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Danish Economist Stresses Need to Prioritize World’s Problems

Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg enraged the environmental movement a few years ago by questioning the benefits of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change in his bestselling book The Skeptical Environmentalist. Speaking on VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, he reiterated that position by arguing that Third World countries, which are disproportionately affected by global warming, have more pressing priorities to deal with such as malnutrition and poverty. He told host Carol Castiel and panelist Jaroslaw Anders, editor in VOA’s Eurasia Division, that there is no contradiction between promoting aggressive economic development and protecting the environment. However, he said that the proponents of the Kyoto Protocol and other environmental advocates often stress environmental protection over development. Mr. Lomborg suggests there is a “middle way” that does not overly emphasize protecting the environment at the expense of much-needed economic development.

In his most recent publication, Global Crises, Global Solutions, Mr. Lomborg prioritizes the most pressing challenges facing the world such as HIV-AIDS, communicable diseases, hunger, and lack of access to clean water and education. Global Crises, Global Solutions grew out of a meeting in Copenhagen in May 2004 known as the “Copenhagen Consensus,” which brought together experts who prioritized and outlined solutions to the above-mentioned problems.

In a perfect world, Bjorn Lomborg said, policymakers would want to deal with all these issues. But, in the real world, the crucial question is the one he posed for the Copenhagen Consensus: “If we don’t do it all, what should we start by doing?” So, at the Copenhagen meeting, the world’s top economists came up with estimates of the costs and benefits of dealing with the most urgent challenges. HIV-AIDS, malnutrition, free trade, and malaria emerged at the top of the list. Mr. Lomborg said that setting priorities is fraught with politics and some people become angry when their major concerns do not appear at the top of the list. So governments often try to appease their constituents by giving a little bit to everyone. But that, Mr. Lomborg said, is not the “right solution.”

Bjorn Lomborg told host Carol Castiel that he has serious reservations about the recommendations in another report recently released by the U.N. Millennium Project, which advocates that the world’s richest countries should give at least 0.7 percent of their gross national product to foreign aid in order to help alleviate poverty, address HIV-AIDS, and provide clean water. Mr. Lomborg said, although these goals are laudable, they cost an enormous sum of money and would probably entail tripling the aid budget. He suggested that it would be more realistic to apply the same standard as the Copenhagen Consensus does and decide which of these problems should be tackled first.

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.