Best way to spend cash
COPENHAGEN, May 30 (Reuters) – If you had $75 billion to spare, fighting malnutrition would be the best way to spend it, while investing in greenhouse gas cuts should be the last thing on your mind, a panel of economists said on Friday.
The panel, which included five Nobel Prize winners, said that spending more on freeing world trade, vaccinating children against diseases and improving education would all give high returns for humanity in a ranking of 30 major challenges.
Spending to cut greenhouse gases and slow global warming ranked bottom of the list, according to the Copenhagen Consensus conference run by Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, the author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist”.
The economists, asked to decide how to spend an imaginary $75 billion over four years, said that supplying vitamin A and zinc supplements to 140 million poor children would be the best choice, costing only $60 million per year and yielding benefits to society of $1 billion a year.
“It has immediate and important consequences for improving the well-being of poor people around the world, that’s why it should be our number one priority,” panelist and 1993 Nobel Economics laureate Douglass North said in a statement.
They drew on research from Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University, the World Bank and Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health showing that this spending could help cut health bills and reduce deaths among children. The second-best investment the world could make would be to implement the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Doha Development Agenda and reduce barriers to international trade and migration.
That could increase global income by more than $3 trillion per year, $2.5 trillion of which would go to the developing world, the panel said.
Other ways to fight malnutrition also scored well with salt iodization third, biofortification that improves the nutritional value of crops fifth and deworming children sixth on the list.
Increasing vaccination for children ranked fourth, while lowering the price of education and improving girls’ schooling ranked seventh and eighth respectively.
Fighting global warming through research and development in low-carbon energy technologies ranked 14th, but focusing exclusively on cutting greenhouse gas emissions was ranked last on the list of 30 challenges.
Some experts say the four-year horizon given by Lomborg is too short to address global warming, which could worsen disease, cut crop production and raise sea levels in the coming decades.
The panel decided there was too little evidence to consider spending on combating terrorism. An advance paper had suggested governments got little return for trying to limit attacks.
A similar conference in 2004 concluded that fighting AIDS was the best investment, followed by providing micronutrients, liberalising trade and fighting malaria.