Cost-benefit analysis does not work well for wicked problems like climate change

(EurActiv, 4 Jul 2019) What is the monetary value of being able to breathe in Beijing or New Delhi without discomfort? Beyond the simple numerical challenges, cost-benefit analysis has an inherent ethical blind spot, writes Kevin Noone.

Kevin Noone is a professor of chemical meteorology at the Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry (ACES) at Stockholm University.

This week, much of Europe has been sweltering in a serious heatwave. High-temperature records are falling all across the continent. Looking further afield, Arctic sea ice reached a new record low for this time of year. Last summer, many parts of Europe were not only unseasonably hot and dry, they were literally on fire.

While no single extreme weather event can be said to be caused by climate change, the science of climate change attribution has matured rapidly in recent years. We can now say that these kinds of events have been made more likely due to human activities.

Climate change now has the attention not only of striking schoolchildren across the world but even of most world leaders.

The challenge, of course, is figuring out how to best respond.

An insightful example of this challenge comes from the run-up to the latest Swedish national election. A national radio programme asked representatives from each of the major political parties what their most important climate initiative would be.

They then asked a colleague and me to rate these initiatives in light of current scientific understanding on a scale of one (lousy) to five (great). Without discussing our ratings in advance, in all but one instance, we ended up having either the same scores or were within one point of each other.

External link

EurActiv, 4 Jul 2019: Cost-benefit analysis does not work well for wicked problems like climate change