Why the Paris Agreement does not work?

If your country decided to stop all greenhouse gas emissions, it would spend lots of money, but the benefit would be split between all countries in the world and each would benefit only a little. For your country, this would be a loss.

Let us explain this with a simple game, before we show how we can solve it.

10 people sit in a circle. In the middle is an empty box. At the start, all players can choose whether or not to add $1 to the box. After this, the money in the box is doubled by the game master. Now, the money is evenly split between all players.

If 2 out of the 10 players add $1, there are $2 in the box, which is then doubled (for free) to $4. In the end, the money is split evenly between the 10 players, and each person gets $0.40.

Would you throw $1 in? Hell, no! Regardless of how much the others throw in, you will only get back 20 cents from that dollar.

CAN WE SOLVE THIS? If everyone agreed to put in $1, then all would win. There’d be $10 in the box, which would be doubled to $20, and everyone would get $2 back – we all made $1 profit. This is what the “Paris Agreement” [1] and similar contracts between countries try to achieve. The “doubling” is analogous to everyone benefitting if we don’t have climate change. Does it work?

If there is a serious punishment if a country goes against the agreement, it will work. Unfortunately, these climate agreements are just polite promises without force behind them. Many countries, including the US and Germany, simply don’t follow them [2,3], but luckily some, including China, are on a better track [4].

There are many related problems like corruption and terms of office (politicians being interested in short-term over long-term gains), which we can cover in the future if you’re interested.


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