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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 07:48 GMT
Setting the world's priorities

By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Dr Bjorn Lomborg, BBC
Lomborg says there is not enough money to solve all global problems

The world will have to choose between problems like ending hunger and tackling climate change because it cannot solve them all at once, a prominent Danish environmental writer says.

The Danish author Professor Bjorn Lomborg says the world will have to make some hard choices in tackling its problems.

Professor Lomborg, who three years ago wrote The Skeptical Environmentalist, says there is not enough money to do everything.

He told BBC News Online he thought the rich countries should spend more on ending poverty and protecting the environment.

He is holding a conference in May designed to decide which of 10 pressing global problems should be given priority.

Difficult choices

Professor Lomborg, director of Denmark's Environmental Assessment Institute, has invited nine leading economists, four of them Nobel prize-winners, to the conference, which is entitled Copenhagen Consensus 2004. It is being held in the Danish capital.

We all wish there was enough money to solve every problem. But there is a limit to how much money we have
Bjorn Lomborg
They will discuss the 10 essential problems selected by Professor Lomborg: climate change, communicable diseases, conflicts, education, financial instability, governance and corruption, malnutrition and hunger, migration, sanitation and water, and subsidies and trade barriers.

The hope is that the list they select will be taken up by politicians and decision-makers around the world.

Professor Lomborg said: "The world faces a series of serious problems such as pollution, hunger and disease. Which problem should be addressed first?

"There are 800 million people starving, 2.5 billion people lacking sewerage, and billions affected by climate change.

"We all wish there was enough money to solve every problem. But there is a limit to how much money we have.

"Therefore politicians prioritise every day, but not always on the best basis. Copenhagen Consensus will provide a framework to allow us to prioritise sensibly."

Attention grabbing

The conference organisers acknowledge that the limited amount of money available should be spent where it will do most good. They say the amount spent annually on development aid is about $50bn.

Book, CUP
Lomborg's book caused a furore when published in 2001
They say the business of setting priorities is often based on "a fight for the attention of the media, or an effort to sway public opinion... Despite good intentions, decisions are usually made arbitrarily."

Professor Lomborg told BBC News Online: "I don't think I've mellowed since I wrote The Skeptical Environmentalist. What I've learnt is not to aggravate people over things they think I'm saying, only over what I'm really saying.

"I don't accept the criticism that setting priorities is something artificial that we can't do in the real world. We all of us do set priorities anyway, by the way we decide where our money goes.

"I just want to draw that out into the open and base it more on information, and less on intuition, TV pictures and people shouting.

"I'm one of those who think the world should be spending more to tackle poverty.

"The Consensus is about making people understand how we can do the best we can with what we have."

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27 Feb 04  |  Science/Nature
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22 Dec 03  |  Science/Nature
Danish panel criticises Lomborg
08 Jan 03  |  Science/Nature
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21 Aug 01  |  UK News

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