Co-operation ‘underrepresented’ at COP 21

Co-operation and co-operatives are underrepresented at COP 21, say academics and co-operators. Speaking at the Global Conference of the ICA in Antalya last month, Yuill Herbert of Sustainability...

Co-operation and co-operatives are underrepresented at COP 21, say academics and co-operators.

Speaking at the Global Conference of the ICA in Antalya last month, Yuill Herbert of Sustainability Solutions Group questioned whether the co-operative movement was prepared to be heard: “Co-ops have been doing sustainability for 120 years, much before the rest of the world had understood the concept,” he said. “There is one more task – how to step up.

“We’re starting to see growing awareness [of co-ops in the context of sustainability] with Ban Ki Moon and the Pope. Our ambition is to mobilise in the face of global challenges, but co-ops don’t have a significant presence at the climate change meeting in Paris. We have something remarkable to offer and the world is ready for it but perhaps we’re not ready to be there.”

In the journal ‘Nature’, David J. C. MacKay, Peter Cramton, Axel Ockenfels and Steven Stoft say the current ‘pledge and review’ approach to cutting carbon emissions should be replaced with a co-operative approach. Under ‘pledge and review’ countries promise to reduce emissions by amounts that will be revised later enabling ‘an upward spiral of ambition over time’.

“History and the science of co-operation predict that quite the opposite will happen,” they say. “If some nations sit back and rely on others’ efforts, the incentives for anyone to act are weakened.

“A review of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol at the 2012 UN climate meeting in Doha, for instance, resulted in Japan, Russia, Canada and New Zealand leaving the agreement, frustrating those who kept their promises. Success requires a common commitment, not a patchwork of individual ones.

Advertisement

“Negotiations need to be designed to realign self-interests and promote co-operation. A common commitment can assure participants that others will match their efforts and not free-ride.

Yuill Herbert (third from left) at the recent Alliance Global conference in Antalya
Yuill Herbert (third from left) at the recent Alliance Global conference in Antalya

 

“A strategy of ‘I will if you will’ stabilises higher levels of co-operation. It is the most robust pattern of co-operation seen in laboratory and field studies of situations open to free-riding.”

Mr MacKay and colleagues say a global carbon price— so far excluded from international negotiations — would be the ideal basis for a common commitment. “A price is easy to agree and handle, relatively fair, less vulnerable to gaming than global cap-and-trade systems and consistent with climate policies already in place, such as fossil-fuel taxes and emissions cap-and-trade,” they say.

“Forty years of empirical and theoretical literature on co-operation confirms that individual commitments do not deliver strong collective action. Co-operators find that defectors take advantage of them. Ambition declines when others are revealed to be free-riding.

“Enforcement is widely thought to be the missing ingredient in the Kyoto Protocol and crucial for the success of a Paris agreement… with individual commitments, there is nothing meaningful to enforce, whereas enforcement strengthens a common commitment.”

They propose a global carbon price commitment, whereby each country commits to place charges on carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, by taxes or cap-and-trade schemes, for example. The charges would be sufficient to match an agreed global price, which could be set by voting by a super-majority rule that would produce a ‘coalition of the willing’.

A ‘Green Climate Fund’ would transfer funds from rich to poor countries. To minimise disputes, climate fund transfers should maximise the global price of carbon. This could be implemented in a way that encouraged rich countries to be generous and poor countries to vote for a higher global carbon price, for example by making all climate fund payments proportional to the agreed carbon price.

“A fresh approach is needed, one guided by the science of co-operation,” they say. “A common price commitment would harness self interest by aligning it with the common good. Nothing could be more fundamental.”

  • Find all of our COP21 coverage here.
In this article

Join the Conversation