Cooperating on Climate

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Science  14 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6172, pp. 711
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6172.711-c

We've come to expect lack of progress at the annual United Nations climate talks. A key obstacle to agreement is the wealth inequality among the countries around the negotiating table. Such public-goods negotiations, and the exploitation of common resources, are tricky enough on their own, but addressing the gap between “haves” and “have nots” adds another level of difficulty. Building on laboratory experiments and earlier theoretical work, Vasconcelos et al. use Evolutionary Game Theory models to explore how wealth inequality and risk perception affect such negotiations, and address another key element, the homophily of parties; i.e., their tendency to align with others from the same wealth level. They found that if parties were willing to cooperate regardless of wealth levels, then some inequality among parties could actually lead to better cooperation, as the rich tend to contribute more and compensate for lower contributions from the poor. Contributions from the poor are still critical, though, and increased homophily, with limited cooperation across the wealth gap, can lead to collapse. Obstinately cooperative behavior, with a few poor countries cooperating with wealthier countries, can compensate for broader homophily. In addition to minimizing homophilic biases, the authors suggest that negotiations be portioned into smaller groups focused on local short-term targets for which uncertainty is relatively limited.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1323479111 (2014).

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