My colleague Silvestras Dikčius, a climate expert at the National Broadcasting Company (LRT and social media had a comment on it:
“The climate change conference is like a slow series of disasters. Episode 26 is currently underway and it remains to be seen how many more seasons it will take for the action to finally begin.”.
World-famous climate activist and the leader of Fridays for Future movement Greta Thunberg was even more straightforward– 'Cop26 is a failure’ – she said. Greta wasn’t among the delegates, but she was not alone who thought that way because thousands of people seeking climate justice surrounded her. More than 100,000 demonstrators flooded the streets of Glasgow for the COP26 climate justice march.
Paradoxically people who were marching on the streets of Glasgow wanted more climate justice and crisis solutions than the politicians, national authorities and leaders of the enterprises who have more power, money and resources to bring forward the much-needed changes. The Guardian columnist George Monbiot writes:
“At Cop26 the wealthy countries cast themselves as saviours, yet their efforts are hopelessly inadequate and will prolong the injustice”.
Maybe COP26 wasn’t a failure, maybe we just had our expectations too high? Great Britain and the mass media enthusiastically highlighted the event. How can we expect that such a huge and diverse mass of people would achieve something tangible? The COP26 game included more than 40,000 “players”. For example, the fossil fuel industry had the largest delegation at the climate summit – 503 members in total; and the country, which officially denied the climate crisis, Brazil has the biggest official team of negotiators according to UN data, with 479 delegates. Moreover, the leaders of such powerful economies as China, Russia and turkey were not present.
For climatologist of Lithuania’s “Game on” project, Justas Kažys, the entire event was just a game, and, in fact, climate crisis is very much related to game theories such as ‘Prisoner’s dilemma’ (PD) and ‘Tragedy of commons’ (ToC).ert
Actually, PD was derived from an anecdote concerning two suspects being questioned separately by the district attorney (DA) (Rapoport, 1960). The attorney knows they are guilty but has only enough evidence to convict them of a lesser offence. So he creates an incentive for each one to confess privately:
- If Prisoner A confesses and Prisoner B doesn’t, the attorney will grant immunity to A, and will use A’s confession to convict B of a maximum offense (and vice versa if B confesses and A doesn’t).
- If both confess, each will receive a moderate sentence.
- If neither prisoner confesses, each will be convicted of a lesser crime and receive a light sentence.
Prisoner’s dilemmas do exist and the most pressing example today is climate change. Every nation and every individual benefits if others restrain their pollution, but we all prefer not to have to restrain our own. Let’s say that prisoner A is the US and prisoner B is China and confession equals business as usual (BAU) of CO2 emissions. So which one, China or the US will make the first move restricting emissions? Without a doubt, it is the best solution for all countries to jointly commit to reducing emissions in order to combat climate change.
Nonetheless, it is widely believed that reducing emissions means slowing economic growth. Thus, continuing to pollute while others reduce emissions will create a competitive advantage. And this situation is very much blocking the process: needless to say, with only one country tackling the issue, climate change continues.
The climate change game: outcomes from the two strategies, Restrict and Business as usual (BAU) (Arjun Jayadev, The Economy: A South Asian Perspective 2021)
In reality, climate change is not such a close system as a prison, therefore the real outcomes of polluting could be even more crucial. If both sides will continue to pollute the impacts could be unpredictable. However, if the classical game suggests that with continuing pollution you would avoid the consciences, the adjusted version does not give such a chance. The only way to moderate climate change significantly is for both sides to stop polluting.
Classical (left) and adjusted (right) view to a PD in climate crisis context (Judith Springs 2015)
The idea was brought forward by Garett Hardin in 1968 paper in the journal ‘Science’ entitled "The Tragedy of the Commons". It is a familiar concept in economic and environmental circles, but less well known outside those groups. Usually the “tragedy of commons” is illustrated with a cow's example. Imagine 100 farmers sharing a common field capable of sustaining 100 cows. When each one allows one cow to graze, the common feeding ground is optimally used. But then a farmer reasons, “If I put a second cow, I’ll double my milk output” and brings a second cow. So does each of the other farmers. The inevitable result? The Tragedy of the Commons – a mud field.
Which cow will succeed to survive in the Tragedy of Commons situation? (Bryan Lopez 2016)
Many social dilemmas (PD, ToC, etc.) involve more than two parties. Global warming stems from deforestation and from the carbon dioxide emitted by cars, furnaces, and coal-fired power plants. The message from science is clear: humans are pushing the global commons to the limits of their coping capacity. For decades, ToC has been a useful tool for understanding and explaining the risks of undervaluing shared resources. In today’s world the “commons” can be air, water, fish, or any shared and limited resource.
The tragedy of the Commons in our world (Kenneth Lyngaas 2017)
One of the earliest climate change activists, Nicholas Stern, has called global warming ‘the greatest market failure of all time’. By this he meant that free markets, left to their own devices, have failed and will continue to fail to control behaviour leading to a harmful and continuous increase in the temperature of the world’s atmosphere, oceans and continents.
The world's atmosphere is one of the ultimate common pooled resources. The level of atmospheric carbon rises in poor countries, where people produce almost no greenhouse gases per person, at the same rate it does in Global North, which are the world's biggest GHG generators per capita.
Likewise, environmental pollution is the sum of many minor types of pollution, each of which benefits the individual polluters much more than they could benefit themselves (and the environment) if they stopped polluting. Our tragedy is that the system of international law was created for maintaining peaceful relations between states, but it fails in relation to the global environment. The atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere are outside national jurisdictions and hence less important than what is going on within national boundaries.
Developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, have contributed little to climate change because of their limited energy use and reliance on renewable sources of energy, but their economic development requires increasing energy use and GHG emissions.
Now, we feel that the future was stolen from us. It was stolen by powerful, carbon-emitting interest groups who blocked policy reforms at every turn to preserve their short-term profits. They locked each of us into an economy where fossil fuel consumption continues to be a necessity, not a choice. The truth is that two-thirds of all the carbon pollution ever released into the atmosphere can be traced to the activities of just ninety companies. These corporations’ efforts to successfully thwart climate action are the real tragedy. Justice is key to protecting the global commons for future generation. Climate justice is the antithesis of the rise of populism and short-termism. Climate change confronts us with our global interdependence. Professor of Environmental Law Klaus Bosselmann (University of Auckland) have a very precious comment on this topic:
“With respect to climate change, the Earth’s atmosphere should be recognized as a global trust that obliges states to restore and sustain climate stability”.
Is there any possibility of winning this game? There are some changes, yes but a lot of effort needs to be made right away. Here are a few tips on how to make it:
- REGULATION – we have used it in the environmental sector and it works if the costs do not exceed benefits;
- SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL – make the group small, and in a small common, each person feels more responsible and effective;
- COMMUNICATION – discussing the dilemma forges a group identity, which enhances concern for everyone’s welfare;
- CHANGING THE PAYOFFS – educing tolls or writing-off the debts helps to resolve actual dilemmas;
- APPEALS TO ALTRUISTIC NORMS – increasing people’s sense of responsibility for others boosts altruism.
The real actions have just started: New Zealand became the first Western country to recognize rights of nature. Recent legislation granted legal personhood to Te Urewera and Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River). If our government is serious about giving nature a voice and legal representation, then it should accept Earth trusteeship responsibilities here and promote them internationally.