Kyoto will have little effect on global warming

Life expectancy and prosperity will continue to rise and food production should keep up with population growth, but the Kyoto agreement will have little effect on global warming according to this week’s Christmas issue of the BMJ.

Using official statistics and global trends, Bjørn Lomborg, Director of the Danish Environmental Assessment Institute and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist attempts to draw a reasonably good picture of the true state of the world.

Life expectancy for the developing world has risen from 41 years in 1950 to 64.7 years in 2002, and by 2020 is expected to pass the 70 years barrier. Prosperity has also increased by over 200% for both the developed and the developing world over the past 50 years.

Food production should keep up with population growth without greatly encroaching on forest area. Even concerns about use of energy have little merit, says the author, as available energy resources are increasing.

One important problem with the use of energy, however, is that the emission of carbon dioxide causes global warming. The global costs of the Kyoto agreement to cut carbon emissions will be large, yet the benefits will be marginal, postponing the temperature rise a mere six years from 2100 to 2106, warns the author.

For the same amount of money that the Kyoto protocol will cost the European Union every year, the UN estimates that we could provide every person in the world with access to basic health, education, family planning, and water and sanitation services, he concludes.

But are these forecasts valid? In an accompanying commentary, Anthony McMichael of the Australian National University argues that Lomborg’s views are a blend of naivety and ignorance.

Lomborg is not only selective in his use of data, but his trivialising of global climate change shows ignorance about the profound ecological and social implications of global environmental changes, he writes. Likewise, belittling the Kyoto protocol is mischievous. Indeed, its acknowledged marginal impact on global warming highlights the need for more radical, and politically challenging, cuts in emissions over coming decades.

Lomborg has compiled much useful information, however, he fails to understand the concerns of most environmental scientists, most ecologists, and many social scientists, who believe that past economic practices, technology choices, and exploitation of the ecosystem are ecologically and socially unacceptable, he concludes.

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