The Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) is a US think-tank. It conducts research on cost-effective solutions to pressing global problems, and advises philanthropists and policymakers on the basis of this research.
CCC was founded in 2006 with funding from the Danish government. It grew out of a conference held two years earlier dedicated to answering the question: "Where should the world invest an additional $50 billion over the next four years to do the most good?" An expert panel of nine economists compiled a preliminary list of "major challenges facing humanity". The list was then narrowed down to include the ten problems judged to be the most pressing. For each problem, an essay was commissioned to an external economist with expertise in the relevant field. This essay described the scope of the problem, considered possible solutions to it, and provided an extensive overview of the existing cost-benefit analyses in the literature. Finally, the expert panel reviewed these essays and ranked the problems. Both the essays by the specialist economists and the justification of the rankings by the expert panel were subsequently published in a book. Further Copenhagen Consensus conferences, following the same process and methodology, were held in 2008 and 2012.
It is instructive to consider the ways in which CCC and effective altruism compare in their approach to cause evaluation. CCC's motto is: "In a world with limited budgets and attention spans, we need to find effective ways to do the most good for the most people." In a similar vein, Lomborg describes the "core idea" behind CCC as follows: "with scarce resources to tackle the problems of the world, prioritization is necessary." Back when GiveWell started investigating standout programs, it found CCC to be "the only case we have seen of an independent panel of experts attempting to identify the most promising philanthropic investments." One of the commissioned papers for the 2012 conference was co-written by Toby Ord. Some effective altruists have in the past collaborated with CCC.
On the other hand, there are also a number of important differences between CCC and effective altruism. CCC appears to be short-termist, restricting the space of interventions it is willing to consider to those affecting the present generation. It is also human-centric, entirely neglecting interventions that could benefit non-human animals. These differences may be traceable to CCC's exclusive reliance on cost-benefit analysis (CBA). As Lomborg acknowledges, "The ranking in the Copenhagen Consensus is based on a CBA, measuring the costs and benefits to a global community at the relevant prices." Short-termism and human-centeredness are built into that framework, insofar as the prices are determined exclusively by the preferences of existing humans: non-human animals and unborn people are weighted only to the degree that the present human generation cares about them. By contrast, effective altruism tends to do cause prioritization by relying on a broader evidence base....