Global Problems, Smart Solutions - Costs and Benefits

Every four years since 2004, the Copenhagen Consensus Center has organized and hosted a high profile thought experiment about how a hypothetical extra $75 billion might best be spent to solve twelve of the major crises facing the world today. Collated in this specially commissioned book, a group of more than 50 experts make their cases for investment, discussing how to combat problems ranging from armed conflicts, corruption and trade barriers, to natural disasters, hunger, education and climate change. For each case, 'Alternative Perspectives' are also included to provide a critique and make other suggestions for investment. In addition, a panel of senior economists, including four Nobel Laureates, rank the attractiveness of each policy proposal in terms of its anticipated cost-benefit ratio. This thought-provoking book opens up debate, encouraging readers to come up with their own rankings and decide which solutions are smarter than others.

Why do we need to prioritize?

The world spends some $125 billion annually on development aid. Beyond that we spend tens of billions on global efforts like peacekeeping forces, climate change policies, conservation and research on vaccines and more resilient crops. Yet, a billion people still live in abject poverty, 2.3 billion don't have access to modern energy, the world is still not at peace and we're not anywhere near tackling global warming or biodiversity.

Priorities in spending development aid often become dictated by the loudest groups with the best PR. Given that we have very limited funds, we need to prioritize. Now, as the UN is pondering which goals to set for the next decades to advance human development and sustainability, we need to ask the hard-headed question: where can we get the biggest bang for our buck?

Such rational prioritization allows us to allocate development aid much more effectively, supporting the best projects first, and making the world a better place.

Take a stand

I have read about the solutions and want to vote

Submit Your Ranking


I have an event code Event Participant

How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place

The world faces myriad challenges yet - we are constrained by scarce resources. In the 21st century, how do we deal with natural disasters, tackle global warming, achieve better nutrition, educate children...and address countless other urgent global issues?

In this abridged version of Global Crises, Smart Solutions, Bjorn Lomborg presents smart solutions to twelve global problems, and shows how we could spend $75 billion to produce the most benefit and prioritize those problems.

Featuring the cutting edge research of more than sixty eminent economists, including several Nobel Laureates, produced for the Copenhagen Consensus, How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place is an informative and enlightening book that motivates actions to change our world for the better.

Some solutions are smarter

Copenhagen Consensus asked leading economists to draft research papers identifying the costs and benefits of the smartest ways to spend money within their area. You can assess 36 investment proposals to combat 10 major global challenges. Resources are limited, some solutions are smarter, so you need to take a stand:
If you were making the decisions, what would you prioritize?


According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the planet during the last century lost 50 percent of its wetlands, 40 percent of its forests and 35 percent of its mangroves. About 60 percent of global ecosystem services have been degraded in just 50 years.

Solutions for improving biodiversity proposed by the economists are: Creating an increase in agricultural productivity through R&D, because if we could increase agricultural productivity, we would not need to convert more grasslands and forests to feed a growing population. Increasing the amount of protected areas globally to around 20%. Prevent all dense forests from being converted to agriculture, because they are the main homes to biodiversity.

Chronic Disease

Chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer are problems that we associate with rich countries, while infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS are more commonly seen as the problems afflicting the poor. But 80 percent of global deaths from chronic diseases occur in low-income and middle-income countries.

Investments that can be made to combat chronic disease are: Tobacco taxation, because tobacco use could account for about 10 million deaths per year by 2030, and an increase in price leads to drop in consumption. Low-cost drugs to avert heart attacks. Create a 'generic risk pill' to lower the likelihood of serious vascular diseases.
Efforts to reduce salt consumption, which is a significant cause of heart diseases and strokes. This can be done in food processing or at the cooking or eating stages.
Increasing Hepatitis B vaccine coverage to prevent liver cancer.

Hunger and Malnutrition

The problem of hunger can be solved. The planet creates more than enough food to meet everyone's needs. But there are still about 925 million hungry people in the world, and nearly 180 million preschool-age children do not get vital nutrients.

Proposed investments to combat hunger are: Bundled interventions to reduce undernutrition in pre-schoolers, including micronutrients, improvements in diet quality and better care behaviors. Increasing global food production through agricultural R&D, because lower prices are necessary to make food more affordable. Improving market functioning through better communications, e.g. sending text messages to smallholders with crop advice. Increased competition in fertilizer markets to break up quasi-monopolies in the industry.

Climate Change

Of all of the issues in the Copenhagen Consensus 2012 project, climate change is perhaps the most talked-about and charged. Although efforts to strike an international climate deal have come to naught, more newspaper space and celebrity attention has been devoted to this issue in the past decade than any other.

Solutions to combat negative impact from climate change: Adaptation policies: Wet-lands, tidal barriers and dykes. Geo-engineering R&D, to find ways how to cool the planet by reflecting more of the sun's rays back to space. Low global carbon tax of $1.80/ton of carbon. High global carbon tax of $250.00 to make fossil fuel use uneconomic. Technology-led climate policy through green R&D, to develop the next generations of renewable energy, which would be cheaper and more efficient.

Water and Sanitation.

An astonishing one-third of the world population, 2.5 billion people, lacks access to basic sanitation. More than 1 billion people must defecate out in the open rather than using the toilets that we take for granted in the developed world.

Assessed solutions to improve sanitation: Community Led Total Sanitation to emphasize behavior change in the community's responsibility to share in the creation of open defecation free communities. Sanitation as a Business to generate innovation in sanitation services. The Reinvented Toilet, i.e. efforts to stimulate technical innovation, particularly harnessing advances in physics, chemistry, and engineering, to create a radically reinvented toilet that recycles human waste into reusable products at the household scale.

Infectious Disease

Improved immunization saves more lives per year than would be saved by global peace. The same is true for smallpox eradication, diarrhea treatment, and malaria treatment.

Nonetheless major problems remain, and a team of economists has explored the ways to step up our battle against the biggest killer diseases, and identified five top priorities: Subsidy for Malaria Combination Treatment to reduce the relative prices that poor countries face for new artemisinin combination therapies. Expanding Tuberculosis Treatment, since tuberculosis kills more adults than any other infectious disease besides HIV/AIDS. Expanded Childhood Immunization Coverage, i.e. expanding case-management of acutely ill children and adding several new antigens to routine vaccinations. Deworming of Schoolchildren, as children who experience worm infection often live in poor communities and need a sustainable treatment plan to remedy loss in education, nutrition, and intellectual development. Accelerated HIV Vaccine R&D to discover is the ultimate preventative tool against HIV/AIDS.

Population Growth

Last year, the world population reached 7 billion. It added the last billion in merely 12 years, similar to the time it took to add the fifth and sixth billion. Despite this rapid growth, the doomsday predictions of previous decades about the potentially disastrous consequences of rapid population growth have not materialized.

Increase availability of family planning, e.g. reducing fertility, increasing education for mothers, improving women's general health and longer-term survival, increasing female labor force participation and earnings, as well as child health.

Trade Barriers

In the past three decades, there have been reductions in the numerous barriers to international trade in goods, in some services, and in capital flows. Even so, many remain. Such policies hurt the economies imposing them, but are particularly harmful to the world's poorest people.

Addressing this challenge would therefore also reduce poverty and thereby assist in meeting several of the other challenges identified in this project, including malnutrition, disease, poor education and air pollution.


Policies designed to improve the quality of life for the poor and to spur economic growth often fail. A program that succeeds in one country or even in one village may not work in another.

A key reason for cross-country differences in policy efficacy is the quality of government and the ubiquity of corruption and related forms of self-dealing by politicians, civil servants, and the private individuals and business interests with whom they interact. A policy that works quite well in one country may fail in another with lower quality governance.

Natural Disasters

Natural disasters impose an economic toll that can disrupt and undermine a fragile country for a long time. This cost is growing. Between 2001 and 2011, direct economic losses from natural catastrophes amounted to 1.6 trillion dollars. Nature can impose a roadblock to the growth that lifts people out of poverty.

Lomborg explains the costs and benefits of four policy options for reducing losses from natural disasters

Retrofitting Schools to Withstand Earthquake Damage

Community Walls Against Floods, and Elevating Residential Structures to Avoid Flooding

Strengthening Structures Against Hurricanes and Storms, e.g. strengthening the roofs of houses in countries with high exposure to hurricanes and cyclones to reduce losses from wind damage.

Effective Early Warning Systems to protect populations against natural disaster


Today, nearly nine in 10 children around the world complete primary school. However, in education - as in other developmental challenges - progress is uneven. Across sub-Saharan Africa, nearly one-quarter of primary aged children are not in school.

Lomborg explains the costs and benefits of policy options to improve education:

School-Based Health and Nutrition Programs

Information Campaign on Benefits From Schooling

Armed Conflicts

The costs from conflicts can be immense and devastating. The immediately apparent, direct costs are obviously loss of life and injury on the battlefield. But we mustn't ignore the legacies that violence leaves behind.

Lomborg explains the costs and benefits of prevention, intervention and reconstruction:

Conflict prevention solutions include early warning mechanisms, peacekeeping operations, economic sanctions, and aid as the tools that have proved effective.

Intervention includes better intelligence, economic sanctions, and aid, as well as most likely military intervention

Post-conflict policies such as reconstruction help preventing suffering and building up the economy.

Host Your Own Copenhagen Consensus

Purpose of a Copenhagen Consensus:

  • To model a consensus-building discussion with participants of different backgrounds and interests
  • To expand thinking by introducing participants to a global perspective on the world's challenges
  • To prioritize a list of solutions by dividing $75 billion toward their amelioration or eradication

How to do it?

1. As facilitator of the Copenhagen Consensus you start by choosing the solutions that are going to be topic of discussion and prioritization for your session. The more solutions the longer time is needed for reading up on facts and discussion.

Under Submit Your Ranking - Build and Share Your List we have pre-selected 12 solutions to eight major global challenges for an approximate 3 hour session. You can browse all solutions under Submit Your Ranking - Build a Complete List.

When you have chosen the topics you want to include in your event, send them in an email together with number of participants and the name of your seminar or group to: ranksmartsolutions[at] You will receive an access code to ranking your set of solutions, once it has been set up.

2. The sessions are enhanced by participants studying Global Problems, Smart Solutions or How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place, all research papers are also downloadable in print format here:

You can also get a brief summary of the research on your screen by double-clicking on the corresponding solution when you prioritize.

3. Each participant will make up his/her own mind and complete his/her personal prioritization at this website.

4. Ask each participant to use the provided access code to login under Seminar - Event Participant on their own laptop or mobile handset.

5. Discuss solutions to one challenge at the time., and ask everyone to rank the solution according to what they mean are the most desirable investments.

6. In the email with the access code you can find the link to the aggregated ranking of all participants. Ranking will update continuously. You can show the aggregated ranking in real time on a separate screen during the seminar.

Aggregation is based on median vote, so tactical ranking has no influence on the aggregation. If a participant wants a specific solution to be ranked higher or lower, he/she needs to convince the other participants and thereby influence the median voter (much like a political process).

7. Stir up discussion by allowing participants to argue briefly for his/her top or bottom three priorities for spending the $75 billion.

8. All participants can share their personal rankings on Facebook.


I have served on four Copenhagen Consensus committees of experts since 2004. All involved hard choices among attractive alternatives to meet crucial objectives for development and health. And the reason I keep serving? I learn so much.
- Thomas C. Schelling, Nobel Laureate in Economics

The Copenhagen Consensus brings together an impressive roster of minds. Not everyone agrees with the composition and ordering of Lomborg's priorities lists, of course -- climate change tends to rank further down the list than many stakeholders would like, for example -- but as a point of departure for discussion, the exercise of priority-setting is a sound one.
- Tom Zeller Jr.
The Huffington Post

Copenhagen Consensus is an outstanding, visionary idea and deserves global coverage
- The Economist

Last October in Washington, DC the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows engaged in a discussion of critical issues facing the world modelled on the Copenhagen Consensus 2012.
I facilitated one group through the consensus process. It was very informative since each challenge brief gave current scientific insights and financial implications for 12 critical issues facing the world. Being an international group our national and regional outlooks were very different. Yet working through the process helped us agree and prioritize allocation of $75 billion, the aim of the task.
The inherent difficulty in agreeing still existed but having issues and research simplified enough to allow an 'apples: apples' comparison helped us make decisions. Knowing cost of an issue's continuation vs cost of interventions for its eradication allowed a more rational, benefit cost and country region, negotiation to take place.
- Dilini Wijeweera
Home Country: Sri Lanka
Field of Study: Technology Policy and Management

One of the greatest leadership skills discussed in the Global Leadership Forum (GLF) was the Consensus Building for Global Leadership. This activity was very important because it gave us the opportunity to work together on a key leadership skill; building consensus around difficult issues.
Fellows were supposed to use their visions to come up with a plan in order to rank ten of the most pressing challenges confronting humanity in order of which could be best alleviated; if $75 billion was provided over four years to tackle them; decisions should have been based on which challenge be most effectively tackled not on which one is the most urgent or devastating, then a strategy should be planned to cope with those ten challenges including; Armed Conflict, Chronic Disease, Education, Infectious Disease, Population Growth, Biodiversity,, Climate Change, Hunger and Malnutrition, Natural Disaster and Water and Sanitation. First we worked individually to develop the individual allocation then in teams to develop team allocation, and then to come up with our own version of the Copenhagen consensus.
What I liked most in this activity was my group consensus-building processes to allocate $42 billion for education; as this decision was based on "the education for all global monitoring report" that declared a deficit gap of $10.6 billion/year. It was a great discussion and we were much focused to make our decision based on which challenge be most effectively tackled and we all realized that the worst educational outcomes occur in the nations that rank among the most poorly governed.
- Naglaa Hassab
Home Country: Egypt
Field of Study: Economic Development /
Finance and Banking

Having the chance to be a part of the Consensus Building activity at the Global Leadership Forum from the Humphrey Program (2012-2013) was a mind changing experience. I loved it.
We were offered an incredible amount of money, 75 billion dollars, to effectively alleviate the most challenging problems of humanity.
The first challenge was not the issue of how to rank the problems and use the resources, as all of them are of great impact on human kind. It was to move from a personal point of view and feeling, based in our cultural background and personal history, to a community based point of view and to communicate with each other.
- Javier Tonatto
Home Country: Argentina
Field of Study: Agricultural and Rural