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Individual Preferences for International Environmental Cooperation

Which types of international environmental cooperation are likely to have long-term prospects in democracies and which will not?

Project Summary

Addressing the global challenges arising from climate change requires international environmental cooperation. Previous work on the design of international institutions highlights the role of reciprocity and burden sharing for the evolution of lasting cooperation between countries. While scholarship acknowledges that in democratic systems domestic support for international cooperation eventually determines its long-term prospects, we know very little about how the design of international agreements affects individual support for establishing and joining such institutions.

The project’s comparative research starts filling this gap by exploring how reciprocity and the distribution of costs arising from climate change mitigation efforts stipulated in international climate agreements affect mass support for these institutions. Empirically, the project examines the determinants of preferences for international environmental agreements using randomized experiments embedded in representative surveys in four economically important democracies (United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany). The findings speak to the literature on the design of international institutions and cooperation in environmental policy and will provide policymakers with important knowledge about which types of international environmental cooperation are likely to have long-term prospects in democracies and which will not.

Academic Output

Working Paper

Public Goods, Reciprocity, and the Causal Effect of Expected Cooperation in Representative Samples

When do societies succeed or fail to provide public goods? Previous research emphasizes that cooperation in public goods games correlates with expectations about cooperation by others among students and other selected demographic subgroups. However, determining if this reciprocity effect is causal and a general feature of individual behavior requires the use of randomized experiments in combination with large-scale samples that are representative of the population. We fielded large-scale representative surveys (N=8,500) in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States that included a public goods game in combination with a novel randomized experiment and a survey instrument eliciting individual’s conditional contribution schedules. We find a positive causal effect of higher expected cooperation on individual contributions that is most pronounced among positive reciprocity types which account for about 50% of all individuals. We also show that positive reciprocity is unevenly distributed: It is more widespread among richer, younger and more educated respondents. Therefore, socio-demographic characteristics matter for understanding behavior in social dilemmas because of their association with conditionally cooperative strategies.

Executive Summary

Addressing the global challenges arising from climate change requires international environmental cooperation. Although in democratic systems domestic support for international cooperation eventually determines its long-term prospects, we know very little about how the design of international agreements affects individual support for establishing and joining such institutions. Our comparative research project contributes to answering these questions. We explore how the three key dimensions of international environmental cooperation — participation, the distribution of costs arising from climate change mitigation efforts, and enforcement mechanisms — affect mass support for these institutions among publics in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We embedded an experimental conjoint analysis in largescale, representative surveys in these four countries. We find that costs and distribution, participation, and enforcement affect individuals’ willingness to support these international efforts. Our results suggest that support is higher for global climate agreements that involve lower costs, distribute costs according to prominent fairness principles, encompass more countries, and include a small sanction if a country fails to meet its emissions reduction targets. Moreover, the features of climate agreements have very similar effects on public support across countries. The effects of design features may mirror the underlying norms of reciprocity and individual expectations about the probability of realizing an effective agreement. These results provide policymakers with novel, important and detailed knowledge about which types of international environmental cooperation are likely to have long-term prospects in democracies and which will not.

Article

Mass support for global climate agreements depends on institutional design

Effective climate mitigation requires international cooperation, and these global efforts need broad public support to be sustainable over the long run. We provide estimates of public support for different types of climate agreements in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Using data from a largescale experimental survey, we explore how three key dimensions of global climate cooperation—costs and distribution, participation, and enforcement—affect individuals’ willingness to support these international efforts. We find that design features have significant effects on public support. Specifically, our results indicate that support is higher for global climate agreements that involve lower costs, distribute costs according to prominent fairness principles, encompass more countries, and include a small sanction if a country fails to meet its emissions reduction targets. In contrast to well-documented baseline differences in public support for climate mitigation efforts, opinion responds similarly to changes in climate policy design in all four countries. We also find that the effects of institutional design features can bring about decisive changes in the level of public support for a global climate agreement. Moreover, the results appear consistent with the view that the sensitivity of public support to design features reflects the underlying norms of reciprocity and individuals’ beliefs about the potential effectiveness of specific agreements.

Article

How Can Countries Make Progress on Global Climate Policy?

Tomorrow’s UN climate summit in New York brings together policymakers from around the globe to facilitate reaching an agreement on an effective climate deal in 2015. Given the frequent warnings from international scientists about the dangers of global warming and the role of human activity as well as months marked by several destructive extreme weather events, it seems important to ask just what will it take for countries to reach agreement on a climate treaty.

Research Team

Michael M. Bechtel
Coordinator
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Kenneth Scheve
Co-Coordinator
Yale University

Andreas Diekmann
Co-Coordinator
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Ron Witt
Associated Member
UNEP United Nations Environment Programme

Status

completed

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