There is not one single climate activist in sight here at the climate summit venue in Le Bourget on the outskirts of Paris. Understandably, the area is effectively sealed off, so there is not much of an audience.
While many planned marches have been cancelled for security reasons, there are still many protestors in the media and elsewhere who are passionately pushing those inside the climate talks to push for a more drastic treaty.
Many of these protesters claim to speak in the name of the world’s poor. They leave the conference participants – climate negotiators, politicians, bureaucrats, and the world’s media – with no doubt that global warming action is the most urgent priority in the world right now.
Except, it is not. The activists here are well-meaning and genuine. But their passions, and the interests of the world’s worst-off people, are not the same thing.
When we look at the developing world, we should acknowledge recent progress: tremendous gains to acknowledge in life expectancy, expanded access to education, and lower rates of poverty and hunger. But the world has a very long way to go to improve the quality of people’s lives. (Here are 19 phenomenal investments endorsed by Nobel laureates that should be prioritised).
The UN has asked more than 8 million people across the world what policies they most want. Both for the entire world and those living in the poorest countries, climate comes 16th out of 16 choices, after 15 other priorities.
Instead, the world’s voiceless clearly tell us their top priorities: Quality education is the top demand, followed by better healthcare, better job opportunities, an honest and responsive government, and affordable, nutritious food.
The expression “first world problems” has become a trite way of dismissing the whines of the privileged. But global warming is indeed a challenge that the developed world cares about much more than the world’s worst off.
The activists braving the cold on the streets of Paris may argue that that other problems will be made worse by climate change. Malaria will become more endemic, food will become scarcer, and weather disasters will become worse. This can be true, but the same argument goes for almost all problems: More malaria not only kills but reduces school attendance, affects health systems, erodes economies, and makes everyone more vulnerable to other challenges.
There is great passion here in Paris. But passion on climate issues simply is not what the world’s worst-off tell us they want or need.
Bjorn Lomborg is Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and Visiting Professor at Copenhagen Business School. He researches the smartest ways to help the world, for which he was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers. His numerous books include The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cool It, How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place and The Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World 2016-2030.