People say better education and healthcare are top priorities not global warming

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UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon gathered the heads of government from more than 125 countries for a climate summit yesterday “to make climate change a top priority for all leaders”. Of the world’s many ills, he unequivocally finds that “top of the priority list is climate change”.

While it is important to find smart solutions to the real problem of global warming, claiming “top of the priority list is climate change” is misplaced. Perhaps that was why Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined the invitation.

Moreover, the UN already knows the world doesn’t place global warming first. With its outreach programme, The World We Want, almost five million people from every nation say the top priorities are better education and healthcare, less corruption, more jobs and affordable food. At the very last place, as priority number 17, comes global warming.

Is this surprising? If you’re Samson Banda from Zaire, having been sick from malaria for six months and faced with appalling healthcare, your priority is health. As he says, “If I die from malaria tomorrow, why should I care about global warming?”

This is also true for India, whose 9,00,000 voters in the UN poll rank global warming second last, recognising there are many and more important things to fix. Even Europeans, with the world’s strongest climate policies, rank global warming 10th.

Yet, politicians use catastrophic alarmism to bolster the claim that climate is our ‘generational mission’. Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief, tells us that we should focus more on global warming because of the “increase in the frequency and intensity of natural events and disasters”. Yet, this is simply wrong.

If we look at the total cost of weatherand climate-related disaster costs, the UN Climate Panel finds it is only increasing because of more people with more wealth. When normalised for this, the long-term trends “have not been attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change”. If we want fewer future disasters, we should focus on better policies, better warnings and better adaptation.

In an analysis of climate communication, the University College of London found that appeals to fear are ineffective and often lead to a suspicion that “they are trying to manipulate me”. Remember, in 2007, when Al Gore told us in his Nobel speech that the North Polar ice cap is “falling off a cliff” and it could be gone in “as little as seven years. Seven years from now.” That is now. Arctic ice shows a longterm decline, but from the low point in 2012, it has actually increased 47%.

Ban Ki-moon declares that climate poses “sweeping risks” while we’re heading towards a “cataclysm”. Yet, the UN Climate Panel finds the total cost of climate change by the 2070s is less than 2% of GDP. This is a problem, but not the end of the world.

Weigh the 2% loss to the 800% richer the UN expects the world to be in 2070. Yet, well-meaning western leaders descended on New York yesterday to reiterate the solution to global warming that has failed for more than two decades: we must switch to renewables.

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