Playing Games with the Global Climate

INTERNATIONAL cooperation is vital if we are to agree a new deal on climate change at the Copenhagen talks in December. But will non-cooperation be the dominant strategy adopted by world leaders?

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78981INTERNATIONAL cooperation is vital if we are to agree a new deal on climate change at the Copenhagen talks in December. But will non-cooperation be the dominant strategy adopted by world leaders?

The problem with the atmosphere is that is a free resource with no ownership. As a consequence it has been overused as a dumping ground for polluting gases which have contributed to levels of atmospheric pollution and climate change. China is now the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions followed by the United States.

International agreements have established an institutional structure for the global communal management of the atmosphere. The United Nation’s Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol attempts to do this with regard to taking actions to reduce greenhouse gases and the effects of global climate change.

In the 1960s Garrett Hardin developed the notion of the ‘Freedom of the Tragedy of the Commons’ where he used the analogy of a common grazing land to illustrate that sharing common resources leads to overuse. Each herdsman as a rational individual seeks to maximise his gain. By adding one more animal to the common land he will gain, however, the overgrazing caused by the additional one will be shared by all herdsmen.

eth_29947 The rational herdsman concludes that he would benefit from adding another animal to the common land. However, this is the conclusion of all the herdsmen which ultimately leads to the ‘tragedy’ as each herdsmen is locked into a system which compels him to increase his herd without limit.

Hardin uses the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ to explain the problem of pollution, which results in emitting polluting emissions into the natural environment. The polluter as a ‘rational man’ will come to the same conclusion as the herdsmen, that the cost of polluting can be less than the treatment or abatement of polluting emissions.

Hardin concludes that “Freedom on the commons brings ruin to all” and that “… we are locked into a system of “fouling our own nest” so long as we behave as independent rational, free-enterprises”. His solution was “mutual coercion mutually agreed upon”.

Hardin’s analogy has been criticised as being a false analogy because it ignores the powerful sense of community obligation which could exist and act as a deterrent for abuse of such a common grazing land.

Communal management can be effective if there is an agreement to cooperate to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the case of climate change. However, there is a risk that one nation will ‘free ride’ and not fulfil its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

International negotiations can be viewed as a game which results in a “Prisoner’s Dilemma”.
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The Prisoner’s Dilemma
2nd 100 yrs digTwo suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?
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In the case of climate change the developed and developing nations are the prisoners. If each co-operate then we would be spared from runaway climate change and global temperatures exceeding 2 degrees centigrade. However, non-cooperation gives one nation a greater payoff.

For non-cooperation would result in one of the nations saving investing billion of dollars in technology to reduce emissions. In this case the nation that does not cooperate would be a free-rider and enjoy any benefits from the other nations which reduce GHGs without having to bear the cost. The dominant strategy for each nation would be one of non-cooperation.

Unlike the Prisoners Dilemma, the climate crisis will means that in the long-term there will be no winners. Europe Is attempting to reassert its international leadership by offering to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 95% by 2050 and by 30% by 2020 if a climate change pact is agreed in Copenhagen. However, US, China, and India have yet to unveil targets or specific figures for a new deal on climate change.

We are already perilously close to the brink of climate catastrophe and developing nations have little room to grow out of poverty. If we fail to produce a new deal climate deal then it will truly be a tragedy of the commons.

© Gary Haq 2009
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The True Carbon Cost of Our Consumption

S world Leaders prepare to meet in Copenhagen this December to negotiate a new Climate Deal, it is time to acknowledge the true cost of our consumption.

shoppingAS world Leaders prepare to meet in Copenhagen this December to negotiate a new Climate Deal, it is time to acknowledge the true carbon cost of our consumption.

UK Government policy has maintained that we are only responsible for the carbon dioxide emissions in our national boundaries. However, this week the government’s new energy scientist, Professor David MacKay, has acknowledged that the reductions in UK carbon dioxide emissions since the 1990s are an illusion.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the UK must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 12.5 per below 1990 levels by 2012. According to official government figures, since the 1990s UK emissions have fallen by about 15 per cent.

However, a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York published in July 2009 calculated the true carbon dioxide emissions associated with UK consumption. Using an approach based on consumption rather than production the study found that UK emissions actually increased by 18 per cent (115 million tonnes) between 1992 and 2004.

Since the 1980s we have transferred our manufacturing base abroad and replaced it with an expanded service sector. We now consume a large amount of goods produced in China and India. We have therefore exported our pollution and the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the many goods and services we consume on a daily basis.

power-stationMany of us are shocked by the news that China is building two new coal power stations a week. Yet the polluting coal is being burned to provide energy for Chinese industries that manufacture goods such as electrical equipment and toys for the British market. We are therefore all partly responsible for the carbon cost of the goods we import and consume.

In the current negotiations for a new climate deal developing countries are demanding that developed countries acknowledge their contribution to global carbon emissions. With China calling for countires which consume their products to take the responsibility for the carbon emissions generated in the manufacture of the goods.

copIf a bigger, bolder, wider-ranging and more sophisticated treaty is to replace the Kyoto agreement to stop climate change, we need to own up to the fact that we are polluting much more than official statistics suggest.

When we have acknowledged the full impact of our high consuming lifestyles only then will we be able to do our fair share in cutting our carbon emissions and stoping runaway climate change.

© Gary Haq 2009