Friday, December 28, 2007

What Development Economists Need to Know about Climate Change

A great talk by Thomas Schelling, at World Bank;

Schelling started his presentation by characterizing the climate change issue as a bargaining between developed countries, leaving the developing countries with a limited role. Yet it is the developing countries that are truly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, he said. This is largely because in developing countries so many people live on agriculture. Additionally, Schelling explained, this is where the bulk of the population resides, and will increasingly reside in the next few decades. Other reasons for developing countries’ vulnerability that Schelling cited included weaker health care systems and less access to crucial nutrients, clean water, and sewage systems. Additionally, he pointed out that as climates become warmer, vectors that carry pathogens (mosquitoes, flies) become more numerous and also more virulent. These will all be key factors in offsetting the effects of climate change, Schelling said, and as such the best defense of developing countries against climate change will be their own development. This will allow them to become less dependent on agriculture and become sufficiently wealthy to afford a decent public health infra-structure.

Schelling stated that in his judgment there is no uncertainty that the greenhouse effect has contributed to climate change, and that this will become an increasingly important issue. The uncertainty, he said, is about how much warming results from a given increase in greenhouse gases, in addition to how the warming will influence different climates. While much emphasis is placed on the rise in temperature itself, it is the climactic effects such as changes in rainfall, evaporation and prevalence of snow which heavily affects agriculture (and hence people) in many areas of the world. Schelling stated that despite the dramatic increase in funding for climate change research over the past decades, much still remains to be discovered. Schelling also stressed the dire need for more research and development of new forms of energy. He also highlighted the potential of geo-engineering, despite complications of cost and need for further research.

Schelling explained that despite the overwhelming evidence of the effects of climate change, there are still many distinguished people in the United States who believe that climate change is not real. Industrial countries in general have not displayed a serious interest in greenhouse emissions, he said. Schelling stated that because the leading industrial country has barely acknowledged the problem, there must be less pressure on the developing countries to address the issue. Developing countries are, in the short run, less capable of dealing with the effects of climate change because of their lack of development. Hence there must not be a huge demand on their part to seriously curtail their development by allocating too many resources to the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, especially if countries who can afford to do so are not leading by example.

Another talk by Schelling on Rational Choice Theory
Greenhouse Effect

Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling's little-known role in the Vietnam War

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