[T]he Copenhagen Consensus, [the] brainchild of Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, is an attempt by leading economists (including three Nobelists) to set priorities for spending on development using traditional cost-benefit analysis. "We need to know what we should do first," says Mr. Lomborg. "Not being willing to prioritize does not make the problem go away: It simply becomes less clear--and, most likely, more expensive to solve in the end."
To that end, Mr. Lomborg and his colleagues looked at more than a dozen development challenges, ranging from malnutrition to water sanitation to migration to climate change. The results: Development dollars are best spent on the control of HIV-AIDS, principally through condom distribution and information efforts, followed by providing micronutrients (vitamin and mineral pills) to the malnourished, lowering barriers to trade, and controlling malaria. Taking action in these areas, the authors believe, could do the most good for the greatest number of people in the shortest span of time.
By contrast, the three projects the Consensus put at the bottom of the list all had to do with the threat (which the Consensus considers serious) of global warming. Adopting the Kyoto Protocol to curb carbon dioxide emissions, for instance, might reduce warming to 6.1 degrees centigrade by the year 2300, compared with an anticipated 7.3 degree warming if nothing is done. This "achievement"--a world that is on average 1.2 degrees cooler than it otherwise would be in 300 years--comes with a price tag of about $94 trillion (in 1990 dollars).
"The benefits [of tackling climate change] are far into the future and the substantial costs are up front and immediate," notes Nobel Prize-winning economist Douglass North. "Given the uncertainties associated with both the projections and the consequences, climate change cannot compete with the other urgent issues we confront."
Click here for the chart. Also at the top of the list, trade liberalization" and "control of malaria".