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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 December, 2004, 12:16 GMT
Is money fighting climate change well spent?
By Andrew Walker
BBC economics correspondent in Buenos Aires

Delegates meet to discuss global warming in Buenos Aires, Argentina
A recent report questions the need to cut emissions now

The United Nations climate conference underway in Buenos Aires is the last such gathering of its kind before the Kyoto Protocol comes into force.

The protocol requires countries that ratify it to make cuts in emissions of the gases that are thought to cause global warming.

Although many developed countries are going ahead with this agreement, there is still a debate about whether it makes economic sense to tackle climate change vigorously now.

Rising temperatures are expected to cause economic losses for many people; damage caused by more frequent severe weather, rising sea levels and lower crop yields in some places.

High costs

But curbing climate change also has costs for business, because the main method is to limit the use of fossil fuels to produce energy.

Some argue that it makes no sense to incur these costs in the near term to avoid damage in the more distant future.

Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish academic, recently brought together a group of leading economists to assess what major global problems should be tackled.

Implementing the Kyoto Protocol to reduce rich countries' emissions came out badly in their assessment.

"There are actually many other things where we can do an enormous amount of good for fairly little money, whereas Kyoto and other gains like that are going to be somewhere where we can do fairly little good at a very high cost," says Dr Lomborg.

Why wait?

One key reason for that conclusion was that the benefits of curbing emissions are in the relatively distant future, while the costs of implementing the Kyoto Protocol would come much sooner.

But Richard Bradley, of the International Energy Agency, says there is a very good case for taking action soon.

"These gases stay in the air for a hundred years and longer so if you put things off then you are taking the risk that you won't be able to reduce the effect," he says.

"A choice to put CO2 in the air today is something we live with for a hundred years."

He also argues that it is possible to make good progress in reducing emissions at moderate cost and adds that at least some of the rich countries' governments believe that the economic costs of climate change are already being felt.

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