|The Copenhagen Consensus is a project led by Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg in which a panel of experts set priorities among proposals to tackle ten great global challenges: conflict, climate change, communicable diseases, education, financial stability, governance, hunger, migration, trade reform, and water and sanitation. The panel was asked to rank proposals for “the best way of advancing global welfare, and particularly the welfare of developing countries, supposing that an addition $50 billion of resources were at the government’s disposal.” In their ranking, HIV/AIDS, micro-nutrients, subsidies and trade, and malaria were at the top of the list, with migration and climate change at the bottom.
In his presentation to World Bank staff on October 12, 2004, Professor Lomborg explained the Copenhagen Consensus process and addressed questions raised by audience members and by discussants Robert Watson, Chief Scientist and Senior Advisor, at the World Bank’s Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development unit, and Shahid Yusuf, Economic Advisor, DEC Research Group. The key objective of the Copenhagen Consensus, Lomborg said, is getting a sense of priority for development goals, not determining an amount to spend or how to spend it. Lomborg argued that prioritization, though an unpopular exercise in the donor community, happens whether or not it is explicitly discussed. He emphasized that prioritizing development challenges is a necessary process in order to determine which present the best opportunity for real results—“even though it feels bad,” he said.
Discussant Shahid Yusof expressed his concern about the disconnect between the Consensus priorities and broader issues of growth and development. Yusof also noted that Consensus priorities are not mirrored by the successful development experience in East Asia. He offered some comments related to the methodology of the study, and concluded by comparing the growth experience in Korea and China with the Copenhagen Consensus priorities.
Discussant Robert Watson prefaced his comments by noting that he and Professor Lomborg have met before and “fundamentally disagree” with regards to climate change and other environmental issues (ranked at the bottom of the Consensus priorities list). He argued that perhaps development priorities aren’t just for economists to decide. Distribution issues are as important as efficiency issues, and the market doesn’t work for distributional issues, he said. Watson also argued that one needs to take a broader perspective of both the economic and distributional issues, claiming that, were the amount of money changed or the time horizon expanded, the Consensus priorities would be drastically different—especially with regards to the environment and health.