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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Oct 23;109(43):17372-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1208417109. Epub 2012 Oct 8.

Climate negotiations under scientific uncertainty.

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  • 1Earth Institute and School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA. sb3116@columbia.edu


How does uncertainty about "dangerous" climate change affect the prospects for international cooperation? Climate negotiations usually are depicted as a prisoners' dilemma game; collectively, countries are better off reducing their emissions, but self-interest impels them to keep on emitting. We provide experimental evidence, grounded in an analytical framework, showing that the fear of crossing a dangerous threshold can turn climate negotiations into a coordination game, making collective action to avoid a dangerous threshold virtually assured. These results are robust to uncertainty about the impact of crossing a threshold, but uncertainty about the location of the threshold turns the game back into a prisoners' dilemma, causing cooperation to collapse. Our research explains the paradox of why countries would agree to a collective goal, aimed at reducing the risk of catastrophe, but act as if they were blind to this risk.

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