurring and is a problem, Lomborg often gets branded a climate-change denier.  But as he has clarified in several interviews, Lomborg doesn’t disagree with climate science (he’s with Al Gore on that one), he disagrees with the approach to dealing with climate change. He says that the 18 years spent working on a Kyoto-style approach to global warming hasn’t worked to reduce carbon emissions. Breaking with the old guard of cap-and-trade, led by Al Gore, making clean energy cheaper is his preferred method.

Is his change of heart an indication of a healthy debate? No longer doubting the importance spending money on cutting carbon emissions, Lomborg would now rather find the best way to deal with greenhouse gas pollution, adapt to a changing climate and allocate scarce economic resources. However, he is still skeptical about carbon markets, believing that they can be subject to manipulation and are “an invitation to corruption.”

The failure of the UN COP 15 in Copenhagan last December, inaction in the US Senate and ever increasing GHG emissions in China may lend some extra credence to Lomborg’s point of view. In the E&E News article, he makes the point that the European emissions trading system is susceptible to buying “dodgy emissions from China,” referring to reduction credits involving the potent greenhouse gas, hydroflurocarbon (HFC). Allegedly HFC is over-produced to create a greater potential to earn valuable emissions reductions. Lomborg is also skeptical of any political will to create 100% auctions for emissions permits, stating that there will be a lot of pressure to give away free permits, as evidenced in the climate bill passed by the US House of Representatives.

With the US Congress looking unlikely to tackle cap-and-trade for some time to come, perhaps it is worth investigating Lomborg’s work. The articles about Lomborg demonstrate that he is not debating climate science, rather debating what to do about it. After all, regardless of how you may feel about him, the book and a new documentaryCool It, will keep Lomborg and his ideas in the public’s eye.