Monday, October 1, 2007

Playing games with the planet

From The Economist:

A version of the “prisoner's dilemma” may suggest ways to break through the Kyoto impasse

AT ANY given summit on climate change, it is never long before some politician declares how “urgent” or “vital” or “imperative” it is to stop the planet from overheating. And yet few governments are willing to tackle the problem by themselves. In practice, what these impassioned speakers usually mean is that it is urgent—no, vital!—no, imperative!—for all countries but their own to get to grips with climate change.

That is natural enough. After all, all countries will enjoy the benefits of a stable climate whether they have helped to bring it about or not. So a government that can persuade others to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions without doing so itself gets the best of both worlds: it avoids all the expense and self-denial involved, and yet still escapes catastrophe.

The most obvious free-riders of this sort are America and Australia, the only rich countries that refuse to put a limit on their emissions. But they are far from being the only offenders: most poor countries, too, are keen to palm the responsibility for curbing global warming off on rich ones, and to continue to grow and pollute as much as they like....MORE