Climate change languishes in last place of a global to-do list announced recently in Washington DC by UN ambassadors from the United States, China and India. The list is the outcome of two days’ worth of debate and deliberation at a forum organised by Danish think-tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, which asked UN ambassadors from seven countries to consider the question: if we had an extra $50 billion to put to good use, which problems should be solved first? Climate change trailed behind nine other world problems such as communicable diseases, education and sanitation. US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, asserted that it had not been rated as a high priority ‘because the solutions suggested to deal with climate change provided a small rate of return compared with solutions to other world problems.’
However, environmentalists will see the results as further evidence of the US administration’s hostility to the science of climate change and the international agenda for solving it. Mr George Bush has previously infuriated both scientists and other world leaders alike by refusing to ratify the Kyoto protocol and repeatedly casting doubt on the extent to which global warming is a problem.
Mr Bolton, a notoriously outspoken figure in the Bush administration, acknowledged that the task of prioritising is unpleasant because something, in this case climate change, will necessarily be at the bottom of the list, but he hopes that the disciplined methods used at the forum will be applied to wider UN reform. ‘One of the main problems at the UN is that the Secretariat General has been given 9000 mandates, which is effectively saying that the UN has 9000 priorities, which means that it has no priorities. We are now trying to make some decisions; in a better-run organisation than the UN you wouldn’t have waited 60 years.’
Organisers recognised that the ranked order of world problems is likely to vary according to the experiences and perceptions of those on the panel. Future plans to re-run the exercise on a larger scale with 50 UN ambassadors from other countries may therefore reap different results, although critics of the project claim that it was biased against prioritising climate change from the outset, because the relatively small sum which the panel had to play with was bound to be best used for specific low-cost schemes rather than the bold enterprises required to tackle climate change. Students who participated in an identical exercise organised by the Copenhagen Consensus Youth Forum came to conclusions about climate change which were surprisingly similar to those of the ambassadors, ranking it at an only marginally more respectable sixth place.