How Nobel Laureates Are Working to Solve Climate Change, Hunger, and Disease

The 10 most effective ideas for improving the world.
April 26 2012 7:22 AM

Big Problems, Big Solutions

Bjørn Lomborg has a group of Nobel laureates working to solve climate change, war, hunger, and more. And he wants to know what you think.

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This May, more than 30 Nobel laureates and researchers will work together once again to identify the smartest ways to respond to global challenges, based on the latest information about the toughest problems facing our world.

Since 2008, the global economic crisis has made it even more necessary to ensure that development and aid spending is used wisely, where it can make the biggest difference. The Copenhagen Consensus project carries out the difficult task of comparing one set of initiatives with another by using fundamental economic tools and principles.

First, teams of world-renowned expert economists write research papers on the costs and benefits of a range of investments that address specific challenges. Debate and discussion is encouraged by ensuring that three papers are written for each topic, so that a range of expert opinions is available. This provides a framework with which we can see the full price tag, incorporating all of the costs, benefits, and spin-offs to society from using a limited amount of money in a particular way.

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All of this research constitutes a valuable contribution to international development and aid policy. But the project goes a step further. A panel of the world’s top economists—including four Nobel laureates—test and debate the experts’ recommendations, and identify the most attractive possibilities. Alongside the research papers, the Nobel laureates’ prioritized list provides an important input for policymakers and philanthropists.

While the past decade has witnessed much progress and reason for hope, there are still many important problems to tackle: malnutrition, sanitation, education, civil conflicts, climate change, and natural disasters, to name some of the most prominent.

But are the most prominent problems necessarily those that we should address immediately? The research and the prioritized list make us consider the reasons for our current priorities, and challenge us to spend limited resources to do the most good first. And what are the best things to do first?

Slate readers will have an opportunity to answer this question themselves. Over the next two weeks, I will summarize each of the 10 key research papers for Copenhagen Consensus 2012.

In each of the 10 articles, published on the day that each research paper is released to the public, I will outline the latest thinking on the smartest ways to respond to one global challenge.  I will ask Slate readers, each day, for your views about that day’s choices. Would you rather policy-makers prioritized efforts to improve agricultural output, for example, or that they invested more in micronutrient interventions in developing countries?

At the end of two weeks, I’ll provide you with the findings from the Copenhagen Consensus 2012 expert panel of Nobel Laureates, and contrast their priorities with those from Slate. We will discover what investments Slate readers would prioritize to continue to make rapid progress against the planet’s biggest challenges.

See the other articles here. And find out which investments are currently at the top of the Slate readers’ priority list. Have your say by voting at the poll at the end of each article.