Today, 120 world leaders will arrive in Glasgow to attend the Cop26 climate conference. 

Bjorn Lomborg will be watching from afar. He is an ex-Greenpeace activist and has concluded in his 2001 book The Skeptical Environmentist that the expensive measures being proposed by scientists, politicians, and businessmen have been almost pointless. 

He explains why very little has changed.

Albert Einstein is said to have stated that insanity is “doing the same thing over-and-over again and expecting different results”.

This sums up to me the spirit of Cop26 which will kick off in Glasgow tomorrow. 

The city is expecting some 30,000 delegates — and 120 world leaders — to attend earnest debates on cutting carbon emissions at this 26th session of the Conference of the Parties. 

Your Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is hoping to broker a new agreement to limit global warming to 1.5c, effectively a promise of net zero emissions for the entire world before 2050 — which is highly ambitious.

I’ve been watching such grandiose declarations about transforming the global economy and our way of life for more than 20 years — yet emissions continue to increase.

I am certain of the reality of climate change. However, as I write in False Alarm: The Cost of Climate Change Panic, I show how many of the most expensive measures used to address climate change have proven to be almost useless.

Glasgow is expecting some 30,000 delegates ¿ and 120 world leaders ¿ to attend the Cop26 climate change summit. Renewable wind turbines have one problem - they require a breeze

Glasgow is expecting some 30,000 delegates — and 120 world leaders — to attend the Cop26 climate change summit. Renewable wind turbines are subject to one problem: they need a breeze.

Copenhagen Consensus is a think-tank that I direct. We work together with Nobel Laureates and top economists around the world to determine where our limited resources can be best used.

Our researchers consistently find that the best financial investments are in the areas of nutrition, infectious disease, and family planning.

These ‘boring topics’ are rarely discussed at global summits, and Glasgow is no exception. Instead, politicians in rich nations prefer to focus almost exclusively upon climate change-related policies and ignore all other problems.

Our research also shows the low returns of most climate policies to society.

Our research has shown that climate change mitigation would be best achieved if there was a six-fold increase of ‘green’ research.

We need to change course — and Cop26 should be the event to start the ball rolling. Instead of trying to force people to use inefficient renewable energy like heat pumps or electric cars, we need to invest in green technologies.

Because, even though climate change is a topic of greater political attention than ever, we are still not achieving our goals.

In a shockingly honest review, UN recently revealed that the last decade of climate policies had been a ‘lost” decade that had, to all intents, achieved little. 

The UN found that despite all the promises and summits, it was impossible to tell the difference in emissions between the current world and a hypothetical future where little has been done since 2005.

Paradoxally, this failure has not made politicians less determined to find better solutions. They have actually increased the number of sound-bite promises they make, even if they are unlikely to be fulfilled.

This has been repeated in the lead-up to Glasgow. Leaders of rich nations like Joe Biden or Boris Johnson made expensive promises that future governments would have to cancel once citizens protest rising energy prices. 

Since the landmark 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and commitments to rein back climate change — and despite global agreements in Kyoto and Paris — carbon dioxide emissions have mostly kept increasing. This year is likely set a new record.

In a direct rebuke of the UK Government, 24 emerging economies (which will be responsible in large part of this century’s emission as they power their climb from poverty to net zero by 2050) have responded that the demand is unfair because it prevents poor countries developing their economies.

The Ugandan president stated bluntly that Africans have a right and a duty to access reliable, cheap energy.

need to invest in improving green technologies instead of trying to force ineffective renewable energy, such as electric cars (pictured) or heat pumps, on people

It is better to invest in green technologies than trying to force inefficient renewable energy (such as electric cars or heat pumps) on people.

The two major problems with renewable energy sources, which are favored by most environmental activists in wealthier states, are:

First, they occupy a lot of space, often displacing the natural world. To replace 1 sqm of gas-fired energy plant, for example, 73 sqm of solar panels, 239 square m on-shore wind turbines or an astounding 6,000 sqm biomass (renewable organic material made by plants and animals including wood and energy crops like short-rotation forest and farm waste) are required. 

Recent analysis has shown that the U.S. would need to have a land mass four times greater than the UK in order to produce enough clean energy to fulfill Biden’s promise to a carbon-free economy by 2020.

The second and most important aspect of renewable energy is unreliable or intermittent. Solar energy cannot be produced in overcast or night-time conditions. Wind energy requires wind to work.

It is misleading to compare energy costs for wind and solar to fossil fuels only when it is sunny or windy.

Modern society demands non-stop power 24 hours a day, even when there’s no sun or winds. Therefore, fossil fuels are still required. 

This means you will need to pay for both the gas turbine and the solar panel. Batteries aren’t nearly ready to help in this scenario. Globally, there is probably less than one minute of electricity consumption in battery storage.

This shows the enormous problems we face in moving away from fossil fuel electricity generation. Boris Johnson’s promise that all British electricity will be generated from renewable sources by 2035 is a good start to the climate challenge.

Only 19% of global emissions are caused by electricity. We’re further behind in finding greener options for agriculture, manufacturing and transport.

Transport is the second most important sector. Despite the fact that electric cars are touted as the solution, only 1% of global cars are electric, despite massive subsidies.

The International Energy Agency estimates that the world will save 235 million tons of CO2 if it meets its ambitious electric vehicle targets. 

The UN Climate Panel estimates that this will result in a decrease of global temperatures of about one tenth of a degree celsius (that is, 0.0001c) by end of century.

Climate policy is largely ineffective because it is nearly impossible to tackle climate change using current technology. It focuses more on making promises and making people happy than on taking action to reduce emissions.

Politicians have been doing this for decades — the same thing over and over without succeeding — and making ever-bigger promises.

Most of the promises made at Rio de Janeiro 1992 and Kyoto 1997 were ignored. A 2019 LSE Study found that only 17 of the 157 nations that promised emissions cuts under the 2015 Paris Agreement have passed laws.

This means that only one in ten people had taken the necessary steps to realize their goals.

These are the countries: Algeria, Canada Costa Rica, Ethiopia. Guatemala, Indonesia. Japan. North Macedonia. Malaysia. Mexico. Montenegro. Norway. Papua New Guinea. Peru. Samoa. Singapore.

Although admirable, I believe we can all agree that the world won’t be saved by emissions cuts made in North Macedonia (population 2, million) or the most extreme actions taken by Tonga (108,000).

Even if every country fulfilled all the promises in the Paris agreement on emissions, the reductions needed to keep rising temperatures below 2C would only be 1%.

It would be so costly to achieve the end vision of zero emission that protests by Gilets Jaunes in France could erupt everywhere before the goal is achieved [The Gilets Jaunes took to the streets in 2018 after President Macron announced plans for an eco-tax on petrol and diesel, which were quickly rescinded].

A new study in the journal Nature shows the cost of 95 per cent reduction by 2050, almost Biden’s promise of net zero, would cost 11.9 per cent of GDP or more than $11,000 (£8,000) for each U.S. citizen, every year. 

It is no surprise then that politicians around the world don’t care about establishing the cost of their extravagant promises. It is foolish to pretend that the technological solution exists, and that we lack the willpower to transform our economies.

It prevents us from seeking the real solutions. If we are serious about solving this problem, we must change our direction.

For every pound spent, the EU has prevented just 3 pence worth global damage by continuing to do what it has done.

It’s partly because trying and influencing change in the EU is costly and many EU climate policy policies are inefficient. The EU favors using solar and wind to cut a tonne of CO2 over the more affordable option of switching from gas to coal.

Our Copenhagen Consensus experts concluded that investing in green innovation is a good long-term investment.

Because the truth is that now, even though there is more political focus on climate change than ever before, we are not achieving anything. Pictured: Heat pumps

The truth is that, despite the fact that climate change is a hot topic in politics, we are still not seeing any progress. Heat pumps

Think about how the world was in the 1960s and 1970s worrying about starvation. The current approach would be to ask the rich to eat less, and then send leftovers to the hungry. This could not have been possible. 

The Green Revolution, which innovated higher-yielding crops, was what worked. This saved billions from starvation.

India’s calories per person had been decreasing, but it started to rise in 1970. India had experienced a 47% increase in grain production by 1980. Today, India produces 32% more grain than it did in 1967. Innovation was the key to solving this problem.

Innovation was not about asking people to live with less. It was about producing more with less. Innovation and technological advancement have often made it possible to avoid catastrophes in the past.

Innovation is the engine of growth in the world’s most advanced economies. Investment in long-term innovations is often underfunded, as it is difficult for private investors and to realize the benefits. As in medicine and therapeutics as well as other areas, public support and investment is warranted.

The ten-year, $10 billion U.S. public investment into shale gas under President George W. Bush is the best example of climate innovation. It helped to create a new source of cheap gas and outperform a significant portion of U.S. coal. 

This was a key reason the U.S. had the greatest reduction in carbon emissions over the last decade. Yet while everyone agrees we should spend much more on R&D, the fraction of rich countries’ GDP going into R&D has halved since the 1980s.

Why? Because it makes for great photo ops. It feels like something is happening, but funding eggheads is more difficult to visualize. Cop26 leaders need to be more focused on innovation.

Experts at Copenhagen Consensus concluded that research and development should be increased to $100 billion annually. It doesn’t mean that we have to spend more. We just need to spend it smarter.

The world spends $600 billion annually on climate finance right now. We could take a sixth and use it in the most effective ways to fix the climate.

In 2015, leaders including President Obama, most of the G20 and the EU joined philanthropist Bill Gates in Mission Innovation, promising to double green energy R&D in five years.

Yet, spending as a percentage GDP has not changed since then. Instead of constructing inefficient solar panels and turbines, we should be improving today’s technologies. We should investigate energy generation through fusion, fission and water-splitting.

The geneticist who drafted the first human genome sequence argued for research into algae that can produce oil from the ocean surface. Burning it will not cause any CO2 because the algae converts sunlight into oil.

While oil algae is not economically feasible, it offers us the best chance to find breakthrough technologies.

If the price of efficient green electricity drops below that of fossil fuels, everyone will change.

Copenhagen Consensus calculated returns from green energy R&D as £11 for every £1 invested — hundreds of times more effective than current policies.

Although we don’t know how much time it will take for the breakthroughs to power the rest of this century, this is the path that will solve the problem of climate change. 

We know that the Cop26 leaders, like those at the 25 previous climate summits, won’t solve the climate change problem with empty promises and extravagant policies.

Bjorn Lombborg is President of Copenhagen Consensus. He is also Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.