A winning formula for climate change conferences?

The likelihood of damage caused by climate change in the medium term could bring poor and rich countries to effectively reduce carbon dioxide emissions

November 22, 2011

A global agreement on effective climate change mitigation could be closer to realisation – if the findings of Max Planck scientists are incorporated in negotiations. According to these, success at the climate change conferences would be more likely if the intermediate costs of climate change, that is, in the next twenty years or so, were to be considered, as well as the means to prevent them. It could persuade rich countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to the extent that they would compensate for insufficient efforts by developing and emerging countries. This was established by scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Biology and Meteorology in a study of game theory, which was realised in response to the fact that rich and poor countries have been unable to agree especially on their levels of contribution at recent climate change conferences, like the one in Copenhagen in 2009.

A first positive stimulus for climate conventions

“We were especially surprised to find that players with more money in the mixed groups invested significantly more than those in rich groups, when the threat of losing funds halfway through the game was introduced”, Manfred Milinski says. “I had assumed that few would take the 10 per cent probability of loss seriously.” Apparently this probability is more likely to incite those people to invest, who stand to lose a lot and for whom it is easier to raise the money in order to avoid losses. In the climate change negotiations, this would be the industrial nations.

Manfred Milinski, Jochem Marotzke and their colleagues have already simulated interaction at climate change conventions several times in similar games, observing the uncooperative behaviour that has caused the climate change negotiations to fail so far. “This is the first time we have found a positive stimulus for the negotiations”, Manfred Milinski says. Naturally, it can be argued that the situation at the climate conference table is much more complex, but the Max Planck scientist is convinced that the basic interaction is correctly represented in a collective-risk social dilemma: “It could be a huge mistake to dismiss our findings.”

His colleague Jochem Marotzke is already busy continuing the work. He heads a research project for the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, which aims to provide reliable intermediate climate forecasts. “This type of climate change is particularly difficult to predict because the statistical uncertainty is fairly high due to natural variation”, the meteorologist from Hamburg says. Nevertheless, he is convinced that it pays to improve the reliability of forecasts: “The future has to be brought near enough to build up the necessary political momentum.”


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