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OSLO (Reuters) - Global warming could save lives, a self-styled "Skeptical Environmentalist" said on Thursday.
Clashing with the U.N. health agency, Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg told the Reuters Environment summit the world should not overlook benefits of climate change such as the fall in the number of deaths from icy winters.
"You see a lot about deaths from heatwaves, much less on avoided deaths," Lomborg said.
He estimated that about 200,000 fewer people were dying every year worldwide because of global warming -- many more people survive because winters are less chill than die from heatwaves and other effects.
The U.N.'s World Health Organization (WHO), targeted for criticism in a new book by Lomborg entitled "Cool It", stuck by a 2003 estimate that 150,000 people died overall from climate change in 2000.
That study said the main factors for the rising toll were malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea in developing countries.
"Lomborg is guilty of the bias in selection of evidence of which he accuses others," said Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a senior WHO scientist and an author of the study.
He told Reuters that Lomborg's research was "academically sloppy" because it failed to credit the WHO with estimating temperature effects.
"We assume that people will largely adapt to heat and cold, reducing the importance of this effect," he said. And he said there were many other hard-to-quantify factors that would need to be taken into account for a full picture.
"The estimates omit many other, largely negative health impacts of climate change, from increases in severe hurricanes, to droughts, to disappearance of glaciers supplying fresh water, to increased risk of conflict, and so on," he said.
Lomborg, who won fame as the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist", writes in his new book that the WHO report "simply left out cold and heat deaths" and that the 150,000 figure was "based on only doing part of the math."
He said he stuck by his findings despite Campbell-Lendrum's criticisms, saying the WHO was wrong to assume that people would adapt to cold and heat but not to other threats such as factors bringing malnutrition.
Lomborg said there was often too much focus on negative effects of climate change, making it harder to find smarter solutions to climate change than costly caps on emissions of greenhouse gases.
Lomborg's main recommendation is for the world to invest 0.05 percent of global gross domestic product, or about $25 billion a year, in research into clean energy technologies.
He says that would be far cheaper than the $180 billion that he estimates as the cost of implementing the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, the main plan to cap emissions of greenhouse gases in 36 industrial nations.
Lomborg says that money would be better spent on fighting AIDS, malnutrition and malaria and measures to liberalise trade.
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