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

Local Politics and Global Public Goods

The provision of public goods is a major reason for government intervention. Centralized tax policy is in principle capable of providing the efficient amount of the public good. However, if there is a global public good but several local polities determining tax rates in a decentralized manner, an inefficiently low level of the public good will be provided unless it is in the self-interest of a single local polity to provide the public good unilaterally. Our experiments show that this is indeed the case. The political support of the citizens converges towards efficient provision levels if voting takes place in a global jurisdiction while, if there are several local jurisdictions, citizens support only very inefficient levels of the public good. Moreover, we show that the inefficiency of local public goods provision even extends to the case where it is in the self-interest of a singly local jurisdiction to provide the global public good unilaterally. The reason for this is that the unilateral provision of the global good creates large inequalities in income across jurisdictions because the free-riding jurisdictions bear no costs but share the benefits of the public good. Thus, the existence of social preferences considerably strengthens the case for the centralized democratic provision of public goods.

Article

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 behaviour 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 in- 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 behaviour in social dilemmas because of their association with conditionally cooperative strategies.

Article

The Climate Policy Hold-Up: How Intellectual Property Rights turn International Environmental Agreements into Buyer Cartels for Abatement Technologies

The success of global climate policies over the coming 20 to 25 years depends on the effective diffusion of ’green’ technologies. This requires that climate agreements and international rules about access to advanced technologies such as trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS) interact productively. This paper examines the interaction between the formation of international environmental agreements (IEAs) and TRIPS in a simple and tractable model. The model’s contribution is to highlight the presence and size of the strategic reduction in abatement commitments by countries on account of a hold-up effect. This effect induces countries negotiating an IEA to change their behaviour in anticipation of the rent extraction by the innovator. As a result, IEAs undergo a drastic change in character. They have fewer signatories, who provide less abatement, conceivably less than non-signatories. Global welfare from the diffusion of new technologies remains positive but can be associated with less global abatement. Also, while countries hosting intellectual property owners extract innovation rents from TRIPS that can offset own abatement expenditures, the country may be better off without TRIPS than with, in particular if the domestic firm owns IP in breakthrough technologies.

Article

Participation and Duration of Environmental Agreements

We analyze participation in international environmental agreements (IEAs) in a dynamic game where countries pollute and invest in green technologies. If complete contracts are feasible, participants eliminate the hold-up problem associated with their investments; however, most countries prefer to free-ride rather than participate. If investments are non-contractible, countries face a hold-up problem every time they negotiate; but the free-rider problem can be mitigated and significant participation is feasible. Participation becomes attractive because only large coalitions commit to long-term agreements that circumvent the hold-up problem. Under well-specified conditions, even the first-best outcome is possible when the contract is incomplete. Since real-world IEAs fit in the incomplete contracting environment, our theory may help explaining the rising importance of IEAs and how they should be designed.

Article

Soft Cooperation in the Shadow of Distributional Conflict? Domestic Politics and International Climate Negotiations

In the United Nations climate negotiations, key developing countries have for long rejected proposals for enhancing the international transparency of their greenhouse gas emissions and national climate policies. Why would states categorically reject a technical proposal that does not contain any legally binding obligations to control emissions? We argue that negotiators reject transparency because they can thus signal their resolve to domestic audiences. If domestic audiences expect tough bargaining in the future, and therefore prefer a resolute negotiator, the incumbent negotiator may reject soft forms of cooperation to avoid losing the support of a hawkish domestic audience. A comparison of South Africa’s and India’s approaches to transparency during the 2005-2009 period provides evidence for the theory. South Africa’s moderate domestic audiences allowed negotiators to compromise and even be proactive, while India adopted a hardline position. When India’s new Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, tried to use transparency to increase cooperation with industrialized countries in 2009, he was faced with heavy domestic criticism. More generally, this study shows how the shadow of legally binding obligation can prevent soft forms of cooperation, such as enhancing transparency.

Article

Agreement Formation in International Public Goods Provision with Heterogeneous Agents

The provision of international public goods, such as Önancial stability, inter-national security or environmental protection, has been salient in international negotiations over the past decades. International public goods have the property that all countries beneÖt from aggregate provisions, while the costs are only carried by those actually providing. For instance, a countryís provision of military forces to a peacekeeping mission also beneÖts countries that do not participate in the mission. Or, if some countries invest in clean technology and enforce strict regulations with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, all countries beneÖt from reduced pollution on a global scale while only those countries investing in emission reduction pay the costs.

Article

Soft Cooperation in the Shadow of Distributional Conflict? Domestic Politics and International Climate Negotiations

In the United Nations climate negotiations, key developing countries have for long rejected proposals for enhancing the international transparency of their greenhouse gas emissions and national climate policies. Why would states categorically reject a technical proposal that does not contain any legally binding obligations to control emissions? We argue that negotiators reject transparency because they can thus signal their resolve to domestic audiences. If domestic audiences expect tough bargaining in the future and therefore prefer a resolute negotiator, the incumbent negotiator may reject soft forms of cooperation to avoid losing the support of a hawkish domestic audience. A comparison of South Africa’s and India’s approaches to transparency during the 2005-2009 period provides evidence for the theory. South Africa’s moderate domestic audiences allowed negotiators to compromise and even be proactive, while India adopted a hardline position. When India’s new Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, tried to use transparency to increase cooperation with industrialized countries in 2009, he was faced with heavy domestic criticism. More generally, this study shows how the shadow of legally binding obligation can prevent soft forms of cooperation, such as enhancing transparency.

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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