Playing Games In Copenhagen

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is not a climate scientist, but a political scientist. And his game theory has been tried and tested in many situations, often (90% of the time) predicting things accurately.

The latest issue of Foreign Policy has an interesting, unfortunate, and important piece on why Copenhagen will not be as positive as some would like to hope for. Copenhagen Is a Recipe for Failure, is an explanation of Mesquita’s recent application of a societal problem to his game theory scrutiny. You can read the article for a full description of his methodology, but below are some important points (the numbers alluded to are based on a scale of 1 to 100): green-dice

First, the rhetoric of the next 20 or 30 years endorses tougher standards than the ones put forward in Kyoto in 1997… Second, support for tougher regulations falls almost relentlessly as the world closes in on 2050, a crucial date in the global warming debate. When we get to 2050, the mandatory standard being acted on is well below that set at Kyoto. By about 2070 it is down to 30, representing a significant weakening in standards. By 2100 it is closing in on 20 to 25. There’s no regulatory green light left in the story by its end…there are some considerably more optimistic scenarios and also some considerably more pessimistic views that fall outside the 95 percent confidence interval. The most optimistic scenario predicts no rollback in emission controls. It never dips below 50. In fact, most of the time in this scenario the predicted level of greenhouse gas reduction hovers around 60, implying a 10 percent or so tougher standard than was agreed to in Kyoto. Only about 10 percent of the scenarios, however, look optimistic enough to anticipate even holding the line at the standard set in the Kyoto Protocol.

In contrast, there are dozens of scenarios in which the standard falls close to 0, indicating abandonment of the effort to regulate greenhouse gases. Typically in these scenarios, some mix of Brazil’s, India’s, and China’s salience rises while the salience of pro-control factions in the United States (mostly liberal Democrats) and the European Union drops well below their opening stance. They just seem to lose interest in greenhouse gas regulations. That decline raises its ugly head especially during global economic slowdowns, so global economic patterns are critical to watch, as they can guide our choice of the scenarios that we should pay the most attention to. Without commitment to change by the European Union and the United States, it becomes much easier for the key developing economies to prevail with the support and encouragement of the anti-control American faction (mostly conservative Republicans)…

To get everyone to agree to something potentially costly, the something they actually agree to must be neither very demanding nor very costly… To get people to sign a universal agreement and not cheat, the deal must not ask them to change their behavior much from whatever they are already doing.”

Nothing like a bit of realpolitik to get us thinking about the futility of our efforts. But at the end of the day we need to hear it, even if it makes us feel slightly uncomfortable, considering what we know about climate change. But his work is about human behavior, not the science that informs human behavior. Bottom line, if the incentives aren’t there, we aren’t doing a thing. His closing line is, “Remember, we care about numero uno.”

So, first off, numero uno needs to feel that addressing climate change is in their best (economic) interest. And as of late, it seems that the spectrum of ecological and real cost economics is starting to expand into conventional thinking about this stuff. Remember who got the nobel prize for economics a few weeks ago? My closing line on this one, we should certainly care about self interests ( numero uno?), I would just like to see a reinterpretation of numero uno. It might help us to think a bit broader on this one.

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