Barrett, S., and A. Dannenberg, 2012: “Climate negotiations under scientific uncertainty.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 109, no. 43, pp. 17,372-17,376, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1208417109.
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.