A theoretical model explores the catastrophic impacts of climate change and why international agreements struggle to slow it
By Clare Kemmerer
May 17, 2022
World leaders have engaged in a series of international agreements to slow climate change, including the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, and most recently in November 2021, the Glasgow Climate Pact. Yet scientists and citizens – as well as those world leaders themselves – largely agree that these contracts have not gone far enough to prevent the catastrophic effects of a changing climate. What, precisely, is keeping the negotiating parties from making an agreement that rises to the occasion? Can we expect an 11th hour solution?
These questions are the focus of a new working paper by Giovanni Maggi, Howard H. Leach Professor of Economics & International Affairs and an EGC affiliate, and co-author Robert W. Staiger of Dartmouth. The authors create a theoretical model, casting climate change as potentially catastrophic and emphasizing that policies addressing it have intergenerational and international externalities – meaning, they impact future generations as well as other countries.
In an EGC interview, Maggi described the implications of this theoretical model and what it predicts concerning the future of climate change responses. The conversation has been condensed for clarity.
In your paper, you identify lack of engagement with future generations as one of the limitations of international climate agreements. Can you explain that?
One of the main points of the paper is to call attention to a limitation of international agreements that have not been highlighted by previous academic research: the simple fact that they are contracts between countries within a generation. By necessity, future generations are excluded from these contracts. This limitation may be mitigated by intergenerational altruism – the fact that we care about our kids and our grandkids. But the issue is still there, that these future generations are simply not around to participate in the agreement today. This is the first attempt at a theoretical model to understand the ramifications of this issue.