The Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) is a non-profit think-tank, that has published economic cost-benefit analyses on global issues since 2004. It is headed by Bjørn Lomborg. In the chronological history of prominent effective altruists, I think he is the 2nd behind Peter Singer (but that's besides the point).  

The CCC has high standards of research, and has employed top economists since its inception, including Nobel Prize winners. It has previously published large reports in 2o04, 2008, 2012 & 2015. It's recommendations were usually similar to the ones in the EA movement (child nutrition, immunization, malaria, deworming etc.), but with a larger focus on economic policy. 

About 4 months ago, the CCC has published its Halftime for the Sustainable Development Goals 2016-2030

A book based on this report has received good reviews from the chief economist of the world bank, Nobel Prize winning economist Vernon Smith, and Bill Gates. Anyways, the report mentions some interventions that are seldom, or even never, talked about in the EA community, along with other more familiar ones. 


SDG 12 best investments table

The things that I've barely/never seen EA talk about are land tenure security, e-procurement and agricultural R&D. 

Agricultural R&D is good for obvious reasons. 

Land tenure is interesting - according to CCC

Globally, 70 percent of the world’s population has no access to formal land registration systems. One-in-five, or almost a billion people, consider it likely or very likely they will be evicted in the next five years.

[...] When farmers know they own their land, they are more willing to make expensive investments to increase long-term productivity. They can also use their land deed as collateral to borrow money for investments like farm equipment or property expansion.

[...] The researchers show that the total benefits of providing more secure urban tenure would therefore be about $160 billion, or 30-times the costs.


e-procurement is also interesting:

In the countries where the poorer half of the world’s population lives, procurement makes up an astounding half of all government expenditure.

This procurement can be made less corrupt and more effective by putting the whole system online, making it transparent. Electronic procurement or “e-procurement” lets many more companies hear about procurement offers, ensures more bids can be submitted and means governments lose less money through corruption and waste.

[...] For each dollar spent, the low-income country will realize savings worth $38. For lower-middle income countries, the average savings are more than $5 billion over the first 12 years, meaning each dollar spent creates more than $300 of social benefits. This makes e-procurement one of the world’s most effective policies.




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I can highly recommend both Lomborg's book and the full reports! It's the most clear and levelheaded work in development related to the SDGs I've read to date.

Charity Entrepreneurship is doing a research round based on these reports, so if the reports hold scrutiny hopefully there'll be some wonderful new charities working on these problems not too long from now.

Specifically on e-procurement and land reform I have some thoughts:

E-procurement and land tenure stood out to me as the two EA's might be particularly well suited to attack. I'm very excited for both of them, with an enormous caveat that it is much easier to mess these up and cause harm than for the rest of CCC's recommendations.

Even for topics where we have a myriad of RCTs (ie. education), RCTs should only be a single step of a longer design process. A meta-review is a only a small signal (often the best available to decision makers) whether a project is likely to be impactful. If you want to implement 'teaching at the right level' (as CCC recommends), but the government is resistant and the NGO you're contracting with is incompetent, your project will fail despite the meta-review looking positive.

For e-procurement, think of just how difficult it is for well-resourced western governments and corporations to get this right. 

You run into one problem after another where some department claims the solution doesn't work or fit their needs for reasons that never quite make any sense, as the real reason will be that it exposes corruption or makes them redundant.[1]

Land reform is even more tricky! A poorly implemented land tenure reform (where the rightful owners lose ownership) can just as well erode remaining trust that investments into land will pay off.

I remain very excited as these types of reforms have the potential to enormously increase growth in ways marginalist approaches won't ever compete with. But whether e-procurement is net-positive, I suspect, will come down entirely down to the government and people who are responsible.

I think a great team and willing government can pull this off - I am less confident in having it as a blanket recommendation for all governments.

  1. ^

    I am reminded by my favorite story from Carl Icahn where he paints a picture of what this looks like

Nice one Mathias.

Im interested in what you think is so tricky about e-procurement? It seems to me relatively straightforward. The big gain in developing countries too will not just be through efficiency, but as you say through preventing corruption that is so so much harder with everything online.

Even in cases of supposed "failure", I wonder how many of them would really have been worse than the offline alternative - failures will be more obvious with governments listing everything transparently online.

hmm yeah perhaps the downside isn't as big as I think, I don't have any idea to be honest.

My main reason for hesitancy on e-procurement is just how difficult it is to do well in ideal contexts. But perhaps in an LDC context the bar for what constitutes an improvement is also much lower.

The CCC has high standards of research

Would you be able to point to something backing up this claim? Just a word of caution because I don't believe this to be true (as I explain below).

Lomborg's name might be familiar (or infamous) those of us in Australia where he was at the centre of a big political scandal, where the conservative government at the time (then climate-skeptics) was perceived to be pushing universities to host the Copenhagen Centre and seen as political intereference into the academic system.

Lomborg has been described as a climate contrarian in Science:

Once the darling of Australia's conservative government, controversial climate contrarian Bjørn Lomborg has lost his Down Under caché—and cash. 

Australia's Climate Council is critical of him:

And has made bunk claims on Australian bushfires:


I do understand that all this criticism is centred on Lomborg/ his centre's views on climate, which is separate to the the cause areas you bring up with e-procurement and land tenure. But, his track record on climate does make me cautious about their reputability.

FWIW I haven't looked much into this but my surface impression is that climate change groups are eager to paint CCC as biased/bad science/climate deniers because (1) they don't like CCC's conclusion that many causes in global health and development are more cost-effective than climate change and (2) they tend to exaggerate the expected harms of climate change, and CCC doesn't.

My impression is that most of Lomborg's critics don't understand his claims—they don't understand the difference between "climate change isn't the top priority" and "climate change isn't real".

From what I've read, Lomborg's beliefs on climate change are in line with John Halstead's Climate Change & Longtermism report.

From the Australia Climate Council link, the most egregious claim I see from Lomborg is "But the [2014 IPCC] report also showed that global warming has dramatically slowed or entirely stopped in the last decade and a half." (The link in the article is broken but I found it via It looks to me like Lomborg's claim is literally true according to Australia Climate Council (I actually thought it was false but apparently I was wrong and Lomborg was right), but possibly misleading. In the context of Lomborg's article, it doesn't look to me like he's trying to claim global warming isn't happening, but that it's exaggerated.

Last time I talked to John Halstead about this, he was (as am I) pretty skeptical of Bjorn Lomborg on climate, so I think even if Lomborg on climate looks superficially similar to John's report that does not mean EAs generally agree with him on climate.

Speaking for myself (working on EA Climate full-time), reading Lomborg on climate is frustrating because he (a) gets some basic things right (energy innovation is good and under-done, climate is less dramatic than some doomers make it, human development is also shaped by lots of other things etc), but (b) completely exaggerates and misportrays other things (e.g. estimating the effect of the Paris Agreement until 2030 and claims this as its entire effect when the whole point of the agreement is to change the trajectory over the long run). So, I think he is acting in bad faith or at least with questionable epistemics and tactics on climate.

That said, two things can be true at the same time -- that his climate work is awful and that his GHD work is much better and I believe this view to be most consistent with the evidence, i.e. I don't think Bill Gates would have strongly endorsed his recent book if it were as polemical and misportraying of global health than his work on climate has been (where Gates has, to my knowledge, not endorsed him).

I agree with the 2 commenters below. I wouldn't trust him very much on climate change, but the CCC's work on GHD is of a different nature. The CCC has many researchers, of whom Bjørn is only one. I would also like to add - if he can get Nobel Prize winning economists Vernon Smith, Tom Schelling, Finn Kydland and Douglass North to work with him, multiple times each, that's a good indicator that the CCC's research is good.  

Thanks this is super interesting love it.

Agricultural R&D is.a really interesting one. Some of the most impactful interventions in history (Haber's Nitrogen, Borlaug's supercrops, Dryland rice etc.) have been achieved this way, and there's so much room for improvement with sub-saharan Africa's ongoing frustratingly low crop yields)

E-procurement is super interesting, on the surface it seems like a relatively straightforward intervention that could have huge impact. Its hard to see a downside. I've seen it first hand - here in Uganda the moment they changed Visas to online, everything became so much easier and the opportunities for corruption melted away. Obviously the resistance to this from corrupt leadership will be immense, but even at tiny chances of success, the EV for successful implementation could be super high - I can see CE having a really close look at that.

Land tenure on the other hand is so multifacited and tricky. The problem is clear but the solution certaintly isn't, at least here in Uganda. Even in one region of one country like Northern Uganda. My wife works in this field, with different scholars and different local leaders having.a wide range of opinions on the best way forward to fixc the problem. Its certainly not as simple as dividing up the land and giving everyone titles, the complexity and power dynamics around land are pretty mind boggling.

Lastly I think it is interesting that "education" only gets one entry even with the incredible 600 billion dollar figure, while global health gets 5 specific diseases. Why is that?

I agree with your points about R&D and E-procurement, (and some are mentioned in the report), thanks for your input. 

It's really cool that your wife works in land tenure! The philosophical framework I have in mind for land tenure reminds me of the one for other estimates. As Scott Alexander put it - IF IT’S WORTH DOING, IT’S WORTH DOING WITH MADE-UP STATISTICS. Essentially, it's better to at least have some information in your land registration system, even if not very accurate, than none. What do you think about this?

As for education, I don't know.  

Thanks Almo.

Unfortunately in Uganda, the registration system heavily favors the rich and connected. It may well be doing more harm than good at the moment, because rich people can try and swipe land from under people's noses by getting land titles and leases, which the more "rightful" owners have no access to.

So as of now in Uganda, perhaps the land insecure poor might be better off of there was no formal system.

Obviously if the registration system was fairer it might be very different.

And some people may disagree too. It's complicated.

My wife just said that many scholars consider that all titling processes are a redistributive process with winners and losers, and more often than not the poor are the losers.

As a philosophical framework I think you are right, perhaps not always as a practical framework. Unfortunately.

Interesting. I'm sorry to hear that the system is so fucked up. I really hope you'll be able to improve it.

It is headed by Bjørn Lomborg. In the chronological history of prominent effective altruists, I think he is the 2nd behind Peter Singer (but that's besides the point).

Unlike Peter, Bjørn has never identified as an EA (to my knowledge). Do you have any specific reason to think he's an EA?

From what I can see, he's lacking some of the values I consider central to this community: epistemic modesty; truth-seeking; unwilling to make cheap moral trades; and avoiding inflammatory and partisan communication.

It's true that he never identified as an EA. I mean EA in the sense of using reason and evidence to perform cost-effectiveness among different causes, and choosing the best, regardless of what comes up. These are IMO the core characteristics of an EA, everything else is a bonus.

Also, the first occurrences of something will usually be different than what it will develop to be. Was Hippocrates a licensed MD? Did he rely on evidence-based medicine? Did Galileo ever do a PhD in physics? 

I would rate him decently on truth-seeking. He used the world's best economists in his think-tank, multiple times over. It would surely have been easier to invite less esteemed economists. You might think he did that only to raise the status of the CCC (and by extension himself), but that's too cynical in my opinion.  

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